Early on the show’s first day, the first up-and-running system I encountered was in the Nordost room, where a Moon Evolution 750D D/A converter/disc player ($13,000) and the same company’s 125 Wpc 700i integrated amplifier (also $13,000) drove a pair of Dynaudio C2 Signature loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), using Nordost Frey 2 interconnects and speaker cables and, of course, a full brace of QRT accessories. Playing a Baroque-ensemble recording of unknown origin, the system sounded delightfully clear, open, and un-harsh, with considerable spatial depth.
What's 2" long, comes out in May, and responds to external stimulus by changing color? The AudioQuest Dragonfly ($250), a USB D/A converter designed for the company by Wavelength Audio's Gordon Rankin (and whose proprietary software allows it to function as a true asynchronous DAC). The Dragonfly, which is powered by the USB bus, performs at 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz; the dragonfly icon on its plastic case (not shown here) indicates the sampling rate in use by glowing green, blue, amber, or white, respectively. Features include separate clock oscillators for 44.1/88.2 and 48/96; a 64-position analog volume control that overrides the digital volume control in iTunes/etc.; and proprietary USB input and 3.5mm output connectors.
The Multi Electronique suite was home to a tasteful, sedate display of Focal loudspeakers and Simaudio electronics, fed by an iMac computer running iTunes: just like home, except these guys had WAV files instead of the AIFFs that I prefer. The music selection was superb, and included the young jazz singer Melody Gardot, whom I hadn't heard before today, and the always interesting Dee Dee Bridgewater. Even without the luxury of an "audiophile" setupwhich is to say, these musical furnishings were arranged in the manner of a normal person's homethe sound of the Focal Chorus 826W ($3795/pair), Moon 3.3 DPX D/A converter ($4000), and Moon 3.3 amplifier ($4000) was utterly charming, and I left my comfy red seat with only the greatest reluctance.
When in London, do take in the British Museum, where you’ll find the uncannily well preserved human remains that have come to be known as Lindow Man. (I could recount the circumstances of the discovery of the corpse, but it’s just too horrible to tell...) As with most Druids from a thousand years ago, he was rather small, and because the corpse was cut in two during its discovery (whoops: I let that slip by mistake), you’ll find the remains of Lindow Man encased in a small illuminated box with a glass topvirtually identical to the Gutwire display cases I found in SSI’s Canadian Pavilion.
"Glad," a jazz-tinged instrumental by the English band Traffic, sounded great on a Gamut-intensive system from Woodbridge Stereo. Therein, the enormous Gamut S-9 loudspeakers ($101,999/pair in optional ash finish) were impressive, but I enjoyed even more the Gamut S-5 speakers ($30,000/pair), which did a nice job with the song's propulsive, almost Motown-esque beat. Other gear in the system included the Gamut D 150 integrated amplifier ($11,700), Pass Labs XP25 phono preamplifier (ca $10,000), and a prototype version of VPI's forthcoming Vanquish direct-drive turntable (price TBD), with VPI's similarly prototypical epoxy-resin JMW tonearm and a Soundsmith moving-iron phono cartridge. Very nice stuff.
Robert Kelly of German Physiks strikes a pose worthy of a Kraftwerk album cover while showing off the company's newest loudspeaker, the Unlimited Mk.II ($13,500/pair). With the company's omnidirectional DDD driver handling everything above 200Hz, the Unlimited Mk.II had an unsurprisingly open and spacious sound, with the same sort of near holographic imaging I heard in the Nola room: very impressive.
Here’s Philip O’Hanlon of the California-based distribution company On a Higher Note, looking like he just stepped out of a Donovan album. His system he demonstrated for Montreal retailer Coup de Foudre, which I’ll describe in another post, comprised Luxman source components and electronics and Vivid loudspeakers, wired with Cardas cablesand it sounded great, especially considering that Philip’s gear had just arrived the night before!
Canada's D2MK Solutions exhibited the interesting new Waterfall Victoria ($6000/pair), a two-way dynamic loudspeaker from France that features an all-glass enclosure. Supporting electronics included the Cary Audio SA2002 solid-state amplifier ($3995), Cary SLP05 preamp (5$8500), and Cary Xciter D/A converter ($1500), the latter playing music files from a laptop computer.
Tim Ryan of SimpliFi Audio demonstrated the always-enjoyable Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker ($6000/pair) in tandem with Gradient's SWS dipole bass speakers (also $6000/pair, outboard crossover included), to excellent effect. Ryan says the SWS, to whose development the late Peter Walker contributed, also works a treat with the Harbeth P3 and other smallish speakers from that line. (That's exactly how he said it, too.)
A clever engineer with an interest in home audio says that the real obstacle to high-fidelity sound is the adverse and unpredictable way in which speakers interact with most domestic rooms. To address that need, he brings to market a loudspeaker that disperses sound in a new and original way. Controversy ensues. Controversy endures.