Okay. I know what you're wondering. So do Jason and Lisa Stoddard, whose curiously named headphone amplifier and headphone DAC company celebrates its second anniversary on June 17. In fact, your curiosity is one of the reasons why Lisa is smiling so.
Whether they be Quads or Staxes, Roger Sanders' designs, or MartinLogans, electrostatic speakers generate passionate advocates. Retailer Digital Ear was demming the enormous Martin-Logan CLX speakers ($25,500/pair) in a huge ballroom in the Atrium hotel, along with two MartinLogan Depthi subwoofers, driving them with McIntosh MC601 monoblocks, a McIntosh C50 D/A preamp and a Meridian-Sooloos server, all hooked up with Transparent cable. The CLX's curvilinear section operates above 360Hz, meaning that all the harmonics of the music and the upper fundamentals are not interrupted by a crossover. Unlike Jason Serinus, I love Diana Krall's music making, so I requested a track from her Live in Paris album. Despite the size of the room, her version of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" was reproduced with Ms. Krall's voice palpably hanging in the center of the stage.
Like the MartinLogan speakers in the next story, the Belgian Venture Ultimate speakers ($59,500/pair), distributed in the US by Precision Audio & Video, were set-up in a room that was really too big for them. Even at a fairly close listening distance, the room's reverberant field was dominating what I was hearing. Even so, on "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" from Muddy Waters' Folksinger, this three-way, five-driver tower had a natural tonality, precise stereo imaging, and a full-range sound. The 48.5"-tall, 152lb Ultimate has a specified frequency range of 26Hz40kHz, a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, and a sensitivity of 90dB/W/m.
Sharing a Hilton ballroom with Legacy and AVM, the Austrian Ayon tube amplification was being demmed with Lumenwhite Artisan speakers ($40k/pair). Source was the new Ayon Music Server and two-box preamp. Listening to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," I thought the sound was better than it had any right to be given the suboptimal acoustics. Then I spotted some of the Synergistic ART Acoustic bowls on the wallsmy left brain knows these silly little bowls can have no audible effect on room acoustics in the audio range; my right brain was busy telling my feet to tap!
In their second room, Anaheim retailer Scott Walker Audio was showing Magico's Q3 floorstander ($38,950/pair) with the Soulution 700 monoblock amplifiers, hooked with Synergistic's cumbersome spaced-conductor speaker cable. Source was a Soulution 540 SACD player and a Soulution 700-series preamp. The Q3 was launched at the 2011 CES. A smaller derivative of the Q that Michael Fremer positively reviewed for Stereophile in November 2010, the Q3 uses the same proprietary beryllium-dome tweeter as the Q5 in the same type of space-frame enclosure, with a 6" Nano-tec midrange unit. The lower woofers roll off earlier than the upper one, to optimize the crossover to the midrange unit. Frequency response is specified as 20Hz50kHz, sensitivity as 90dB, and impedance as 5 ohms.
"Let me turn off the Tranquility Bases and you'll hear what I am talking about," said Synergistic Research's Ted Denney.
I sighed inside. Ted had been subjecting me to the improvement on room acoustics wrought by his ART Acoustic bowls for the past few years and despite my skepticism, I kept hearing that improvement. Now he was talking about his series of Tranquility Bases. Ranging in price from $995 to $2995, these powered platforms have a ground plane and generate beneficial electromagnetic fields that are said to condition the signals passing through the components sitting on them and drain away the bad fields to ground. Yeah, right!
The Thiel CS 3.7 loudspeakers ($12,900/pair) were making bright and incisive sound with PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium monoblock amplifiers ($4395/pair), DiaLogue 3 preamplifier ($2700), and ProLogue CD player ($3000); PS Audio Perfect Wave II DAC with Bridge/NAS server ($4795) and P10 Power Regenerator ($4495); and Analysis Plus Oval speaker cable ($500/pair).
Eric Hudgins' Tailored Technologies of Santa Clara, CA somehow packed a lot of equipment and sound into a small space. Audreal's PA-80 class-A amplifier ($5995), XA-3200 preamplifier ($1899), and LP-2 phono stage ($1295) were brightening up the room with the SoTM DAC 200HD ($2200) and server ($2200) and the new version of Volent VL-3 Mk.II loudspeakers ($11,000). The turntable was the Clearaudio Ovation ($5500) with MC cartridge ($800).
The first time I encountered the Napa Acoustic display at a show, I thought these little babies so adorable that I wanted to take all of them home so that our canine daughter, Daisy Mae Doven, would have a system of her own. But then I remembered that Daisy plays only one tune"Get Da Bone"and came to my senses.
Okay. I know what you're thinking. I'm an audiophile. I've never come to my senses. Touché.
Episode Audio's Ira Pazandeh had one of the few home theater displays at T.H.E. Show. Arrayed before and around me were Episode Audio loudspeakers: Model EP-V front for two-channel and home theater front ($12,500/pair), Model EP-C for center channel ($6500), BASSY subwoofer ($2300), and, in the rear, two KOBRA surrounds ($4800/pair). Giving them juice were an Onkyo TX-NR 809 receiver ($995), Sony BDP-S580 CD/Blu-ray player ($149.99), AudioQuest speaker wire (approx. $50), and Monster interconnects. Playing Marta Gomez's "Maria Mulatta," I was struck with the nice depiction of air and space around the flute, as well as overwhelming bass (a problem shared by more set-ups in the Hilton sleeping rooms than I wish to count). I'd like to hear the system again, next time with adequate room treatment.
Dynamic Sound Systems of Carlsbad, CA demmed bi-amped Plinius 310Wpc stereo amplifiers ($10,300 each), Plinius stereo preamplifier ($11,350 line, $12,500 phono), and Plinius Tiki DLNA compatible Digital Audio Renderer ($4775) in a system that also included the PMC IB2 three-way loudspeaker ($18,490/pair), and Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables as well as Solo Crystal interconnects and Power Oval 2 power cables.
On tracks from Nils Lofgren and Vivaldi, I found the sound solid and dynamic, but also hard, and opaque, perhaps due to the sub-optimal room acoustics. Yes, traps had been used in the corners of this room, but an exhibitor at a Show is always at the mercy of whichever room they have been allocated.
Duplicating the system that had me enthralled at AXPONA 2012 with its clear, warm, and deliciously color-saturated sonic canvas, Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith was showing four cartridges at THE Show. Chief among them was the still-new Sussuro Hyperion OCL ($7000) with its cactus spine CL assembly. Available in an OCL diamond profile for the same price, this baby comes with a 10-year warranty including diamond retipping. Nearby were the Sussurro ($4500) and Sussurro Paua ($3500).
Audioengine, which made a deservedly major mark a few years back with its perfect-for-desktop-computers, self-powered loudspeakers, has just issued the W3 as a replacement for the W1 ($149, I believe). A plug-and-play "premium wireless audio adapter" designed to move computer audio around your home or office, it can transmit 16-bit signals to up to three receivers ($89 for a receiver kit) via a closed 802.11 network. (Those desiring to send 24-bit signals can opt for the D2.) Also fairly new are the Audioengine 5+ powered loudspeakers ($399 and up).
Last summer I gave a presentation at Goodwins High End in Waltham, MA where I played some of the hi-rez master recordings through an MSB D/A converter. I was so impressed by what I heard that I arranged a review of the DAC and MSB's matching transport, both priced at $4000, by Jon Iverson, scheduled for publication in the October 2012 issue of Stereophile. MSB were demming the new versions of their digital gearthe Diamond DAC with the FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock, the Data CD transport, and the new S200 class-A 200Wpc stereo amplifierin the Atrium Hotel, using YG's Anat III Studio speakers. Whether it was CDHarry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis duetting on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square"or 24/192k WAV files from Chesky, played back from a data DVD-R, there was something very right about the sound in this roomand not a magic bowl or adverse energy-draining base to be found!
Empirical Audio's Steve Nugent was showing three new products in the Atrium Hotel, demmed with the TAD E1 speakers that had impressed me in the TAD room at the Hilton, driven by Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks. Steve is pointing to the two-box Overdrive SE DAC ($5999), which has BNC, S/PDIF, asynchronous USB, and i2S data inputs, and a volume control, making it "all you need for computer audio." There is now an Off-Ramp 5 asynchronous USB converter ($1299), which now has HDMI in addition to S/PDIF and i2S outputs and replaces the Off-Ramp 4 that I very favorably reviewed in December 2011. The third new Empirical product is the Synchro-Mesh reclocker ($599), which dejitters the datastream for a source such as an Apple TV, Squeezebox, or CD transport.