Tosh Goka of Divergent Technologies always manages to assemble a good-sounding system at shows, and this year's FSI was no exception. The speakers were the Reference 3A Grand Veenas ($8000/pair, which seems very reasonable for the technology and the sound), with Antique Sound Labs electronics and EMM Lab CD/SACD player.
The warm-up phenomenon—where a system sounds better after it's been on for some time, the time being much longer than would be accounted for by anything in the measured performance—is well-known to audiophiles, and it often manifests itself at shows. This was the case with the system in the Avantgarde room: Avantgarde Duo Mezzo loudspeakers ($47,250/pair), Avantgarde One preamp ($37,500) and One power amp ($45,000), with Brinkmann analog and Audio Aero digital front ends. I heard the system early on the first day of the show, and although it didn't sound bad, it didn't sound as great as I'd heard Avantgarde speakers sounding. Could it be the room or perhaps the setup? Avantgarde Acoustics designer Matthias Ruff was on hand; between him and Jody Hickson of Globe Marketing, Avantgarde's new North American distributor, they should have been able to sort out the setup, but the sound was definitely disappointing, being on the dry side, a characteristic I don't associate with Avantgarde speakers.
Red Wine Audio has been expanding their range of battery-powered audio electronics: they have the Isabella preamp, with optional built-in DAC; Signature 30.2 power amplifier, with optional volume control, and Signature 70.2 monoblock amplifiers. The system at FSI used Omega Super Hemp speakers, which use a driver that in the version demoed at the show was equipped with an Alnico magnet structure, and it sounded very nice indeed.
Attention Screen is the band that includes Stereophile's own Bob Reina on piano, Chris Jones on bass, Don Fiorino on various string instruments, and Mark Flynn on drums. (Their recent CD, Live at Merkin Hall, recorded by John Atkinson, is available from Stereophile.) They gave a concert at FSI, and although the attendance could have been better—publicity for the music events at the show was rather sparse—it was clear that those in the audience were enraptured with Attention Screen's intense, almost entirely improvisational brand of jazz.
At the "Ask the Editors" session on Saturday afternoon, Stereophile editor John Atkinson asked each of us on the panel—John Marks, Wes Phillips, and myself—what systems featuring low-priced equipment particularly impressed us at the show. There were actually several such systems that I could have named—but the one that first came to mind was the system based on the Rogue Cronus tube-based integrated amp ($1750, 55Wpc, includes a phono stage and headphone amplifier, with PSB Alpha B1 speakers ($279/pair). A nice, well-balanced sound, very easy on the ears. Mind you, they had an Oracle turntable as the front end, which might be classified as cheating, but, hey, it's an audio show.
There were lots of turntables at the show, but the one that intrigued me the most was the Calibre Mk.101, from Audio Excellence, the Toronto-area dealer, which is making its first foray into the turntable business. The Calibre Mk.101 has a with a marble plinth, 1.5" thick acrylic platter, AC motor with speed regulation, high-quality polished bearing, and looks elegant without being ostentatious. The price of $1999 includes a good-quality arm, with further arm upgrades available. Audio Excellences stated aim in introducing the Calibre Mk.101 is "the best reproduction of records at the lowest price possible—making turntables we would own."
Conventional audio marketing wisdom has it that any new company with a single product, selling at a high price, will have a really rough time establishing distribution and picking up dealers. But this apparently did not deter Kim Neeper Rasmussen. The Neeper Perfection One is a two-and-a-half way floorstander of modest size, with a 1.5" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter and two 5.5" custom ScanSpeak midrange/bass units, each speaker weighing 30kg (66 lbs). A major feature of the design is that the cabinet walls are all non-parallel to each other, an approach to resonance-control that Rasmussen considers to be vastly superior to the use of damping materials. The speakers are made in Denmark, and are priced at $20,000/pair.
I've heard demonstrations of Lyngdorf's digital room correction components before, and had been impressed by it, but never as much as at the demo held at this year's FSI. Adrian Low, whose Toronto store, Audio Excellence, is a dealer for Lyngdorf, played a recording of a male voice that was so bloated in the midbass as to be virtually unlistenable. That was with the Lyngdorf room correction bypassed. The sound was totally transformed when the room correction circuitry was engaged: the midbass boom, endemic to the smaller rooms on the Sheraton's upper floors, was gone, and while it was still clear that the performer was too close to the mike, producing the proximity effect that's a well-known consequence of this sort of miking, it sounded much more natural.
dCS is known for its superb-sounding but stratospherically-priced digital source components—prices in the $50k+ range for a transport/DAC combination. While their new Puccini one-box CD/SACD player won't be a candidate for Budget Component of the Year, its $22,000 price represents low end for dCS. But don't start spending all the money you've saved by buying the Puccini rather than the more expensive dCS offerings: there is a matching external clock component upgrade that will be available in the near future. No price has been determined yet, but you can be sure that it will not be in three figures.
It's been said often enough to be considered as a truism that FSI is an occasion for snow: at the show's opening, during the show, or at least when the show is closing. But it looked like this year was going to be an exception; the weather forecast for the three days of the show called for temperatures well above freezing, with rain on Friday.