For a journalist at a trade show, few things are more awkward than entering a room and finding that the exhibitor and his staff are the only people there: No dealers. No customers. Just a few desperate souls ready to pin their last half-hope on a man with a badgeand the badge says Press.
As a Quad ESL enthusiast, I know how difficult it is to blend subwoofers with very good, very fast loudspeakers. Consequently, I was impressed with the new A225-M powered subwoofer from the Swiss company PSI, on demonstration at the Simplifi Audio room. Used with the Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker, of which I also have some experience, a pair of PSI subs ($4500 each) provided lots of deep, impactful bass with no apparent change in the Gradients' timbral character: very impressive. The subwoofer was housed within one of the the same IKEA units as Simplifi's Tim Ryan was using for component stands, to show that high-quality sound can still be domestically acceptable.
Coming soon to a salon near you: a 45Wpc integrated amp that even a schoolteacher can afford. Advanced Acoustics, whose products are designed in France and manufactured in China, showed a prototype of their forthcoming MAP-101, which sounded decent driving a nondescript pair of tiny tabletop speakers. And if that sounds like darning with faint praise, consider that Advanced's MAP-101 is intended to sell for only $649. Alors!
On a number of occasions I've heard the CD-77 CD player from Abbingdon Music Research sound wonderful: organic, textured, and altogether analogish. Today was no exception, as proven by the latest 77.1 version of the AMR player ($9995), distributed in the US by Avatar Acoustics. (Avatar also distributes the unique tuning accessories made by Franck Tchang of Acoustic Systems International.) Other components on dem were a beautiful tube preamp and power amp from Japan's Mactone (price to be determined) and Teo Audio's interesting new Runa loudspeaker (projected to sell for $12,000/pair), all wired together with the latest interconnects and cables from the Teo-distributed Liquid Cable. The system was invitingly detailed without a trace of tizz, and while I'm not the sort who obsesses over imaging, I admit that I was charmed by the Teo speakers' very inviting spatial qualities. Also on display but in use during my visit was the Feickert Blackbird turntable (approximately $7500), for which the word "interesting" seems a cruel understatement.
The Multi Electronique suite was home to a tasteful, sedate display of Focal loudspeakers and Simaudio electronics, fed by an iMac computer running iTunes: just like home, except these guys had WAV files instead of the AIFFs that I prefer. The music selection was superb, and included the young jazz singer Melody Gardot, whom I hadn't heard before today, and the always interesting Dee Dee Bridgewater. Even without the luxury of an "audiophile" setupwhich is to say, these musical furnishings were arranged in the manner of a normal person's homethe sound of the Focal Chorus 826W ($3795/pair), Moon 3.3 DPX D/A converter ($4000), and Moon 3.3 amplifier ($4000) was utterly charming, and I left my comfy red seat with only the greatest reluctance.
I got to see and to hear the legendary Platine Verdier turntable in the Excel Stereo suite, and though language differences and crowd noise confounded my efforts to learn either its current price or the name of the curious birdsong-and-fiddle record being played, I was delighted to see it in use with a proper (12") tonearm and Ortofon SPU pickup head. Seems I didn't leave civilization behind after all!
Maybe I don't know everything after all. In all candor, Legacy loudspeakers had never struck me as the sorts of things I might like. But here at FSI, driven by an attractive Ayon Triton integrated amplifier ($8500), itself fed by an Ayon CD-5 CD player ($9450), I very much enjoyed the big Legacy Whisper XD speakers ($20,000/pair). I wasn't surprised by the punchy, wide-range presentation, but there was a lot more realistic texture and timbral color than I ever expected. And the very nice young couple who ran the suite were patient with my seemingly limitless supply of inane questions. A fine experience.
As last year, Totem Acoustics had by far the show's most aesthetically sophisticated exhibit: a trippy mix of shapes and textures both organic and industrial, in which lights, flowers, textiles, and scents shared senses with the sound. The latter, also in typical Totem form, was exceptionally involvingespecially the Beatles' "Within You, Without You," Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness," and "lua" by Dudu (no relation) Salinas. At SSI Totem also introduced a product that's still in concept stage, called Totem Skin: a removable sock-style cover that transformed cabinetry into artliterally. Among the company's goals for this show, according to the Totem rep with whom I spoke, was to gauge consumer response to the Skins, and the reaction so far is positive.
Because I have a review pair at home, I was eager to hear how the new Wilson Sasha loudspeakers ($26,995/pair) would sound under show conditions, in the largest Coup de Foudre room. Driven by a Brinkmann Oasis turntable ($13,700), Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm ($6300), Brinkmann EMT cartridge ($4300), VTL TL5.5 preamp ($8000 with phono), Berkeley Alpha D/A converter (45700), Pathos Adrenaline amplifiers (price unknown!), and all Transparent Audio cabling, the Sashas were just as colorful, dramatic, and involving today as they've been for the past several weeks in my own listening room. Of course today's performance owed a great deal to the quality of the recordings made by master recordist Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio (left), whose sessions with Cuban-born pianist Jorge Luis Prats were nothing short of sensational. On the right, making sure I didn't miss the VTL preamp, is VTL's Luke Manley.