The first Aaudio Imports room I visited featured the DEQX Room Correction Processor ($4500). I had been gob-smacked at the 2012 RMAF, when I heard how this processor turned a pair of RadioShack PA horns into acceptable hi-fi speakers. However, the correction being demmed at T.H.E. Show was more subtle, mainly involving a firming up of the stereo imaging, as the system was sounding good without correction. (Competing noise from the room across the corridor did make the improvement difficult to hear at first.)
Orange County, CA-based Precision Transducer Technology had loaned me a pair of active monitors for my lead-off seminar on hearing and how recordings are made. As I had only previously been aware of the phono preamplifier, my first visit on Day Two of the show was to the PTE room. PTE’s Phoenix SG powered speakers ($9500/pair) offer a more domestically acceptable veneer finish than the speaker I used for my dem. They combine a modified ScanSpeak tweeter with twin Peerless woofers, ad include class-AB amplification based on an LM386 chip with analog equalization.
It was a treat to visit the Red Wine Audio room, which featured Harbeth Super HL5 monitors ($5690/pair) driven by Red Wine’s battery-powered Liliana Renaissance Edition monoblocks ($5995/pair) and Isabella Renaissance Edition 6H30 preamplifier ($3995), and hear Grammy-winning engineer David Reitzas mixing songs from Madonna and Barbra Streisand from his MacBook Pro running Pro Tools.
Audience was demming their tiny ClairAudient 1+1 bipolar speaker ($1800/pair, available this month), driving them with their 400W Wavepower monoblocks $18,000/pair including Au24 SE PowerChords) via Au24 cables. Front end was a Bryston BDP-1 media player and BDA-1 DAC, and Audience’s Adept Response aR6-TS conditioners cleaned up the AC. As you might expect from such small speakers using two full-range drivers, the stereo imaging from this system was superbly stable and exquisitely well-defined, though double basses did sounded more like cellos, there only being so much low-frequency energy you can extract from 3" drive-units, even when loaded with passive radiators.
The system in the Gallo room featured the Strada 2 satellites (left in photo) with a TR3 subwoofer operating below 110Hz ($3400/system including stands); driven by a Cambridge 840A integrated amplifier with an Olive media server as source, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sounded full-range and naturally balanced. But my attention was drawn to the tiny A’Diva SE ($329 each) and even smaller Micro ($239 each) which each use a single flat-diaphragm drive-unit, which were new at T.H.E. Show.
Speaker manufacturer Chapman was demming the T-8 Mk.II ($9995/pair) with the 120Wpc Innamorata solid-state amplifier from a Californian company new to me, Wells Audio. The hefty three-way T-8 (it weighs 100 lbs) combines a 10” polyaminate-fiber cone woofer with a 5.5” midrange unit and a 1” silk-dome tweeter. Frequency response is specified as 28Hz30kHz, ±3dB, sensitivity as 89dB/W/m, and Chapman claims it specifies all the drivers to within ±.025dB. The Innamorata is heavily biased into class-A and features Jack Bybee’s “Music Rails” to lower its noisefloor.
Audio Machina speakers were featured in the Coffman Labs room, driven by Manley New Classic SE/PP300 monoblocks, but my attention was drawn to this superbly finished tube preamp from Coffman, the G1-A ($5495, $5795 with remote), which includes a phono stage and headphone output, and is being produced in a limited edition of 500 units. The rest of the system included Music Hall’s MMF9.1 turntable fitted with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge, Parasound’s great-sounding Halo CD1 CD player, and an Audience Adept Response power conditioner.
The San Diego manufacturer’s affable Robert Lee was showing his new Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,000/pair), which combines a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter with two 5" midrange units and two 8" woofers in a transmission-line enclosure. Driven by Triode TRX-M845 tubed monoblocks, the Crescendos threw a very wide but somewhat unstable stereo image on a 1962 RCA “Living Stereo” Leopold Stokowksi LP, with rather ill-defined low frequencies. I would have thought that perhaps that sonic signature was due to the recording, but the Crescendos sounded cleaner, with better defined low frequencies and accurate, stable stereo imaging in the Red Dragon Audio room, where they were driven by Red Dragon M500 Mk.II monoblocks ($1598/pair) and helped, I understand, by DSP room acoustic correction.
As in many rooms, “Keith Don’t Go,” Nils Lofgren’s live paean to the Stones’ Keith Richard was playing when I went into the Nuforce room. As much as I liked this song the first time I heard it, this must have been the 10,000th! The Angel City Trinity speakers ($3000/pair) that I had liked in the Spiritual Audio room were being driven by Nuforce Ref.18 monoblocks, which offer 335W into 8 ohms and cost $3800 each. Preamp was the P20 ($5000) and source the DAC9 ($1795) fed data buy an Oppo universal player. Much as I was weary of Keith being begged not to go, the guitar sounded full-bodied and clean in this room, perhaps due in part to the careful use of acoustic treatment from LA Sound to tame the ubiquitous 80Hz hump in the Hilton’s smaller rooms.
“An honest sound; clarity without detail being thrust forward at the listener,” read my notes from this room at the Hilton, which featured the superb-sounding TAD Evolution One speakers ($29,800/pair) that Kal Rubinson reviews in the July 2013 issue of Stereophile. Both Eva Cassidy singing “Fields of Gold” and the Sir Charles MacKerras’s “Living Stereo” recording of Sibelius’s Finlandia (the latter one of the first classical recordings I owned more than 50 years ago) were well-served by this system, which included Zesto’s Andros PS1 tube phono stage ($4300) that Michael Fremer liked so much when he reviewed it in his March 2013 “Analog Corner” column, Zesto’s new Leto tubed line stage ($7500), and A VAC Phi 200 power amplifier ($9990), all hooked up with WyWires wires. Turntable was the Merrill-Williams ($7200) fitted with a Triplanar arm ($6000) and a Dynavector XX2 Mk.II cartridge ($1985).
Like so many rooms at the Hilton, Wyred 4 Sound was battling an unsympathetic acoustic, which made the otherwise excellent Paradigm Signature S8 v3 speakers ($7999/pair) sound bass-heavy. But driven by an almost all-Wyred 4 Sound systemMS-1 music server ($1999), DAC-2 DSDse ($2499), mAMP monoblocks ($1798/pair), with all Wyred 4 Sound cables, and PS Audio P5 AC conditioner ($3495)the sound of DSD files from Cookie Marenco Blue Coast Records sounded excellent. One thing I did notice that the sweet spot was very small, the sound being rather diffuse and lacking transparency until I moved into the front-row center seat.
Monrovia, CA store Brooks Berdan Audio is now run by the late Brooks Berdan’s widow Sheila. Her room at the Hilton heavily featured products from importer Bluebird Music: Spendor A9 speakers ($7995/pair), Jadis JA80 tube amps, and Jadis JP80MC preamplifier, hooked-up with Cardas cables. Source was Amarra running on a MacBook Pro feeding data to a McIntosh D100 DAC. Stands and racks were Grand Prix Audio. A blues recording by Eric Bibb, “Saucer and Cup,” from the CD Good Stuff, with acoustic guitar and mandolin, was reproduced with appropriate immediacy.
The Taiwanese company Lawrence Audio was founded in 1996 but was new to me. Their speakers are impeccably finished and are all named after string instruments: the large Cello (right) features twin ribbon tweeters and two 8" woofers and costs $18,000/pair; the smaller Violin ($7500/pair) a single ribbon tweeter; and the smallest Mandolin (just out of shot on the left) costs $5500/pair. Demmed with the new 125Wpc Model 125 stereo amplifier from Jeff Rowland Design Group, with the source a Bryston BDP-1 media player, the Cellos produced a clean, clear sound on a Japanese transcription for tenor saxophone of the first Bach Cello Suite, with none of the otherwise ubiquitous upper-bass boom I heard at the Hilton.
Although plagued by “Noisy Neighbor Syndrome,” Colleen Cardas Imports impressed me with the great sound they got from a 45rpm Acoustic Sounds test pressing of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing “Tin Pan Alley,” reproduced by the Opera Seconda loudspeakers ($3995/pair). Yes, that characteristic Hilton room mode was still in evidence, but these big two-and-a-half-ways produced an otherwise smooth, sonically compelling balance.
My ears first opened to the tantalizing sounds of JansZen Model ZA2.1 electrostatic hybrid loudspeakers ($7495/pair) with AirLayer outboard side-firing tweeter option ($495/pair) at AXPONA Chicago. In California, they were again paired with an exaSound DAC and, I think, Bryston linear amplifiers. With the source a PC equipped with J River Media Player feeding the DAC via a stock USB cable, the sound was quite nice on a track of somewhat formulaic jazz.