Listening to the Philharmonic speakers, I couldn't see a source. There was an AVA CD player but its display said "No Disc." There was a turntable but no LP playing. Then I saw an iPad in someone's hand. It was controlling Jim Salk's new StreamPlayer ($1295), the rightmost of the two small red-line-fronted boxes on top of the preamp in the photo. This is similar in concept to the Bryston BDP-1 we reviewed in June, in that it is a PC running Linux that is optimized for streaming audio from an external source, in this case Salk's own NAS drive (the left-most box), connected by Ethernet cable. Whereas the Bryston offers control buttons and a display, the Salk is controlled by a remote client running on an iPad, iPod Touch, Android phone, etc. The Salk StreamPlayer, which was sending audio data via USB to a Wavelength Cosecant DAC, will be available in October.
... may have been fairly small as these things go, with just 28 exhibitor rooms, which is way fewer than THE Show Newport Beach a month ago. However, that is still 6 more rooms than the Axpona NYC just two weeks ago, with about the same number of marquee brands, in a hotel with generally better-sounding rooms than New York's Affinia. Show organizer Gary Gill, shown here giving away the prizes at the first of the nightly raffles, took a big gamble moving last year's intimate show into a hotel venue, but it seemed to have worked: both exhibitors and attendees seemed very upbeat about the event. Attendance on Saturday evening was a hair short of 700, meaning that possibly 900 or even 1000 people had packed the rooms of the Rockville Crowne Plaza by the time the Show closed Sunday evening.
Are regional shows like Gary's the future of the audio market, as Classic Speakers' John Wolff believes, or will we return to the days when there were just one or at most two large shows each year? That is going to depend on the resources of audio manufacturers and retailers and their willingness to spend more time on the road. But the 2011 Capital AudioFest certainly proved that if you hold it, audiophiles will come.
The system in distributor The Signal Collection's room was decidedly esoteric: Klimo Labor Merlino preamp ($6699) and Tine class-A tube monoblocks ($8999/pair) from Italy, and the Transmission Audio M1i Ribbon Mini speakers from Sweden ($4499/pair), hooked up with Klimo Labor Reference interconnect ($2999/1.2m pair) and Stereolab Diablo speaker cable from the USA ($1395/2.5m pair). Source was a more mundane Oppo BDP-95 universal player ($999). The speakers caught my attention, as they are designed by the engineer responsible for the similar-looking Red Rose Music R3 that Michael Fremer reviewed for Stereophile a decade ago. However, the treble above 3kHz is now handled by four ribbon units. The sound in this room benefited from. . .
One of the first rooms I went into was that featuring products from The Signal Collection, the distribution company run by the affable Chris Sommovigo (right). Also in the room was Todd Garfinkel of MA Recordings (left), who was using Chris's system to play the masters of some of his excellent-sounding recordings. (I mentioned below that MA had made a sampler CD to be given ever attendee.) The speaker featured in the photo is the M3 Mk3 ($6499/pair) from Swedish manufacturer Transmission Audio, a floorstanding sibling of the standmounted M1i Ribbon Mini I had auditioned at the Atlanta Axpona last April. The M3 used two of the metal-cne woofers developed by Bo Bengtsson and Ted Jordan. Each woofer is loaded differently to give a two-a-half-way design. The crossover to the ribbon tweeter is set at 3kHz.
With the speakers driven by Klimo Tine class-A tube monoblocks ($8999/pair), a Klimo Merlino preamp ($6699), hooked up with Stereolab interconnects and speakers cables, I listened to some of Todd's DSD masters played back on his Korg MR2000 recorder, as well as a Red Book WAV file of a track from MA's well-regarded Calamus: The Splendor of Al Andalus. Despite competing noise from a live band playing in an adjacent ballroom, the sound was open, and clear., with a wide soundstage.
I have been impressed by the sound of the line-source Scaena speakers at previous shows, but nothing had prepared me for the drop-dead gorgeous, real silver finish on the Silver Ghost 10th Anniversry Edition speakers at CES. Costing a breathtaking $153,000/system with the active subwoofers, the Silver Ghosts were driven at CES by the battery-powered Veloce amps and preamp and connected with the High Fidelity cables that Jason Serinus wrote about earlier in this Show report. (The regular speakers cost a relatively more affordable $83,000/pair.)
"What's that noise?" Bob Harley and I looked at each other in puzzlement. We thought we'd debugged the heck out of the recording setup, but there, audible in the headphones above the sound of Robert Silverman softly stroking the piano keys in the second Scherzo of Schumann's "Concerto Without Orchestra" sonata, was an intermittent crackling sound. It was almost as if the God of Vinyl was making sure there would be sufficient surface noise on our live recording to endow it with the Official Seal of Audiophile Approval. Bob tiptoed out of the vestry where we'd set up our temporary control room and peeked through a window into the church, where a rapt audience was sitting as appropriately quiet as church mice.
The Smyth SVS Realiser A8 system is a revolutionary product, found Kalman Rubinson in his November 2010 "Music in the Round" column. After the listener has the sound field produced by his system at the entrance to his ear canals analyzed with tiny probe microphones, the Realiser synthesizes that soundfield with Stax electrostatic headphones. The effect is though the listener was not using headphones but listening to his system; and unlike conventional headphone listening, the perceived sound is outside the head and if the listener turns his head, the sound remains centered. Even in surround.
At Axpona, Smyth were subjecting listeners first to a 5.1 system, then calibrating the Realiser for each listener, then allowing them to switch between the real thing and the version produced by the headphones. Everyone I spoke to, including Ivy Johnson shown in the photo, thought the effect amazingly lifelike; my regret was that I did not have time to experience it for myself.
The New York debut of Sonus Faber's stunning-looking Aida ($120,000/pair) was compromised by sub-optimal room acoustics and too much noise from outside the dem area. But the speaker, powered by Audio Research's new Reference 250 monoblocks ($25,900/pair) lived up to the promise in Las Vegas. But as I had found in New York, the true magic of the Aida was only to be found if you sat exactly in the sweet spot, when the speakers disappeared and the end of the room dissolved into the recorded acoustic. Certainly the team from WhatsBestForum.com sitting in front of my cameraHi, Steve!were enjoying what the Aidas' were doing.
The rest of the system comprised an SME Model 20/3 turntable/tonearm ($17,000) with a Palos Presentation cartridge ($3995), an Audio Research CD8 ($9995) and DAC8 ($4995), Reference Phono 2SE ($12,995) and Reference 5SE linestage ($12,995), all connected with Shunyata cables. Racks were the ubiquitous Harmonic Resolution Systems SXRs and power conditioning was also by Shunyata.
Successful new prerecorded audio media emerge, on average, every two decades—one human generation. The LP made its debut in 1948, 21 years after the introduction of electrical recording ended the adolescence of the record industry and the acoustic 78rpm disc. This was almost coincidental with Jack Mullin's retrieval of analog tape technology from the wreckage of post-WWII Germany and its subsequent commercialization by Bing Crosby's Ampex company (footnote 1). The compact cassette made its appearance in 1963, followed almost 20 years later by the CD, in 1982. And now, as I mentioned in the October issue's "As We See It," we have Sony and Philips' Super Audio CD and the DVD Forum's DVD-Audio to contend with (not forgetting MP3 and the Internet).
One of the great imponderables in hi-fi is how much the vibrations of a dynamic loudspeaker's cabinet walls contribute to its overall sound quality. Studies by William Stevens in the mid-1970s showed that, with some speakers, the acoustic output of the enclosure could be almost as much as that from the drive-units. Since then, responsible speaker designers have worked hard either to damp cabinet vibrations or to shift them to higher frequencies where their effect on the music will be less deleterious.