Zesto’s George Counnas gets excited about his tubed phono and line preamps
It was a first-time venture for Elite Audio Systems, San Francisco’s newest and unique fine-audio emporium. On June 29, 2013, proprietor Michael Woods opened his doors to an event, co-organized with Peter Truce of the Bay Area Audiophile Society’s Analog Committee, that drew close to 60 folks to two mainly analog listening sessions.
Location, location, location . . . and, from Richard Beers and Bob Levi, a generous helping of brilliant organizing acumen. That winning combination means that, in just its third year, T.H.E. Show Newport Beach has already laid claim to the title of the top consumer “fine audio” show in the U.S.
What exactly No.1 means is another question entirely. While T.H.E. Show Newport Beach may have been spread over multiple floors in two adjacent hotels, as was T.H.E. Show Las Vegas of old, and offered, in addition to almost 140 exhibit rooms and an invaluable number of seminars, a corridor-long “cigar show,” a glitzy car show, wine show, gourmet food trucks, and multiple entertainment stages and markets, it’s hard to know if all that = “best.” And while attendance is claimed to be very high, it’s hard to know how many of the estimated 7500 attendees actually paid to get in, and how many took advantage of either generously distributed comps or membership in the Los Angeles-Orange County Audio Society.
What is certain is that, despite what JA told me was a surprisingly slow Sunday, there were people everywhere on Friday and Saturday. Everywhere, as in all over the place. And that means more than physically. People ran the gamut age-wise as well as interest wise, if less so in terms of the male-female ratio.
Winner of my “Tied for Best Sound on the Hilton’s 3rd Floor Award,” which must count for something in someone’s bookthe other was the Perfect8 and BAlabo room, Veloce Audio’s LS-1 battery-powered tube preamp ($18,000) and Saetta battery-powered hybrid monoblock amplifiers ($18,000/pair) were producing their customary luscious, warm, clean, and ultra-smooth sound. Using a PC source equipped with J River Media Player, a Stahl-Tek Ariaa DAC ($12,000), Purist Audio Design Corvus cables and Ultimate USB, and YG Acoustic Kipod II Signature loudspeakers ($38,800), the system sounded great on George Benson’s “Paper Moon” and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass’ “Moonlight in Vermont.” I especially enjoyed the copious amount of air surrounding Byron Janis’ piano. Color this system maximally seductive.
Dexter Gordon was in the midst of turning head over heels, or vice versa, over the sound of his LP, Dexter Blows Hot and Cool, in the Venice Audio room. He may have blown a bit cool over the out-of-control bass, but he surely found the beauty of his tenor sax, and the clarity of the cymbals hot indeed.
EAR USA’s Dan Meinwald had more to share than two new products from Tim de Paravicini; he also opened the door on lovely tube warmth. Thanks to two new sources, the EAR Acute 4/DACute 4 CD/SACD player ($13,000) and Helius Alexia turntable ($5500), the latter equipped with the Helius Omega 10” tonearm ($3100) and Dynavector KX-1s cartridge ($5450), an LP of doo-wop, and a CD of The Persuasions singing the Beatles had great height and exemplary center imaging. A Chad Kassem test pressing of the Ray Brown Trio’s Soular Energy further exhibited lovely and warm tube sound.
Dusty Vawter’s CIAudio, which stands for Channel Islands Audio rather than a governmental overseas espionage agency, was making really nice sound on a recording by Ben Harper. Doing the honors in this reasonably priced system were CIAudio’s Transient Mk.II asynchronous USB DAC ($699), VDC5 Mk.II 5V upgraded power supply ($329), PLC1 MKk.II passive line controller ($899), and D200 Mk.II 200W monoblocks ($3500/pair). Von Schweikert VR-22 loudspeakers ($2895/pair) completed a chain that began with a MacBook Pro equipped with Pure Music software, and also included a PS Audio P10 power regenerator, Billy Bags equipment rack, and GIK room treatments.
KEF, the loudspeaker company that has made sure that every audiophile on Planet Earth knows about their Blade loudspeaker, held a premier of sorts: the first showing of the KEF R900 ($5000/pair). The results were mixed. I’m a little unclear about the amplificationI was told that it was a Chord CPM 3350 integratedbut whatever it was, paired with a Chord Chordette DAC, Parasound Halo CD-1, and Wireworld cabling, I was surprised to discover that the CD player produced much smoother sound than the PC running J River Media Player.
My ears first opened to the tantalizing sounds of JansZen Model ZA2.1 electrostatic hybrid loudspeakers ($7495/pair) with AirLayer outboard side-firing tweeter option ($495/pair) at AXPONA Chicago. In California, they were again paired with an exaSound DAC and, I think, Bryston linear amplifiers. With the source a PC equipped with J River Media Player feeding the DAC via a stock USB cable, the sound was quite nice on a track of somewhat formulaic jazz.
Damn. In the midst of my power coverage, my brief listen in the Perfect8/BAlabo room was so enjoyable that I resolved to return. But when I finished my final floor of the Hilton on Saturday, with just enough time for a return visit before I headed across the street to the airport, I found the door locked. Only later did I learn that the door had not been locked intentionally; if I had pounded hard enough, I could have gotten more of this equipment configuration’s wonderful sound.
I welcomed the opportunity to hear MA Recordings' very first LP, La Segunda, through Steve Norber's ear-opening PranaFidelity Model Fifty90 loudspeaker ($3950/pair). Through the symmetrical array 2-way vented design, I heard good bass, captivating depth, and plentiful air. In short, Todd Garfinkle's LP, sourced from high-resolution digital masters, sounded great.