Next up was Digital Ear's MartinLogan and McIntosh room. While I was there, the new MartinLogan ElectroMotion EM-ESL loudspeaker ($1995/pair), which "features both electrostatic and compact Folded Motion thin-film transducer technologies," was playing very nicely with a McIntosh MC452 amplifier ($6000), McIntosh C50 preamplifier ($5000), which includes a USB DAC and phono stage, a Cambridge Audio id100 iPod/iPad dock ($1299), all tied together with Transparent Audio Reference Series cables.
While this room sounded very inviting and was doing all those things MartinLogans are known to do, I almost wished they'd used a less expensive amp/pre combo to show off a sleek, relatively affordable system. One of the McIntosh integrated amps comes to mindless muss, less fuss.
Retailer Digital Ear from Tustin, CA was all over this show. I had to keep checking my notes since I began to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day"I'm in the Digital Ear room, again? But I just left." Room 1 was the Revel/Levinson roomRevel Ultima Salon2 speakers ($21,998/pair), Mark Levinson No.53 monoblock amplifiers ($25,000, the first-ever switching amp from Levinson), Mark Levinson No.326S preamplifier ($10,000), the No.512 CD/SACD Player ($15,000), with cabling from Transparent Audio. I felt this tiny room did not allow you to fully appreciate what you might hear if you were in a more appropriately sized room with this kind of gear. As is, I would not recommend the Revel Salon 2sa JA favoritefor near-field listening.
San Diego-based retailer SimpliFi Audio was showing the Gradient Revolution Active loudspeaker ($11,995/pair) with the Gradient Revolution SW-D dipole subwoofer ($6995/pair), much to the chagrin of their neighbors, especially when playing organ music into the nether regions at I-think-I'm-going-to-be-sick levels. Also in use was a pair of the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 8033G ($595/each one per subwoofer) a digital room-correction device, "the cure for boomy bass." From what I heard, it works.
When I was in the room, SimpliFi was showing the Gradients with a "$500 Fosgate amplifier" and DNM $12/ft speaker wire to show that you don't need to be spendy to get flat response to 20Hz. The RA Opus 21 CDP/DAC/preamp ($3500) was being fed its music files from a laptop.
I got to hear both the Audience ClairAudient 2+2 loudspeaker ($5000/pair, reviewed in the July 2011 issue of Stereophile) and the diminutive ClairAudient THE ONE ($995/pair). Associated electronics and cables were also from Audience and included the Wavepower monoblocks ($14,000/pair), a class-D analog switching power amplifier that put out 200W into 8 ohms, the Wavemaster preamplifier ($13,000), and AU24e cables and power cords and an Adept Response High Resolution Power Conditioner ($5000). The source was an Audience-modified Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player, which was not for sale (priceless).
The Audience guys seemed to get no end of enjoyment watching people’s jaws hit the floor, the rug was littered with audiophile jawbones, when they played the single-driver ClairAudient THE ONE, which has nearly unbelievable bass performance for its size. Both speakers actually sounded big and solid with a nice fat midrange.
Precision Audio Video is both a retailer and the US distributor for Venture and Weiss products. They were exhibiting the Venture Encore Loudspeakers ($46,000/pair), Venture V100A+ Reference monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), Venture VP100 Reference full-function preamplifier ($28,000), Venture VP100P phono preamplifier ($26,000)"which provides substantial higher quality for the vinyl analogue play backa Spiral Groove SG1 turntable, with a Spiral Groove tonearm and London Decca cartridge. The Weiss Jason CD Transport ($24,000) fed a Weiss Medea DAC ($20,000) and all cabling was from Venture.
We listened to Eric Clapton’s "Tears in Heaven" unplugged on vinyl and the very nice guy from Precision A/V kept asking his associate to turn it up. One of the issues with demoing hi-fi in a huge ballroom is that it's difficult, or damn near impossible, to energize the room and fully engage the listener.
Kal Rubinson reviews the Sony SS-AR-1 loudspeaker ($27,000/pair) in the July 2011 Stereophile, due to hit newsstands next week, so I’d highly recommend reading his review if you want to know about these wonderful-sounding speakers. In addition to the Sony SS-AR1s, equipment in this room included Pass Labs X350.5 monoblocks, Sonoma 32 DSD multitrack recorder and editor, EMM Labs CDSD, EMM Labs DAC6SE, EMM Labs Switchman 3, with cable from Kimber Kable. System price, with two pairs of the Sony SS-AR1s, was $263,220.
We listened to a gospel track and the sound was expansive and detailed, with pinpoint imagining and all in all offered a truly moving performance. In this case, the Sonys seemed to enjoy this large ballroom, which makes me wonder what they'd be like in a normal listening room.
On display in the Legacy/Coda room were the Legacy Whisper HD loudspeakers ($20,000/pair), which include a pair of 500W internal amps driving the four (4) 15" carbon-fiber/pulp-composite subwoofers. I arrived at this room around 4:00pm on Sunday, the show closed at 5:00pm, and I got the feeling the very genial guys in the room were ready to relax. Since they didn’t have a hand-out with model and pricing information, one of the reps offered to write up a list which I'll share verbatim: Coda monoblock amplifiers ($10,000/each), Coda 05X preamplifier ($5500), and Coda CD player (no price given), for a total of $45,500 including the Legacy Whisper HDs. Cable was from Kimber.
My notes read "very immediate vocals, balance tipped up/beaming." Clearly more time and care would be needed to hear this system at its best.
These brands were located in the California Room, which oddly enough was in the opposite direction of everything else at T.H.E. Show. I very much enjoyed my brief time with the 90dB Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers ($7995/pair), which carry on Reference 3A-s tradition of relatively easy-to-drive loudspeakers, the brand-new Concert Fidelity ZL-120V2 monoblock power amplifiers ($28,000/pair), Concert Fidelity CF-080LSX line-stage preamplifier ($20,000), Concert Fidelity DAC-040 D/A converter ($10,000), and the Concert Fidelity SPA-4C phono stage ($14,000). The turntable was the Perpetual Technology TT 1 ($2500); a Copland CCDA 825 CD player ($6500) was also in use; and all cable was from Cable Research Lab.
We listened to Aimee Mann and Leonard Cohen on CD and it sounded lovely.
Retailer Affordable Audio was showing off the very intriguing Zingali Zero Otto loudspeakers ($5999/pair) from Italy. This was the Zero Otto's US debut and I’d say they did better than fine. With its 93dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the low-powered crowd should be pleased to have another option.
Associated equipment included the Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary integrated amplifier ($3995), a Bel Canto CD2 Transport ($4999), and Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB ($3495), with cable from Cable Research Lab’s Bronze Series.
LA retailer The Audio Salon was showing an impressive sounding systemMagico Q5 loudspeakers ($59,950/pair), Spectral DMA 360 Series II monoblock amplifiers ($20,000/pair), Spectral DMC 30 SS Series II preamplifier ($10,000), and the Spectral SDR 4000SL CD Player ($19,000). Cable was from MIT and acoustic design was by Art Noxon of ASC. (From Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon: "The Audio Salon built a hidden, non-parallel, zig-zagged wall, and frame system behind the curtains for the acoustical treatments. Over 120 lengths of 8' 2x4's made up the 16 huge 6' x 8' hidden walls.")
The room was very dark, the Q5s were set up very far apart and the California Guitar Trio's version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" from their CD California Guitar Trio Rocks the West rocked my expectations, and I kept expecting (and kind of hoping) Freddie Mercury or his voice, would peer out from behind the curtain.