Back in June 2010, I reviewed the DACPort USB D/A headphone amplifier and was very impressed by what I heard. CEntrance has since expanded their range of products, and at THE Show had a booth outside the Hilton's groundfloor ballrooms where they demmed a cute Audiophile Desktop system ($2000), which combines the MasterClass 2504 2-way coaxial speakers, the DACmini PX desktop amplifier and DAC, and a travel case.
Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco, one of the more gifted recording engineers around, is a firm advocate for DSD and SACD. But in the Sony room at THE Show, she demonstrated a disturbingly audible difference between one of her recordings of a solo violin in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral played from SACD via a Meitner DAC and from the original DSD file played back via a PC running Foobar, a USB link, and the new $1000 Mytek DAC. Yes, the converters are different, but the Meitner is no sonic slouch. Even so, the file had more of a luminous halo around the solo instrument and that space was better integrated with the direct sound. Huh?!?! This isn't PCM. A DSD bitstream is a DSD bitstream is a DSD bitstream!
This diminutive floorstander was one of my best sounds at April’s New York Show, and the same speakers at the Newport Beach Show sounded equally fine, driven again by Pass Labs electronics via Kimber Kables, despite the air-walled ballroom in which they were set-up: a huge, superbly defined soundstage, uncolored mids that worked magic on vocals and on Cookie Marenco’s solo violin recording (see next story), and overall a somewhat sweet balance. I am working on a review of this speaker, to be published in the fall.
John McDonald’s Audience company has developed a range of speakers using a proprietary 3” cone driver to cover the complete audio range. The flagship Clairaudient 16+16 ($72,000/pair) made its debut at the Newport Beach Show. Each Clairaudient 16+16 uses 16 of the latest-generation drivers firing to the front and another 16 to the back, and is specified to be flat to 30Hz.
TAD premiered its new E1 floorstander ($29,800/pair) at the 2012 CES in January, but THE Show Newport Beach was the new speaker's first public outing. Trickling down the technology from TAD's massive Reference One (now being used for monitoring at London's famed AIR Studio) and Compact Reference CR 1, the E1 still uses a coaxial drive-unit with a beryllium-dome tweeter for the treble and midrange, but with the midrange cone now magnesium rather than beryllium.
The AVM electronics were being used to bi-amp the midrange and treble units of the enormous Legacy Helix speakers ($48,000/pair), which use 750W ICE-powered 15" subwoofers and a digital-domain crossover with room correction, like its smaller and less expensive cousin, the Whisper XD. The big speakers lack the Whisper's unique cardioid woofers, however. The classic Radka Toneef performance of Jimmy Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" sounded suitably delicate, but the bass on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" sounded ponderous, due, I think, to the sub-optimal acoustics of the air-wall ballroom.
The German AVM company has been around for a long time, but its products are new to the USA. AVM's Udo Besser was instrumental in bringing Burmester products to the US and now intends to do the same for AVM. Shown in my photo is the PA8 modular preamp (starting at $10,000), which can have various options, including a tubed output stage, added. Also on show was the ML8 Music Library, which has either 2TB of hard-drive storage or 600GB of solid-state storage, the CD8 CD player, and the 450Wpc SA8 amplifier.
SimpliFi's Tim Ryan was demming the Gradient Revolution speakers and Bladelius amplification he had shown at the New York Show, but now with two pairs of dipole woofers. But pride of place in his room was the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core processor from the VLSI company ($1099) shown in the photo. Tim was using the fully remote-controlled DSPeaker box as a D/A preampit has a volume control, shown on the front panelbut it can do so much more: digital-domain parametric equalization; digital room correction up to a user-selectable upper limit of 80Hz to 500Hz; it can even be used as a two-way digital-domain crossover with fully adjustable slopes and crossover frequencies. Kal Rubinson is scheduled to receive a sample for review forthwith.
This bijoux little asynchronous USB DAC ($249), which uses an ESS Sabre DAC and Gordon Rankin's Streamlength code, made its public debut at Newport Beach. It was being demmed in one of retailer Optimal Enchantment's rooms with Audio Research amplification and Vandersteen Treo speakers. Add a PC or Mac, a 1m 3.5mmdual-RCA Evergreen cable from AudioQuest ($29) and you're in business.
Closing the live program Sunday at the Atrium Hotel was a concert by Audra Lee, daughter of the LA&OC Audio Society's Bob Levi. Leading a rocking trio, with a woman drummer, Audra belted her way through rock standards, including Huey Lewis's "The Power of Love." You can get a free download of Audra's single "I'm All In" here. Audra's debut album will be available in July from iTunes.