A well-balanced sytemboth in terms of the price of its components and the soundwas demonstrated by Jay Rein of Bluebird Music. The speakers were Spendor SP2/3R2s ($4295/pair), a reworking of the classic BC1, with the tweeter from the A line. CD player, preamp, and amplifiers were by Exposure, and cables by Van den Hul (which Jay told me were the most neutral sounding Van den Hul has produced so far).
Prior to having attended TAVES, if you had asked me what the connection was between "loudspeakers" and "waterfall," I would have referred to the "waterfall plot" of frequency response that is part of John Atkinson's speaker test regimen. But it turns out there's another connection: there's a line of speakers called "Waterfall." Made in France, these speakers' claim to fame is that their cabinets are made of glass.
The Avantera ($24,000$26,000/pair, depending on finish) is the speaker from German manufacturer Audio Physic that replaces their Avanti and Caldera models. (Avant-i and Cald-era combined gives you Avantera.) It's Audio Physic's 25th Anniversary model, and features the aptly-named Hyper-Holographic midrange driver and tweeter. The sound of the system, at a price not for the faint-hearted (Acoustic Signature Storm turntable, $7500; Trigon Chonolog CD player, $8995; Trigon Dialog preamp ($8495); Trigon Monolog Power Amps ($9495 each); Creative Reference Plus audio rack ($10,500); Creative Audio Amplifier bases ($1000 each) was exquisiteclearly a candidate for best sound of the show.
MartinLogan had on demo their latest electrostatic/dynamic hybrid speaker, the Montis. At $9995/pair, the Montis is placed in MartinLogan's hybrid ESL line under the flagship $13,995 Summit X, and features the latest Curvilinear Line Source (CLS) design, with MicroPerf stator technology that provides for almost twice the exposed diaphragm surface as a traditional electrostatic of the same size. The electrostatic mid/highs are matched with a powered subwoofer that features MartinLogan's proprietary Vojtko crossover and DSP engine, and a 200W amplifier. I'm slated to received a pair of these speakers (maybe the pair that was at TAVES) for review.
When I went into VMAX Services' room, they were playing a recording of "Mona Lisa" that wasn't Nat King Cole's but had the same spirit. The speakers were small bookshelf units (stand mounted, of course) and they sounded exceptionally good. Who is the singer, I asked VMAX's Richard Kohlruss, and what are those speakers? He showed me the CD: Verve ERCD 6671, vocals by Densil Pinnock, guitar by Bill Coon.
Divergent Technologies is known for producing the Reference 3A speakers and distributing a number of product lines, including Antique Sound Labs and Copland. They're now about to enter the turntable business. In collaboration with a partner in Hong Kong, Divergent has a classy-looking turntable, named the Perpetual Technology TT-1, which is a modest-by-high-end-standards $2500, sold with a 12" carbon-fiber tonearm for a combined price of $3000. It's to be available in three months.
Borrowing a page from the Montreal Salon Son & Imageand, previous to that, the Stereophile Hi-Fi showsTAVES featured live music. Singer/pianist Anne Bisson performed at King Edward's Lounge on Friday and Saturday. Her latest LP/CD was also being played in a number of rooms, and was available for sale. In the Oracle room you had a choice of whether to listen to the LP or the CD. When I was there, the preference seemed to be overwhelmingly for the LP.
It's a well-known fact that any speaker can sound bad if the rest of the system if there are problems with the rest of the system and/or there's a problem with room acoustics. However, as I listened to the Sonus Faber Amati Futuras at TAVES (NBS preamp and cables, Basis turntable and arm, Audia Flight amplifier), which sounded very good indeed, it occurred to me that I've never heard Sonus Faber speakers sound bad. Was it just luck? I doubt it . . . (JA is working on a review of the Futura, to appear in the February 2012 issue of Stereophile.)
"Have you heard the Woo headphone amps?" Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings pulled me over. I told him that I hadn'tbut then I have not kept up with the market in headphone amps. "Have a listen." So I did, over Sennheiser HD800 headphones. The MA Recordings Seeing Unknown Colors (MO 15A) sounded great through the Woo Audio WA6 ($650), without the touch of extra brightness that these 'phones are prone to.