CAS 2013: Day 2 Moves On and Up

While I didn't reach anywhere near the altitude of the planes leaving SFO's runways, I was finally making headway on the Westin's 3rd floor. The home of many of CAS' exhibits, it got even homier when I entered the room sponsored by Pass Labs. Pass rarely if ever makes an appearance at a consumer show, but with no dealer in the greater Bay Area—the closest is Reno Hi-Fi, which happily arranges in-home demos for CA consumers—the company's Desmond Harrington and Kent English finally decided to let "local" consumers hear why so many critics rave about Pass products.

Neither Desmond nor Kent had ever heard their products with YG Acoustics loudspeakers, but the pairing with YG Acoustics' Carmel loudspeaker ($18,000/pair) proved felicitous. In an untreated and apparently un-power conditioned room in which Pass Labs' XP-25 phono stage ($10,600), XP-20 line stage preamplifier ($8600), and X-250.5 power amplifier ($8250) cozied up with a Merrill Williams R.E.A.L 101 turntable ($6000–$7200, depending upon accessories), Tri-Planar Mk.VII tonearm outfitted with an Ortofon MC Anna phono cartridge ($8500), and, for digital Neanderthals such as myself, an Oppo BDP-105, all connected by Kimber Kable "Select" interconnects and speaker cable and, in one case, a Kimber Kable power cord whose inability to reach the wall outlet necessitated a yellow extender cord from M.I.T., the system provided far more air and spaciousness than I have in this ridiculously run-on sentence.

Patricia Barber's Smash SACD (Mobile Fidelity) produced a very grounded, solid sound whose truthful and honest midrange substituted for the extra glamour, frosting, and glare that some systems impart to her music. The smoothness and warmth of Antonio Lysy's cello on his fabulous-sounding CD, Lysy at the Broad (Yarlung Records) were absolutely seductive. Having Pass Labs XA 200.5 monoblocks in my reference system, I know how much tmore his system would have yielded with additional aftermarket power cabling and power treatment. Nonetheless, it sounded lovely as is.

Oopsie. Music Lovers Audio had at least four rooms at CAS, not three as stated in my previous Wilson Duette-Series 2/Ayre entry. On floor 3, they presented the premiere of the seductively shaped and equally seductive-sounding Sonus Faber Olympica 1 loudspeaker ($6500/pair, $7700 with stands). When paired with Audio Research's Vsi75 amplifier ($8000) and DAC8 ($5000), Pro-ject's xtension 10 turntable w/Blackbird cartridge ($3699) and Stream Box DS ($999), an Ayre L5-XE power conditioner ($1500), and AudioQuest's top-of-the-line speaker cable and interconnects and pre-production NRG1000 power cables, a 44.1/16 file of Ani DiFranco's "Zoo" led them to produce a very clean and open sound that excelled in conveying AR's great midrange.

When someone played Bob Marley and the Wailers' "I Shot the Sherriff," someone behind me mumbled, "Now we can hear what it really sounds like." Can there be any finer compliment?

First Impression Music (FIM) and Eficion paired up for a blind listening test. Using the excellent and extremely musical Eficion F-200 loudspeakers ($3400/pair), a Plinius SA-100 amplifier, an Exemplar Audio preamplifier (approx. $3950), and Furutech cabling, the system yielded an extremely nice, smooth sound.

Representing both FIM and Eficion, Peigen Jiang invited me to hear the difference between the original Telarc pressing of Jacques Loussier Trio Plays Bach and the FIM 32-bit Pure Flection remastering. The latter was so much more colorful and rich that I was astounded. I think I need to hear more of these remasterings, and find the best one to use when I go room-to-room at shows.

Hearing the new, 25th Anniversary re-recording of Jennifer Warnes' justly famous Famous Blue Raincoat, I marveled at the beautiful, clean sound and gorgeous midrange of the Music First Audio system. The top was lovely, if a bit attenuated in the natural shine and shimmer department, but the overall warmth of the system led me to write "nice nice nice" in my notes.

Behind the front and center Music First Audio Baby Reference passive preamplifier ($7000) sang, with able assistance of Zu Audio Event silver cabling (including for the tonearm), a PS Audio P10 Power Plant, and GIK Acoustics 244 bass traps with Scatter Plates, an AMR CD-77.1 CD player, Otari MX5050 Mk. III-2 tape deck equipped with RMG International Studio Master 911 tape, and Audio Note AN-E Lexus HE silver-wired loudspeakers. Oh wait, I left out Triangle Arts Symphony table, Rega RB-300 with Audio Origami mods, Denon DL103D cartridge, Music First Audio Step-up (set to 1:5, 30k output resistor, $3500), and Conrad Johnson Motif phono preamp set to 20k input impedance.

Not having heard MartinLogan electrostats in a long time, and remembering how much their smaller babies blew me away at one of the first audio shows I attended (the year that everyone was in the throes of Sara K, whose same song was playing in at least six if not eight rooms), I was especially eager to hear the CLX ART loudspeakers ($25,495/pair). Unfortunately, in Marc Silver's Soundscape Audio & Video room—Mark is on the left in the photo, next to Paul from MartinLogan and Richard Schram of Parasound—what I heard was a brand-new, somewhat dry and stiff-sounding pair that was called into service at the 11th hour when the originally intended, broken-in pair was damaged in shipment. (Note to dedicated blog readers: This is shit happens incident #3, the other two being damaged equipment and/or cabling in the Von Schweikert/Raven and Loggie Audio Acapella/Einstein rooms.)

Nonetheless, paired with MartinLogan's Dynamo 1500X subwoofer ($1595) and Parasound's Halo JC1 monoblock amplifiers ($9000/pair), Halo JC 2 BP preamplifier ($4500), Halo JC 3 phono stage ($2350), and Halo CD 1 CD player ($4500), all of which were singing, thanks to Nordost Tyr2 cabling and a Monster HTPS7000 Signature line conditioner ($2495), the system offered simply beautiful, breath-slowing soundstaging on a recording by soprano Beverly Sills. The sound was also very clear and detailed. It was toward the end of the day, and the atmosphere in the room was a little too lubricated to allow for prolonged listening without interruption, but what I did hear left me longing for the opportunity to hear the MartinLogan CLX ART loudspeakers perform at full capacity.

I note there were two other systems in the room, neither of which was playing when I entered. My guess is that everyone wanted to hear the big boys.

It's been six years since Audioengine's A2 first made a splash at the Stereophile Show, and the time for A2's next incarnation has come. The A2+ ($249/pair) has a built-in DAC equipped with a Texas Instruments 44.1/16 chip, as well as USB, RCA, and mini-jack inputs. (You can pair these babies with a TV, as we do at home with their big brother A5s.) They also have line-level RCA outputs for a subwoofer, upgraded binding posts that accept bananas, and an improved power connector. Made in the USA, with manufacture overseen by Brett Bargenquast (pictured), his wife Morgan Day, and his brother Brady, expect them to ship in the fall.

TriodeDave's picture

A niggling correction:

I know the exhibitor somehow got the impression that these speakers are silver-wired and you've simply passed that along here. The voice coils in the high efficiency driver set ARE silver; the speaker cable is not. It's Lexus XL, which is an Audio Note copper cable.

Warren_Jarrett's picture

Sorry, I misunderstood where silver is used in our demo Audionote E Lexus HE speakers. It is indeed in the voice coils, not in the internal wiring. Also, the Electra Fidelity 6A3 SET amps we borrowed for the show had silver output transformer windings. There was definitely an audible "magic" relationship between these amps and speakers. I look forward to using this pair again, for Rocky Mountain. The obvious speaker/amp synergy demonstrated our Music First Audio preamp's transparency, its ability to disappear, allowing the wonderful amps and speakers to create the character of the entire system. Listeners that stayed for more than one song understood exactly what I mean.

volvic's picture

How about some closeups of that Triangle Arts table, looks really stunning and appears to be relatively affordable.  Any thoughts on it?  



Jason Victor Serinus's picture

My harshest critics will be happy to learn that I have absolutely nothing to share about the Triangle Arts turntable. I don't recall if it was in use when we were in the room - I was hardly sitting front and center in a room where I was able to find exactly one open seat, but I do know that the Russian music was on CD - but even if it was, there is no way I could determine its sound in the context of a room filled with components that were not sounding as one would hope.

Audio Legend's picture

For what it is worth..while I think you like some others that you can come off as precious and quite snobby, I very much respect the fact you are one of the ONLY reporters who is brutally honest about bad sounding rooms. I also enjoyed and agreed with your piece in Stereophile "...Show Business".

I think you are a man of integrity, even if you do come off as a bit of a snob sometimes.

Warren_Jarrett's picture

Just a comment about Jason's memory regarding the location he saw a Triangle Arts turntable. Our room (Music First Audio) had this turntable (shown in his picture), but we did not play CD for him, did not play Russian music, and did not have a full room at the time he visited us. So I think he is mixing-up where he saw the turntable, unless there were more than one. As he mentioned above, our room sounded "nice, nice, nice".

Stratguy's picture

    I was in the room when you came in.  You, Warren & I were the only ones in the room! You asked what records Warren had and had him play one for you!!!  You said that you liked it VERY MUCH!!!  Then, you tried to start a fight with me and said that I  was a redneck bigot because I asked you a question about your home town, Oakland, CA!!!!!  It's good for you that I am now a lot more mellow in my old age, because a few years ago, I  would have ripped your arms off and beat you with them!!!!!    

    The next time you try to pick a fight with someone, be more carefull, you never know when you might get your butt kicked!!!  Also, PLEASE keep your sexual preferences to yourself.  Not everyone you meet is gay!!!! ` 

volvic's picture

I hear ya! just always searching for any scraps of info on it, seen some photos from Michael Fremer's site and others and I am a little intrigued.  


Nick L. 

Warren_Jarrett's picture

For the Music First Audio demonstration system, I chose to use the Triangle Arts Symphony turntable because Tom Vu of KT Audio Imports represents consistently excellent products. The Symphony is his newest turntable. It is beautiful to look at, affordable, and honestly sounds great. Using a very modest Rega RB-300 arm, and a 25+ year-old Denon 103D cartridge yielded stunning results, as many listeners commented. I would expect (but can barely imagine) an even better sound using latest-and-greatest tonearms and cartridges. This turntable weighs close to 100 pounds, so be careful lifting it.