How I wish I could have seen Stephen Mejias' reaction to the Montegiro Lusso Komplet turntable ($33,000), distributed in the US by Koetsu USA. This thing looks like a cross between a tray of black and white ice cream parfaits and something from a Fellini movie. But it sure sounded good. Equipped with two arms, from SME and DaVinci, and two Koetsu cartridges, the Coral Stone Platinum ($15,000) and Onyx Platinum ($8000), the KMLK (for short) was making magic through Chario Serendipity Sovereign loudspeakers ($17,000/pair).
So new that they don't yet have a price or production facility, the Red Rock Synergy speakers did wonders with Ron Carter's double bass. On the superb Chesky CD, Entre Amigos, every single note of Carter's bass was perfectly controlled, perfectly pitched, and absolutely lifelike, with not an iota of boom. The great bossa nova singer Rosa Passos was similarly treated with the utmost respect and love. The speaker features a 15" dynamic woofer, crossed over at 600Hz; a Tractrix horn-loaded magnetic-planar midrange that crosses over at 8kHz; and a ribbon tweeter of unspecified origin. Designed by Gordon Maughan, the Synergy speakers made a fitting complement to the Red Rock Audio Renaissance SE 50W triode amplifiers ($29,500/pair), Wadia 781i CD/SACD player with digital input ($14,950), and Red Rock Audio cabling. Oh how I wish Carter's bass sounded anywhere near this good on my own speakers. Here's hoping Al Stiefel and Gordon Maughan find someone to build these babies soon.
Veteran speaker engineer Albert Von Schweikert wasn't in the room at the time, but his astounding VR-9SE ($90,000/pair) was making the quite a sound in his absence. The smaller sibling of the flagship VR-11SE, this 350 lb, two-module mini-behemoth was paired with VAC's brand-new Phi-200 100Wpc amplifier, Signature linestage ($14,000), and recently-released Phi Alpha D/A Converter ($7500). An older Oracle transport and what appeared to be Cardas Golden Cross cabling completed the system. Any notion that tube equipment lacks control in the bass was blown to pieces by this system's tremendous authority in the bass region and beautiful presentation on high. Fabulous sound.
Over in the Tech Center Hyatt, Mark Schifter's AV123 corralled a huge room in which to showcase their soon-to-be-shipped flagship LS9 Focus Line Source speaker ($5999/pair). Powered by gorgeous Dodd Audio KT-88 monoblocks (approx. $40,000/pairthere was no literature on hand), the brand new Ultra Fi Music Stream USB-connectable DAC ($3499) with a proprietary analogue output stage designed by Larry Moore, a Ridge Street Audio USB cable that he waxes ecstatic about, and a laptop equipped with every kind of classical music (except what I wanted to hear), the system was creating astoundingly large-scale, believable images and enveloping sound. While designer Danny Richie's proprietary woofer array was issuing tremendous bass, a touch of brittleness on the highs gave evidence of the fact that the planar-magnetic tweeters had hardly broken in. You can bet that I'll be back again on Sunday to hear how they sound with some more hours on them. What this speaker does for the price is astounding.
If there's anything I expect from Dynaudio, it's superb bass. Dynaudio's 30th-anniversary Sapphire ($16,500/pair) certainly produced copious amounts of bass. But the speaker gave me far more than sheer volume. In combination with the Wadia 781i transport/DAC ($15,000), Pass Labs XA100.5A monoblocks ($16,000/pair), Grand Priz Monaco Amplifier Stand, and XLO Signature 3 SE-1 power cords ($1100/8'), S3-2.2 balanced interconnect ($900/m), and S3-4.2 digital cable ($455/m), the system delivered some of the most well-proportioned, beautifully delineated bass I've ever heard. The opening of Mahler's Symphony 2 is rich with the sound of cellos, violas, and basses, and this system nailed each and every line with rare beauty. On the other end of the spectrum, soprano Elly Ameling's voice radiated angelic sweetness. Pictured with the equipment they represent are Dynaudio's Michael Manousselis (l) and Wadia's Martin E. Cooper (r).
The room was standing-room only, with three rows of chairs, both side walls, and the back walls filled with folks eager to hear one of the dream systems assembled by Denver retailer Audio Unlimited. Where shall we begin: the dCS Scarlatti Stack which consists of the CD/SACD transport, DAC, master clock, and upsampler/digital-to-digital converter (by my math $81,000 total, and by anyone's math a fair hunk of change); the BAT REX linestage ($20,000), BAT VK-P10SE phono stage with new Super Pak Premiere ($16,000), BAT VK-600M SE monoblocks ($26,000); Running Springs Audio Dmitri Conditioner Premiere ($4,000); Hansen's new Audio Emperor loudspeakers ($60,000/pair); or the little bundle of TARA Omega Gold and 0.8 cables that together cost at $36,000 but probably far more? The take-no-prisoners sound was stunning. So stunning that some of the people were pinned to the back wall. Wow!
Not every breakthrough product available through cable manufacturer Nordost costs an arm and a leg. The new Quantum Resonant Technology products distributed worldwide by Nordost Corporation are a prime example. While the QX-2 costs $1700, and the larger QX-4 costs $2500, their amazing effects on sound suggest a product I'd expect to cost far more.
I'm scared. I've just returned from a visit to the isle of my birth, Manhattan. As the spouse and I walked to Stereophile's offices to meet John Atkinson and Stephen Mejias for dinner, we passed some of the most valuable real estate in the country. It was hard to imagine that, if global warming continues at its current, ever-accelerating pace, the buildings we were marveling at will soon be below sea level.
There's good news on the download front. Two sites, one in the UK and the other in the US, are gearing up for major expansions of their catalogs. Both offer DRM-free files in both lossless and high-quality (320kbps) MP3 formats.
T.H.E. Show, aka The Home Entertainment Show, has put out a welcome mat for members of "authentic Audiophile Societies throughout the globe."1 Scheduled for January 911, 2009, in Las Vegas, the same dates as the Consumer Electronics Show down the road, T.H.E. Show has for the first time offered members of audiophile societies paid access to over 100 anticipated active-display suites in both the St. Tropez and Alexis Park hotels.