Every now and then an affordable product comes along that's so good, even wealthy shoppers want it. Past examples in domestic audio include the Rega RB300 tonearm, the original Quicksilver Mono amplifier, the Grace F9E phono cartridgeeven Sony's unwitting CD player, the original PlayStation. Based on word of mouth alone, one might add the HRT Music Streamer+ to that lauded list.
Remarkably, I set out to audition the Hyperion HT-88 amplifier ($2800/pair) over two years ago, only to be confounded by shipping errors, miscommunications, and, in the end, a stealthily defective tube. I almost gave up.
Bratty, mollycoddled, and altogether spoiled consumers such as you and I have inflicted on computer audio the same injustice that laparoscopic surgery, antilock brakes, mobile telephones, word processors, e-mail, microwave ovens, and over-the-counter proton-pump inhibitors have suffered at our hands in recent years: In less time than it takes to say "ho-hum," we've knocked it from the pedestal to which all such breakthroughs are entitled and begun taking it for granted.
Beauty of Sound also imports and distributes Ikeda tonearms and phono cartridges, used at the show in tandem with a Triangle Art Signature turntable ($12,500). Seen here are the Ikeda IT-407 arm ($6500) and Kai cartridge ($7500); I have in hand a review sample of the former, and will report on it soon. Also in the Beauty of Sound system but not seen here were the Tube Guru all-tube Reference Phono preamplifier ($5400) and Rick Schultz’s High Fidelity cables, which, I’m told, use a patented magnetic signal-transfer technology. Sadly, the aforementioned Leonardo loudspeakers, which sounded great, proved too glossy and black for my camera.
The combination of Wilson Audio loudspeakers, VTL amplifiers, and Peter McGrath's digital recordingsand setup skillshas provided some of the finest music I've heard at literally every show I've attended in the past several years, and this show was no exception. The Wilson Sasha W/Ps ($27,900/pair) were installed along the long wall of one of Innovative's two rooms at the Waldorf=Astoria, and were driven by the VTL MB450 Series III amplifiers ($18,000/pair) and VTL 7.5 Series III preamp ($20,000), all hooked up with Transparent cables. The sound was colorful, dynamic, and tactilestring bounce was especially fineon all selections played, especially a high-resolution excerpt from Carmen that McGrath recorded in Miami not long ago, converted to analog with a dCS Puccini DAC ($18,000).
Raidho D1 loudspeakers from Denmark ($20,000/pair), Merrill Veritas amplifiers from Colorado ($12,000/pair), a Kondo G-70 line-level preamplifier from Japan ($35,000), and a Pi Greco Sinfonia CD player from Italy ($15,000) managed to get along nicely in one of the Rhapsody Music and Cinema rooms.
Jimmy Martin, the self-styled "King of Bluegrass," died at a hospice near his home in Hermitage, TN on May 14. Martin had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2003, but the progress of the disease was slow, and the first of two hospice stays was cut short by an apparent recovery. Significantly, Martin never gave up his plans to perform at this year's Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival in Bean Blossom, IN.
Retailer Coup de Foudre and Canadian distributor Tri-Cell built one of their exhibits around a pair of Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeakers ($7000/pair, to be reviewed in the June Stereophile by Mikey Fremer), driven by the 70Wpc Brinkmann Audio Vollverstarker integrated amplifier (also $7000), with a MacBook Pro and a Wavelength Audio Brick D/A converter ($2200) as the digital source. As always, Jeff Joseph's room setup was difficult to fault, and the system was smooth, colorful, and dynamic: Listening to the Gypsy swing music of the Howard Fishman quartet, I was happier than I'd been all day.
Let's just come out and say it: loudspeaker designer Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio, always makes a good sound, and his system's performance at this venue was no exception: organic, open, natural, un-spectacular, un-bombastic, and just plain lovely. The speakers in question were the Joseph Audio Pulsars ($7000/pair), driven by a Unison Unico 50 amplifier ($1450), fed by a Lynx Hilo D/A converter (street price: $2500) and a laptop equipped with Channel D's Pure Music software ($129). Cables were by Cardas.