After hearing the Stello stack, I thought I had heard it all. But in the next room, April Music President Simon K. Lee blew my mind even more with the one-piece Aura note Music Center ($1850). This little baby, available through a dealer network, even includes a USB port on back, a second USB memory stick port on the side, a built-in tuner, and two RCA inputs. Paired with the Aura speaker ($650/pr), the parallel single-ended MOSFET design (thank you, Nelson Pass) sounded a bit more mellow and soulful than the Stello stack. (It would have probably extended as low as that stack if it had been paired with the B&Ws).
Albert Von Schweikert is on the move. After any number of Von Schweikert lovers have asked for smaller, space-saving speakers that function optimally tucked into corners or up against walls, Von Schweikert Audio is about to launch the Studio Signature Series. With three models, the Unifields 1, 2, and 3 ($6000, $10,000, and $15,000/pair respectively) and optional polished marble stands, the Signature speakers are designed to "compete with guys who build $20,000 monitors." The Unifield 1's frequency response is said to be 40Hz—22kHz; the 2 offers 32Hz—22kHz; and the 3 boasts a whopping 32Hz–50kHz. Not bad for a small speaker, eh?
New Zealand-based Plinius is now using words drawn from the Maori language to name all of its new products. Making truly beautiful sounds in an all-Plinius line-up, the new Tautoro linestage preamplifier ($7300), set to ship in May, fulfilled its promise to "bridge the gap" from Plinius' top-of-the-line SA-Reference power amplifier to its CD-101 CD player and Koru phono stage (available as an option for $8600 total). When I asked Scott Markwell of Elite Audio Video Distribution how the preamp differs from its M8 predecessor, he pointed out that the M8 could only function as a linestage. "The more versatile Tautoro has an even bigger, more three dimensional soundstage. It also has much greater bass, more punch, and increased dynamics."
The highlight of the VRS Audio Solutions room was witnessing VRS' Vincent R. Sanders and Neil Sinclair (high-end pioneer and former owner of Theta Digital) engage in a heated discussion over optimal methods for achieving hard disk-stored music playback. These two went at it as if dealing with life and death itself. Which, in the case of high-end audio, isn't far from the truth.
Attendance was light at the Alexis Park on Wednesday, with the rooms closest to the front getting the most attention. That was certainly the case for Evolution Acoustics, whose imposing MM3 modular speaker commands respect. After seven years of development, this huge baby, designed by Kevin Malmgren (left, formerly of Von Schweikert) made its initial debut at RMAF 2006. Then, the company went low-key while Malmgren and his wife were busy raising their first child (who, after almost one year of development, has just made a most auspicious debut in his stroller at T.H.E. Show 2008). Well, not really. The speaker was back-ordered even before it was launched, and has kept Malmgren and its distributor so busy that they haven’t had the time or need to yet establish a dealer network.
As much as I had hoped to write about new companies at T.H.E. Show this time around, I keep finding myself drawn to "old friends" for one overriding reason: their sound is the best I encounter. Such was the case with veteran audio designer Peter Ledermann's Soundsmith. Despite Peter's 1960s-holdover proclivity to turn his consistently impressive, housed-in-wood electronics into multi-colored light shows—thank God you can dim the lights or turn them off entirely—the former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation continues to astound with the sound of his phono cartridges and the amazing frequency response of his small Firefly speakers.
Music Culture Technology Corporation's Reference line has been designed and engineered by MBL's official engineers. Though not yet distributed in the US, the combination of MC's partnership with MBL and their components' arresting good looks drew me in for an extended listen. It was also a belated listen, but that had to do with the Hard Rock Café across the street from the St. Tropez, whose bass blasting from the rock video they project in their parking lot between 5pm and 10pm made listening to anything other than equally blaring rock music an absurdity. Call it high end trumped by high insult.
Instead of using conventional CD playback technology, the Rockport room featured the DC-powered Black Box Audiophile PC from Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems of Chicago. (Preliminary pricing, expected to lower before the unit reaches the market, is $7999.) With no moving parts in the box into which one inserts a CD, the DSP-based system reclocks the data after reading the CD, basically eliminating jitter. It copies the audio data from a CD onto a hard drive, reading the CD multiple times if necessary to eliminate data-reading errors. It is said to be far more accurate my own conventional stick it in the iMac and burn it in iTunes setup. The unit can process data up to 24/192. Lordie did it sound good.
It was great to again encounter Andy Payor of Rockport Technologies and hear the stunning 200 lb Ankaa loudspeaker ($26,500/pair). Of all the speakers I heard on the first two days of T.H.E. Show, the Ankaa produced images so large and lifelike that it made other speakers (including several wonderful-sounding models I’ve already discussed) seem like pipsqueaks. I have no doubt that the expensive, neutral-sounding Gryphon Antileon Signature stereo amplifier ($31,000 for 150Wpc) and Mirage preamplifier ($25,000), as well as the debuting Purist Audio Design Proteus Provectus cabling had a lot to do with Andy's triumph. As he rather selflessly noted, "The real reason for a good image lies in the collaboration."
I was so impressed by the 9" Feastrex drivers designed by Haruhiko "Hal" Teramoto of Japan that I was excited to hear how the 5" Feastrex DF Monster alnico driver sounds in MaxxHorn's new Lumination loudspeaker. The speaker, which also incorporates the Tractrix horn technology developed by Johan van Zyl, is so new—the pair at THE Show had been finished a mere 12 days before—that only the dealer price ($18,500/pair) has been set. All speakers are hand constructed, with 3–5 pairs produced a month.