Unexpected amusement greeted me in the small Covenant Audio & Aaudio Imports room. As soon as I entered, an overgrown post-adolescent seated himself in the sweet spot, took one look at the visually stunning Wavac HE-833v1.3 tube monoblocks ($69,000/pair), Wavac PR-T1 tube preamp (a mere $30K), Acapella High Violin MK 888 horn speakers ($48,000/pair—where do they get these names?), and Accustic Arts Drive and DAC ($12,800 together), all held together and powered by assorted cables and power products from PranaWire, Stealth and Isoclean, and blurted out, "This looks like super-high end."
After lunch, I wandered into the Joseph Audio room. I had initially encountered Jeff Joseph on Wednesday afternoon as he was attempting to cart four huge boxes of equipment into the hotel by stacking them one atop the other on a flimsy two-wheel luggage cart. Needless to say, upon encountering a small hump at the hotel threshold, the poor thing began to bend under the weight, unceremoniously depositing Jeff's boxes on the floor. Like someone kicking a mule whose hind legs have collapsed under it, Jeff attempted to wrestle with the beast, trying to convince it to perform its intended duty. The man may have the wherewithal to produce uncommon speakers that have received three "Best Sound at the Show" honors, but he seems to share a common human failing with yours truly—an occasional refusal to acknowledge the obvious.
My final audition before attending the warm, "family affair" Classics Records press conference took place in Elliot Midwood's Acoustic Image room, which displayed gear he sells at his store in Studio City, CA. Once I spyed the same ESP Concert Grand SI speakers ($40,000/pair ) that drove John Marks into ecstasy in April, I had to listen. Amplification came complements of Wavestream Kinetic V8 monoblocks, which output 250–300W in triode mode ($35,000). Also on hand were the fabled Messenger preamp and the Lector four-chassis CD Drive and DAC ($9000).
11 AM Thursday, my first room at HE2005: I've just spent way over an hour listening to VTL gear in two completely different configurations. The first, in a hotel suite whose dimensions are similar to rooms in many smaller homes or larger apartments, paired the new VTL MB-450 monoblocks, TP6.5 phono preamp, and just upgraded Reference TL-7.5 linestage preamp with the Jadis JD1 Mk.II transport and JS 1 DAC, VPI Aries 3 turntable with JMW 10.5i tonearm and Benz LP cartridge, Wilson Sophia 2s, and Cardas cabling.
It may read like a page out of a classic corporate crime thriller, but the threat is real. ExpoPul, a company whose factory in Saratov, Russia manufactures vacuum tubes under the brand names Sovtek, Electro-Harmonix, Tungsol, Svetlana, Mullard, and others—tubes that include the 6H30 "super tube"—is threatened by one of the many Russian corporate "raiders" who are increasingly stealing businesses from their rightful owners. If the threatened hostile takeover proves successful, two-thirds of the world's supply of vacuum tubes—tubes vital to the sound of audiophile gear and instruments from such well-known companies as McIntosh, Audio Research, BAT, Jadis, Fender, KORG, Peavey, Vox, Soldano, Carvin, Ampeg, and Crane—could become a thing of the past.
On May 4, Fortuna Classical Music announced release of their Maestro music server, "the first and only music player for the classical music enthusiast." Maestro's launch coincides with a major two-page centerfold spread in the June issue of Gramophone magazine's North American edition, followed by a single-page Gramophone advertisement in July that will include a promo CD.
On March 24, Universal Classics labels Decca and Deutsche Grammophon announced a pioneering global initiative to release live recordings of recent performances by the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics for download on iTunes. By the end of the year, four major European orchestras are expected to follow suit, releasing live concerts on the web on the DG Concerts or Decca Concerts virtual labels.
Enjoying classical music performed on original instruments has just gotten easier. After 25 years of issuing recordings on LP and CD, the invigorating Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has decided instead to make recordings of its live performances available for download.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the producer of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has finally confirmed the rumors that have been circulating for many weeks: The industry sector that CEA terms "high-performance audio" will move from its customary venue at the Alexis Villas (originally the Alexis Park) to the Venetian Hotel in 2007. In addition, "high-performance audio" and "high-performance home theater" will now be represented under the same umbrella.