Of one room I can honestly say: The sound pulled me in. A succession of convincingly deep, tactile drumbeats caught my ear, and I followed the thwacks to Cabasse, where the Sphère ($150,000/pair, more or less, and reviewed by Michael Fremer a year or so back) held court, driven by Cabasse's own Bel Canto-sourced amps; the Cabasse outboard digital crossover; and McIntosh's C2300 preamp and MCD500 SACD/CD player. No less impressive was Christophe Cabasse himself (left), who patiently led me through the Sphère's impressive technical backgroundin English, I'm thankful to say. Monsieur Cabasse also reminded me that his company celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, having been founded by Georges Cabasse (père) all the way back in 1960.
I started my day the right way: listening to a good LP of acoustic music. In one of three Coup de Foudre rooms I listened to Skip James's final album on a system comprising the new Brinkmann DD turntable (price TBD) with an EMT TSD 15 fineline phono cartridge ($1800), Auditorium 23 step-up transformer ($995), Leben RS30 EQ moving-magnet phono preamp ($2595), Leben CS300 XS integrated amplifier ($3495), and DeVore Fidelity 3XL loudspeakers ($3700/pair without stands), the latter of which were capable of allowing the music to sound surprisingly, delightfully big. Cables were all by Auditorium 23, and the source and amplification components were supported by a typically beautiful Sapele rack from the Box Furniture company.
In an industry whose newest products are often as discouragingly unaffordable as they are short of the sonic mark, the Naim Audio Uniti ($3795) stands out. In a single reasonably sized box, the Uniti combines the guts of Naim's Nait 5i integrated amplifier and CD5i CD player with various additional sources: an FM/DAB tuner, and interfaces for an iPod, a USB memory stick, an iRadio, and a UPnP-compatible connected computer or serverall for the price of a very good television set.
On two occasions I've caught myself wondering how to afford a pair of Wilson Audio loudspeakers. Interestingly, both happened within the past year. The first was in April 2009, at the Son et Image show in Montreal, during a demonstration of the MAXX Series 3. The experience was notable for its blend of genuinely great sound with genuine musicality: Each performance unfolded of its own natural accord, with human randomness and nuance, and without the fussy, mechanical, shallow artifice that attracts some audiophiles in the way a carnivorous plant attracts fliesand, if they're lucky, kills them (the audiophiles, that is).
Revolver? More like evolver: 80 years after the first electrically driven record players became available, professional and amateur engineers continue to seek new ways to spin LPs with ever-greater steadiness and precision.
I'm fortunate to own some very nice hi-fi gear: Different turntables, tonearms, and pickups for different records. Two pairs of really superb full-range loudspeakers. A choice of mildly exotic amplifiersmy favorite combination of which (a stereo preamplifier and a pair of monoblock power amps) sells for a little over $21,000. The average American consumer would think that's insane.