As much as I had hoped to write about new companies at T.H.E. Show this time around, I keep finding myself drawn to "old friends" for one overriding reason: their sound is the best I encounter. Such was the case with veteran audio designer Peter Ledermann's Soundsmith. Despite Peter's 1960s-holdover proclivity to turn his consistently impressive, housed-in-wood electronics into multi-colored light shows—thank God you can dim the lights or turn them off entirely—the former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation continues to astound with the sound of his phono cartridges and the amazing frequency response of his small Firefly speakers.
Attendance was light at the Alexis Park on Wednesday, with the rooms closest to the front getting the most attention. That was certainly the case for Evolution Acoustics, whose imposing MM3 modular speaker commands respect. After seven years of development, this huge baby, designed by Kevin Malmgren (left, formerly of Von Schweikert) made its initial debut at RMAF 2006. Then, the company went low-key while Malmgren and his wife were busy raising their first child (who, after almost one year of development, has just made a most auspicious debut in his stroller at T.H.E. Show 2008). Well, not really. The speaker was back-ordered even before it was launched, and has kept Malmgren and its distributor so busy that they haven’t had the time or need to yet establish a dealer network.
The prototype speaker I shamelessly coveted at the 2007 RMAF, the Harbeth 40.1, resurfaced in final form at THE Show’s Alexis Park location. Paired with Resolution Audio’s exceptional-sounding components, it again made my mouth water. Now positioned on new, lower stands (which, in my not-so-humble opinion, look far more attractive, and far less like a funeral casket, when not draped in black cloth), the full-range 40.1 monitors have an immensely detailed, beautifully layered, extremely controlled midrange whose harmonic richness is hard to resist. Toed-in toward the listener, the speakers' high end was equally compelling.
I was so impressed by the 9" Feastrex drivers designed by Haruhiko "Hal" Teramoto of Japan that I was excited to hear how the 5" Feastrex DF Monster alnico driver sounds in MaxxHorn's new Lumination loudspeaker. The speaker, which also incorporates the Tractrix horn technology developed by Johan van Zyl, is so new—the pair at THE Show had been finished a mere 12 days before—that only the dealer price ($18,500/pair) has been set. All speakers are hand constructed, with 3–5 pairs produced a month.
It was great to again encounter Andy Payor of Rockport Technologies and hear the stunning 200 lb Ankaa loudspeaker ($26,500/pair). Of all the speakers I heard on the first two days of T.H.E. Show, the Ankaa produced images so large and lifelike that it made other speakers (including several wonderful-sounding models I’ve already discussed) seem like pipsqueaks. I have no doubt that the expensive, neutral-sounding Gryphon Antileon Signature stereo amplifier ($31,000 for 150Wpc) and Mirage preamplifier ($25,000), as well as the debuting Purist Audio Design Proteus Provectus cabling had a lot to do with Andy's triumph. As he rather selflessly noted, "The real reason for a good image lies in the collaboration."
It's hardly the same as clicking your heels three times and finding yourself back in Kansas, but Stereophile's metaphoric Good Witch of the High End, John Atkinson, has granted me my big wish for CES. Instead of finding myself wandering around and around in circles, following my ears, I’ve been assigned specific turf: T.H.E. Show. And since T.H.E. Show’s two venues, the St. Tropez and adjacent Alexis Park, are literally across the street from our bloggers' home for four nights, the newly and quite tastefully refurbished, remarkably low-key Hyatt Place Las Vegas (formerly the AmeriSuites), yours truly could not be happier. The Sands/Venetian may have more–well-known, higher-profile players, and is certainly attracting more visitors, but I've entered a number of wonderful-sounding rooms on my first day at the St. Tropez to make me quite happy to be here.
One of the highlights of RMAF 2007 was encountering Lou Hinkley's Daedalus Audio Ulysses loudspeakers ($8800/pair) in the ART Audio room. Here, paired with Gill Audio Designs Alana preamp ($5000) and Elise DAC ($6000), an Ensemble transport, Clayton M-200 power amps ($9500/pair), and relatively inexpensive Empirical Design cabling, the system was arresting in its transparency and three-dimensionality.
The Jadis magic is hard to explain. But once you hear it, you can recognize it again and again. It has to do with the beauty of the midrange, the accuracy of timbres, and an inherent musicality that is less about detail than essence.
"What have you heard that’s good at THE Show?" I asked the fabulous Kara E. Chaffee of deHavilland Electronics. "I'm heading to Joe Cohen's The Lotus Group,” she replied. "I've been told I've got to hear the new Feastrex speakers."
Choose a door, any door. Confronted with three entirely different systems in the Norvinz room, for some reason I ignored my usual inclinations and moved to the far right. There I encountered veteran electrostatic guru Roger Sanders, formerly of Innersound, who now markets Sanders Sound Systems products online and through Norvinz.