This bad photo moment gives no hint of the delicacy of touch and smoothness of midrange registers that I heard from Murray Perahia’s piano in Pacific Coast Audio/Video’s room. Admittedly, highs were toned down, but they were certainly more enjoyable than this bottom of the barrel excuse for a photo. Doing the room far more honors than I were Herron Audio’s VTSP-3A (r02) vacuum-tube preamp ($6550), VTPH-2 tube phono stage ($3650), M1A power amplifiers ($6850/pair), and interconnects ($225/1m pair); MartinLogan’s Montis loudspeakers ($9995/pair); Ayre Acoustics’ CX7 CD player ($3500); VPI’s Aries 2 turntable ($4000) and SDS motor drive ($1200); and Synergistic Research’s PowerCell 6 SE ($2595).
A fabulous soundstage and air for days distinguished an already-distinguished recording of the great Shirley Horn. Ms. Horn, who was making beautiful music in several rooms at the Hilton, seemed especially at home in the second room sponsored by Tim Miner’s Pacific Coast Audio Video, where Wilson Audio Sophia 3 loudspeakers ($17,900/pair) mated beautifully with Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amp ($9950) and QB-9 DAC ($2750); Parasound’s Halo JC 3 phono preamp ($2395), Rega’s RP8 turntable ($2995) outfitted with Ortofon’s Redondo Blue cartridge ($879), and Synergistic Research’s Element Series cables, Tranquility Base, and Acoustic A.R.T. System.
I’ve never heard equipment from this West Sacramento, CA-based company other than at shows, but, for the last number of years, it has unfailing brought me joy. “Nice and open… tons of color… nice to hear so much color … captivating tube warmth without sounding loose or unfocused… great depth”those are the comments I wrote about the company’s two new products, the Starlet 4 50Wpc triode integrated amplifier ($3495) and VG-8 speakers ($3495/presumably for the pair). The VG-8s are claimed to extend down to 32Hz ±3dB. Cabling was from LegendLegend II speaker ($1495/10ft. pair), Lemaa interconnects ($395/1m pair), and Power 3 power ($495/6ft.)and source when I entered the room was a Marantz CD94 player.
Enigma Acoustics of Irvine, CA introduced the Sopranino, “the world’s first electrostatic supertweeter.” Winner of a CEA 2013 Innovations Award, the Sopranino claims a flat response beyond 40kHz and fully passive operation without the need of external bias. I confess that, when I walk into a room to encounter someone telling me everything I’m supposed to hear, I tend to shut down; I prefer to hear what I hear without being pre-programmed with a set of expectations. Regardless, as I soon discovered, only folks with severe hearing loss would have missed how the sound opened up when the Sopranino was switched in. The company highly recommends them as an addition for Quads.
I suppose the glow around the speakers is apt in this case, given that I was listening to the Glow Amp Two ($1500), Glow Voice One loudspeakers ($420/pair), and Glow Sub One ($388). Connected to the Audiowood “Big Easy” Rega-based turntable w/matching stand ($1400 without arm) via Cable Research Lab cabling, Betty Carter and Ray Charles sounded smooth indeed.
Antelope Audio, long respected in pro circles, showed two important products: the finally available Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp ($40,000), an all-in-one beauty that combines a 10M Rubidium atomic clock with a 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier; and the due-this-fall Zodiac Platinum DSD-capable DAC/headphone amplifier ($4895) with optional Voltikus power supply ($995). Paired with ATC SCM100-AT active loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), the Rubicon produced supremely beautiful sound with exceptionally refined highs. And that was from a computer source equipped with a stock USB cable. Those who have experimented with aftermarket USB cables know how much more color and life the system would have produced had a better USB cable been in the chain.
Using a similar line-up as at CES 2013, the public show premiere of the Playback Designs' IPS-3 ($13,000), which contains a remote controlled amplifier/preamplifier/DAC with USB input that can handle up to 384kHz PCM and 6.1MHz DSD, paired with Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne loudspeakers with integrated stands ($4000/pair), sounded very solid and musical on a big band selection. I would have stayed longer, but rather than interrupt an intense conversation, I added this room to my “next show wish list.”
The Music First Audio system, which included the Music First Audio Step-up and Music First Audio Baby Reference preamplifier (in front, in red), helped create a midrange-strong system that, on a recording by Eva Cassidy, sounded very smooth indeed. Favoring the midrange over brilliance in orchestral fare, the system transmitted the natural resonance of horns, and credibly communicated the full and meaty sounds of violins.
All that and more found a home in room 417 of the Hilton, where Fritz Heiler’s Rev 7 towers ($3500/pair) produced some fine sounds on a Chesky LP of Rosa Passos and Ron Carter singing Bossa Nova. On the major plus side, the midrange excelled; the midrange timbre of the guitar sounded just right, and Passos’ voice was ideally smooth. But despite GIK Acoustics room treatments and Custom Audio rack and amp stands, bass was unfocused, and Passos’ voice lacked ultimate clarity.
When I judged a whistling contest in China a few years back, I got severely criticized by an unsmiling judge for favoring one little girl because she was so damn cute. I wonder what he would have thought about my reaction to the adorable little components from Napa Acoustics. You’ll have to check previous show blogs for their pictures, because this time, I focused on some of Napa Acoustics’ Chinese-manufactured larger offerings. The MT-34 35Wpc integrated amp ($1199), Bow-A3 loudspeakers ($1699/pair), and NA-208 CD player ($399), powered and connected with stock cables, did a fine job of depicting the organ on Ray Charles and Norah Jones’ “Here We Go Again.”