I began my Sunday in the Nordost room on the Tower mezzanine. Familiar with the sound of the Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, and power cables in my reference system, as well as the benefits of the Nordost Thor power distribution center that I have for review in another publication (and will not be returning), I was wondering how they would sound powering completely different components.
Having read and heard copious praise of the two-chassis Metronome T2i-Signature CD player ($20,600), at times accompanied by claims that it can make CDs sound as good as SACDs reproduced in two-channel mode, I was eager to hear the new one-piece Metronome CD5-Signature player, distributed in the US by Jim Ricketts of tmh audio (above). The CD5-Signature, whose somewhat plain Jane appearance conceals both a tube output stage and variable volume control that can obviate the need for a preamp, retails for a "mere" $18,000. Introduced at the RMAF, it was powered by borrowed-at-the-last-minute Boulder monoblocks feeding Zerobox 109 loudspeakers (40Hz–35kHz response for $7500/pair) via Xindak cabling.
Gazing at the prototypes of Peter Bizlewicz’s forthcoming Panorama loudspeakers, I couldn’t help wondering if our beloved canine Baci Brown would either attack them as hostile intruders or try to mount them in a futile assertion of alpha dominance. Yes, not only the closest thing to alien invaders so far encountered at the show, but also visually hilarious, these speakers demanded a listen.
Those are the words that came to me as I began listening to the diminutive set-up in the room sponsored by Acoustic Sounds. As Eric Bibb & Needed Time made beautiful music on their Opus 3 LP, Good Stuff, I gazed at a pair of Manley Labs Snapper Monoblocks ($4250) and Stirling Broadcast LS3/5a V2 Speakers ($1695/pair) sitting on Target Audio MR 28 Speaker stands ($299), as well as a Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0 power transformer ($5000 with Vesuvius power cord). Interconnects, power cords, and loudspeaker cables were also from Silver Circle Audio.
Mated to MBL electronics via Kubala-Sosna Emotion Series cabling, the Kharma MP-150se produced a huge, "how could it possibly come from such small speakers" soundstage and superior slam. Most important, the system showed no fear either on the top or the bottom of the audible spectrum. It may not match our carpet, but I love the blue. Another system that left me smiling.
It's hardly news to see Moscode’s 401HR 200Wpc hybrid amplifier ($4995, factory-direct price until January 1) heaped with praise. But let me tell you, after walking in and out of countless rooms powered by single-ended triode amplification that got some things right while they pretended others simply didn’t exist, encountering Moscode’s full-range sound was tantamount to setting foot on terra firma. Mated with Joseph Audio RM33LE speakers ($10,500/pair) and Cardas Golden Reference cabling, the configuration had me smiling. Three cheers to the show attendee who played the song about pay phones by the Hunger Mountain Boys.
Given the firepower and reputation of a system comprised of the Kharma Midi Exquisite Mk.II speakers, MBL 1621a/1611e digital front-end, MBL 6010D preamp, MBL 9008a power amps (total cost $184,420), plus Kharma Enigma Cables ($8000/1st meter pair), I figured I had finally entered the right room in which to risk auditioning Ivan Fischer’s new recording of Mahler’s Symphony 2, the "Resurrection" (SACD, Channel Classics). Indeed, at the start of the glorious vocal section that ends the symphony, the MBLs' euphonic signature captured the violins with wonderful delicacy. Soprano, alto, and chorus too sounded wonderful, the soprano especially radiant. Given that the system’s sweetness was delivered with an enrapturing sense of air and depth, the sound swept me away. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
Scoring a "10" in the outrageous visuals department, especially when played in the dark, are the 200 lb, $42,000/pair Amber Wave 200W push-pull monoblocks. The space-consuming units, wide as well as deep due to their massive power supplies, utilize huge, readily available NOS 304TL transmitting triodes as output tubes. Complete with an audible buzz from the power supplies, and thus best situated far from the listening area, the amps give off so much heat that they require built-in cooling fans (which add to the noise). Amidst it all emerged a strong if not particularly sweet midrange and a guarantee that everyone on the block will want to take a look.
Peter Ledermann, former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation and winner of numerous IBM awards, has spent the last 16 years developing the Soundsmith Corporation product line. Amplifier, preamplifier, phono cartridges, and now speakers—Soundsmith has it all. Available factory-direct from the Soundsmith website, the Strain Gauge cartridge and preamp and just-introduced loudspeakers especially caught my ear. The most expensive speaker, the Mantis 300, lists for $5800/pair and is equipped with dual 10" high-power woofers, a 6" long-throw midrange unit, and "zero diffraction," time-aligned 1" tweeters. Specs include 42Hz–22kHz frequency range and 91dB sensitivity. All speakers include amplifier clipping indicators and tweeter protection circuitry. Next January or so promises a $3800, 100Wpc integrated amp. This is exceptionally fine-sounding gear, a must hear for vinyl lovers.
I’ve eagerly awaited the opportunity to hear APL Hi-FI’s NOW-2.5, the no-hold-barred, top-of-the line model in their frighteningly named New World Order series of Universal Players. A redesigned Esoteric UX-1, featuring a 6H30 dual-tube output stage, the $21,000 unit threw an exceptionally three-dimensional soundstage mated with the ESP Concert Grand S1 speakers and Shoreline 300 monoblocks. My sense, however, is that the unit is capable of offering far more than what I was able to hear in the Show setting. With the assistance of Alex Peychev’s new Service Manager, Brent Rainwater, I look forward to eventually auditioning the NOW-2.5 in my reference system.