The line outside the AIX room at Axpona, like the line outside the MBL room, was evidence that something special was happening inside. Mark Waldrep of AIX Records prefaced his AV demonstration with an interestingand amusingdiscussion of how difficult and expensive it can be to film in 3-D. There followed one of the most convincing performance clips I've yet to see: fingerstylist Laurence Juber playing a number called "White Pass Trail" on his signature Martin guitar. During the second part of this instrumental, Juber switched from mere picking to actually slapping the strings over the guitar's fingerboard extension (slapping the body, too, for percussion), and the five Thiel SCS4T loudspeakers ($3690/pair) captured perfectly the speed and impact, along with the color and texture, of those sounds. By this time of the show my wife had joined my daughter and I, and she shared my surprise at how the 3-D effect enhanced, rather than tarted-up, the performance. An impressive recreation of superb music.
At the room sponsored by New Jersey dealer CARE Audio, the Allnic T2000 integrated amplifier ($8900), whose tube cages suggest a horizon not unlike that of the Manhattan skyline, drove a pair of MAD Baron loudspeakers ($13,000/pair), itself fed by a Calyx FEMTO D/A converter ($6850) and a Musica Pristina A Cappella server ($6500).
Even at its humblest, a 300B is a fine thing. And at its best, this classic triode output tube can deliver some of the most intoxicating music playback imaginable. If tubes are liquor, the 300B is clearly absinthe. (The 2A3 is Cognac, the 45 is Armagnac, the F2a is Tequila, and the EL34 is vodkawhich is to say, you can make almost anything out of an EL34, from the repulsive to the sublime.)
There were no new Abbingdon Music Research products at this show, but distributor Darren Censullo was in attendance at the Audio Doctor suite, where he spoke with excitement about a forthcoming AMR product called the iDac: a USB-friendly converter scheduled to sell for just $350.
The wigs, that is: The reliably beautiful women of Montreal’s annual Salon Son et Image have, for 2013, traded their signature blue wigs for blue slacks and a trace of blue hair dye. This morning they showed off their fetching new look while looking for and fetching my press badge, just two hours before the start of the show’s trade day. Salon Son et Image, at the Montreal Hilton Bonaventure, opens to the public on Friday, March 22, and runs through Sunday.
Suggesting that a $10,000 amplifier might represent decent value for the money is, when done within earshot of the most aggressive audiophiles, not unlike dropping the soap in the prison shower; nevertheless, the snappily named 6C33C SE amp from the Budapest firm Tube Guru, the price of which breaks the five-figure barrier by one penny, impressed me as a good buy for what it is. And what it is is a handmade all-tube stereo power amp that gets 14Wpc from its nominal indirectly heated power triodes. The 6C33C SE, which is imported by Beauty of Sound, sounded shockingly good driving the planar-plus-ribbon Model 8 loudspeakers ($65,000 per pair) from Leonardo Audio, the latter imported by Laufer Teknik.
Anyone over 40 who's worked in a hi-fi or record store will remember the Pfanstiehl catalog, a pulpy thing that most shopkeepers chained to their counters, like a phone book. Pfanstiehl made replacement styli for virtually every record-playing device of the day, and their catalog contained page after page of tiny line drawings of nothing but phonograph needles, all lovingly rendered in three-quarter view. You couldn't browse it without being brought up short: My God, how many different needles are there? And how is it possible that a single company could tool up for so many products and still make a profit?
Here we are, back to the Arcam I know and love: a company that not only invents good products, but good product categories as well. Like the Arcam Black Box of the 1980s, which gave so many people fits at the time—yet which, once you heard it, made good musical sense. It made good marketing sense, too: With that one stroke, teensy, weird, nestled-away-in-the-English-countryside Arcam did nothing less than create the domestic market for outboard digital-to-analog converters.
Arcam, the British company that brought to market the first outboard D/A converter for domestic-audio applications in 1989, exhibited a couple of their newest variations on the digital-processor theme. Seen on static display in the room of Erikson Consumer AudioCanadian distributors for Arcam and Missionwas the new Arcam airDAC (left, ca $750), which uses AirPlay to allow perfectionist-quality wireless streaming from iPads, iPhones, and iPods. On the right is the similarly new Arcam irDAC (price to be determined), a remote-control 24/192 D/A whose innards are based on those of the company’s popular D33 processor.
My reputation preceded me: Everywhere I went, people who knew me stopped and asked, “Have you heard the new Lowther yet?” The speaker in question was actually a Lowther-alike from the German firm Voxativ, named the Ampeggio ($29,750/pair), and as I told everyone who askedunsmugly, I hopeI’ve had a loaner pair in my house since mid-March.