I confess. The Ferguson Hill mini horn speaker system from England ($1195), distributed in the US by Ron, Ginny, and Rob Lapporte of Chicago’s Ultimate Audio Video, caught more than my eye. To compare their mellow sound with that of the hideous computer speakers that currently deface my home desktop was enough to make me weep. Instead, I entered their totally random drawing for a pair. Note the separate little woofers. A perfect combination for an iPod or a computer.
I confess. There’s a special place in my heart for Kara and George of deHavilland. Happily, the sound of their GM-70 amps and Mercury preamp deserves equal praise. Beautiful and mellow on the right music, with a simply lovely core to the sound, deHavilland electronics were sounding quite fine with Wilson Benesch ACT speakers, Audio Aero Prima CD player, Cardas Golden Reference cabling, and Custom Isolation Products. The Torus sub may have been connected, but it was being overly polite. Perhaps the Sonic Fusion speakers paired with deHavilland at T.H.E Show in January 2006 offered richer sound, but there was plenty to love here as well. I’d love to return to this set-up with some decent power conditioning in place.
I’ve eagerly awaited the opportunity to hear APL Hi-FI’s NOW-2.5, the no-hold-barred, top-of-the line model in their frighteningly named New World Order series of Universal Players. A redesigned Esoteric UX-1, featuring a 6H30 dual-tube output stage, the $21,000 unit threw an exceptionally three-dimensional soundstage mated with the ESP Concert Grand S1 speakers and Shoreline 300 monoblocks. My sense, however, is that the unit is capable of offering far more than what I was able to hear in the Show setting. With the assistance of Alex Peychev’s new Service Manager, Brent Rainwater, I look forward to eventually auditioning the NOW-2.5 in my reference system.
PS Audio was showing a pre-production version of the almost available Power Plant Premier ($2195), paired with the Trio C100 Control amps ($1795), Digital Link 3 DAC ($995), Usher 6311 ($2000), and PS Audio cabling. Most impressive, besides the exceptional depth of presentation, was the computer-generated comparison between the amount of noise eliminated by a $2500 power conditioner and the PS Audio Quintet Power Distribution Center, a passive line conditioner that lists for $695. (The photo shows a member of the PS Audio team gloating over the results). The new power plant, by the way, doubles the output of the old P1000, and offers significantly better efficiency and current output.
The first room to seize my attention today paired Triode Electronics from Japan with the Adagio Acoustic Zen and Micropure Kotaro speakers. Neither speakers was an ideal match for the Triode TRV 35SE (an El34-based class-A/B integrated amp offering 45Wpc for $1699) or Triode TRV-M300SE (300B parallel single-ended monoblocks outputting 20W for $4000), since both amps need higher-sensitivity speakers to truly shine. But both the soundstage and midrange were exceptionally enveloping, with highs more extended on the Kotaros. Distributed by Twin Audio Video of Loma Linda, designer Junichi Yamazaki’s amps have only been available in the US since April.
Thom Mackris of turntable manufacturer Galibier Design (whose Stelvio costs $12,500) had me smiling when he played a hilarious track by Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers. Although a little raucous on top, the system (Schröder Reference SQ tonearm, perversely entitled ZYX Universe cartridge, Artemis Labs PH-1 phono stage, preproduction Karna push-pull 300B 15W amp from Nutshell Hi Fidelity, and Gran Sfera Horns by Azzolina Audio) offered a compellingly huge, all-enveloping, elevated soundstage coupled to a beautiful midrange.
One room over from Galibier, and again sporting imposing Azzolina Audio speakers, Hagerman Audio was showing another all-analog system. With no time to tune the system due to emergency equipment repairs necessitated by shipping damage, the system offered wonderful size and considerable midrange beauty, nonetheless.
The phrase "save the best for last" rang true for me today. After close to five hours of listening, with ears that were beginning to scream, I heeded the advice of Sound Applications' Jim Weil and headed to the large room at one end of the 9th floor commandeered by Boulder’s Audio Federation. There I encountered the most rewarding sound I have heard at the show so far.
Tipped off by Stereophile reader David Goodwin, I recently visited the San Francisco Airport Museum's beautifully thought-out and executed exhibit The History of Audio: The Engineering of Sound. Installed to coincide with the 121st convention of the Audio Engineering Society, held at San Francisco's Moscone Center October 5–8, the exhibit runs through May 2007 in the North Connect Gallery of the airport's Terminal 3 (footnote 1).