Like most people who are neither radio talk-show hosts nor members of the Westboro Baptist Church, I'd rather be known for my loves than my hates. And after wandering this audio wilderness for umpteen years, I can stand before you and say without shame: An unlovable phono transformer has yet to step into my path.
I tried to name a high-end audio product that's been recommended more often than the Rega Planar 3 turntable. I failed.
The closest I could come was Rega's own RB300 tonearm, surely the best-selling perfectionist tonearm of all time. After that came the Rega Planar 2 turntable, a sample of which I owned and loved in the early 1980s. Next on my list was the original Rega Elys, a moving-magnet cartridge that sounded as chunky and direct as it was cheap and magenta.
Audio journalism is an unwitting form of pornography, albeit one that debases the soul with materialism instead of carnalism. It encouragesinadvertently, of coursethe objectification of its subject matter, and can lead to Chronic Disappointment Syndrome, as well as a lifelong difficulty in forging healthy relationships with technology.
Those used to be just fun things to say. But now I worry they might be true, if only because thinking, reading, and writing about domestic audio have, of late, brought with them the chalky aftertaste of guilt.
I was never happier to be an audiophile than when my train stopped at the US/Canada border on my way home. The customs officers who boarded our train were quite serious-minded, and as I waited in my seat I heard them grill other passengers regarding the precise nature of the Canadian goods they harbored. When it came my turn, a surly-something man in a black uniform examined my Customs Declaration, saw that I was bringing some new LPs into the US, and broke into a friendly smile: “What vinyl did you get?” We chatted amiably for a moment about old Quads and Garrard 301s before he went on to crack other skulls than mine. (Just kidding. In fact ours was the rare trainin my experience, at leastfrom which no passengers needed to be removed for lack of a passport.)
Let’s get right to it: The Coup de Foudre system comprising DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 loudspeakers ($12,000/pair), Leben CS300XS integrated amplifier ($3795) and RS30EQ phono preamp ($2795), Hommage T2 phono transformer ($4995), EMT TSD-15 phono cartridge ($1800), Brinkmann Bardo I turntable with Origin Live Encounter arm ($7990 and $2000, respectively), and Box Furniture 3S3 stand ($2300) was nothing less than wonderful: easily in the show’s Top Five, and quite possibly the best of the bunch. The star was the latest pre-production iteration of the O/96, a 96dB sensitive (geddit?) loudspeaker that uses a 10" paper-cone woofer and a 1" silk-dome tweeter in a wide-faced (geddit?) box with a birch-ply baffle and MDF everything else. Their presentation was solid, substantial, rich, and colorful, with great touch, timing, and, above all, dynamics. Flesh and blood? The system was like a day at the butcher shopbut everyone was smiling, and there were no straw boaters.
The trouble with audio showsapart from the cheap call girls and the occasional gangland-style executionis the fact that, even in nice hotels, the smallest rooms tend to sound like crap. So it was at the Hilton Bonaventure, where acoustical challenges plagued no exhibitor more than Audio Note. Their excellent AN-E loudspeakera pair of which I own and loverequires that both units in a stereo pair are sited close to their respective corners. That proved impossible at the Hilton, but Audio Note’s Dave Cope compensated brilliantly and made a fine sound nonetheless with a pair of AN-E Lexus Signatures in striking maple veneer ($15,200/pair), photographed here by JA and driven by the Jinro integrated amplifier that I reviewed in the March 2011 issue of Stereophile.
Master recordist Rene LaFlamme of Fidelio Records marked the release of his first LPa remastering of Melanie Barney’s and the Buzz Brass Ensemble’s colorful recording of Holt’s The Planetsby adding to his demonstration system an interesting new turntable called the Kronos. Designed and manufactured in Montreal by Louis Desjardins and photographed here by JA, the Kronos is described as the first commercial turntable to use both a fully sprung suspension and a system of twin counter-rotating platters. (The perpetually fascinating 47 Laboratory 4724 Koma turntable, reviewed in Stereophile by Michael Fremer, pioneered the latter but lacked the former.)
Son Ideal demonstrated with the Harbeth P3ESR: a supremely musical loudspeaker in its own right, and one for which the Montreal dealer has shown a certain affinity over the years. At SSI the Harbeths were paired with brand-new Audiolab 8200 MB mono amplifiers (250W, $1099/each) and 8200 CDQ CD player/USB D/A converter ($1299), that venerable English brand having recently been revived by new owners. The 30-something fellow running the dem asked me to choose an LP from the good selection there, and I lighted upon a well-loved Neil Young album from the ‘70s. Then, while he cued that up, I found another Neil young faveand, after that, the first album by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I broke from my reverie long enough to find myself on the receiving end of the sort of pitying look reserved for The Very Old.
This looks like Jonathan Halpern, owner of the New York distribution firm Tone Imports, but it’s really the devil. Every time JA and I attempted to leave the Coup de Foudre room in which products by DeVore, Leben, EMT, Box Furniture, and Brinkmann were being demonstrated, the devil coaxed us to stay, just by playing one! more! song! We finally broke temptation’s chains and left to the strains of James Brown’s “Sex Machine”: JA and I had to literally back our way out of the room. Carefully.