I was real excited to hear the advanced prototype of the new the SMC-1, a fully balanced linestage preamp collaboration between Steve McCormack and Gary Koh of Genesis. The preamp will come in two versions, the higher-priced of the two probably coming in around $8000. For the extra money, you get higher quality parts and a different sonic signature, which amounts to quite a lot.
Nothing can beat starting off a morning in a state of grace. That's how it felt when Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings warmed up the new Clearaudio Concept turntable ($1400) with Borodin's Quartet No.2, appropriately performed by the Borodin Quartet and reproduced on an immaculate Decca pressing. The sound was warm, liquid, and eminently pleasing - everything I would want from good vinyl reproduction.
Directly across the hall from Musical Surroundings, Garth and Jim White, owner and designer of Aesthetix Audio Corporation, played the same French jazz recording I had just heard. This time, the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable ($10,000) with TT2 linear tonearm ($9500) and daVinci v2 cartridge ($5500) did the honors. Handling the rest were the Aesthetix Rhea Signature phono stage ($7,000), part of the Saturn series and named after one of the moons of Saturn; and the same Aesthetix Atlas power amp ($8000) as used across the hall. Vandersteen Quatro Wood speakers, HRS equipment stand, Kubala-Sosna cables and Running Springs Audio power products completed the chain.
Irresistible warmth in the midrange. It's not what you usually associate with digital, but it's the only way to describe digital reproduction in the EAR USA room. Auditioned were the EAR Acute CD player ($5495), EAR 509 monoblocks ($14,000), and EAR 912 preamplifier ($11,500), played through the brand-new Marten Getz loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) and connected by Jorma Origo cabling. The new Marten Getz, part of the Marten Heritage series and seen hear in JA's photo with EAR's legendary designer Tim de Paravicini, is a three-way model that combines an active and passive woofer in a single box. The Getz boasts 87dB sensitivity, and a frequency response that extends from 30Hz (3dB) up to 40kHz.
If anyone could possibly bewitch me, it's Ella Fitzgerald. I found it impossible to resist her spell as she sang "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" through the wonderful pairing of Karan Acoustics' KA L Ref MK2 line preamplifier ($17,500) and KA S 180 stereo power amplifier ($9700), Zanden Model 2500 Signature CD player ($20,000), Finite Elemente racks, Cardas Clear cabling, and new Avalon Acoustics TIME dynamic loudspeaker system with new diamond tweeter, ceramic mid, and two 11" Kevlar woofers ($47,000/pair). This system's intimacy, midrange warmth, and complete lack of barriers beckoned me deeper into the magic of Ella's delivery. Wonderful.
At the last few Nordost demos I've witnessed, I've been amazed by the huge soundstage, deep bass, and tonal accuracy produced by Raidho's diminutive C-1.0 loudspeakers. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this little speaker, no larger than many a bookshelf design, lists for $18,000/pair. Then again, it produces a fuller, larger, and more coherent image than many a full-range floorstander of comparable price. It also has a pretty even 6 ohm impedance, and is said to be very tube friendly.
I've been a major fan of Echole Obsession cabling ever since hearing it paired with Kaiser Kawero loudspeakers at RMAF 2008. With those marvelous babies lamentably absent, here it was paired with a loudspeaker new to me, the towering, 500 lb Tidal Sunray ($178,600/pair), whose 6'8" designer, Jörn Janczak, is equally imposing.
God, how I love mbl's demos. Their rooms at RMAF have been major highpoints of the last two shows for me, and their exhibit at CES 2010 is just as fine. There was an incredible warmth and inner glow to the midrange, a tremendous presence and clarity to the sound of cymbals, just the right weight to an electric bass, and a wonderful transparency throughout the range that made me want to stay forever.