The Ayon Audio room used a pair of gracefully curved LumenWhite Artisan speakers ($35,000/pair) with the Ayon Orthos II monoblock amplifiers ($24,000/pair) and the Ayon CD-5 CD Player with integrated preamplifier ($11,380). The CD-5 features USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, i2S and Toslink inputs and S/PDIF (RCA), i2S, and AES/EBU digital outputs. Cable was from Synergistic Research and the equipment rack was the Bassocontinuo ($10,000) from Italy, shown here with German Plexiglas shelves. Around the room you’ll also notice the Synergistic Research Art devices inviting comment.
I noted a very strong center image, lots of body/weight, and a physical yet nimble presentation.
Monrovia, CA-based retailer Brooks Berdan had one of the larger suites on the 2nd floor filled with top-of-line gear, including Wilson Audio W/P Sasha ($27,900/pair), VTL TL7.5 Series III preamp ($23,000), VTL TP6.5 phono preamp ($8500), VTL MB-450 Series III monoblock amplifiers ($18,000), dCS Puccini CD/SACD player ($18,000), dCS Puccini U-Clock ($5000), dCS Debussy DAC ($11,500), Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5 Turntable ($23,000), Grand Prix Audio Silverstone Isolation Component System ($22,000), and the Grand Prix Audio with cables from Cardas.
This was one of my favorite rooms but I’m not talking about sound quality in and of itself. John Quick of Tempo Sales & Marketing, dCS's US distributor, was spinning the tunes while I was in the room and between Ella and Louie, The Beatles in all their high-res glory, and let me just say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Black Sabbath's classic "Fairies Wear Boots" blasting through a pair of Wilson Sashas. For me, the difference between good and great hi-fi resides in, and is 100% dependent upon, the music. And there a number of people in the industry who seem to really get that and John Quick is one of 'em. One hint that this may be the case is a big smile on their face as opposed to a pensivethis is very serious businessfrown. I left the Brooks Berdan room energized and ready for more.
The Channel Islands Audio room featured two brand spankin' new products; the Soul Sister loudspeakers ($5000/pair with an optional up-charge of $1000 for custom veneer) which reach down to 27Hz and have a 90dB sensitivity according to Dusty Vawter of CI Audio. They should be available within two months. The other new product is so new it showed up in prototype plain clothesthe upcoming Asynchronous USB DAC ($1500 projected price), which should be available in the near future and feature 3 coax inputs, 3 Toslink inputs, and a USB input and will handle resolutions up to 32 bits and sampling rates as high as 384kHz. All electronics were. . .
These brands were located in the California Room, which oddly enough was in the opposite direction of everything else at T.H.E. Show. I very much enjoyed my brief time with the 90dB Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers ($7995/pair), which carry on Reference 3A-s tradition of relatively easy-to-drive loudspeakers, the brand-new Concert Fidelity ZL-120V2 monoblock power amplifiers ($28,000/pair), Concert Fidelity CF-080LSX line-stage preamplifier ($20,000), Concert Fidelity DAC-040 D/A converter ($10,000), and the Concert Fidelity SPA-4C phono stage ($14,000). The turntable was the Perpetual Technology TT 1 ($2500); a Copland CCDA 825 CD player ($6500) was also in use; and all cable was from Cable Research Lab.
We listened to Aimee Mann and Leonard Cohen on CD and it sounded lovely.
Retailer Digital Ear from Tustin, CA was all over this show. I had to keep checking my notes since I began to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day"I'm in the Digital Ear room, again? But I just left." Room 1 was the Revel/Levinson roomRevel Ultima Salon2 speakers ($21,998/pair), Mark Levinson No.53 monoblock amplifiers ($25,000, the first-ever switching amp from Levinson), Mark Levinson No.326S preamplifier ($10,000), the No.512 CD/SACD Player ($15,000), with cabling from Transparent Audio. I felt this tiny room did not allow you to fully appreciate what you might hear if you were in a more appropriately sized room with this kind of gear. As is, I would not recommend the Revel Salon 2sa JA favoritefor near-field listening.
Next up was Digital Ear's MartinLogan and McIntosh room. While I was there, the new MartinLogan ElectroMotion EM-ESL loudspeaker ($1995/pair), which "features both electrostatic and compact Folded Motion thin-film transducer technologies," was playing very nicely with a McIntosh MC452 amplifier ($6000), McIntosh C50 preamplifier ($5000), which includes a USB DAC and phono stage, a Cambridge Audio id100 iPod/iPad dock ($1299), all tied together with Transparent Audio Reference Series cables.
While this room sounded very inviting and was doing all those things MartinLogans are known to do, I almost wished they'd used a less expensive amp/pre combo to show off a sleek, relatively affordable system. One of the McIntosh integrated amps comes to mindless muss, less fuss.
Room 3 was owned by Burmester, no one else need applyB30 loudspeakers ($15,995/pair), 911 amplifier ($29,995), 088 preamplifier ($28,995), 089 CD Player ($28,995), V1 rack (no price given) with, you guessed it, Transparent Cables. If Dieter from Sprockets was an audiophile, this would be his hi-fi. And Dieter loves music: "Touch my monkey."
The big room. Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($100,000/pair) standing at over 6' tall, dominated the room, looking like Transformers ready to devour us with music. The Burmester 911 Mk3 amplifier ($29,995) managed the Grand Utopias, the Burmester 089 CD ($28,995) and a Burmester preamplifer (I did not note the model but I bet it costs $xx,995) took care of rest, with Transparent Opus and Reference cables.
It's very difficult to ignore the pair of 573.2 lb speakers in the room but my note, just one, read "Jack be nimble." Of course, anyone interested in auditioning hi-fi for potential purchase, especially when spending this kind of money, will take their time listening and not base their judgment on a few minutes. Jack don’t be quick.
Dynamic Contrasts manufactures the RTS Racking System, an equipment-support system that squeezes the bad vibes out of your gear. Okay, so that’s my interpretation but if you want to know what they’re talking about, I’d recommend a visit to their website. A three-shelf RTS Racking System will run you $12,900 and each additional shelf adds $2200. It's difficult to see in this picture (you can see part of an empty rack on the right side in front of the speaker), but this rack is very unconventional and instead of having support shelves, it has support arms that clamp your gear in place. So in effect, your gear is not "sitting," it's being gripped in place. Sort of like a medieval kind of rack. . .
To suggest that Vincent Audio pushes the boundaries of taste in some of its ads is, I think, not overstating the obvious, and using women as props to sell hi-fi gear is probably not the best way to get more women interested in the hobby if that’s what you’re interested in doing. But hey, I’m all for enthusiasm and it takes all forms.
The hybrid tube/solid-state Vincent SP-T800 200W monoblock amplifiers ($2499.95/pair) were on display along with the Vincent SA-T8 preamp (2349.95), the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC ($2999.99), a Thorens TD 2030 turntable ($3699) and the very refined “The Kiss” speakers ($15,000/pair w/stands) from Vienna Acoustic’s Klimt Series. The lovely and from what I’ve heard talented Jessi Monroe was also in the Vincent Audio room signing autographs. You may recall Jesse from Stephen Mejias’ Axpona Atlanta coverage.