I was taken back more than 20 years when I entered the Musical Surroundings room in the Atrium, as Garth Leerer was playing “Le Temps Passé” from Michel Jonasz’s LP La Fabuleuse Histoire du Mr. Swing. This cut from the French singer used to be a staple at shows in the late 1980s. Played on the AMG Viella 12 turntable and arm ($17,000) that Michael Fremer describes as a “good value” in our August 2013 issue, fitted with the same sample of the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge that Mikey reviewed, with Wilson Sasha W/Ps driven by an Aesthetix Atlas amplifier ($10,000), Aesthetix Janus Signature preamplifier ($10,000), the LP produced a wall-to-wall soundstage with excellent dynamics.
“That’s the speaker I am holding,” explained Exelway’s representative, “it includes a 20W amplifier and a Bluetooth connection. It is called the Slimspeaker.” Slim this Korean speaker certainly was and sounded bigger than I was expecting, given a degree of low-frequency reinforcement from the wall it was mounted on.
Bill Evans’ piano sounded palpably real in the room featuring Angel City Audio’s Trinity Monitor speakers ($3000/pair), driven by Melody Valve HiFi P2688 tube preamp ($6999) and MN845 tube amps ($13599), MG Audio Design interconnects and speaker cables, Triode Wire Labs power cables, and AC conditioning supplied by Spiritual Audio. The Trinity is a largish two-way standmount, combining a VIFA ring-radiator tweeter with two 7” woofers. Frequency response is specified as 40Hz37kHz, ±3dB, with a 90dB sensitivity.
I was familiar with the unique concentric, point-source, multiway drive-unit from French manufacturer Cabasse, as Michael Fremer had reviewed the spherical Baltic II speaker that used it back in 2005. But the floorstanding Pacific 35A speaker ($19,900/pair), which complements the smaller spherical Riga(inboard, on stands) with a pair of powered 7" woofers was new to me. In a system featuring Esoteric’s A-02 monoblock amplifiers and K-03 disc playerEsoteric distributes Cabasse in the USand WireWorld cables, the late Eva Cassidy’s voice on “Field of Gold” was reproduced with rock-solid stereo imaging and a natural tonality.
German electronics manufacturer Einstein had made a virtue out of necessity, using the packing crates as stands for their The Source player and The Amp integrated amplifier (approximately $19,000). With Audio Machina CRL speakers ($10,000/pair), a recording of the operetta Die Fledermaus offered an enormous yet stable soundstage, with the whistling featured on the chosen cut set well back.
It’s been a long time since I listened to a pair of Sound Lab electrostatic speakers, but the gigantic A-1Xes ($28,270/pair), powered by MSB M203 monoblocks in the room Sound Lab was sharing with San Diego dealer Blue Skies Audio, sounded as awesome as I remembered from when Dick Olsher reviewed the A-1 in the 1990s. (Review to be posted in Stereophile's free on-line archives in late June.)
I was unfamiliar with the Vapor Audio Nimbus speakers Empirical Audio’s Steve Nugent was using, which combine a 15” woofer with an MTM array based on a Raal ribbon tweeter, and cost $7895/pair. But with the speakers driven by 40W single-ended, class-A mono amps from Arte-Forma ($7495/pair), each using an 845 output tube, vocals, whether it was Frank Sinatra singing “What’s New?”, Julie London “Cry Me a River,” or Diana Krall “Girl in the Other Room,” sounded effortlessly real, with an ease to the presentation. (Note the corner traps and ATS Diffusors used to tame the room’s acoustics in the photo.) and RPG Diffusors used to tame the room’s acoustics in the photo.)
The second Aaudio Imports room I visited featured the German-designed but China-manufactured components from BMC. The Arcadia bipolar speakers ($36,300/pair with external crossovers) were being driven by AMP M2 monoblocks ($15,980/pair), connected with Stage II speaker cables and interconnects. Front-end components included a Hartvig battery-powered Gramophone ($28,400 plus $5400 for battery supply) and BMC’s MMCI current-input phono preamplifier that Michael Fremer raved about in the June 2013 issue ($3890). I have a sample of the MCCI in for a follow-up and provisionally, my reaction echoes Mikey’s
I missed the Saturday night concert from six-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon, but I did catch her afternoon soundcheck, where she rocked several songs with a quartet led by Reference Recordings keyboardist Mike Garson. It was a joy to hear the interplay between Freelon and Garson, the singer in total command of the music.
T.H.E. Show featured a full program of live music all weekend. As they have done at many recent shows, Cardas Audio sponsored concerts by electric bassist Dean Peer, accompanied by percussionist Bret Mann, poolside at the Atrium Hotel. Dean fed his bass through a variety of effects pedals to produce a wide variety of sounds, but the music came from his hands. In vain did I peer (ha!) at those hands to see how he was producing those chords of harmonics and the underlying rhythmic pulse while floating melodies on top. The man is a monster!