In the Simaudio/Dynaudio room, the sheer size and weight of the bass commanded equal respect. This was some of the finest low bass extension I have so far encountered at the show. (The bass impact of the new Wilson Watt/Puppy8s also deserves mention). Imagine my surprise when, after my audition, Simaudio’s Costa Kouliisakis told me that he had not yet succeeded in getting the room to deliver all of the deep bass extension the equipment was capable of producing.
The Immedia room proved an isle of sanity amidst the clamor. As I entered, the folks were playing Analogue Productions’ HQ-180 pressing of Chet. Heard through Joachim Gerhard’s somewhat diminutive, 90 lb Sonics Allegria speakers ($15,000/pair, shown above with Immedia’s Allen Perkins), the trumpet sounded far bigger and lifelike than speakers this size “should” make it sound. Equally impressive were the amazing depth, height, and width of the soundstage. No small part of the credit is due Perkins’ Spiral Groove SGI turntable ($20,000), Immedia RPM tonearm ($2995), Lyra Skala cartridge ($2500, a replacement for Lyra’s Helicon), the Lyra Connoisseur 4-2LSE preamp ($25,000), and Ayre V5XE 150 Wpc amp ($4500).
If Luke Manley of VTL arrived one Cardas power cable short, and Jeff Joseph arrived minus one set of Cardas speaker cables (see earlier reports), designer Alexander Gaiderov and distributor Victor Rakovich upped them by powering their visually arresting Bolzano speakers with a Muse stereo amp that proceeded to blow up. I wish I knew how these Russian engineered, Italian-designed omnidirectional speakers can sound when paired with other than a Pioneer amp that cannot accommodate their subwoofer. Hopefully, time will tell.
My final visit of the Show's first public day was to Jay Rein's Bluebird Music, Ltd. room. Tucked into a small niche in a space otherwise dominated by Chord electronics and Neat loudspeakers (which Jay considers an ideal match for Chord) sat an unobtrusive Exposure system consisting of the Exposure 2010S CD player and integrated amp ($1250 each) connected to diminutive NEAT Acoustics Motive 2 loudspeakers ($1995/pair) by entry-level Kubala-Sosna speaker cables. Rein and CA dealer Michael Silver of Audio High then proceeded to blow my mind with budget magic. As was the case with the new, even lower-priced Denon system I described yesterday, the system's evenly balanced, full-range sound blew me away. Now I understand why Stereophile has heaped praise on Exposure Electronics. I'd love to hear this stuff powered by after-market power cables and a power conditioner of some sort. Stuff that sounds this good can only sound better when given the opportunity to demonstrate its full potential.
Unexpected amusement greeted me in the small Covenant Audio & Aaudio Imports room. As soon as I entered, an overgrown post-adolescent seated himself in the sweet spot, took one look at the visually stunning Wavac HE-833v1.3 tube monoblocks ($69,000/pair), Wavac PR-T1 tube preamp (a mere $30K), Acapella High Violin MK 888 horn speakers ($48,000/pair—where do they get these names?), and Accustic Arts Drive and DAC ($12,800 together), all held together and powered by assorted cables and power products from PranaWire, Stealth and Isoclean, and blurted out, "This looks like super-high end."
After lunch, I wandered into the Joseph Audio room. I had initially encountered Jeff Joseph on Wednesday afternoon as he was attempting to cart four huge boxes of equipment into the hotel by stacking them one atop the other on a flimsy two-wheel luggage cart. Needless to say, upon encountering a small hump at the hotel threshold, the poor thing began to bend under the weight, unceremoniously depositing Jeff's boxes on the floor. Like someone kicking a mule whose hind legs have collapsed under it, Jeff attempted to wrestle with the beast, trying to convince it to perform its intended duty. The man may have the wherewithal to produce uncommon speakers that have received three "Best Sound at the Show" honors, but he seems to share a common human failing with yours truly—an occasional refusal to acknowledge the obvious.
My final audition before attending the warm, "family affair" Classics Records press conference took place in Elliot Midwood's Acoustic Image room, which displayed gear he sells at his store in Studio City, CA. Once I spyed the same ESP Concert Grand SI speakers ($40,000/pair ) that drove John Marks into ecstasy in April, I had to listen. Amplification came complements of Wavestream Kinetic V8 monoblocks, which output 250–300W in triode mode ($35,000). Also on hand were the fabled Messenger preamp and the Lector four-chassis CD Drive and DAC ($9000).
11 AM Thursday, my first room at HE2005: I've just spent way over an hour listening to VTL gear in two completely different configurations. The first, in a hotel suite whose dimensions are similar to rooms in many smaller homes or larger apartments, paired the new VTL MB-450 monoblocks, TP6.5 phono preamp, and just upgraded Reference TL-7.5 linestage preamp with the Jadis JD1 Mk.II transport and JS 1 DAC, VPI Aries 3 turntable with JMW 10.5i tonearm and Benz LP cartridge, Wilson Sophia 2s, and Cardas cabling.
It may read like a page out of a classic corporate crime thriller, but the threat is real. ExpoPul, a company whose factory in Saratov, Russia manufactures vacuum tubes under the brand names Sovtek, Electro-Harmonix, Tungsol, Svetlana, Mullard, and others—tubes that include the 6H30 "super tube"—is threatened by one of the many Russian corporate "raiders" who are increasingly stealing businesses from their rightful owners. If the threatened hostile takeover proves successful, two-thirds of the world's supply of vacuum tubes—tubes vital to the sound of audiophile gear and instruments from such well-known companies as McIntosh, Audio Research, BAT, Jadis, Fender, KORG, Peavey, Vox, Soldano, Carvin, Ampeg, and Crane—could become a thing of the past.