The Manley Snapper monoblocks ($4250/pair) sure have snap. Playing one of those classic percussion demo CDs with drum thwacks galore, the combo of Manley amplification, Bel Canto DAC/preamp, Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers ($4400/pair), Apple iBook transport, and Cardas Golden Reference interconnects was as sharp and crisp as could be. But they were also far more. With the system playing an LP of La Fille Mal Gardée on the VPI Super Scout Reference Master Turntable (one of only two available) equipped with a Silversmith phono cartridge, the sound was beautifully warm and sweet, the soundstage all-enveloping.
Roger Sanders brought more than a bit of the Colorado forest with him; he and exhibitor Stephen Mollner also delivered some of the most beautiful, airy, smooth, and totally musical sound I encountered at T.H.E. Show. Mollner was a bit apologetic that they were using the same Tascam SR1 flash recorder that I had frowned upon when I blogged their room at a previous show, but clearly they were doing something very, very right. Perhaps it was changes to two settings in the DCX2496 digital crossover, and/or boosting bass output by 1dB. There were only nine demo tracks to choose from, but the Hungarian Rhapsody sounded great. Thanks Roger and Stephen; I needed your breath of fresh air.
While being PC is always a bone of contention in the audiophile community, sonic correctness goes without question. In a nice-sized room in the Marriott Tower, Lyngdorf’s Steve Colburn held a series of extremely convincing demonstrations of the complete Lyngdorf room perfect correction system. Using Triad speakers, Colburn’s before and after treatment samples of a percussion CD with lots of low bass were eye-opening. Quelle difference! If only Steve could have corrected for the people in the far corner who insisted on blabbing through the entire demo as if no one else mattered.
Kimber Kable was more than happy to show off the four latest additions to its very full line of cables. First came the 12TC Teflon-insulated speaker cables, which use 24 conductors. Terminated with WBT Nextgen, an 8' pair of 12TC costs $854. Next there's the Cadence Subwoofer cable, which costs $175 for 1 meter with the best terminations Kimber supplies. Finally, complementing Kimber's HD19 1.3 cable, which costs $239 for 4 meters are the new HD09 1.3 (5 meters for $159) and HD29 1.3 (5 meters for $557). Other lengths are, of course, available. The display in the Venetian may have been static, but the very live demo Kimber Kable was conducting simultaneously at The Alexis Park was reportedly producing great sound.
Since Sonic Studio dropped the price of its Amarra music software system to $189, lots more people have been enjoying its sound. Less than two months after Amarra’s last release, James Anderson announced the imminent arrival of 2.4.3 (free to current owners). He also played Reference Recordings’ superb recording of Copland’s Symphony 3, one of whose movements has become known as the “Ode to the Common Man.” Turns out that the performance was recorded using Sonic Studio’s professional Soundblade products. Played back with Amarra 2.4.3, it sounded fabulous, with absolutely tight, room-shaking bass. No doubt Amarra’s optional equalization component, which can help control bass booming created by either room nodes or less than flat loudspeaker response, had more than a little to do with the success of the presentation.
The Immedia room proved an isle of sanity amidst the clamor. As I entered, the folks were playing Analogue Productions’ HQ-180 pressing of Chet. Heard through Joachim Gerhard’s somewhat diminutive, 90 lb Sonics Allegria speakers ($15,000/pair, shown above with Immedia’s Allen Perkins), the trumpet sounded far bigger and lifelike than speakers this size “should” make it sound. Equally impressive were the amazing depth, height, and width of the soundstage. No small part of the credit is due Perkins’ Spiral Groove SGI turntable ($20,000), Immedia RPM tonearm ($2995), Lyra Skala cartridge ($2500, a replacement for Lyra’s Helicon), the Lyra Connoisseur 4-2LSE preamp ($25,000), and Ayre V5XE 150 Wpc amp ($4500).
Having heard at last Randy Bankert’s 97dB-sensitive Sonist Concerto 4 floorstanding loudspeakers ($5895) with electronics and cabling that do them justice, I understand what beautiful sound they are capable of producing. Together with Snake River Audio interconnects and speaker cable ($1100$2449 for a 3m bi-wire pair of speaker cables), whose outer shell shimmers like a snake slithering in the sun, the Hong Kong sourced Increcable TIA-280 80Wpc integrated amplifier, and a Cary CAD-306 Pro SACD/CD player, this system produced solid bass and beautiful highs.
Sonist of Studio City, CA was touting the premier of the Recital 3 all-wood floorstanders ($2195/pair), with a lower-price black textured finish model ($1795/pair) also available. . Featuring a 6" woofer and ribbon tweeter, the 8 ohm speaker has 93dB sensitivity, and a frequency response of 45Hz40kHz. Audience and Cardas parts point to high quality. Shown next to the larger Concerto 3 ($4195/pair with all-wood cabinets, otherwise $3495 and reviewed by Art Dudley in April 2009), the Recital 3 is an 8 ohm, 95dB-sensitivity speaker with a frequency response of 30Hz40kHz. Current production of the Concerto 3 has fixed the cabinet resonance problem JA found in our review.
Sonus faber mated its Olympica 3 loudspeakers ($13,500/pair) with Audio Research’s Reference CD9 CD/DAC player ($13,000), Reference 75 amplifier ($9000), and SP20 preamplifier ($9000). Heard through AudioQuest Redwood cables, the system uncompromisingly conveyed the take-no-prisoners nature of the demo CD that was playing during my time in the room.
Sony's Yuki Sugiura adjusts the controls in Music Lovers' Reference Room
"Sensational" is an adjective far overplayed in "fine audio" circles (to borrow a phrase that Bob Levi of T.H.E. Show Newport Beach has been using). But I know of no better word to describe the jaw-dropping sound of a dCS/Boulder/Sony set-up at a May 4 demo in the Theater 2 room of Music Lovers Audio, San Francisco. With the assistance of a full complement of Transparent Audio cabling, save for an all-important active USB cable from Synergistic Research, the MacBook Pro/Audirvana-source system, featuring the Sony SS-AR1 speakers that so impressed Kal Rubinson in July 2011 was nothing short of sensational.
For me, the demo began when John R. Quick of Tempo Sales, distributor of digital equipment from UK-based dCS (Data Conversion Systems, Ltd.), ran up to me upon my arrival. Enthusiastically greeting me and my two remarkably well-behaved terrier mixes, Daisy Mae Doven and Leo Gleesun, he declared, "Jason, I have great news for you."
"I can hardly keep hold of the leashes, John," I said, quivering with anticipation. "Tell me, please, before I lose my grip."
"The new Synergistic Research USB Active SE cable blows every other USB cable I've tried out of the water. You've got to hear this thing."