“That sounds like the Crusaders,” I said as I sat down to listen to the Kharma DB9 Signature speakers ($36,000/pair) driven by Exquisite Signature monoblocks ($88,000/pair) and an Exquisite preamplifier ($40,000), hooked up with Transparent cables. It was, the Second Crusade LP from the Jazz Crusaders, played on a Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with a Zesto phono preamplifier sounding very good indeed.
The Hungarian Heed speakers in the first of the two Profundo rooms were new to me. The odd-looking Enigma speaker ($3850/pair), similar in appearance to the Direct Acoustics Silent Speaker combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with an 8" woofer in a vented cabinet that is claimed to combine the benefits of a quarter-wave transmission line and a reflex design. Louis Armstrong performing “Mood Indigo” had excellent presence, though the clarinet sounded a little "hooty."
The price of the Duke loudspeaker from Trenner & Friedl$175,000/pairtook my breath away when I heard it at the 2011 CES. The Austrian company’s Isis ($40,000/pair), on display in Profundo's second room, uses the same compression driver for the HF as the Duke but combines it with an 8" paper-cone midrange unit and a 15" paper-cone woofer in a conventional, if large, cabinet. (Each cone is doped with six coats of lacquer.) The sound of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, from the Witches’ Brew RCA LP on a Basis turntable, with the speakers driven by Viva Audio Aurora tube monoblocks ($43,500/pair), had huge dynamics and a natural tonal balance. The image of the solo oboe that represents the cock crow at dawn in this work was superbly well-defined, without any exaggeration of its size.
“I recognize those speakers,” I thought to myself as I entered Cary Audio’s room. They were ADAM Audio’s Column MK3 towers ($7500/pair), that Kalman Rubinson had very favorably reviewed in August 2012. New in the room was Cary’s promising DAC-100T tubed D/A processor ($2995), which uses an ESS Sabre 9023 DAC chip with a USB input using an XMOS USB chip running Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength asynchronous code. There are also two each coaxial and TosLink S/PDIF inputs and both balanced and single-ended analog outputs.
I was familiar with the glass-cabinet Waterfall speakers in Room 239, but not the brightly colored speakers flanking them, from Arizonan company Emme Speakers. The white speakers are the New Gamma ($30,000/pair), the red ones the New Beta ($12,000/pair). Offering “Fashion and Passion,” the Emme speakers are available in 24 designer colors from two retailers, in Arizona and Malibu, CA.
I still remember how much I enjoyed the sound of hi-rez files decoded by MSB’s DAC, when it resided briefly in my system after I performed the measurements to accompany Jon Iverson’s review last October. So MSB’s room at the Atrium was one of my first stops. A pair of YG Anat 3 Signature speakers with Billet-Core midrange units and woofers was being driven by MSB’s S200 200Wpc, zero-feedback, class-A amplifier ($17,995) and source was the Platinum Data CD IV transport. However, the bits were being converted to analog not with the Diamond DAC but MSB’s new “entry-level” Analog DAC ($6995 with standard outboard power supply, $9990 with upgraded Analog Power Supply, which shares the same form factor and is shown sitting underneath the DAC), which is said to offer “a generous percentage of MSB’s technology.”
That was the message on the poster in Magnepan’s room. Wendell Diller, celebrating his 40th anniversary with the Minnesota company, explained that Magneplanar speakers use 90% US-sourced parts and demmed the new, 48”-tall, two-way-plus-woofer Super MMG ($1199/pair with one bass panel, $1750 /pair with two) with an Ati amplifier and a Theta Casablanca preamplifier. The sound on a varied program was sweet, almost full-range. I couldn’t see the bass panels; Wendell pointed to the end tables on the outside edges of the speakers. To increase the Spouse Acceptance Factor, he had disguised the planar woofers.
Chicago retailer Tweak Studio has been a fixture at the 2013 shows, and proprietor Arnold Martinez was demming a system featuring Elac 249 Black Edition speakers ($8000/pair) driven by a Burmester 911 amplifier ($31,000), Esoteric C-03X preamplifier, Burmester A/D phono preamplifier ($26,500), and Music Hall MMF-11 turntable fitted with a Goldring Legacy cartridge ($600). Wiring was all WireWorld Platinum series and the racks was a Stillpoints. The L-shaped lobby-level room had problematic acoustics, which Martinez had addressed by firing the Elac speakers, with their AMT tweeter and distinctive faceted lower-frequency drivers, across a diagonal, A dub version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain,” played from LP, was musically convincing.
Because the show was too big for one person to see it all, Jason Serinus and I split our responsibilities: he would cover the Hilton and I would cover the Atrium Hotel, plus some of the rooms at the Hilton that he failed to visit. The first room I visited at the Atrium was the large ballroom on the mezzanine featuring Dynaudio’s new Evidence Platinum loudspeaker ($85,000/pair). Did I say “large”? I meant to write “enormous”! The room was way too big, but with acoustic treatment from Vicoustic, the system produced much better sound than I was anticipating. I listened to Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” (from Grace), Bill Evans in hi-rez, and a live Dutch recording from David Crosby with an electric band performing a song called “Morrison”; with all three recordings, the imaging was solid and tangible, the low frequencies rich but well-defined, and the midrange uncolored.
T.H.E. Show featured a full program of live music all weekend. As they have done at many recent shows, Cardas Audio sponsored concerts by electric bassist Dean Peer, accompanied by percussionist Bret Mann, poolside at the Atrium Hotel. Dean fed his bass through a variety of effects pedals to produce a wide variety of sounds, but the music came from his hands. In vain did I peer (ha!) at those hands to see how he was producing those chords of harmonics and the underlying rhythmic pulse while floating melodies on top. The man is a monster!