Earo Acoustics of Woodland Hills, CA demmed three different models of their Swedish-made self-powered loudspeakers. Listening to the white, single point source horn floor-standing Ulf ($6900/pair, I believe), a smaller cousin to the red Earo Eight, I loved the realism of the whistling and singing on Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” “Sound Fabulous” I wrote in my notes of the sound from speakers driven by Hypex class-D amplification, with more than a little help from a NuForce DAC. Not auditioned were the other two speakers and a DAC that I know to be excellent, because I have one here at home: the Antelope Zodiac Gold.
I have grown increasingly fond of exhibits that seem like a welcome breath of fresh air. Hence I extend my thanks to Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio and Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV, whose system provided my first listen to the fine Stein Music Aventurin cartridge ($6495). Listening to the Quartet Italiano play Mozart, I was delighted by the very warm, civilized, and totally enjoyable sound of a system that also included the Palmer 2.5 turntable ($11,990), the Stein Music Harmonizer System, and LFD photo stage ($1895) and NCSE MKII hand-assembled amplifier ($7495), and Harbeth Monitor 30.1 loudspeakers (starting at $5990/pair).
In a room dominated by Cessaro Horn Acoustics Chopin loudspeakers ($40,000/pair), whose tweeter reminds me of the donuts I gave up many decades ago, I found the sound on a recording of electric guitar extremely direct and realistically bright. I didn’t get the name of the blues recording that Leslie Mazer was playing on the platter, but the music was great. This wasn’t a room for those who like their sound sugar-coated, but for music lovers who want it served up straight, it was heaven.
Given that I’ve heard Audioquest’s price-busting DragonFly USB DAC ($249 and change) on other occasions, I only lingered long enough to hear a bit of Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin” and a 24/96 file of a song by Mark Knopfler. The sound was lovely and smooth. The system, which also included Vandersteen Quatro Carbon loudspeakers ($12,500/pair), Audio Research VSi75 ($7500), AudioQuest Castle Rock speaker cable and Angel interconnect, Harmonic Resolution Systems rack and shelf, and Furman PL-8 C power conditioning, didn’t have the ultimate bass control or color, but, my God, the DragonFly can be had for under $250.
T.H.E. Show Newport Beach presented two opportunities to hear the encouraging debut of the Nola Micro Grand Reference Gold loudspeaker ($22,200/pair with stands). On both occasions, the speaker was paired with Nordost cabling, this time top-of-the-line Odin throughout.
Although they looked the same, the Audio Note UK E/SPe HE 98dB-sensitive loudspeakers ($9300/pair plus $650 for the stands) were a larger version of what I heard at AXPONA Chicago. In a system that also included Audio Note UK’s CDT Three top-loading CD transport ($12,000), DAC3.1x / II Balanced ($10,000), and OTO SE Signature integrated amplifier ($5500, or $6300 with phono), a very warm and mellow midrange triumphed on Jane Monheit’s “More than You Will Ever Know” from the album, Neverland. A further listen to a cut from Hazmat Modine’s Bahamut convinced that this is a system for midrange lovers über alles.
Having entered Larry Kay’s BSG room at RMAF 2012 just as he was in throes of packing, after having missed the Bay Area Audiophile Society’s demo of his BSG qøl Signal Completion Stage, I was relieved to finally be able to take a brief listen to the device (pictured on the second shelf, below the MacBook Pro). Although my time in the room was briefLarry paused just long enough from a discussion to mug for the cameraI definitely heard a larger and more convincingly realistic qøl soundstage with the unit switched in. You can find John Atkinson’s February 2013 review here.
It’s not just a sign that proclaims this turntable a work of art; to those heavy into industrial design, the Basis Work of Art with Super 9 tonearm ($179,000) is what it proclaims. I will leave a detailed assessment to Michael Fremer, but on preliminary listen, in a major industrial-strength system that included the Lyra Atlas phono cartridge ($9500); four Audio Research components, including the Ref 250 monoblock amplifiers ($26,000/pair) and Ref 10 phono preamp ($30,000); Vandersteen 7 loudspeakers ($48,000/pair); and AudioQuest WEL Signature interconnects and speaker cable ($124,000 total), the system’s extremely warm and mellow sound shone through a bit of shoutiness and boominess.
YG Acoustics’ Sonja 1.2 passive loudspeakers ($72,800/pair), which is basically the Sonja 1.3 that JA will be reviewing in the July issue, with one less woofer, sounded gorgeous in a not-so-modest $250,000 system. Sharing the honors were Tenor Audio’s 1755 stereo amplifier (Cn$55,000) and Line1/Power 1 preamplifier (Cn$75,000), Luxman’s DA-06 DAC ($6000), and $34,700 worth of Kubala Sosna Elation cabling and Sextet Power Distribution box.
Philip O’Hanlon may call his distribution company On a Higher Note, but it was the beauty of his system’s midrange that impressed me the most in his intentionally low-lit room. I couldn’t spend much time hereI lamentably missed playback of the Channel Classics DSD master filesbut on a master tape of guitarists Roy Gaines and Anthony Wilson, I was immediately captivated by the inherent rightness of the sound produced by the Brinkmann Bardo II turntable ($9500), Luxman D-08 CD/SACD player ($17,000) and DA-06 DAC ($6000), Mola Mola Kaluga preamp ($10,000) and Makua monoblocks ($15,000/pair, rave-inducing Vivid G3 Giya loudspeakers ($40,000/pair), Kubala Sosna Elation cabling, and Sonorus ATR10 open-reel tape deck ($13,000).
With MBL’s sonic excellence long established in these pages, I lingered in Jeremy Bryan’s room just long enough to confirm that the sound was as gratifying as usual. On a cut from the Reference Recordings’ classic of Rutter’s Requiemhappily not the “Pie Jésu” that everyone and their mother choosesI was immediately seduced by the beautiful air and warmth of the Radialstrahler 111F loudspeaker ($42,000/pair) fed by MBL’s Corona line C31 CD player ($9200), C11 preamplifier ($8800), and C15 mono power amplifiers ($25,000/pair).
Wishing to slow down and luxuriate with trusted friends, I headed to Covina, CA-based Sunny Components’ room on the second floor of the Hilton to reunite with the Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair). Making their West Coast show debut, these handsome babies, which I initially blogged about at RMAF 2012, sang superbly through Audio Research’s ARC Reference 250 monoblocks ($13,000 pair) and, in its US premiere, the ARC Reference 10 line stage preamplifier ($30,000). Also in the digital chain were the ARC Reference DAC, which extends up to 24/192; the new Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR Signature edition rack; and a combination of Shunyata Research, Transparent, and Isotek cabling and products. Wilson specialist and sound engineer Peter McGrath (left) enlightened me and Sunil Merchant of Sunny Components (right) by playing a bit of his hi-resolution master of young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performing the second movement Beethoven’s Op.7, No. 2 sonata.
In only its third year, T.H.E. Show Newport Beach has already become the largest consumer high-end/high-performance/fine-audio show in the United States. Running May 31June 2 in the Hilton and Atrium Hotels, directly across the street from southern California's surprisingly low-key Orange County/John Wayne airport, the booked-to-the-max show promises 140 active exhibit rooms, an estimated 450 manufacturers from around the globe, and enough ancillary events to rival a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey three-ring circus.