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.
The prototype speaker I shamelessly coveted at the 2007 RMAF, the Harbeth 40.1, resurfaced in final form at THE Show’s Alexis Park location. Paired with Resolution Audio’s exceptional-sounding components, it again made my mouth water. Now positioned on new, lower stands (which, in my not-so-humble opinion, look far more attractive, and far less like a funeral casket, when not draped in black cloth), the full-range 40.1 monitors have an immensely detailed, beautifully layered, extremely controlled midrange whose harmonic richness is hard to resist. Toed-in toward the listener, the speakers' high end was equally compelling.
Choose a door, any door. Confronted with three entirely different systems in the Norvinz room, for some reason I ignored my usual inclinations and moved to the far right. There I encountered veteran electrostatic guru Roger Sanders, formerly of Innersound, who now markets Sanders Sound Systems products online and through Norvinz.
"What have you heard that’s good at THE Show?" I asked the fabulous Kara E. Chaffee of deHavilland Electronics. "I'm heading to Joe Cohen's The Lotus Group,” she replied. "I've been told I've got to hear the new Feastrex speakers."
The Jadis magic is hard to explain. But once you hear it, you can recognize it again and again. It has to do with the beauty of the midrange, the accuracy of timbres, and an inherent musicality that is less about detail than essence.
One of the highlights of RMAF 2007 was encountering Lou Hinkley's Daedalus Audio Ulysses loudspeakers ($8800/pair) in the ART Audio room. Here, paired with Gill Audio Designs Alana preamp ($5000) and Elise DAC ($6000), an Ensemble transport, Clayton M-200 power amps ($9500/pair), and relatively inexpensive Empirical Design cabling, the system was arresting in its transparency and three-dimensionality.