Roy Hall's Music Hall was showing several nifty little systems. Making its official debut as well as show debut, the Creek Audio Evolution 5350 Integrated amplifier ($1795), which has been around for perhaps a decade in various proven incarnations, was sending its 120Wpcs into 8 ohms signal from the Creek Destiny CD player ($2495) into the handsomely slim (were we all only as. . .) Epos M22i loudspeakers ($2599/pair). This system was uncompromising in its portrayal of brash rock as exactly that. No euphonic roll-off or soft-pedaling allowed! Switch to the Oscar Peterson Trio, and you'll hear a very different, sweet sound on piano and bass.
Don't bother to tell Music Lovers Audio that audio sales have slowed. At a time when many dealers have abandoned two-channel audio altogether or chosen between de-emphasizing music and calling it quits, this Bay Area audio retailer has opened a second store a mere 30 miles from the original North Berkeley location, across the Bay in San Francisco.
Telarc, Classic Records, AIX, Cisco Music, Elusive Disc, Reference Recordings, and M•A Recordings have all pulled out of CES 2007, citing new restrictions on sales of merchandise that they feel to be unacceptable. Chesky remains undecided. Music Direct, May Audio, and Acoustic Sounds will exhibit, but will not sell product. Only 5.1 Marketing and Sales is currently committed to selling music.
The combo of Einstein NK60, 60W OTL monoblocks, Einstein The Tube preamp, Electric CDP7T Mk.II CD player, Adept Response power conditioning, A Cappella High Violin Mk.III horn speakers and cabling mated mellow, warm, nurturing sound with a lovely, sweet presentation. Playing the Ebony Wind Band’s take on the music of Silvestre Revueltas, the sound was especially beautiful and airy. Although not the greatest in the slam department, this system was not afraid of open, high extension. It also presented the midrange in correct proportion, which is no mean feat.
The demo seemed simple enough. A distributor proposed a session for the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) that would pit his relatively low-cost speaker cable against an ultra-expensive competing model named for a Norse god. We would listen to the music first with the high-priced spread, then with his cable, then discuss the differences. As far as the distributor was concerned, everyone would hear that the Nordic Emperor had no clothes.
I ended Saturday's incredibly packed tour of the 15 rooms on the Marriott Tower's 10th floor with a stop in Musical Fidelity's room. It was a good choice. This was the first room at the show where I pulled out Channel Classics' superbly recorded hybrid SACD of the Ebony Band Amsterdam performing a unique arrangement of Revueltas' elemental, gutsy, phantasmagorical Sensemaya. The sense of air was immense, with amazing soundstaging that belied the small size of the room. I also loved the height of the soundstage, and the deep reaches of the bass. But as much as I savored the presentations' air and depth, this hardly laid-back system sounded a bit tipped-up in the highs, a common factor in many of the smaller rooms at the Marriott.
Given the number of loudspeakers in the relatively small room, I was amazed that two corner traps, combined with intelligent speaker placement that began at 8am, could result in such well-controlled bass. But on the Channel Classics native DSD/hybrid SACD of the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Mahler's Symphony 2, the opening movement exhibited ideal control on the low end as well as natural warmth. I kept waiting for the booming, but it never came. What a great end to my first long day at AXPONA Chicago, 2013.
Nothing convinces more than a fabulous recording wonderfully reproduced. Wilson Audio scored big time when it engaged recording engineer Peter McGrath as its marketing VP. McGrath's recordings are legendary. When sourced from master hi-res computer files, played back using the superior Amarra Music Server software, they're pretty riveting.
Directly across the hall from the PrimaLuna exhibit, I discovered its somewhat more expensive big brother line, Mystère. While PrimaLuna amps operate in triode mode, Mystère gives you the sound of tetrode. These aren't high power babiesthe ia11 integrated amp ($1995) puts out 40Wpc watts and the ia21 integrated amp ($2995) gives you 50Wpc. The electronics are manufactured with a different partner in China, and are the dream project of their designer.
NAD has refreshed its top-of-the-line Master Series. Due out the end of the second quarter is the NAD Master Series M12 ($3499), a 2-channel audio hub that contains both preamp and DAC. Below it in the photo sits the M22 ($2499), a 2-channel class-D, dual-mono hybrid digital amplifier with an analog input stage and Encore Hypex digital module output stage. In a system that included Dynaudio's excellent C4 Signature and AudioQuest Rock series cabling, Esperanza Spalding's voice on her recording of "Little Fly" was flattered by the system's warm sweet sound. I wouldn't be surprised if Stephen Mejias, who speaks often of NAD's reliability and good sound, has his eyes on these babies.