Roger Sanders brought more than a bit of the Colorado forest with him; he and exhibitor Stephen Mollner also delivered some of the most beautiful, airy, smooth, and totally musical sound I encountered at T.H.E. Show. Mollner was a bit apologetic that they were using the same Tascam SR1 flash recorder that I had frowned upon when I blogged their room at a previous show, but clearly they were doing something very, very right. Perhaps it was changes to two settings in the DCX2496 digital crossover, and/or boosting bass output by 1dB. There were only nine demo tracks to choose from, but the Hungarian Rhapsody sounded great. Thanks Roger and Stephen; I needed your breath of fresh air.
When I poked my head into the Ayon ballroom on Friday, the first day of T.H.E. Show, the sound was too bright for my taste. A day later, listening to the Tape Project’s Master Tape of Nojima Plays Liszt, I found the sound much too subdued and flat. Perhaps, as is often the case at shows, by the end of the show the system arrived at a place of balance.
When I heard the big Ventures at CES 2013, I was so impressed with their beauty of sound that I lingered far longer than my schedule allowed. John Atkinson was similarly impressed at the 2013 New York Show But here, paired with the same Phasure NOS1 DAC, XX HighEnd software, and similar if not identical electronics and cables, the bright sound led me to truncate my visit.
In all fairness, this was far from the only room at T.H.E. Show whose sound was bright.
By now, the excellence of the big TAD Reference One loudspeakers ($78,000/pair), designed by Andrew Jones, has become well-known to Stereophile readers. Less familiar, perhaps, may be TAD’s Reference electronics: the TAD D600 CD/SACD player and DAC with external power supply, the C600 preamplifier with external power supply that Michael Fremer reviews in the June 2013 issue ($42,000), and M600 monoblocks ($68,000/pair).
The warmth of the system’s midrange immediately won my heart.
No one needs me to detail the strengths of McIntosh equipment, not the least of which is its consistently smooth midrange. But in a system that included the McIntosh C2500 tube preamp ($6500), MEN220 Room Perfect room correction ($4500), MC452 power amp ($8500), MPC1500 power controller ($4500), MCD1100 CD Player ($10,000), and XR100 speakers ($10,000), the tightness and impact of the bass was nothing short of startling. Call it the “Whoa! Factor.” Equally noteworthy was the very warm, large, and all-enveloping presentation.
That Albert Von Schweikert is an excellent speaker designer is widely known. Hence it was no surprise that the Von Schweikert Audio UniField Two three-way bookshelf loudspeakers with dedicated stands and active noise reduction ($8000/pair) were making exceptionally smooth music on an unidentifiable classical piece played on an outstanding system that included the YFS supercomputer HD.REF-3 LE ($15,500), EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,000), and Constellation Audio Centaur amplifier ($27,000) and Virgo preamplifier ($29,000). All this was powered and connected by Master-Built Signature power cords ($6200/6 ft.), ULTRA XLR audio cables ($12,000/pair), Signature RCA interconnects ($6200/pair), and Signature bi-wire speaker cables ($7500/8 ft. pair).
Going all out, Totem Acoustics followed up its home theater room with a second room that included two completely different systems. Just finishing up playing when I entered the room, the “Boulder System”Boulder 2060 power amp with “Made in the USA” XTC amp stand, 1010 preamp, and 1021 CD/Networking playerfed the brand new, just shipping Totem Acoustic "Forest Signature" loudspeaker in Cherry ($6000/pair). This was the same Boulder amp and preamp whose sound helped me wax ecstatic at Music Lovers Audio in San Francisco 22 days earlier. As for the all-important loudspeaker, it has the same volume as the standard Totem Forest ($4000/pair), but contains better capacitors and drivers, a different decoupling system, and a high gloss polyester finish that takes a week to complete on a cabinet whose angle can be adjusted.
There were two systems in Audio Summa’s room on the 10th floor of the Hilton, but I concentrated on the one with the brand new Kuzma 4-point NSE tonearm with Crystal Cable Silver/Gold ($6375) and Stabl M turntable ($18,500). Paired with Silverline Audio’s Sonatina Mk.IV loudspeaker ($5995/pair); Conrad-Johnson Classic 60SE stereo tube amp ($5000), ET-5 Triode tube preamp ($9500), and TEA2MAX triode tube phonostage ($6500); no longer manufactured BEL 101 Mk.IV stereo amps; Furutech Flux cables (Lineflux, Speakerflux, and Powerflux power cords); and HRT Music Streamer HD, MicroStreamer, and iStreamer, I was treated to a Classic Records reissue of the divine Sarah Vaughan’s 1964 Roulette platter, The Lonely Hours. The sound was lovely, but the bass seemed disconnected from the higher octaves.
Sony’s new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the September issue of Stereophile) are hardly huge speakers. Yet in a ballroom system that included Pass Labs’ highly prized X600.5 monoblocks ($22,000/pair) and XP-20 preamplifier ($8600), the Sony speakers delivered an amazingly large soundstage further distinguished by an exceedingly beautiful, warm, and clear sound.
Ray Kimber has blown minds at previous shows with his IsoMike surround-sound exhibits. I recall, in fact, one at RMAF with huge Sound Labs electrostats that had everyone shaking their heads in disbelief at how amazing it sounded. But in this case, despite the excellence of four Sony SSAR-1 loudspeakers, Pass Labs X350.5 amplification, an extremely expensive array of EMM Labs equipment connected to a Sonoma32 super audio center, and excellent Kimber Kabling, something was not right.