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.
Attention Screen is the band that includes Stereophile's own Bob Reina on piano, Chris Jones on bass, Don Fiorino on various string instruments, and Mark Flynn on drums. (Their recent CD, Live at Merkin Hall, recorded by John Atkinson, is available from Stereophile.) They gave a concert at FSI, and although the attendance could have been better—publicity for the music events at the show was rather sparse—it was clear that those in the audience were enraptured with Attention Screen's intense, almost entirely improvisational brand of jazz.
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.
Conventional audio marketing wisdom has it that any new company with a single product, selling at a high price, will have a really rough time establishing distribution and picking up dealers. But this apparently did not deter Kim Neeper Rasmussen. The Neeper Perfection One is a two-and-a-half way floorstander of modest size, with a 1.5" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter and two 5.5" custom ScanSpeak midrange/bass units, each speaker weighing 30kg (66 lbs). A major feature of the design is that the cabinet walls are all non-parallel to each other, an approach to resonance-control that Rasmussen considers to be vastly superior to the use of damping materials. The speakers are made in Denmark, and are priced at $20,000/pair.
It's been said often enough to be considered as a truism that FSI is an occasion for snow: at the show's opening, during the show, or at least when the show is closing. But it looked like this year was going to be an exception; the weather forecast for the three days of the show called for temperatures well above freezing, with rain on Friday.
The first evening of the show, I had a most pleasant dinner with John Atkinson, Stereophile associate publisher Keith Pray, columnist John Marks, and the folks from Dynaudio and Simaudio. During the pre-dinner conversation, John Marks illustrated a point he was making by singing a bit, ably demonstrating his ex-choirboy credentials. His performance was apparently noticed by the people at the next table; at the end of the meal, one of the ladies at that table came over to us and said that this was her friend's birthday, and asked if the gentleman who was singing before could sing "Happy Birthday" to her.
There were lots of turntables at the show, but the one that intrigued me the most was the Calibre Mk.101, from Audio Excellence, the Toronto-area dealer, which is making its first foray into the turntable business. The Calibre Mk.101 has a with a marble plinth, 1.5" thick acrylic platter, AC motor with speed regulation, high-quality polished bearing, and looks elegant without being ostentatious. The price of $1999 includes a good-quality arm, with further arm upgrades available. Audio Excellences stated aim in introducing the Calibre Mk.101 is "the best reproduction of records at the lowest price possible—making turntables we would own."
dCS is known for its superb-sounding but stratospherically-priced digital source components—prices in the $50k+ range for a transport/DAC combination. While their new Puccini one-box CD/SACD player won't be a candidate for Budget Component of the Year, its $22,000 price represents low end for dCS. But don't start spending all the money you've saved by buying the Puccini rather than the more expensive dCS offerings: there is a matching external clock component upgrade that will be available in the near future. No price has been determined yet, but you can be sure that it will not be in three figures.