Determining whether an idea is brilliant or off the wall is often a matter of perspectiveand of looking at the results that follow from the idea. Take the notion of AC regeneration. AC is what comes from the wall socket, courtesy a network of power-generation plants, and it's specified as having a certain voltage and frequency, with the amount of current limited by fuses or circuit breakers in the electrical panel of the house or apartment. Audio componentsother than those powered by batteriesare designed to convert this alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC), then produce variable AC that drives the speakers to produce a facsimile of that signal. In short, AC provides the raw material used by audio components to do their job.
A psychological theory (footnote 1) that I've always been fond of is the one that proposes the perceptual/personality dimension of Sharpening vs Leveling. As defined by the early Gestalt psychologists, Sharpening is an exaggeration of differences, Leveling a minimization of differences. In visual-perception research on this topic, when test subjects were presented with an asymmetrical figure, some later recalled it in ways that exaggerated the figure's asymmetry (Sharpeners), while others minimized or eliminated it (Levelers).
The warm-up phenomenon—where a system sounds better after it's been on for some time, the time being much longer than would be accounted for by anything in the measured performance—is well-known to audiophiles, and it often manifests itself at shows. This was the case with the system in the Avantgarde room: Avantgarde Duo Mezzo loudspeakers ($47,250/pair), Avantgarde One preamp ($37,500) and One power amp ($45,000), with Brinkmann analog and Audio Aero digital front ends. I heard the system early on the first day of the show, and although it didn't sound bad, it didn't sound as great as I'd heard Avantgarde speakers sounding. Could it be the room or perhaps the setup? Avantgarde Acoustics designer Matthias Ruff was on hand; between him and Jody Hickson of Globe Marketing, Avantgarde's new North American distributor, they should have been able to sort out the setup, but the sound was definitely disappointing, being on the dry side, a characteristic I don't associate with Avantgarde speakers.
John Atkinson opened Saturday afternoon's "Ask the Editors" session with a brief introduction in French—which got applause from the audience—but the rest of the session was conducted en anglais, and the quality of questions from the audience was easily up to best that I've experienced at such sessions at the Home Entertainment shows. The questions covered a wide range, dealing with topics such as the cost of producing LPs and SACDs, advances in loudspeaker technology, the sonic quality and pricing of cables, how to allocate resources in assembling a system, and discussion of what systems had particularly impressed us at the show. I think I can speak for John Atkinson, Wes Phillips and John Marks (as well as myself) in saying that we had a good time and were most impressed with the level of interest and dedication to good sound showed by the audiophiles participating in this event. Here's a picture of the Stereophile crew, taken just after the "Ask the Editors" session (from left to right): John Marks, yours truly, Wes Phillips, and John Atkinson.
Tosh Goka of Divergent Technologies always manages to assemble a good-sounding system at shows, and this year's FSI was no exception. The speakers were the Reference 3A Grand Veenas ($8000/pair, which seems very reasonable for the technology and the sound), with Antique Sound Labs electronics and EMM Lab CD/SACD player.
On Saturday at noon, the John Atkinson trio (JA on bass, Bob Reina on piano, and Mark Flynn on drums) performed their own takes on some jazz standards, to the appreciation of a fairly substantial audience. (As usual, Saturday was the best attended day at FSI.) There were also two original items on their program: one of which was a tribute to Frank Sinatra, composed by Bob Reina. It's an interesting piece, with no actual quotes from any of the numbers that are associated with Sinatra, but somehow capturing the spirit of the songs in his repertoire. I think Ol' Blue-Eyes would have approved.
Red Wine Audio has been expanding their range of battery-powered audio electronics: they have the Isabella preamp, with optional built-in DAC; Signature 30.2 power amplifier, with optional volume control, and Signature 70.2 monoblock amplifiers. The system at FSI used Omega Super Hemp speakers, which use a driver that in the version demoed at the show was equipped with an Alnico magnet structure, and it sounded very nice indeed.
The Montreal Sheraton Centre is a nice hotel, with hotel rooms that are reasonably well-suited to audio demonstrations, plenty of larger suites in which to set up more ambitious systems, friendly and efficient staff, fast elevators, and a great bar. The hotel's weak spot is the provision of places to eat. You can eat at the bar, which is all right as such things go, but there is no restaurant serving dinner, and there's a café serving breakfast that seems overpriced, and, judging by the "Complet" breakfast that I had on the first day, mediocre at best.* Fortunately, the Sheraton is in an area with a lot of restaurants within easy walking distance, and I found a place that served a better breakfast than the Sheraton at a lower price, in a charming atmosphere. I got good vibes just going into the Café Vasco da Gama, and I knew that I picked the right place when I got to the cash register. There in a large ice bucket, along with bottles of beer and some bottles of wine to be served by the glass, was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne. Now, that's class!
At the "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, Stereophile editor John Atkinson asked each of us on the panel—John Marks, Wes Phillips, and myself—what systems featuring low-priced equipment particularly impressed us at the show. There were actually several such systems that I could have named—but the one that first came to mind was the system based on the Rogue Cronus tube-based integrated amp ($1750, 55Wpc, includes a phono stage and headphone amplifier, with PSB Alpha B1 speakers ($279/pair). A nice, well-balanced sound, very easy on the ears. Mind you, they had an Oracle turntable as the front end, which might be classified as cheating, but, hey, it's an audio show.