Kara Chafee of deHavilland/KE Engineering was excited to show off her KE Engineering/deHavilland Model 222 Magnetic Tape Playback Preamplifier ($1995). It, the deHavilland Mercury III linestage preamp with remote ($4495), Sonist Concerto 3, 95dB-sensitive, floorstanding loudspeakers ($3495/pair, or $4195/pair in all wood), and top-of-the-line Wireworld Cable Technology Platinum Eclipse interconnects ($4300/1.5m/pair), Platinum Eclipse speaker cable ($13,3000 for a 2m bi-wired pair), and Silver Electra power cords ($700/2m) arrived intact at the Show. So did the Cary 306 SACD/CD player ($8000), Acoustic Revive power conditioners ($1500 and $2400), vintage 7½ips tape deck (priceless), and a small collection of eBay-sourced tapes. But the deHavilland KE50A monoblock power amplifiers ($9995/pair) that were also shipped were nowhere to be found.
When I entered the Audio Note UK room, someone was in the midst of auditioning a CD of exotic Chinese instruments. The strings sounded beautiful, the highs lovely. On solo piano, the system had a very quiet, enticingly crystalline purity. Soprano Elly Ameling's voice sounded equally beautiful, the voice clear and radiant, even though her piano accompaniment was strangely bloated and over-emphasized. That was no doubt due to room problems that other exhibitors tried to tame with ASC Tube Traps.
The imposing Lotus Group Granada UB II loudspeaker ($125,000/pair), complete with an active crossover and Feastrex Type II field-coil driver, was sounding the best I've ever heard it. The system as a whole was a bit dark for my taste, but a track from Esperanza Spalding's new disc, Chamber Music Society, was just beautiful. Everyone in the room loved it.
Tim G. Ryan of SimpliFi Audio was making sure no one entered his room without awareness that the Gradient Helsinki 1.5 loudspeaker ($6500/pair) is on the cover of this month's Stereophile. Sounding far better than it did at T.H.E. Show last January, this little baby was throwing a mesmerizingly large, spacious soundstage that I found quite exciting. Irresistible, in fact.
The sound was special in Michael Gliksman's High Value AV room. "Really smooth, midrange rich," I wrote in my notes as Rosa Passos and Ron Carter created bossa nova heaven on their great Chesky CD. The soundstaging was quite lovely, with great height. Yes, the sound was a bit dark (which many audiophiles prefer), but it was also extremely mellow and inviting.
Back in the Audio Image room, one day later, Bob Kehn was showing the King Audio The King electrostats ($8500/pair). Before I arrived, these lovely panels were paired with VAC amplification. Unfortunately, those babies didn't have enough juice for the Kings. Upon the urging of Bob Walters, coordinator of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, the VACs that sounded so good on the Magico V-2 were traded for Aesthetix's Atlas Hybrid amp ($8000) and Janus Signature preamp/phono ($10,000).
Gary Leonard Koh's Genesis 7.1 loudspeaker ($7999/pair) has never sounded as good, clear, and invitingly transparent as it does right now in Marc Silver's Soundscape Audio & Video Room (Santa Rosa, CA). I was mesmerized by an LP of Les Brown and His Band of Renown, and again in love with the FIM/Puget Sound Studios remastering of Oscar Peterson's We Get Requests.
Every new venue presents new acoustic challenges for exhibitors. Deniz Daldal of Design Interaction in Emerald Hills (part of unincorporated San Mateo county, near Redwood City), wondered if the bass ringing in his room was due to the cement in the floor and back walls. "We need more stuff," he told me, but there was no more stuff at his disposal.
On ground level in the Design Interaction room, a pair of JBL DD-66000 Everest loudspeakers ($60,000/pair) were especially imposing in the bass department. Driven by the Mark Levinson No.326 preamp ($10,000), Levinson No.512 SACD player ($15,000), a discontinued Levinson No.433 ($11,000) on the bass, a Pass Labs XVR01 for the crossover, and a Pass Labs XA30.5 30Wpc class-A amplifier on the horns, all connected by MIT cabling, the system had great authority. The presentation had the characteristically dark Levinson sound, with some curious extra bass resonance on the voice of mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Branford Marsalis's music, on the other hand, sounded just fabulous.