The first time I tried to get into the Channel D room, the sound of the company’s Pure Music ($129) and Pure Vinyl ($279) software, along with their associated electronics, had drawn such a crowd that I gave up. Returning early enough on Saturday to beat the throngs of admirers, I was finally able to enjoy Stereophile’s 2010 Computer Audio Product of the Year.
The Legacy Audio Aeris Premium ($18,850/pair, outboard), with dual 500W ICEpower amps for the bass section and 24-bit DSP, certainly offers a lot for the money, but in Monarch Ballroom III, the speaker also sounded boomy and rather flat. The latter condition, I soon discovered, was easily remedied. When I played Reference Recordings’ CD of two ballet scores by Délibes, the image was pulling so far to the left that it was hard to believe that no one else had noticed the imbalance. Sleuthing revealed that someone or some dark force had messed with the balance control. Once it was returned to center position, the soundstage from the Pioneer Elite CD player and Coda 15.5 amplifier ($10,000) grew in size, and the sound, while hardly transparent, far more inviting and filled with air. As for the boominess, hopefully more attention to set-up and associated electronics would do the trick.
Ray Kimber has blown minds at previous shows with his IsoMike surround-sound exhibits. I recall, in fact, one at RMAF with huge Sound Labs electrostats that had everyone shaking their heads in disbelief at how amazing it sounded. But in this case, despite the excellence of four Sony SSAR-1 loudspeakers, Pass Labs X350.5 amplification, an extremely expensive array of EMM Labs equipment connected to a Sonoma32 super audio center, and excellent Kimber Kabling, something was not right.
Sony’s new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the September issue of Stereophile) are hardly huge speakers. Yet in a ballroom system that included Pass Labs’ highly prized X600.5 monoblocks ($22,000/pair) and XP-20 preamplifier ($8600), the Sony speakers delivered an amazingly large soundstage further distinguished by an exceedingly beautiful, warm, and clear sound.
There were two systems in Audio Summa’s room on the 10th floor of the Hilton, but I concentrated on the one with the brand new Kuzma 4-point NSE tonearm with Crystal Cable Silver/Gold ($6375) and Stabl M turntable ($18,500). Paired with Silverline Audio’s Sonatina Mk.IV loudspeaker ($5995/pair); Conrad-Johnson Classic 60SE stereo tube amp ($5000), ET-5 Triode tube preamp ($9500), and TEA2MAX triode tube phonostage ($6500); no longer manufactured BEL 101 Mk.IV stereo amps; Furutech Flux cables (Lineflux, Speakerflux, and Powerflux power cords); and HRT Music Streamer HD, MicroStreamer, and iStreamer, I was treated to a Classic Records reissue of the divine Sarah Vaughan’s 1964 Roulette platter, The Lonely Hours. The sound was lovely, but the bass seemed disconnected from the higher octaves.
Going all out, Totem Acoustics followed up its home theater room with a second room that included two completely different systems. Just finishing up playing when I entered the room, the “Boulder System”Boulder 2060 power amp with “Made in the USA” XTC amp stand, 1010 preamp, and 1021 CD/Networking playerfed the brand new, just shipping Totem Acoustic "Forest Signature" loudspeaker in Cherry ($6000/pair). This was the same Boulder amp and preamp whose sound helped me wax ecstatic at Music Lovers Audio in San Francisco 22 days earlier. As for the all-important loudspeaker, it has the same volume as the standard Totem Forest ($4000/pair), but contains better capacitors and drivers, a different decoupling system, and a high gloss polyester finish that takes a week to complete on a cabinet whose angle can be adjusted.
That Albert Von Schweikert is an excellent speaker designer is widely known. Hence it was no surprise that the Von Schweikert Audio UniField Two three-way bookshelf loudspeakers with dedicated stands and active noise reduction ($8000/pair) were making exceptionally smooth music on an unidentifiable classical piece played on an outstanding system that included the YFS supercomputer HD.REF-3 LE ($15,500), EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,000), and Constellation Audio Centaur amplifier ($27,000) and Virgo preamplifier ($29,000). All this was powered and connected by Master-Built Signature power cords ($6200/6 ft.), ULTRA XLR audio cables ($12,000/pair), Signature RCA interconnects ($6200/pair), and Signature bi-wire speaker cables ($7500/8 ft. pair).
No one needs me to detail the strengths of McIntosh equipment, not the least of which is its consistently smooth midrange. But in a system that included the McIntosh C2500 tube preamp ($6500), MEN220 Room Perfect room correction ($4500), MC452 power amp ($8500), MPC1500 power controller ($4500), MCD1100 CD Player ($10,000), and XR100 speakers ($10,000), the tightness and impact of the bass was nothing short of startling. Call it the “Whoa! Factor.” Equally noteworthy was the very warm, large, and all-enveloping presentation.
By now, the excellence of the big TAD Reference One loudspeakers ($78,000/pair), designed by Andrew Jones, has become well-known to Stereophile readers. Less familiar, perhaps, may be TAD’s Reference electronics: the TAD D600 CD/SACD player and DAC with external power supply, the C600 preamplifier with external power supply that Michael Fremer reviews in the June 2013 issue ($42,000), and M600 monoblocks ($68,000/pair).
The warmth of the system’s midrange immediately won my heart.
When I heard the big Ventures at CES 2013, I was so impressed with their beauty of sound that I lingered far longer than my schedule allowed. John Atkinson was similarly impressed at the 2013 New York Show But here, paired with the same Phasure NOS1 DAC, XX HighEnd software, and similar if not identical electronics and cables, the bright sound led me to truncate my visit.
In all fairness, this was far from the only room at T.H.E. Show whose sound was bright.