Sometimes a system touches your heart when you least expect it. There I was in Reinhard Goerner's Goerner Communication room (Montréal) when, all of a sudden, the warmth and beauty of Joni Mitchell's voice on a vinyl pressing of "I Could Drink a Case of You" had me half qvelling. (Hey, it's Yiddish. I don't know how to spell it; I only know how it feels).
Headlined by Aerial Acoustics' Model 7T loudspeaker ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the May 2012 issue of Stereophile) and Audio Research's Ref 5 SE preamp ($12,900), Ref 150 amplifier ($12,900), and DAC 8 ($5000), the system from Audible Images of Melbourne, FL delivered very clear, warm (rather than neutral), and crisp sound from a Japanese compilation Three Blind Mice. "Excellent," I wrote in my notes. Undoubtedly the Krell Model 505 CD player ($10,000), and Transparent Audio's Reference XL speaker wire, Reference interconnects, Power Ix, and Power link power cords had something to do with it.
Silnote Audio Cables of Boones Mill, VA, a company new to me, was making an all-out effort to bring attention to its line. Paired with Tyler Acoustics D-20 loudspeakers ($10,500/pair), an Olive 4HD music server, Musical Fidelity DAC, Rogue Magnum tube amp, and Rogue phono stagethere must have been a turntable and cartridge, but I failed to write it downSilnote's Master Series Orion M-1 interconnects ($3100/pair), speaker cables ($4700/pair), and power cables ($1800 each) were helping deliver solid sound.
Alan Eichenbaum and Sunny Umrao's Scaena room was one of four that vied for my personal Best of Show. It certainly competed with MBL's for most expensive set-up at AXPONA. At its center stood the Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000). Each tower contains 12 midranges and seven ribbon tweeters. Bass at 100Hz and below was handled by the four massive 18" subs that looked as though they could pacify an advancing army with their slam. (You should have heard the bass drum on Mahler's Symphony No.2; it had the most convincing weight, focus, and up against the wall impact I've ever heard from my Channel Classics hybrid SACD).
Soundfield Audio, a speaker company which launched six months ago in Tampa, was making a considerable mark with its Soundfield Audio Monitor 1 ($1300/pair) and larger Soundfield Audio System 2 ($7500/pair with separate subwoofers). The Monitor 1 is a 3-way bookshelf that claims to reach down to 38 Hz ±3 dB, and boasts a passive 5.25" midwoofer and 1" tweeter united in a coincident coaxial driver, and an 8" active long-throw subwoofer. Not yet posted or detailed on their website is the larger System 2.
At the prompting of John Atkinson, yours truly organized and moderated a non-denominational four person "Meet and Ask the Writers" panel on Saturday afternoon. Joining me, on the left of the photo) were (leftright) A. Colin Flood of Enjoy the Music.com, Ray(mond) Seda of Dagogo.com, and Neil Gader of The Absolute Sound. Because the panel was sandwiched into the seminar schedule last minute, we only had 45 minutes to dialog without mikes over music not exactly wafting through the air walls. (A big thanks to Part Time Audiophile for his selfless photographic assistance and positive energy. Much appreciated by all.)
"We initially meant our self-powered speakers for the computer market, and never thought you guys from Stereophile would take us seriously," Audioengine's Brett Bargenquast told me in a particularly candid moment. "Then Bob Reina's review of the A2s helped launch us."
It sure did. Bob's glowing review even convinced me to get a pair of Audioengine 5s for my iMac. Years later, they remain in use, making the husband's cheapo TV in the cottage sound far better than it should.
Although Misty Ellis' atmospherically lit room was a challenge to photograph, the sound this company from Columbus, OH put together from a big-bucks system headed by the Audio Power Labs 833TNT 200W transformer-coupled monoblocks ($175,000/pair), Tidal Audio Contriva Diacera SE floorstanding speakers ($58,190/pair in piano black, $64,190/pair in African Pyramid Mahogany as shown), and Laufer Teknik The Memory Player 64 ($24,600) was as tantalizing and satisfying as its visuals. Initially marred by an exaggerated midrange and treble resonances, everything improved immensely when Tidal dealer Doug White, the extremely conscious proprietor of The Voice That Is in Newtown Square (Philadelphia), PA, removed the preamp responsible for the imbalance.
In a room too small to do YG Acoustics' gems full justice, YG's Dick Diamond had assembled a most impressive system for the Anat III Signature ($119,000/pair, back) and sometimes played, more modestly sized Carmel loudspeakers ($18,000/pair, front). We're talking the same four-piece dCS Scarlatti system (approx. $79,000) and Veloce Audio LS-1 battery powered line stage preamp ($18,000) used in the Scaena room, plus two Krell Evo 402e amplifiers ($18,500). Cabling was all Kubala-Sosna, and a PS Audio Juice Bar took the place of power conditioning. Needless to say, the system presented a complete symphonic picture, with solid bass extremely natural and controlled, as opposed to hyped up. In addition, instrumental timbres were pretty much right on.
Read to the end, folks, because this one has a happy ending. In their extremely popular roomI couldn't get in the door the first time I triedRob Robinson of Channel D and Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio were attempting to dem computer audio done right. I say, "attempting" because, despite the unquestionable excellence of Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeakers ($7500/pair, to be reviewed in the June issue of Stereophile), which I have enjoyed at multiple audio shows, and Channel D's Pure Vinyl high-res digital transcription/editing/playback software ($299) and Pure Music Digital Music Player ($129), the 24/192 files I heard when I first entered had a most unpleasant hard edge to them.