In Room 806, one word said it all: Rega. Demming the Rega RP8 turntable with Rega Exact 2 cartridge ($3400), Rega Apollo R CD player ($1095), Rega Brio R integrated amp with phono stage ($895), and Rega RS3 floor-standing speakers ($1395/pair), the nattily bow-tied Barnaby Fry of The Sound Organisation was having a ball playing Johnny Adams' From the Heart. The system did best on Adams' voicethe voice was greatbut when the blues artist sang, "I can't control the vibrations," I'm afraid he was talking about the limitations of the system's bottom reach and bass control. (For starters, I don't believe power conditioning or special equipment supports were in use.) But on voice and piano, Rega x 4 = very nice.
As Halie Loren sang her distinctly un-Peggy Lee version of "Fever," I reflected on how much I love the color and warm of Unison Research electronics. The internal glow of the sound, and the sweetness of the electric keyboard, especially stood out. Yummy.
In the second room sponsored by Arnold Martinez' newly opened Tweak Studio (located in Chicago's Hyatt Downtown) and Colleen Cardas Imports, a SOTA turntable, curiously unidentified on the room's equipment list, and unidentified cartridge and tonearm, were making lovely sound with three products from PureAudio. Designed by Ross Stevens and Gary Morrison, formerly of Plinius, the redundantly titled PureAudio dual-mono vinyl phono preamplifier ($4500) joined PureAudio's dual-mono Control preamplifier ($9500) and Reference 65Wpc class-A monoblock amplifiers ($15,500) to drive My Audio Design 1920S loudspeakers ($3800/pair).
Bob Walters of the Bay Area Audiophile Society often refers to Jim Salk's loudspeakers as one of the best buys in high-end audio. Certainly I have never heard them sound better in a show context. Using an AVA ABX switch ($1499), Salk Audio switched between three of its speakers: Salk Silk Bookshelf ($3499/pair), Salk Supercharged SongTowers ($3495/pair), and, the largest Salk SoundScape 8s ($7995/pair). The 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange, and 12" passive radiators as in the two larger SoundScape models (not shown), albeit with two 8" drivers.
Both at and post-show, Buffer (aka L. Langdon Ergmann, Jr.) was charmingly apologetic. Having read my "As We See It," "There's No Business without Show Business," in the April issue of Stereophile just hours before I walked into his Laufer Teknik room, he knew that his inability to supply a list of components and prices, add a track to his Memory Player from one of my six USB sticks, or even tell me what music was playing on his own music server (as in "We don't have an internet connection, so we can't identify the track") had left him a prime candidate for the Duncecap Dealer of the Day award.
There was a lot of major explication going on in the Marantz room, as in you'll hear some music if only you'll entertain our track-punctuating spiel, but when I did hear a bit of Chris Jones on the just introduced Marantz Reference NA 1151 network audio player/DAC ($3500), my interest was piqued by the depth and weight of the sound. Better yet was Sensemayá from the Channel Classics hybrid SACD of music by Revueltas. Here, the new Marantz Reference SA 1153 SACD/CD player ($4000) and Reference PM 1153 integrated amplifier ($5000), feeding Boston Acoustics M350 loudspeakers ($2500/pair), surprised me with their big soundstage and engaging depth. Even if the core sound of the lowest percussion wasn't totally fleshed out, the way the system delivered what highs and lows the speakers (45Hz30kHz ±3dB) could produce suggests this may be some of the best audio equipment Marantz has yet released.
My first opportunity to hear the exaSound e20 DSD/DXD/PCM DAC ($2500) did not disappoint. The company that self-effacingly identifies itself as "exaSound," with a small "e," played along with surprisingly extended Janszen 2A2.1 electrostatic loudspeakers ($7495/pair),, which are reputedly flat to 40Hz, and the Bryston Power Pac 250 amp ($2350) to deliver a beautiful smooth, wide soundstage on a DSD recording from Channel Classics.
I wish I could say something of import about International Phonograph Inc.'s room, which was showcasing the Artisan Fidelity turntable. The marvelous TAD Reference One loudspeakers were mated with Lamm electronics to play master tapes of jazz and other genres. Alas, there was far more talking than music going on when I stopped by, and the promised equipment list never made it to my inbox. Hopefully, others can fill in the blanks in the comments section below.
Handsome Vapor Audio Cirrus Black loudspeakers ($3995/pair)I don't have a clue as to why speakers of blond wood are named "black," unless it’s a Harry Potter referencemated with exotically named Arte Forma Due Volta monoblock amplifiers ($5500/pair) and Thalia preamplifier ($2250), a B.M.C. DAC1 ($5690), Antipodes DV2 music server ($3299), Antipodes Reference speaker cables ($2200/set) and interconnects ($1900), Balanced Power Technologies PC-9LN power cables ($499) and BP-3.5 power conditioner ($2399), and ATS Acoustics room treatments to produce sound that I found nicely illumined, albeit a little hard and unyielding. The system may not have penetrated to the heart of the music, but the sound was very attractive, solid, and well-controlled.
JPauls Design of Cary, IL offered a handsome, visually sophisticated set-up that paired Wisdom Audio's L75 loudspeakers ($18,700/pair), SCS subwoofer ($4000), and SC-1 System Controller ($6500) with Krell's Phantom III preamp ($5500), Connect media server ($2500), and Evolution 2250e amplifier ($8000). There was a lot of rapping going on, with music interrupted for explication, but what I heard of Johnny Cash displayed a very warm and inviting midrange. A recording of drums favored slam over transparency and natural timbre.