As metaphors go, the silver bullet is somewhat ambiguous, given that it's used to represent both the reliably destructive and the reliably beneficial. (Who would have guessed that an idea from a Lon Cheney Jr. film would prove too subtle and complex for people in the 21st century?) Nevertheless, at Montreal's Salon Son et Image on April 2, those of us who comprised Stereophile's reliably responsive "Ask the Editors" panelJohn Atkinson, Robert Deutsch, and Ivolleyed it with the sort of sprightly, vernal abandon that is the sole province of men with gray hair. To wit: We agreed that no materials, technologies, or design decisions can either guarantee or prevent good sound. Not vinyl. Not star grounding. Not class-A circuits. Neither tubes nor transistors. Neither belt nor idler nor electrostats nor multiway nor single-driver nor copper nor silver nor silk nor beryllium. Not even harmonic distortion. Each of those ideas may mean something to someone, in the short term, in the narrow view, but that's all. There are no silver bullets.
"Push it gently in the foam to correct." It sounds like a line from The Dairyman's Guide to BDSM, but it's actually a quote from the installation manual for Linn's latest upgrade for the Sondek LP12 turntable. The kit in questiona DC motor, plus an outboard power supply/control unitis probably the most extreme to arrive from the Scottish firm, thus earning one of the company's least abstract name in ages: It is, indeed, the Linn Radikal. And along with a newly designed onboard phono stage called the Urika, the Radikal is the latest of what Linn calls their SE-series upgrades.
The line outside the AIX room at Axpona, like the line outside the MBL room, was evidence that something special was happening inside. Mark Waldrep of AIX Records prefaced his AV demonstration with an interestingand amusingdiscussion of how difficult and expensive it can be to film in 3-D. There followed one of the most convincing performance clips I've yet to see: fingerstylist Laurence Juber playing a number called "White Pass Trail" on his signature Martin guitar. During the second part of this instrumental, Juber switched from mere picking to actually slapping the strings over the guitar's fingerboard extension (slapping the body, too, for percussion), and the five Thiel SCS4T loudspeakers ($3690/pair) captured perfectly the speed and impact, along with the color and texture, of those sounds. By this time of the show my wife had joined my daughter and I, and she shared my surprise at how the 3-D effect enhanced, rather than tarted-up, the performance. An impressive recreation of superb music.
May Audio Marketing's Nabil Akhrass (seated) was even busier than usual at this show, given the absence of his sister, Julia: She recently gave birth to her and her husband's first child (congratulations!), and decided to sit this one out. When I visited the May Audio exhibit on Saturday morning, they were already enjoying brisk sales of CDs and vinyl.
John Marks brought violinist Arturo Delmoni to Axpona New York, who in turn brought his 18th-century Guadagniniand his virtually unique mastery of the Romantic approach to solo violin. His Friday afternoon performance of the Ciaconna from Bach’s D-minor Partita held the audience spellbound, with extraordinary intonation, oceans of tone, and a passionate, emotional one-ness with Bach’s music that prompted JA to comment, appropriately: “The man was on fire.”
JA was sitting at the back of the ballroom and was surprised by how loud the sound of the solo violin was. Whipping out his iPhone with the Studio Six Digital SPL Meter app, he measured the typical sound pressure level at 72dB(C).
A challenge for the journalist who can’t read his own notes (that would be me): The need for information regarding the Mark Neumann loudspeaker shown above led me to the world-wide web, but a Google search on the words Mark Neumann returned mostly hits that had nothing to do with audio and everything to do with politics. (It was a little like reading one of my old columns. But just a little.) I returned to my senses and visited the website of Miami’s High End Palace, the Axpona exhibitor that brought the mighty Coliseum XLS loudspeaker (approximately $40,000/pair) to New York, and learned that this open-baffle speaker’s design was inspired by a concert grand pianoand that only 12 are made each year. Fed by a Stahl-Tek CD player and driven by Tact and BAT electronics, the Coliseum XLS sounded impressive in a number of ways, although its considerable bass response tended to overwhelm the smallish room.
The sign on the door said JIB Germany, leading me to expect…well, something very different from what I found. (As the late Vivian Stanshall declared in a Bonzo Dog Band number titled “Shirt”: ‘24-Hour Cleaners’? That’s just the name of the shop, dearie!) That said, the exhibitors in this room demonstrated a pleasant-sounding mini-system, comprised of a Napa Acoustics NA-208A hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($399) and NA-208S two-way loudspeakers ($199/pair), fed by a first-generation iPod playing Abba songs. Hand not included.
I tried but failed to photograph the on-screen image from the home-theater dem in one of the two Emotiva rooms, so you’ll have to take my word: Eric Clapton wore a black short-sleeved shirt and a pair of ripped and faded jeans (shame how some of these rock stars just frittered away their millions), and played a baby-blue Fender Stratocaster. But the real stars of this slick and commendably spare-sounding band were the three backup singers, who were sufficiently passionate to convince me that they had, working together, indeed murdered a sheriff somewhere. The excitement of it all was delivered by Emotiva electronics and loudspeakers, including XPA-2 and XPA-5 amplifiers ($679 and $764, respectively), UMC-1 surround-sound processor ($594), ERT-3 floorstanding loudspeakers ($1278/pair), and ERD-1 stand-mounted surround speakers ($319/pair). The sound was quite decent by any measureand exceptionally good for the money.
It’s okay to like R.E.M. again, and not just because their latest single (“Uberlin”) is the band’s best in over a decade: In the exhibit sponsored by EgglestonWorks and Rogue Audio, R.E.M.’s “How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us” sounded so good and so clear and so utterly fresh that I literally did not, at first, recognize the music. The combination of Rogue Hera II preamplifier ($7995) and Apollo monoblock amplifiers ($10,995/pair) plus Eggleston Andra III loudspeakers (ca $24,000 per pair) contributed to my wondering if the album from which that single sprung1997’s New Adventures in Hi-Fimight be better than I thought. I guess I’ll give the LP version another try (although I maintain that NAIHF represented the very nadir of the group’s covert-art pretentiousness). The Axpona experience renewed, in particular, my admiration for Rogue Audio’s persistence in making superb tube electronics at sane, fair prices.