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.
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.