Based in Taiwan, Lawrence Audio Co. (“Inspired by Musical Masters”) manufactures limited-edition and custom-made loudspeakers modeled after stringed instruments. Lawrence Liao, founder and chief designer, is also an interior decorator, music lover, and musician: He plays saxophone, violin, and piano.
Lawrence’s line includes the two-way, standmounted Mandolin; the slightly larger Violin; and the 3.5-way, floorstanding Cello ($18,000/pair), which was playing when I walked into the room.
You know the slinky hi-hat, the funky wah, the groovy bass line; the slow-building horns, the deep voice, the suggestive lyrics: Who’s the black private dick / That’s a sex machine to all the chicks? / (Shaft!) / Damn right…
There was a party going on in the Xact Audio room.
I’m not at all embarrassed or ashamed to admit that there have been times when I was so distracted by a system’s appearance that I couldn’t properly appreciate its performance. Similarly, there have been times when I was so overwhelmed by a system’s price, that I couldn’t even hear its music.
But, here, in the MBL suite, just as in the Wilson/VTL suite, the sound of music was so compelling that I was easily able to ignore those aspects that are beyond my appreciation and reach.
Salk’s beautifully finished SoundScape 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange unit, and 12” side-firing passive radiators as the company’s larger SoundScape 10 and 12 floorstanders, but where those designs use single 10” and 12” woofers, respectively, the SoundScape 8 employs two 8” drivers. While the base price for the SoundScape 8 is $8000/pair, custom-finished models such as those seen here, which had a marble-like appearance, can cost up to $12,000/pair.
I loved the pure, clean sound and sense of touch and bloom that came with Ben Webster’s tenor sax on “Stars Fell on Alabama” from Billie Holiday’s great Songs for Distingué Lovers. And, in “A Foggy Day,” Lady Day’s voice was as rich and true as can be.
Later, I noted fine snap and brassy pluck to the sound of acoustic guitars during “Chuck E.’s in Love,” the opening track to Rickie Lee Jones’ self-titled debut, an album that people often love or hate.
Here’s a picture of Ayre’s Michael Wiedmaier pretending to enjoy a martini. I also have a picture of someone pretending to take a hit from an oversized bong; a picture of someone else looking mesmerized by a lava lamp; a picture of someone dancing on a shag rug; a picture of someone else putting out an imaginary cigarette in a real-life ashtray; and a few other funny pictures, too.
I have no pictures of Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amplifier, no comments on the sound quality of the system, no recollection of even listening to music while in the amazing Ayre room. I do recall very pleasant conversations with readers, exhibitors, and attendees. At any hi-fi show, there are rooms that are all about the gear; rooms that are merely about the technology; rooms that are stuffy or solemn; rooms that are even empty and quiet.
I walked into the Audio Alternative room with a nagging headache and walked out cured. I credit the system: Vandersteen Model 7 loudspeakers with M7 crossovers ($50,000/pair) driven by Audio Research’s Reference 250 monoblock and new two-chassis Reference 10 preamp ($30,000); AMG Viella 12 turntable fitted with a Lyra Atlas phono cartridge; and AudioQuest cables.
The song, believe it or not, was “Here Comes the Sun.”
Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Paragon Sight & Sound put together another high-performance, cost-no-object system: Wilson Audio MAXX Series 3 loudspeakers ($69,500/pair); Doshi Audio (“Audio Products for Music Lovers”) Alaap v3.0 NAB tape preamp ($10,995), Alaap v3.0 line stage ($14,995), Alaap v2.1 phono stage ($10,995), and Jhor 160 monoblock power amplifier ($28,995/pair); SME 20/3 turntable ($15,500 with SME’s Series V tonearm) and Koetsu Urushi Vermillion cartridge ($5850); and Transparent Audio cables. The gear was supported by Harmonic Resolutions Systems racks. I didn’t listen to any digital while I was in the room, but digital was being handled by a Wadia S7i CD player and a Playback Designs MPD-5 Reference DAC.
The natty Barnaby Fry, Philip O’Hanlon’s rival in the bow tie department, was getting good sound from a handmade-in-the-UK system, consisting of Rega’s RP6 Limited Edition Union Jack Version turntable, shown complete with cartridge and electronic speed control ($2095), Apollo-R CD player ($1095), DAC ($995), and Brio-R integrated amp ($895). Chord cabling held the system together (and a whole lot more), and fed signal from the electronics to MC’s twenty.21 ($2600$2800/pair, depending upon finish), a stand mount monitor from the same Professional Monitoring Company that is said to help standardize the BBC’s studio sound.
Dali’s Thomas Knudsen may look a bit shy, but he was quite proud of the show debut of Dali’s Epicon 8 loudspeakers ($20,000/pair). Hidden from view were Naim’s NAC 172 streaming preamp ($2895), CD5i-2 ($1795), NAP 250-2 ($5995), and the UnitiServe SSD ($3995) network server with bit-perfect CD ripping capability.