Every music-loving audiophile has a unique storya story of the first time he or she was grabbed, body and soul, by a first, usually low-budget listen to a 78, LP, CD, open-reel, cassette, or MP3a story that continues today in that audiophile's quest for high-end bliss. For me, it was my desire to move closer to the voices of the singers I most loved.
At the 133rd Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center, a full house flocked to aptly numbered Room 133 on October 27 to hear Stereophile's John Atkinson and four other major audio professionals deliver a two-hour presentation, Loudness Wars: The Wrong Drug? Sharing the stage were the panel's chair, Thomas Lund of TC Electronic A/S from Risskov, Denmark; Florian Camerer of ORF of Vienna, Austria; fabled recording and mastering engineer Bob Katz of Digital Domain in Orlando, Florida; and the equally fabled George Massenburg, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, who engineered, among other things, that audiophile favorite, Jennifer Warnes' "Bird on a Wire."
Rather than debut its new $13,000 DSX1000 Network Music Player in the UK, where the company is based, Chord founder and chief scientist, John Franks (above), traveled to Mountain View, CA on November 8 for the unveiling. The site was the spacious, extremely attractive Northern California showroom of Audio High, one of the high-end dealers in the US that display Chord's top-end Reference products.
It was no accident that residential architect Mark Cronander, aka Variac, scheduled the Sixth Burning Amp DIY Fest for October 28, on the same weekend that the AES Convention (Audio Engineering Society) took place in San Francisco. Not only did Cronander attract a fair number of new folks who came into town for the convention, but he also scored, as a speaker, class-D amplification expert Bruno Putzeys of Belgium's Hypex Electronics.
Listening to HDTracks’ 24/192 download of the Jimmy Cobb Quartet’s Jazz in the Key of Blue, I finally heard what a well-tuned MSB system can do. “So musical!” I wrote in my notes. Instrumental timbres were excellent, with the warmth and fullness of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet portrayed with near tube-like roundness and warmth. Combined with the air and depth conveyed by the high-res recording, and the sheer presence of the drums, the experience opened a portal to audio nirvana. I could have spent hours exploring music in multiple formats on this system, and still have wanted more. It killed me to have to leave the room so soon. Only the reality of many more rooms to cover before show’s end kept me from staying longer.
Sunday afternoon is always the slowest time at an audio show, but you couldn’t tell it from the room dominated by Hsu subwoofers. In the only room I encountered on floors 4 and 5 of the Atrium that was playing action DVDs or Blu-rays, the movie’s obligatory, super-hyped explosions were resonating far outside the door. In what I take to be a statement about popular culture and the American obsession with violence, the darkened room was so packed that there was no way I could even stand in the doorway.
No, I’m not talking about one of the young women who always seem to drive Stephen Mejias to distraction at shows. Rather, I’m speaking of Estelon’s Model XB loudspeakers ($32,900/pair). Designed for more modestly sized rooms, this Estonian speaker was producing realistic, full-range sound courtesy of Vitus Audio’s SM 010 monoblock amplifiers, SL 102 preamplifier, and SCD010 CD player. Power Conditioner was Silver Circle Audio’s Tchaik 6, cabling Kubala-Sosna’s Elation, and rack and feet from Stillpoints.
OMG. It’s 4pm on Sunday, the show is over, and I have three rooms left to cover. Dash to door number one. It’s already locked. Next to door number two. It’s locked as well. Is this going to be the worst episode of Let’s Make A Deal ever known to man or audiophile, I wonder, or will I find the pot of gold behind door number three?
Well, kind of. The door opens, there are boxes everywhere, and Larry Alan Kay, former co-founder of Fithe audiophile magazine that ran all those recipes for audiophiles who like to drink and chomp while they listenis packing up the BSG Technologies QOL Signal Completion Stage.
In two adjacent rooms, GTT Audio & Video showcased systems dominated by much-admired YG Acoustics loudspeakers. In the smaller set-up, the diminutive YG Acoustics Carmel ($18,000) joined the excellent PS Audio PWT Memory transport ($3500), Devialet D-Premier all-in-one DAC/Phono Stage/Integrated amp ($16,000), and Kubala-Sosna Research Emotion interconnects and speaker cable ($3000/first meter) and power cables ($1100/first meter). The chosen material, Jascha Heifetz’s classic recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, sounded excellent, but the system’s clarity drove home to me that he was playing so fast that much of the soul of the music was lost.