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.
Bob Walters of the Bay Area Audiophile Society often refers to Jim Salk's loudspeakers as one of the best buys in high-end audio. Certainly I have never heard them sound better in a show context. Using an AVA ABX switch ($1499), Salk Audio switched between three of its speakers: Salk Silk Bookshelf ($3499/pair), Salk Supercharged SongTowers ($3495/pair), and, the largest Salk SoundScape 8s ($7995/pair). The 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange, and 12" passive radiators as in the two larger SoundScape models (not shown), albeit with two 8" drivers.
Although Soundsmith brought to Chicago the very same system it exhibited at RMAF in Denver last October, there was nothing has-been about the sound. In fact, sonics that I often find enticingly romantic, as on the slightly warm side, this time sounded far more neutral, yet infused with the glow that makes Peter Ledermann's cartridges and electronics so special.
With the sound of Jacoby Symphony Hall virtually hyped to life by the glowing accolades on its website and the praises of AXPONA's Steve Davis, I had to hear it for myself. Besides, I'd never heard either An-Lun Huang's Saibei Dance or John Corigliano's Oboe Concerto. I do recall, however, hearing Beethoven Symphony No.7 in A major at least once in my increasingly lengthy lifetime. (I'm being facetious, folks).
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.”
Shame on me for not writing down the name of Ron Sutherland’s adorable pooch, who stayed on my lap as we orbited to bliss with the great Johnny Hartmann. Partnering with some guys named John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, Hartmann made magic of “They Say It’s Wonderful.” Of course, that was on LP, soundingyeswonderful thanks to a Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 table with Tri-Planar arm, Sutherland N1 full-feature line/phone preamplifier ($18,000) and Sutherland Power Block amplifier ($6000), arrayed on a Krollo Rack and connected to each other and Avalon Transcendent loudspeakers by Incline cabling.
At the center of SVS loudspeaker demo were its prototype, hand-built Ultra Series Ultra Towers ($1999/pair), with a rated response of 28Hz22kHz (±3dB). Due November 20, the speaker's trapezoidal cabinet, which has no parallel lines, was blasting raucous, sinfully compressed, ridiculously tipped up rock courtesy of Classé's CA-2300 amplifier and CP-800 preamp. Once the energy shifted, I enjoyed the lovely touch of sanity delivered by cellist Antonio Lysy (from Antonio Lysy At the Broad on Yarlung Records playing Piazzola's "Oblivion" on a fabulous CD that is also available in hi-res download format from Linn. And when the Ultra Series is released, it will also include the SVS Ultra Bookshelf ($999/pair), SVS Ultra Center ($699), and SVS Ultra Surround ($1199/pair).
E.A.R. USA took advantage of CES to announce the world premiere of the Origo cable line from Jorma Design of Sweden. Prices for loudspeaker cables start at $7000 for the first meter, while interconnects start at $5250 for a 1-meter pair. A cable that, I am told, counts Japan as its major market, two of Jorma's lines have been designated "Product of the Year" by a leading Japanese audiophile publication. Jorma's extensive line starts with Jorma No.3 ($1450 for a 1m pair of speaker cables), and proceeds to Jorma No.2 ($2860 for a 1m pair of speaker cables), Jorma No.1 ($5000 for that pair), the new Origo, and the top-of-the line Jorma Prime ($12,800 for a 1m pair of speaker cables). All lines include loudspeaker cables in both single and bi-wire terminations, RCA and XLR interconnects, and jumpers. An Origo power cable, aptly named Origo Power, is due out shortly.
Symposium Acoustics has released its upgraded Turntable Top Aircell Level ($1499). Designed to be used with Symposium’s visually arresting Isis Rack, the Turntable Top provides isolation and damping through four AirCell isolators that are level-adjustable for off-center loads. This means that if you have a table or transport with a heavy motor or power supply on one side, you can still level the shelf. Leveling is accomplished via four small underside holes, one in each corner quadrant of the platform, that are accessed with a supplied 1/8” Allen key.