All that and more found a home in room 417 of the Hilton, where Fritz Heiler’s Rev 7 towers ($3500/pair) produced some fine sounds on a Chesky LP of Rosa Passos and Ron Carter singing Bossa Nova. On the major plus side, the midrange excelled; the midrange timbre of the guitar sounded just right, and Passos’ voice was ideally smooth. But despite GIK Acoustics room treatments and Custom Audio rack and amp stands, bass was unfocused, and Passos’ voice lacked ultimate clarity.
The Music First Audio system, which included the Music First Audio Step-up and Music First Audio Baby Reference preamplifier (in front, in red), helped create a midrange-strong system that, on a recording by Eva Cassidy, sounded very smooth indeed. Favoring the midrange over brilliance in orchestral fare, the system transmitted the natural resonance of horns, and credibly communicated the full and meaty sounds of violins.
Using a similar line-up as at CES 2013, the public show premiere of the Playback Designs' IPS-3 ($13,000), which contains a remote controlled amplifier/preamplifier/DAC with USB input that can handle up to 384kHz PCM and 6.1MHz DSD, paired with Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne loudspeakers with integrated stands ($4000/pair), sounded very solid and musical on a big band selection. I would have stayed longer, but rather than interrupt an intense conversation, I added this room to my “next show wish list.”
Antelope Audio, long respected in pro circles, showed two important products: the finally available Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp ($40,000), an all-in-one beauty that combines a 10M Rubidium atomic clock with a 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier; and the due-this-fall Zodiac Platinum DSD-capable DAC/headphone amplifier ($4895) with optional Voltikus power supply ($995). Paired with ATC SCM100-AT active loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), the Rubicon produced supremely beautiful sound with exceptionally refined highs. And that was from a computer source equipped with a stock USB cable. Those who have experimented with aftermarket USB cables know how much more color and life the system would have produced had a better USB cable been in the chain.
I suppose the glow around the speakers is apt in this case, given that I was listening to the Glow Amp Two ($1500), Glow Voice One loudspeakers ($420/pair), and Glow Sub One ($388). Connected to the Audiowood “Big Easy” Rega-based turntable w/matching stand ($1400 without arm) via Cable Research Lab cabling, Betty Carter and Ray Charles sounded smooth indeed.
Enigma Acoustics of Irvine, CA introduced the Sopranino, “the world’s first electrostatic supertweeter.” Winner of a CEA 2013 Innovations Award, the Sopranino claims a flat response beyond 40kHz and fully passive operation without the need of external bias. I confess that, when I walk into a room to encounter someone telling me everything I’m supposed to hear, I tend to shut down; I prefer to hear what I hear without being pre-programmed with a set of expectations. Regardless, as I soon discovered, only folks with severe hearing loss would have missed how the sound opened up when the Sopranino was switched in. The company highly recommends them as an addition for Quads.
I’ve never heard equipment from this West Sacramento, CA-based company other than at shows, but, for the last number of years, it has unfailing brought me joy. “Nice and open… tons of color… nice to hear so much color … captivating tube warmth without sounding loose or unfocused… great depth”those are the comments I wrote about the company’s two new products, the Starlet 4 50Wpc triode integrated amplifier ($3495) and VG-8 speakers ($3495/presumably for the pair). The VG-8s are claimed to extend down to 32Hz ±3dB. Cabling was from LegendLegend II speaker ($1495/10ft. pair), Lemaa interconnects ($395/1m pair), and Power 3 power ($495/6ft.)and source when I entered the room was a Marantz CD94 player.
A fabulous soundstage and air for days distinguished an already-distinguished recording of the great Shirley Horn. Ms. Horn, who was making beautiful music in several rooms at the Hilton, seemed especially at home in the second room sponsored by Tim Miner’s Pacific Coast Audio Video, where Wilson Audio Sophia 3 loudspeakers ($17,900/pair) mated beautifully with Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amp ($9950) and QB-9 DAC ($2750); Parasound’s Halo JC 3 phono preamp ($2395), Rega’s RP8 turntable ($2995) outfitted with Ortofon’s Redondo Blue cartridge ($879), and Synergistic Research’s Element Series cables, Tranquility Base, and Acoustic A.R.T. System.
This bad photo moment gives no hint of the delicacy of touch and smoothness of midrange registers that I heard from Murray Perahia’s piano in Pacific Coast Audio/Video’s room. Admittedly, highs were toned down, but they were certainly more enjoyable than this bottom of the barrel excuse for a photo. Doing the room far more honors than I were Herron Audio’s VTSP-3A (r02) vacuum-tube preamp ($6550), VTPH-2 tube phono stage ($3650), M1A power amplifiers ($6850/pair), and interconnects ($225/1m pair); MartinLogan’s Montis loudspeakers ($9995/pair); Ayre Acoustics’ CX7 CD player ($3500); VPI’s Aries 2 turntable ($4000) and SDS motor drive ($1200); and Synergistic Research’s PowerCell 6 SE ($2595).
Latvian enterprise Onda Ligera, manufacturer of loudspeakers and integrated amplifiers, made a very impressive U.S. debut at T.H.E. Show. With products not yet distributed in the US, the company mated its biggest loudspeaker, the 3-way WAVE 168D ($35,000/pair), with what I believe was their IPA 006 integrated amplifier ($15,000). (The speaker’s nominal impedance is 4 ohms, and the 006 is said to be capable of outputting 600W into that load.) Ensuring that the front end would be of similar quality, Onda Ligera used the excellent Esoteric K-01 CD/SACD player ($19,500). I wish I had asked about the cabling and power treatment.
This system sounded extremely fine. On a gorgeously reproduced recording of John Coltrane, for example, bass was tight, and the sound of cymbals seemed very natural.
Clayton Shaw, who previously developed and manufactured Evett & Shaw and Emerald Physics loudspeakers, has now moved beyond his three-year non-compete agreement with Emerald Physics’ current owner to found a new company, Spatial Computer. The 90 lb Trilogy T2 ($2398/pair), a high-sensitivity, three-way, open-baffle design loudspeaker, is sold with a 30-day trial policy. With DSP operating below 200Hz, the speaker delivered beautiful, warm, open, and colorful sound on Jane Monheit’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Those who have followed Shaw’s previous accomplishment to the Emerald City will definitely want to check these babies out.
I’m afraid the answer to the question is the latter. The set-up was beyond intriguing, but time was short, and there was too much talking going on in the Voxativ room to allow the music to come through. Perhaps someone else who visited the room can post their observations in the comments section below.
Ralph Hellmer’s Surreal Sound Audio, based in Chesterfield, VA, debuted their impressive-looking, 95dB-sensitive, customizable Fifth Row loudspeaker ($20,000$26,000/pair). Quote from the brochure: “Fifth Row was designed with the knowledge that the life of music is in the midrange.” With an Oppo player used as a transport, an ExaSound DSD-capable DAC, what appears to be an Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp with outboard power supply ,and Atma-Sphere monoblocks, the sound of guitar sounded strangely tinkly to my ears. All in all, the sound was a little edgy and honky with an artificial spaciousness. Perhaps that’s what’s meant by “surreal sound.”
I welcomed the opportunity to hear MA Recordings' very first LP, La Segunda, through Steve Norber's ear-opening PranaFidelity Model Fifty90 loudspeaker ($3950/pair). Through the symmetrical array 2-way vented design, I heard good bass, captivating depth, and plentiful air. In short, Todd Garfinkle's LP, sourced from high-resolution digital masters, sounded great.