Turning the bits into music in the Channel D room was this $2495 standalone D/A converter, the Hilo from high-end soundcard manufacturer Lynx. Offering USB2.0, ADAT, S/PDIF, and AES/EBU inputs, the Hilo features a 4.3" LCD touchscreen to allow navigation of its menu system as well as, when the music is playing, a choice of peak bargraph or VU meters, as shown here. The Hilo supports 24-bit word lengths and sample rates up to 192kHz and can be used with both Windows machines and Macs.
Channel D's affable Rob Robinson was playing 24/192k LP rips made with Pure Vinyl with the Joseph Pulsar speakers ($7000/pair), which have just got a rave review in the June issue of Stereophile. "Listen to this," said Rob, lowering Pure Vinyl's virtual tonearm on to the image of an LP on the screen, and I heard some familiar-sounding music: it was a rip of Stereophile's 1990 Intermezzo album, which Rob had picked up at a European show.
At the Irvine Hilton, T.H.E. Show Newport Beach offered hospitality suites from Sunny's Components, Positive Feedback Online, and the Los Angeles & Orange County Audio Society. Since the President of the latter is Bob Levi, the co-sponsor of T.H.E. Show, who not only thinks big and acts big, but also consistently delivers on his promises, the massive LA&OCAS commandeered two adjacent rooms on the fifth floor for its suite where Showgoers could chill out in a very effective manner.
For audiophiles who may remember Legend Audio and their fascinating water-cooled amps, they have changed their name to Von Gaylord, and moved from Berkeley, CA to West Sacramento. Their sound has gotten even better in the process: lovely, warm, and refreshingly sweet, with eye and ear-opening sound staging, set far behind the speakers, and inviting air around images.
Bless Len Miller of Soundstring Cable Technologies for providing me with a solid presentation of John Travolta's "Stayin' Alive." As my pace increased as I attempted to cover four floors in three days, this music became a mantra of sorts.
Okay, I'm running out of clever titles, but NAD had no problem producing beautifully controlled, welcomingly sweet sound from its all-new Masters Digital Suite. The M50 Digital Music Player ($2500) and M52 Digital Music Vault ($2000), a combo that can stream, store and manage your digital music collection, was performing wonderfully with the M2 Direct Digital 250W digital-input amplifier ($6000 and a John Atkinson favorite), Tannoy Glenaire 10 loudspeakers ($7500/pair), and Synergistic Acoustic ART resonance control system.
One of my favorite visits at T.H.E. Show was to the Tannoy/Cary/Synergistic Room sponsored by The Home Theater Experience of Carlsbad, CA. As luck would have it, 40-year industry veteran Tony Weber, a sound engineer on many of Delos' early recordings and currently Regional Sale Manager for Cary Audio, was at the helm.
The sound from Richard Kohlruss' VMAX Services room excelled in warmth and soundstage width. It wasn't the most subtle or detailed system I encountered, but it definitely made a movement from Haydn's Trumpet Concerto a pleasure to listen to. Given that I have heard a movement from this concerto whistled at the whistling contest I've frequently attended and judged far more times than I wish to recount, this was no mean feat.
One of the three rooms at T.H.E. Show created by Scott Walker Audio of Anaheim excelled in solid, grounded sound with a firm bottom and natural tonalities. Ah, don't we all long for a firm bottom and natural toning. But I digress. In this room, YG Acoustics paired its excellent Kipod II Signature loudspeaker ($49,000/pair) with Sim Audio's Moon Evolution 700i 175Wpc integrated amplifier ($13,000) and 650D CD player ($9000)both products that have been highly praised in Stereophile's pagesand Synergistic Research's Galileo cables, PowerCell 10 SE (probably Mk.III), and full complement of Acoustic ART devices. The latter were doing an excellent job, because the two Kipod II's powered woofers were in firm control in a room that rendered many other speakers' bass boom city. "Beautiful triangle. . .wonderful midrange. . .good three-dimensionality" I wrote in my notes. I wasn't handed a price sheet for the Synergistic Research products, but the company makes its entire price list available online here.
In the more extensive of its two set-ups, Emotiva produced lovely, welcomingly smooth sound. Although bass control was elusive, as it was for many systems in these small "sleeping rooms" at the Hilton, the system's impressive clarity on top and nice tonality confirmed its reputation as a bargain bonanza. Playing were the XRT 6.2 tower loudspeakers ($699/pair), XPA-1 monoblock amplifiers ($999/each), XSP-1 stereo preamplifier ($899), ERC-2 CD player ($449), and XDA-2 Reference DAC ($399). Watch for Bob Reina's rave review of Emotiva's smaller XRT-5.2 towers in the August issue of Stereophile.
Late on Saturday afternoon, Emotiva's hall-end room at the Hilton shifted into college fraternity mode. The Emotiva Stealth 8s ($1499/pair) and ProDAC ($699), connected with Emotiva cables, were blasting mono-tonality assaultive rock that, for all I could tell, was sourced from MP3. The bass was huge, the highs searing, the outcome lamentable. I'll bet, if John Atkinson had analyzed what was playing for one of his seminars on how compression is ruining the pop music industry, his meters would have read red, red, red.
As you will read in the next story, it was a very different story in Emotiva's second room. Thank God.
You couldn't miss the signage for PrimaLuna and Nola; it was as big as the excellent signage for T.H.E. Show itself. You also couldn't miss the sound: lovely, warm, and extremely inviting. Although the system was playing a bit too loud for the room, the system handled bass extremely well, and made timbres on a (yes) Diana Krall recording pretty natural. Doing the honors were the Nola Ko loudspeaker ($9800/pair) and three components from PrimaLuna: Premium CD player ($3995), DiaLogue 3 linestage preamplifier ($2695), and DiaLogue 7 monoblock amplifiers ($5495/pair).
Although Roger Sanders was not in the room when I finally got there on the third day, his "handcrafted in Colorado" electrostats were singing as if he were. In addition to the superb transparency that one expects from a good electrostat, the bass was not just convincing, but simply amazing. The sound was a bit sharp in the small room, and at one point, in an unfortunate performance of Puccini's "O mio babbino caro," distorted on top. Since I've not had either experience in previous auditions of Sanders electrostats, I have a hunch the distortion probably due to the mikes used to record this unsuited-for-the-role-of-Lauretta soprano. (I have a number of recordings from EMI that grow harsh and noisy on vocals due to the choice of microphones).
One of my fondest memories of a past CES was sitting with John Atkinson at T.H.E. Show, playing a track from one of his superb recordings of Cantus on an all-out darTZeel /Evolution Acoustics system from Jonathan Tinn's Blue Light Audio. Here, on more modest speakers and electronics, I was again blown away, this time by the fabulous soundstage height, three-dimensionality, and realistic depiction of horns and cymbals on Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Mahler's Symphony 3.
Zu Audio's room was like no other. While the "normal" set-up has components facing attendees and carefully stacked on equipment racks, Zu more or less duplicated the DJ experience. Spinning vinyl as if in a cage, and very happy to be there, I might add, sat Zu owner Sean Casey's delightfully high-spirited son, Ian.