...was how SSI organizer Michel Plante had billed our "Ask the Editors" session, and (from left to right), Stephen Mejias, Robert Deutsch, and Art Dudley joined me in an animated discussion. Topics covered included the vinyl revivial, whether there is still a role for paper magazines in an Internet world, how does someone become a reviewer, and will Blu-ray be a viable medium for high-quality music.
From time to time in this column, I have alluded to what appears to be a loss of direction in high-end audio. It's not that the state of the audio art has stopped advancing; the technology is improving in many ways, as is obvious every time we listen to a new preamplifier or cartridge or loudspeaker that has better this, that, or the other thing than anything which has come before. The problem is that these improvements don't really seem to be getting us anywhere. And I believe the reason for this is that the audio community no longer agrees about where audio is supposed to be going in the first place.
For the fourth year in a row, the Home Entertainment Show was the venue for a raffle organized by analog specialty distributor Musical Surroundings. Shown here with the grand prize, a Pathos Classic One integrated amplifier is winner Stanley Moore (center), with Musical Surroundings' Garth Leerer (left) and Stereophile's Michael Fremer, who pulled the winning entries from a box in the time-honored, double-blind manner. Our congratulations to all the winners.
Audience was demming their tiny ClairAudient 1+1 bipolar speaker ($1800/pair, available this month), driving them with their 400W Wavepower monoblocks $18,000/pair including Au24 SE PowerChords) via Au24 cables. Front end was a Bryston BDP-1 media player and BDA-1 DAC, and Audience’s Adept Response aR6-TS conditioners cleaned up the AC. As you might expect from such small speakers using two full-range drivers, the stereo imaging from this system was superbly stable and exquisitely well-defined, though double basses did sounded more like cellos, there only being so much low-frequency energy you can extract from 3" drive-units, even when loaded with passive radiators.
Over at T.H.E. Show, Audience were demming the ClairAudient 1+1 bipolar speaker ($1800/pair), which uses two of the small full-range A3S drive-units developed by Roger Sheker, one on the front, one on the back, loaded with two passive radiators on the speaker's sides. The sound was dynamic, with surprisingly extended low frequencies.
The Audio Alternative's big room on the ninth floor was one in which I spent more time than I had intended, such was the spacious sweep of sound produced by the Vandersteen Model 7 speakers ($50,000/pair with premium M7 crossovers) driven by Audio Research Reference 250 monoblock amplifiers ($25,990/pair). A CD of Joe Williams singing a vocal version of Miles Davis's "All Blues," recorded 20 years ago with the then-groundbreaking Colossus digital system kept me in my seat. The source components were supported on one of Harmonic Resolution Systems' excellent racks, BTW.
This bijoux little asynchronous USB DAC ($249), which uses an ESS Sabre DAC and Gordon Rankin's Streamlength code, made its public debut at Newport Beach. It was being demmed in one of retailer Optimal Enchantment's rooms with Audio Research amplification and Vandersteen Treo speakers. Add a PC or Mac, a 1m 3.5mmdual-RCA Evergreen cable from AudioQuest ($29) and you're in business.
Stephen Mejias mention Garth Powell's passion for what he does in his report from the Furman room at CES. AJ Conti, the man behind turntable manufacturer Basis Audio, has a similar passion for what he does. His current attention is focused on getting the drive belts for his well-regarded turntables as flat as possible, to eliminate the last vestige of drive-system spuriae from the audio recovered from vinyl. Dissatisfied with the highest precision he could get from commercial ground-belt vendors, he invested in his own production machinery.
Though I have shown in the photo the prototype of the new BAT P1 phono cartridge, developed by Peter Lederman but with a feature unique to BAT that is said to reduce stylus jitter, the star of this large room was the pair of Scaena line-source speakers ($66,000/system) that were driven by BAT's new Rex tubed amplifier ($15,000, used here bridged for mono) but also proved unphotographable (at least by me). (You can find Jason Serinus' photo of the speaker at the 2010 Axpona here.)
The rest of the system included a Silver Circle Pure Audio 5.0 AC conditioner, Kubula-Sosna Master Reference cables, Critical Mass Systems stands, BAT VK-P10 phono preamp, BAT Rex line stage, Scaena subwoofers, and a Spiral Groove SG-2 turntable and Centroid tonearm. Listening to Marc Cohn's "Riding on a Ghost Train" and Miles Davis's "So What" from LP, it was though I were hearing these familiar pieces for the first time. There was a stability to the high frequencies, a clarity to the midrange, a depth to the low frequencies, that thrilled.
i saw a familiar face when I went into the Veloce room, as Mark Conti, who designed the unusual Impact speakers from a few years back, is now involved in this line of battery-powered amplification. My eyes were attracted by the Veloce Platino LFT-1 linestage in the photo ($12,500), which will run for 70 hours before needing recharging, but driving the Marten speakers in the room via Purist cables was a pair of battery-power monoblocks ($12,000/pair). Battery power? Yes, the input stage, based on a 6922 tube, is transformer-coupled to a high-efficiency class-D output stage based on the Hypex module designed by famed Dutch engineer Bruno Putzys. A charge will last 4080 hours depending on the speaker's load impedance, Mark told me.