I’ve never heard equipment from this West Sacramento, CA-based company other than at shows, but, for the last number of years, it has unfailing brought me joy. “Nice and open… tons of color… nice to hear so much color … captivating tube warmth without sounding loose or unfocused… great depth”those are the comments I wrote about the company’s two new products, the Starlet 4 50Wpc triode integrated amplifier ($3495) and VG-8 speakers ($3495/presumably for the pair). The VG-8s are claimed to extend down to 32Hz ±3dB. Cabling was from LegendLegend II speaker ($1495/10ft. pair), Lemaa interconnects ($395/1m pair), and Power 3 power ($495/6ft.)and source when I entered the room was a Marantz CD94 player.
A fabulous soundstage and air for days distinguished an already-distinguished recording of the great Shirley Horn. Ms. Horn, who was making beautiful music in several rooms at the Hilton, seemed especially at home in the second room sponsored by Tim Miner’s Pacific Coast Audio Video, where Wilson Audio Sophia 3 loudspeakers ($17,900/pair) mated beautifully with Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amp ($9950) and QB-9 DAC ($2750); Parasound’s Halo JC 3 phono preamp ($2395), Rega’s RP8 turntable ($2995) outfitted with Ortofon’s Redondo Blue cartridge ($879), and Synergistic Research’s Element Series cables, Tranquility Base, and Acoustic A.R.T. System.
This bad photo moment gives no hint of the delicacy of touch and smoothness of midrange registers that I heard from Murray Perahia’s piano in Pacific Coast Audio/Video’s room. Admittedly, highs were toned down, but they were certainly more enjoyable than this bottom of the barrel excuse for a photo. Doing the room far more honors than I were Herron Audio’s VTSP-3A (r02) vacuum-tube preamp ($6550), VTPH-2 tube phono stage ($3650), M1A power amplifiers ($6850/pair), and interconnects ($225/1m pair); MartinLogan’s Montis loudspeakers ($9995/pair); Ayre Acoustics’ CX7 CD player ($3500); VPI’s Aries 2 turntable ($4000) and SDS motor drive ($1200); and Synergistic Research’s PowerCell 6 SE ($2595).
Latvian enterprise Onda Ligera, manufacturer of loudspeakers and integrated amplifiers, made a very impressive U.S. debut at T.H.E. Show. With products not yet distributed in the US, the company mated its biggest loudspeaker, the 3-way WAVE 168D ($35,000/pair), with what I believe was their IPA 006 integrated amplifier ($15,000). (The speaker’s nominal impedance is 4 ohms, and the 006 is said to be capable of outputting 600W into that load.) Ensuring that the front end would be of similar quality, Onda Ligera used the excellent Esoteric K-01 CD/SACD player ($19,500). I wish I had asked about the cabling and power treatment.
This system sounded extremely fine. On a gorgeously reproduced recording of John Coltrane, for example, bass was tight, and the sound of cymbals seemed very natural.
Clayton Shaw, who previously developed and manufactured Evett & Shaw and Emerald Physics loudspeakers, has now moved beyond his three-year non-compete agreement with Emerald Physics’ current owner to found a new company, Spatial Computer. The 90 lb Trilogy T2 ($2398/pair), a high-sensitivity, three-way, open-baffle design loudspeaker, is sold with a 30-day trial policy. With DSP operating below 200Hz, the speaker delivered beautiful, warm, open, and colorful sound on Jane Monheit’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Those who have followed Shaw’s previous accomplishment to the Emerald City will definitely want to check these babies out.
I’m afraid the answer to the question is the latter. The set-up was beyond intriguing, but time was short, and there was too much talking going on in the Voxativ room to allow the music to come through. Perhaps someone else who visited the room can post their observations in the comments section below.
Ralph Hellmer’s Surreal Sound Audio, based in Chesterfield, VA, debuted their impressive-looking, 95dB-sensitive, customizable Fifth Row loudspeaker ($20,000$26,000/pair). Quote from the brochure: “Fifth Row was designed with the knowledge that the life of music is in the midrange.” With an Oppo player used as a transport, an ExaSound DSD-capable DAC, what appears to be an Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp with outboard power supply ,and Atma-Sphere monoblocks, the sound of guitar sounded strangely tinkly to my ears. All in all, the sound was a little edgy and honky with an artificial spaciousness. Perhaps that’s what’s meant by “surreal sound.”
I welcomed the opportunity to hear MA Recordings' very first LP, La Segunda, through Steve Norber's ear-opening PranaFidelity Model Fifty90 loudspeaker ($3950/pair). Through the symmetrical array 2-way vented design, I heard good bass, captivating depth, and plentiful air. In short, Todd Garfinkle's LP, sourced from high-resolution digital masters, sounded great.
It was more than a bit chaotic in the Silverline room, and not just visuallyit seems every 30 seconds, one of the exhibitors tried to get my attentionbut I did manage to focus on the music for a little while. On a recording of bossa nova marvel Rosa Passos with bassist Ron Carter, the small Silverline Minuet Supreme Plus ($699$750/pair) did quite well with bassthe speaker extends down to 55Hzand did a lovely job with Passos’ voice. There was some spread on her voice, probably because the speakers were so far apart, that detracted from the beautiful depth of the presentation.