Garth Leerer sure knows how to make a vocal lover happy. As soon as he spotted me entering the Musical Surroundings room, the Oakland-based distributor chose to demonstrate the supreme musicality of the Musical Surroundings’ "Audio Unlimited" system by playing an LP of mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. Recorded in her prime, and sensitively accompanied on piano by the great Gerald Moore, Baker began singing a grief-stricken Schubert song. To say I was blown away by the intensity of her expression, the beauty of her voice, her daring to sing with such naked emotion, and the system's ability to capture and integrate all the different colors and shadings of her instrument only begins to tell the tale. I was transfixed.
One of my fondest experiences at previous Home Entertainment shows involved listening to a recording of violinist Hilary Hahn play Brahms on Tenor Electronics. The way those electronics captured the sweetness of her tone was unforgettable. So I'm happy to report that Francois' and Robert's Montréal-based company is back, this time with Ontario's Jim Fairhead as President.
Veteran speaker designer Albert Von Schweikert (left) has every reason to smile. To celebrate two anniversaries—the 50th year since he built his first kit, and 30 years in the business of high-end audio—he is releasing the VR-4A Anniversary Model. Shown in prototype form, with the final product expected at the 2008 CES in January, this completely redone, much improved VR-4jr replaces that speaker's Mk.II version. Although it plays well in large rooms, the Anniversary Model was specifically created for folks who have smaller rooms. Featuring denser cabinets and the highest-quality parts, the speaker will be available in a standard version with Hovland caps ($6000/pair) and Signature Edition ($7500/pair) with special finish and Mundorf caps.
Aerospace engineer James M. Harrell, Jr. debuted his Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers at RMAF 2007. Only available from jumpingcactusloudspeakers.com, these tri-amped, 120lb loudspeakers are housed in sealed aluminum cabinets that feature a Bubinga wood front panel. The speakers are said to have a high measured sensitivity of 94dB. With a frequency range of 65Hz–20kHz., a subwoofer is recommended. The speakers also come with an active XM44 4-way crossover by Marchand Electronics.
Kara Chaffee has every reason to smile even wider than she's smiling here. Her DeHavilland GM-70 50W SET monoblocks ($11,000/pair) and Ultraverve remote preamp ($2995) were creating one of the most wondrous, air-filled soundstages I have heard. "We aim at the heart of the music," she told me after I had spent a while listening to some of my favorite CDs.
Art loudspeakers, made in Scotland, paired up German-manufactured audio components from AcousticPlan and a line transformer from Japan to make their joint US debut at the 2007 RMAF. In two adjacent rooms, I heard two different Art models. As depicted in the photo with Art's Derek Dunlap, I first auditioned the art Stiletto 6 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), mated with AcousticPlan's Sitar hybrid-design integrated amp ($7500, complete with external power supply), Audio Technic line transformer from Japan (also debuting), and Cary Audio CD player. The Stiletto, a vented two-way made from birch plywood without use of MDF, measures 88.5dB sensitivity and has a fairly linear frequency response that starts at the mid '30s. It features a SEAS 6" coated-paper driver and a 1" soft-dome tweeter equipped with a proprietary horn to create a delightfully open soundstage. I was quite impressed with this system, which produced very warm, rich sounds that belied the speaker's diminutive size.
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.