Those are the words that came to me as I began listening to the diminutive set-up in the room sponsored by Acoustic Sounds. As Eric Bibb & Needed Time made beautiful music on their Opus 3 LP, Good Stuff, I gazed at a pair of Manley Labs Snapper Monoblocks ($4250) and Stirling Broadcast LS3/5a V2 Speakers ($1695/pair) sitting on Target Audio MR 28 Speaker stands ($299), as well as a Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0 power transformer ($5000 with Vesuvius power cord). Interconnects, power cords, and loudspeaker cables were also from Silver Circle Audio.
Given the firepower and reputation of a system comprised of the Kharma Midi Exquisite Mk.II speakers, MBL 1621a/1611e digital front-end, MBL 6010D preamp, MBL 9008a power amps (total cost $184,420), plus Kharma Enigma Cables ($8000/1st meter pair), I figured I had finally entered the right room in which to risk auditioning Ivan Fischer’s new recording of Mahler’s Symphony 2, the "Resurrection" (SACD, Channel Classics). Indeed, at the start of the glorious vocal section that ends the symphony, the MBLs' euphonic signature captured the violins with wonderful delicacy. Soprano, alto, and chorus too sounded wonderful, the soprano especially radiant. Given that the system’s sweetness was delivered with an enrapturing sense of air and depth, the sound swept me away. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
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.
At the advice of Jeff Wilson and Bob Kuehn, two highly discriminating members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society back home, I auditioned a system with truly enviable, openness and three-dimensionality. The combination of the ART Audio Adagio 26Wpc stereo amplifier ($13,000 with the eye-catching canister light), Gill DAC/preamp ($7500), Audio Excellence power supply, Silversmith Platinum cables, Pranawire power cables, and Ars Aures Midi Sensorial speakers ($19,000/pair—where do they come up with these names?) offered a glimpse of the grace and vulnerability rarely exhibited by many of the brutes of the industry. As Karina Gauvin shared a bit of her soul on Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne, I basked in the system’s all-enveloping warmth. The Bill Evans track chosen by Lee Landesberg of Landes Imports sounded fabulous. Definitely one of the high points of my Saturday morning at the RMAF.
As a fan of VTL electronics, I was quite eager to hear their new autobias, 400W MB-450 tube monoblocks ($13,500/pair) and TL-6.5 preamp ($8500) paired with hardly broken-in, not exactly the same as the final product prototypes of the Thiel CS3.7. While the sound was fabulously fast, tight, and full-ranged on Patricia Barber’s new CD, Mythologies, the highs were crackling sharp to the point of irritation. Wondering what was up, I took my photo of Thiel’s Ken Dawkins and bid a hasty, but hardly final, retreat.
In the amazing bass department, Roger Russell’s towering IDS-25 took today’s cake. With 25 drivers per side, and designed to sit very close to the rear wall with speakers and sweet-spot seat arranged in an isosceles triangle, the $18,900/pair speakers eliminate crossovers, woofers, midranges, tweeters, subwoofers...well, everything but the sound itself. With a sensitivity of 92dB, and capable of sounding their best with far less power than that offered by the room’s beefy McIntosh electronics, the IDS-25 includes a fixed active equalizer that creates purported dead flat response between 20Hz and 18kHz. Designed by McIntosh’s former chief designer, and distributed by Ken Haig (pictured) via the www.ids25.com website, the speakers are brand new; the first pair sold arrived at their happy purchaser’s home today.
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.
Rapidly approaching the staggering state observed among inveterate show attendees on Friday evening, I stumbled upon the debut of Duke Lejeune’s $4000/pair Jazz Modules. Note that the speakers were not intended specifically for jazz; the name came to Duke in a dream as he was preparing to graduate from amateur speaker builder to fledgling audiophile professional. With a claimed sensitvity of 92dB, the speakers extend from the upper 30s to about 17.5kHz. Port tuning is changeable according to listening position. Even with only two days of break-in—the woofers require several hundred hours to sound their best, Duke told me—the speakers threw a huge soundstage, and sounded remarkably full, warm and luscious in the midrange, I felt.
In a room tuned and focused by a fascinating assortment of diminutive Acoustic Resonators, Behold's modular electronics and Ascendo's loudspeakers offered a great sense of air and depth, albeit with an at times oversized sense of proportion on the Reference Recordings Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances. Ralf Ballmann, designer of the Behold audiophile product line, assures me that the name Behold was not chosen for its biblical connotations. The line was first introduced at CES 2004, and is now distributed by Behold USA of New York. The preamp-to-amp connection is accomplished by a narrow, unobtrusive 50 ohm cable that ranks high for spouse acceptance factor. I’d love to hear this system in larger quarters.
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.