When I entered the room assembled by Matrix Systems of Pennsylvania, Joe of Critical Mass (maker of excellent, hand-crafted supports for amplifiers and other components) was playing a recording of jazz vocalist Mary Stallings (Maxx Jazz). I was immediately captivated, both by the sound, and by Stallings' artistry. When Joe recognized me and asked me if I wanted to play some of my own music, "No way!" I exclaimed. "Let the music continue."
Garth Leerer sure knows how to make a vocal lover happy. As soon as he spotted me entering the Musical Surroundings room, the Oakland-based distributor chose to demonstrate the supreme musicality of the Musical Surroundings’ "Audio Unlimited" system by playing an LP of mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. Recorded in her prime, and sensitively accompanied on piano by the great Gerald Moore, Baker began singing a grief-stricken Schubert song. To say I was blown away by the intensity of her expression, the beauty of her voice, her daring to sing with such naked emotion, and the system's ability to capture and integrate all the different colors and shadings of her instrument only begins to tell the tale. I was transfixed.
Aerospace engineer James M. Harrell, Jr. debuted his Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers at RMAF 2007. Only available from jumpingcactusloudspeakers.com, these tri-amped, 120lb loudspeakers are housed in sealed aluminum cabinets that feature a Bubinga wood front panel. The speakers are said to have a high measured sensitivity of 94dB. With a frequency range of 65Hz–20kHz., a subwoofer is recommended. The speakers also come with an active XM44 4-way crossover by Marchand Electronics.
The NSR Sonic Research D3 Concerto Sonata loudspeaker ($4495/pair) was reportedly making a lot of waves at its world premiere. Displayed in not completely broken-in prototype form, with tweaking of crossover and capacitors still to come, the speaker is claimed to have 93.7dB sensitivity. The bottom of the enclosure features an exclusive "Acoustic Projection Lens." The lens, developed over the course of 30 years by its guitarist/luthier/locomotive engineer designer, is claimed to act as a sonic prism that overcomes randomly generated frequencies. The company also offers the much larger D1 Concerto Reference ($32,000/pair). Both speakers have back panels that intentionally resonate like an instrument, a feature that JA points out was first seen in the controversial Bösendorfer loudspeakers.
Perhaps you've experienced something similar. I recently invited members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society to hear my system. Many of them had visited our house before, but only to attend demos of other equipment that had been brought in specifically for the event. Now I finally had the chance to let BAAS members hear my system whole and complete.
Veteran speaker designer Albert Von Schweikert (left) has every reason to smile. To celebrate two anniversaries—the 50th year since he built his first kit, and 30 years in the business of high-end audio—he is releasing the VR-4A Anniversary Model. Shown in prototype form, with the final product expected at the 2008 CES in January, this completely redone, much improved VR-4jr replaces that speaker's Mk.II version. Although it plays well in large rooms, the Anniversary Model was specifically created for folks who have smaller rooms. Featuring denser cabinets and the highest-quality parts, the speaker will be available in a standard version with Hovland caps ($6000/pair) and Signature Edition ($7500/pair) with special finish and Mundorf caps.
Art loudspeakers, made in Scotland, paired up German-manufactured audio components from AcousticPlan and a line transformer from Japan to make their joint US debut at the 2007 RMAF. In two adjacent rooms, I heard two different Art models. As depicted in the photo with Art's Derek Dunlap, I first auditioned the art Stiletto 6 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), mated with AcousticPlan's Sitar hybrid-design integrated amp ($7500, complete with external power supply), Audio Technic line transformer from Japan (also debuting), and Cary Audio CD player. The Stiletto, a vented two-way made from birch plywood without use of MDF, measures 88.5dB sensitivity and has a fairly linear frequency response that starts at the mid '30s. It features a SEAS 6" coated-paper driver and a 1" soft-dome tweeter equipped with a proprietary horn to create a delightfully open soundstage. I was quite impressed with this system, which produced very warm, rich sounds that belied the speaker's diminutive size.
Nordost has entered the realm of stratospherically-priced cabling with the introduction of Odin interconnects and speaker cable. With Odin interconnects draped around Lars of Nordost's neck, and the speaker cable seen running between Raidho Ayra C3 speakers and Burmester 001 CD, BAT preamp, and Gamut D-200 amplifier (a last-minute replacement for an ailing Burmester amp), the combination of Odin interconnects and speaker cable and Nordost Valhalla power cables—Odin power cables are yet to come —delivered one of the most breathtakingly realistic depictions of a huge, three-dimensional soundstage I've ever experienced. It's you-are-there transparency was pretty damn amazing. I greatly look forward to reacquainting myself with this cabling at CES 2008, and promise to report on it in my show blog if five other Stereophile colleagues don't get to the Nordost room before me. But oh, the price, which is in the "don't ask" category, adds JA.
I have commented in previous blogs on the easy, unforced and natural sound of Moscode hybrid electronics. Here, the Moscode 402 200Wpc hybrid amplifier was paired with Quad 988 electrostatic speakers that were bolted to custom bases, Esoteric DV-50 universal player, and Cardas Golden Reference cables. Since neither George Kaye nor Gage Rommel was in the room at the time, I was unable to determine what tubes were being used in the amp. But the ability to easily roll tubes in this unit makes it a dream for people like myself who love to tailor the system's sound to their specific preferences.
One of my fondest experiences at previous Home Entertainment shows involved listening to a recording of violinist Hilary Hahn play Brahms on Tenor Electronics. The way those electronics captured the sweetness of her tone was unforgettable. So I'm happy to report that Francois' and Robert's Montréal-based company is back, this time with Ontario's Jim Fairhead as President.