As well as the excellent-sounding Avalon NP2 speakers, the system I used to play back 24-bit AIF files from my laptop consisted of (from top to bottom): Metric Halo ULN-2 to convert the Firewire output of my Apple PowerBook to AES/EBU; Bel Canto DAC 3 (which I enthusiastically review in the forthcoming November issue), sitting on cylindrical wooden footers from a new company Waipuna Sound and connected to the Metric Halo box via a DH Labs AES/EBU link; Conrad-Johnson CT5 preamp and ET250S hybrid power amplifier; and Nordost Thor AC conditioner. Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables were used throughout. Equipment rack was the attractive and effective Stillpoints, which suspends the acrylic shelves from four steel cables.
It was an unusually fine day for a New York September. The W train crept from the subway tunnel into the sunlight of the Manhattan Bridge—"My God, the World Trade Center's on fire!" came the voice of the woman driving the train. I vividly remember what I did the rest of that day—the day the world terribly changed.
Sonus Faber co-founder Franco Serblin has started a new, eponymous company and two of his speakers, the floorstanding Ktema ($39,995/pair) and bookshelf Accordo ($12,995/pair) were being demonstrated in one of the Axiss Audio rooms in the Venetian. Amplification was all-Air TightATM-3011 monoblocks, ATC-2 preamplifier, ATE-2 phono preamplifier, ATH-2A transformerwith the source a Transrotor Fat Bob S turntable fitted with an Audiocraft AC-3300 tonearm and an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge. The laidback sound of Norah Jones matched the superb looks of the speakers and the bass was full and warmwhich impressed me the more when I realized I was listening to the stand-mounted Accordos, not the larger Ktemas.
I was astonished to come across a room at T.H.E. Show featuring the Scientific Fidelity brand. Back in the early 1990s, SciFi had some of the most stunning-looking tube amps and preamps, as well as a speaker, the Tesla, that offered spectacular imaging, SciFi's founder, Mike Maloney, exited manufacturing many years ago and founded T.H.E. Show, which he subsequently sold to Richard Beers. I bumped into Mike at a CES a few years back, and he had become a best-selling author on valuable metals trading. But the brand was back for 2012 with the stunning-looking, three-way Stylust loudspeaker ($30,000/pair), which sounded clean and detailed driven by the triangular Trillium amplifier ($25,000). Although the gentlemen in the room didn't speak English very well, I gathered that Mike was still the creative force behind the brand.
Many years ago, in a conversation I was having with Peter Walker of Quad, I asked him if there was a speaker he'd wished he'd designed. "PJ" thought for a moment, then said he admired the Beveridge electrostatic, where a flat panel fires into a waveguide, thus allowing the panel to overcome its Achilles' Heel: the very limited horizontal dispersion resulting from its width.
"Time to write another equipment report," thought the Great Reviewer, aware that the IRS would soon require another small donation to keep the country running on track. Deftly donning his Tom Wolfe vanilla suit, he sat at the antique desk acquired on one of his many all-expenses-paid research trips to Europe, patted the bust of H.L. Mencken that invariably stood by the word processor, ensured that his level of gonzo awareness was up to par, arranged his prejudices and biases in descending order of importance, checked that the requisite check was in the mail, coined a sufficient number of Maileresque factoids appropriate to the occasion, and dashed off 3000 words of pungently witty, passionately argued, convincingly objective, and deeply felt prose.
One of the things I like about audio Shows is when they have a full program of fringe events. The 2011 Axpona continued this tradition. Not only did Michael Fremer demonstrate how to set up turntables and Dean Peer talk about his experiences as a recording musician, but Channel D's Rob Robinson shows Showgoers how to rip their LPs to their PCs, author Jim Smith explained how to get better sound from your system, Mark Waldrep of AIX Records demonstrated HD music in full surround with 3D video, Enjoy the Music's Steve Rochlin gave talks on the state of the industry, I explained how I measure loudspeakers and what the measurements mean, and Rives Audio's Richard Bird, shown here in action, talked about how best to cope with the acoustics of the listening room. Good, essential stuff.
Rockport Technologies' Andy Payor alerted me before CES that VTL would be using his new Avior speaker at the Show. A three-way design using twin 9" carbon-fibersandwich woofers, a 6" carbon-fibersandwich midrange unit, and a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter, with Transparent Cable internal wiring, the Avior costs $29,500/pair. Driven by VTL's new S400 II monoblocks, a TL7.5 Series III preamp, YP6.5 phono preamp, and Spiral Groove LP player, the sound of Shelby Lynne singing "Just a Little Loving"the song of the 2012 Showsent shivers down my spine. "Deliciously real!" said my notes.