Turning the bits into music in the Channel D room was this $2495 standalone D/A converter, the Hilo from high-end soundcard manufacturer Lynx. Offering USB2.0, ADAT, S/PDIF, and AES/EBU inputs, the Hilo features a 4.3" LCD touchscreen to allow navigation of its menu system as well as, when the music is playing, a choice of peak bargraph or VU meters, as shown here. The Hilo supports 24-bit word lengths and sample rates up to 192kHz and can be used with both Windows machines and Macs.
Channel D's affable Rob Robinson was playing 24/192k LP rips made with Pure Vinyl with the Joseph Pulsar speakers ($7000/pair), which have just got a rave review in the June issue of Stereophile. "Listen to this," said Rob, lowering Pure Vinyl's virtual tonearm on to the image of an LP on the screen, and I heard some familiar-sounding music: it was a rip of Stereophile's 1990 Intermezzo album, which Rob had picked up at a European show.
Whether they be Quads or Staxes, Roger Sanders' designs, or MartinLogans, electrostatic speakers generate passionate advocates. Retailer Digital Ear was demming the enormous Martin-Logan CLX speakers ($25,500/pair) in a huge ballroom in the Atrium hotel, along with two MartinLogan Depthi subwoofers, driving them with McIntosh MC601 monoblocks, a McIntosh C50 D/A preamp and a Meridian-Sooloos server, all hooked up with Transparent cable. The CLX's curvilinear section operates above 360Hz, meaning that all the harmonics of the music and the upper fundamentals are not interrupted by a crossover. Unlike Jason Serinus, I love Diana Krall's music making, so I requested a track from her Live in Paris album. Despite the size of the room, her version of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" was reproduced with Ms. Krall's voice palpably hanging in the center of the stage.
Like the MartinLogan speakers in the next story, the Belgian Venture Ultimate speakers ($59,500/pair), distributed in the US by Precision Audio & Video, were set-up in a room that was really too big for them. Even at a fairly close listening distance, the room's reverberant field was dominating what I was hearing. Even so, on "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" from Muddy Waters' Folksinger, this three-way, five-driver tower had a natural tonality, precise stereo imaging, and a full-range sound. The 48.5"-tall, 152lb Ultimate has a specified frequency range of 26Hz40kHz, a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, and a sensitivity of 90dB/W/m.
Sharing a Hilton ballroom with Legacy and AVM, the Austrian Ayon tube amplification was being demmed with Lumenwhite Artisan speakers ($40k/pair). Source was the new Ayon Music Server and two-box preamp. Listening to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," I thought the sound was better than it had any right to be given the suboptimal acoustics. Then I spotted some of the Synergistic ART Acoustic bowls on the wallsmy left brain knows these silly little bowls can have no audible effect on room acoustics in the audio range; my right brain was busy telling my feet to tap!
In their second room, Anaheim retailer Scott Walker Audio was showing Magico's Q3 floorstander ($38,950/pair) with the Soulution 700 monoblock amplifiers, hooked with Synergistic's cumbersome spaced-conductor speaker cable. Source was a Soulution 540 SACD player and a Soulution 700-series preamp. The Q3 was launched at the 2011 CES. A smaller derivative of the Q that Michael Fremer positively reviewed for Stereophile in November 2010, the Q3 uses the same proprietary beryllium-dome tweeter as the Q5 in the same type of space-frame enclosure, with a 6" Nano-tec midrange unit. The lower woofers roll off earlier than the upper one, to optimize the crossover to the midrange unit. Frequency response is specified as 20Hz50kHz, sensitivity as 90dB, and impedance as 5 ohms.
"Let me turn off the Tranquility Bases and you'll hear what I am talking about," said Synergistic Research's Ted Denney.
I sighed inside. Ted had been subjecting me to the improvement on room acoustics wrought by his ART Acoustic bowls for the past few years and despite my skepticism, I kept hearing that improvement. Now he was talking about his series of Tranquility Bases. Ranging in price from $995 to $2995, these powered platforms have a ground plane and generate beneficial electromagnetic fields that are said to condition the signals passing through the components sitting on them and drain away the bad fields to ground. Yeah, right!
Last summer I gave a presentation at Goodwins High End in Waltham, MA where I played some of the hi-rez master recordings through an MSB D/A converter. I was so impressed by what I heard that I arranged a review of the DAC and MSB's matching transport, both priced at $4000, by Jon Iverson, scheduled for publication in the October 2012 issue of Stereophile. MSB were demming the new versions of their digital gearthe Diamond DAC with the FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock, the Data CD transport, and the new S200 class-A 200Wpc stereo amplifierin the Atrium Hotel, using YG's Anat III Studio speakers. Whether it was CDHarry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis duetting on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square"or 24/192k WAV files from Chesky, played back from a data DVD-R, there was something very right about the sound in this roomand not a magic bowl or adverse energy-draining base to be found!
Empirical Audio's Steve Nugent was showing three new products in the Atrium Hotel, demmed with the TAD E1 speakers that had impressed me in the TAD room at the Hilton, driven by Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks. Steve is pointing to the two-box Overdrive SE DAC ($5999), which has BNC, S/PDIF, asynchronous USB, and i2S data inputs, and a volume control, making it "all you need for computer audio." There is now an Off-Ramp 5 asynchronous USB converter ($1299), which now has HDMI in addition to S/PDIF and i2S outputs and replaces the Off-Ramp 4 that I very favorably reviewed in December 2011. The third new Empirical product is the Synchro-Mesh reclocker ($599), which dejitters the datastream for a source such as an Apple TV, Squeezebox, or CD transport.
It is always a pleasure visiting the Joseph Audio room at Shows, not the least because Jeff Joseph knows how to set up a system to work with the room acoustics, not against them. In Newport beach Beach, as at some other shows, he had set-up the Pulsar stand-mounts ($7000/pair) along the room's diagonal. Source was Pure Music running on a MacBook Pro, feeding USB data to the Bel Canto. Powered by Bel Canto's new C7R integrated amp, which includes a phono preamp, D/A section, headphone output, and an FM tunerwait a moment, isn't that we used to call a "receiver?"and hooked up with Cardas cables, the Pulsar's produced an almost full-range sound. The double bass on the Bad Plus's arrangement of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had body and good definition,a difficult trick to pull off for a stand-mounted two-way.