The LARS Meets Scaena

I could have kicked myself. At the 2010 CES, as much as I wanted to hear and blog about the eye-catching and ultra-expensive The LARS 1 36W monoblocks ($90,000/pair), I couldn't find the room. So when the CBO/founder of Engstrom , Timo Engström (second from right in my photo), emailed to say he'd be displaying at Axpona, I assured him that if I didn't get to his room this time around, I deserved to be shot.

To those readers who wish I had once again missed Timo's display, I have disappointing news. I made it this time. And John Atkinson, who joined me midpoint in my listening, is my witness.

The LARS 1 monoblocks powered impressive set up included the Scaena Model 3.2 loudspeaker system ($54,000/pair), the none-too-shabby dCS Scarlatti digital playback system ($70,000), about $60,000 worth of Silversmith Palladium cabling (the speaker cables, for example, cost $9800/6ft pair), Critical Mass Systems racks and stands, three Nordost QX4 Quantums, at least one Nordost Odin power cable, and a custom-made music server. This was not a system for the financially faint of heart. (Scaena, by the way is pronounced sane-ah by all except folks who think nothing audiophile can possibly be sane and was being represented at Axpona by company principal Sunny Umrao, second from left in the photo; also shown are are Jeff Smith of Silversmith (left) and Alan Eichenbaum of Scaena.)

I was immediately impressed by the compelling sense of acoustic space the system conveyed. Listening to cymbals, I was awed by the complexity of colors in a single cymbal clash, then by the enrapturing sense of air surrounding it and the other instruments playing simultaneously. A track showcasing Patricia Barber in a soft and romantic mood sounded so warm and inviting that I had trouble believing it was Patricia Barber. This system, I began to realize, is very special.

At the same time, I felt what I often feel with SET amplification: some of the high frequency illumination and bright leading edge of voices seemed tamer and darker than I would like. Take, for example, the already ultra-smooth, soulful voice of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, which I have heard both live and on recording. There are certain recorded performances by this great artist that almost always seize my heart. But for some reason, an oft-played recording of Hunt Lieberson singing Handel didn't have the same emotional impact as usual. Was this due to the lack of shine on the voice? I don't know. It's a case of different strokes for different folks. I left the room feeling that the system was truly special, and capable of making many who could afford it very, very happy.

Guy Lemcoe's picture

IMHO this is a system I could live with happily...forever. We all have listening preferences - I especially value the rendering of acoustic "space" in a recording. This system had it nailed! I honestly felt I could pry myself out of my chair and walk over and touch the musicians. Rarely have I heard such a holographic soundfield as that generated by this system. I got a kick out of watching the expressions on the faces of folks entering the room. Without exception, their demeanor went from neutral to astonishment. I agree with Jason that these components, working in a magical synergy, add up to a listening experience which is, in his words, "truly special."

Paul's picture

To me this room was best sound at the show. My mistake was making this my first room to visit. After leaving this room every other room had to play catch up. None did.

Bob D. Stuckiez's picture

Like Timo's red shoes. Made the show very special.