Kara Chafee of deHavilland/KE Engineering was excited to show off her KE Engineering/deHavilland Model 222 Magnetic Tape Playback Preamplifier ($1995). It, the deHavilland Mercury III linestage preamp with remote ($4495), Sonist Concerto 3, 95dB-sensitive, floorstanding loudspeakers ($3495/pair, or $4195/pair in all wood), and top-of-the-line Wireworld Cable Technology Platinum Eclipse interconnects ($4300/1.5m/pair), Platinum Eclipse speaker cable ($13,3000 for a 2m bi-wired pair), and Silver Electra power cords ($700/2m) arrived intact at the Show. So did the Cary 306 SACD/CD player ($8000), Acoustic Revive power conditioners ($1500 and $2400), vintage 7½ips tape deck (priceless), and a small collection of eBay-sourced tapes. But the deHavilland KE50A monoblock power amplifiers ($9995/pair) that were also shipped were nowhere to be found.
Given how good Wireworld's Platinum Eclipse cabling sounded with deHavilland and Glow electronics, I was delighted to encounter Wireworld's David Salz demming another Glow/Sonist system in the adjoining room. I'm sure Wireworld's Equinox 6 interconnects ($200/pair), Equinox 6 bi-wire speaker cables ($750/pair), Stratus power cords ($100/2m), and Matrix power strip ($120) were doing just fine. So, I expect, was the source, a Cambridge 550C CD player ($595). But the Glow 832 SET 7wpc stereo amplifier ($795) was challenged driving the 93dB-sensitive Sonist Recital 3 floorstanding loudspeakers. Things sounded okay with the volume turned down low, but when you invited singers to come out from behind the closet door and stand in front of you, the sound began to distort and fall apart. It takes an extremely efficient loudspeaker to enable those amplifiers to truly glow. To its everlasting credit, Wireworld's cabling did not mask the problems associated with the mismatch.
When I entered the Audio Note UK room, someone was in the midst of auditioning a CD of exotic Chinese instruments. The strings sounded beautiful, the highs lovely. On solo piano, the system had a very quiet, enticingly crystalline purity. Soprano Elly Ameling's voice sounded equally beautiful, the voice clear and radiant, even though her piano accompaniment was strangely bloated and over-emphasized. That was no doubt due to room problems that other exhibitors tried to tame with ASC Tube Traps.
Given how enthused my fellow Stereophile editors were over the sound of the Legacy Audio speakers at this year's Axpona Show, I was really looking forward to hearing them. I was also looking forward to hearing the pricey, eye-catching Win Analog SET electronics, which had not fared well at a recent demo for the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS).
Award-winning sound engineer Cookie Marenco had so much to offer audiophiles that it was hard to know where to start. Each day at 11 and 4, she is presenting live acoustic recording sessions with a host of different solo performers, duos and trio, complete with discussions on how to download files. Cookie promised that the recordings would be available for downloading from www.bluecoastrecords.com/freedownloads within 24 hours.
On ground level in the Design Interaction room, a pair of JBL DD-66000 Everest loudspeakers ($60,000/pair) were especially imposing in the bass department. Driven by the Mark Levinson No.326 preamp ($10,000), Levinson No.512 SACD player ($15,000), a discontinued Levinson No.433 ($11,000) on the bass, a Pass Labs XVR01 for the crossover, and a Pass Labs XA30.5 30Wpc class-A amplifier on the horns, all connected by MIT cabling, the system had great authority. The presentation had the characteristically dark Levinson sound, with some curious extra bass resonance on the voice of mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Branford Marsalis's music, on the other hand, sounded just fabulous.
Every new venue presents new acoustic challenges for exhibitors. Deniz Daldal of Design Interaction in Emerald Hills (part of unincorporated San Mateo county, near Redwood City), wondered if the bass ringing in his room was due to the cement in the floor and back walls. "We need more stuff," he told me, but there was no more stuff at his disposal.
Things were all a bustle as the California Audio Show got underway at the Hilton in Emeryville, right below Berkeley and Oakland, and across the bay from San Francisco. Happily surprised by a number of last-minute exhibitors, promoters Ann and Constantine Soo had lost count at "something over 100 exhibitors/brands" and 34 exhibit rooms.
Reflecting dramatic changes in the high-end industry, British loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins has developed for its products a new US retail outlet. Beginning in October, audio shoppers will be able to audition and buy the company's loudspeakers in Best Buy's chain of Magnolia stores.