It was 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. As Day Two was coming to a close, this sleep-deprived audiophile determined to end the day on a high note. Ah, the Cary/Dali room. That's sure to be a winner. Thank God, it was.
Walter Liederman and Danny Richie next showed me the mammoth LS9 (named for its nine planar magnetic drivers). Priced at an unbelievable $6000/pair considering their size and complexity, the LS9s were coupled with Al Stiefel's fine Red Rock Audio 50Wpc Renaissance Monoblock amplifiers ($39,750/pair), Red Rock prototype preamplifier, Abbingdon Music Research CD-77 player ($8500), Grand Prix Audio Monaco turntable ($19,500), and Red Rock Audio cables. Components were supported by the Monaco Modular Isolation Rack ($4750) and Monaco Amplifier Isolation System ($1499). Grand Prix designer Alvin Lloyd says of these plexiglass shelf stands, "I will argue that our stands are the most efficient and highest-performing isolation products in the industry."
Mark Schifter and Walter Liederman of AV123 continue to blow my mind. To their astoundingly low-priced line of quality loudspeakers, only available through the AV123 website, they have added two large loudspeakers from GR Research. Designed by Danny Richie, who previously designed the Epiphany Loudspeakers and is now redoing the crossovers in the Ushers—I am told that Wes Phillips will be reviewing one of Danny’s Usher make-overs for Stereophile—Danny is shown standing next to the GR Research LS6. Priced at $4500/pair, the speakers feature eight 6.5” woofers and six planar magnetic drivers. The LS6 not only boasts a 20Hz–20kHz frequency response, but also features bass drivers that are adjustable according to what the room and system can handle.
Mark Schifter is well on his way to becoming a legendary figure in high-end audio. From his small-box, low–price-point Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technology components, Mark has gone on to found one of the first genuine bargain high-end websites, AV123, and build speaker cabinets for many major players. Here he stands next to one of his extremely fine-sounding, amazingly low-priced speakers and subs, all sourced from renewable forests and finished with eco-friendly veneers.
Driven by the Triode Corporation Japan's TRV-M300SE 20W 300B parallel single-ended monoblocks ($4199/pair) and TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1799), and fed by a very-slow-to-cue dCS SACD player, the Cain&Cain Wall-O-Sound (W3) ($3300), designed by Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio, did a superb job reproducing the true timbre of a piano. Throwing a huge soundstage, with wonderful height and depth, this little system had me writing "really beautiful" in my notebook.
I've always wanted to win the lottery so I could buy a pair of Jed Barber's much-coveted Joule Electra tube amps. I've spent hours in the Joule-Elrod room at several CESes, always entranced by the sound, but have never before heard the Joule LA150 Mk.2 preamp ($7000) and VZN 100 OTL monoblocks ($19,000/pair) paired with Merlin VSM MXE loudspeakers ($10,500.pair) and the Audio Aero Prestige CD player ($14,000). Wired with Cardas Golden Reference, this system did a superb job of bringing out the lovely, warm, full-range sound and delicious richness of Gary Karr's double bass on his Cisco Systems Adagio d’Albinoni CD.
While being PC is always a bone of contention in the audiophile community, sonic correctness goes without question. In a nice-sized room in the Marriott Tower, Lyngdorf’s Steve Colburn held a series of extremely convincing demonstrations of the complete Lyngdorf room perfect correction system. Using Triad speakers, Colburn’s before and after treatment samples of a percussion CD with lots of low bass were eye-opening. Quelle difference! If only Steve could have corrected for the people in the far corner who insisted on blabbing through the entire demo as if no one else mattered.
The Manley Snapper monoblocks ($4250/pair) sure have snap. Playing one of those classic percussion demo CDs with drum thwacks galore, the combo of Manley amplification, Bel Canto DAC/preamp, Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers ($4400/pair), Apple iBook transport, and Cardas Golden Reference interconnects was as sharp and crisp as could be. But they were also far more. With the system playing an LP of La Fille Mal Gardée on the VPI Super Scout Reference Master Turntable (one of only two available) equipped with a Silversmith phono cartridge, the sound was beautifully warm and sweet, the soundstage all-enveloping.
Although he looks a bit burned from being asked to play one too many Columbia LPs, whose harsh string tone belies the myth that vintage analog recordings are de facto superior to CDs, Dan Meinwald has a lot to be happy about. The EAR Acute CD player ($5900), 890 Primary Drive 70W stereo amp, 868 preamp complete with phono stage ($6900), Discmaster turntable ($20,000 without tonearm), Dynavector XVIS cartridge, and debut 3-way, open-baffle dipole loudspeakers ($7000/pair—also available in a larger model) were creating a wonderful, magical soundstage on Stokowski’s monumental recording of Smetana’s The Moldau. It’s no wonder that so many dedicated audiophiles continue to be seduced for life by EAR’s vaunted sweetness and bloom.