Elite Audio Systems: Krell, Acoustic Zen, and Clearaudio

Once again, Acoustic Zen's Robert Lee had me lusting after his Crescendo loudspeakers ($16,000/pair). This time, they were ensconced in the elegantly appointed Elite Audio Systems room put together by proprietor Michael Woods of San Francisco.

Featuring an excellent proprietary ribbon tweeter that Lee hand-builds in southern California, the Acoustic Zen speakers excelled in the high range. The sound of Renaud Capucon's violin in Beethoven's Violin Concerto was to die for, and soprano Elly Ameling's high voice was especially radiant and alluring on high. While the size of the violin was blown way out of proportion in relation to the orchestra behind it, it sounded so good that it really didn't matter. Especially given all the nice air that surrounded instruments.

Things were challenged in the bass department, however. When I revisited the room on the last day of the show, this time with my husband David in tow,, Robert had changed the jumpers on the speakers. Bass in the extremely challenging room was certainly better, but the tweeter had less sparkle. As I'll mention in my show sum-up, because a number of systems I revisited sounded darker on the final day, I suspect a fluctuation in the hotel’s voltage. I’ve written over 20 exhibitors in attempt to find out if anyone actually measured what was coming out of the wall on a daily basis.

The rest of the equipment included the Krell Evolution 402e stereo amplifier ($18,500), Evolution 202 preamp ($16,500), and Evolution 525 CD/DVD player. . .($12,000); and Clearaudio GHB Master Solution turntable†& Satisfy Ebony arm ($8000), Concerto V1 MC cartridge ($2000), and Syncro power generator ($1000). Having heard the Krell Evolution series in several rooms, I suspect that it shares some of the gray darkness of Levinson gear, albeit while allowing more sparkle through on top. I'd love to be proven wrong.

Magico's Alon Wolf has been trying to get me together with Michael Woods for a long time. Given how classy Michael's room set-up was, I can well understand why the two men are buddies. (Need I say that when visitors played music appropriate to the room's brassy theme, it really shone). I'm really looking forward to visiting Michael's fabled Victorian spread in the city across the Bay.