CAS 2013 Day 3: Au Revoir, Trois

There's nothing like highlighted text from Stereophile brother Art Dudley to get a fellow writer's attention. Then again, so do the Burwell & Sons Homage Series loudspeakers ($80,000/pair), whose price will tempt many vintage horn lovers to burn a hole their pockets.

Equipped with Altec Lansing's "Voice Of The Theater" model 804 A compression drivers for the high-frequency horns and model 803 A woofers for the low-frequency cabinets, and a port that has been tuned since their show debut to improve bass response, the Burwell & Sons beauties joined forces with Esoteric's K-07 SA disc player, Pass Labs' XA 30.5 stereo amplifier ($5500) and XP-10 preamplifier ($5250), WyWires speaker cable and interconnects, and stock power cables. I can see how many a music lover will be seduced by the nice air, midrange-strong beauty, and burnished romantic presentation of these babies. Others may find them a bit deficient in the color department, a little boxy and shouty, and over-emphatic in the midrange. I'll bet that better power cables, as well as the addition of power conditioning and room treatment, would change their presentation.

Jacob George, who jointly developed the Rethm line in India, showed off his Maagra loudspeakers ($8950/pair) and electronics. I noticed some grayness and darker tonalities on a schmaltzy piece he offered "as a twist on classical music," but was struck by surprising bass response and really nice depth on Reference Recordings' superbly engineered disc of ballet scores by Delibes. "Gets complexity of the horn's sound, and the lovely delicacy of the triangle," I wrote in my notes. The horn-loaded speakers, augmented with powered bass loading, descend to 28Hz ±3dB (which is a lot of dB), and boast 98db sensitivity. The Gaanam SET integrated amp ($7950) uses 6C33 Russian tubes, and outputs 16Wpc. Also in the system were Raagam silver cable ($1350/3m pair) and two Taalam 3-tier component racks ($1000/each).

Nina and Alex Sventitsky had a lot to smile about—their WyWires Blue Series cables (speaker-$599, interconnects-$469, power cords-$249, digital S/PDIF-$249, USB cable-$429), and WyWires Power Broker ($2499) were producing an amazing amount of air through FritzSpeakers LS 5/R ($3000/pair) and Wyred4Sound mINT 100W Amp/DAC ($1495). I'm not sure if the DAC was in use with Parasound's Zcd player ($400), but I do know that the system's bass was absolutely in control. Instruments may not have been brilliantly illumined on Ivan Fischer's recording of Mahler's Second Symphony, but the dynamics and soundstaging belied the size of the loudspeakers. The speaker uses a new Scanspeak woofer and a Scanspeak ring-radiator tweeter with aluminum waveguide.

Blogging a show is a constant lesson in surrender. Imagine trying to cover 23 exhibits in six hours, walking into a room hoping to hear music, and finding someone grabbing your hand and insisting on demonstrating a new technology via muscle testing. But when that person is the lovable and gifted Jack Bybee, how can you refuse?

Many pushes and shoves later, we got down to hearing the Wells Audio system. In addition to the Wells Audio Innamorata amp ($6500) that takes advantage of Bybee technology, the system included a Bybee/Vice/Curl prototype power conditioner that Jack claims "incorporates a new technology that increases musical flow not unlike the Stein Music Harmonizers." All I can tell you, that along with a modified Jolida Fusion preamp ($2500), "lousy" DVD player used as a transport, modified Music Hall 25.3 DAC ($2500), Gingko Audio ClaraVu7 modular speakers ($7000/pair), assorted Gingko isolation platforms, Dana Cables interconnects and speaker cables, ACT power cables, and Shakti Halographs employed to take the boxiness out of the room and remove wall restrictions, the system threw a very large, explosive soundstage with admirable spaciousness, wonderful depth, great dynamics, and a beautiful fullness. I never expected so much dynamic range from a CD, even discs from Channel Classics and Reference Recordings. Two big thumbs up.

Jim Suhre, an acoustical engineer who, after 30 years of making speakers for his own entertainment, decided to make his first full-range LRE open-back dipole loudspeakers ($1000/each) on his Las Vegas countertop and cart them to CAS4, says his babies can be set against a wall. What he didn't say was that, paired with a Yamaha RXA720 ($700) and zipcord—unless I missed a component, which is always possible, I'm not sure where the $4000 whole system price he quoted came from—his speakers' color saturation and amazing, seemingly full-range reach was astonishing for their price.

Rick Schultz was in the midst of a rap about his High Fidelity Cables when I entered. As I gather from his literature, his cables employ magnetized conductors and connectors to offer a unique conductive pathway for signal transfer. Rick claims that Reference 3A loudspeakers are now using his technology in their binding posts, and Veloce is talking about using the technology. Certainly the clarity was impressive in a system that included High Fidelity Cables' Ultimate Reference speaker cable ($12,900/1m pair) and RCA interconnects ($8500/1m pair), Affirm Audio Immersion loudspeakers ($20,000), the new Essence of Music CD Cleaner ($149.95), ExaSound E-20 MK II SD DAC, Luminace KST-150 amplifier ($3000, and I sure hope I read Rick's handwriting correctly), and High Fidelity Cables' Waveguide power conditioner ($10,000) equipped with a series of magnetic plates.

Rather than exhibit a full line of products from his fairly new, well-stocked Elite Audio Systems San Francisco dealership, Michael Woods came to CAS to represent Linn Products from Scotland. Front and center was the West Coast debut of the active Linn Akurate loudspeaker ($25,000/pair), which includes five drivers with separate amplification for each. Paired with Linn's Akurate DSM digital streamer ($8500) equipped with a 2TB QNAP for storing music and iPad control, and powered by Clarus Crimson power cables, the system did a very nice job with violin. As long as the Akurates weren't overdriving the room, Diana Krall's imitation of Dionne Warwick singing "Walk on By" sounded just great. I could have done with more depth and air on Herbie Hancock's "Tempo de Amor," but the sound was otherwise quite fine.

Linn Audio loudspeakers of Oakland, CA, masterminded by David Linn and no connection with Linn Products, was the second speaker company I encountered at CAS4 whose sound changed fundamentally for the better thanks to a much improved front end. In this case, David's imposing, 97dB-sensitive Athenaum speakers ($60,000/pair), which sounded impossibly bright the last time I heard them, sounded absolutely wonderful. I found myself loving the sound of Diana Krall's voice, which, after years of over-exposure, says a lot about Linn's accomplishment. I was also totally seduced by the gorgeous midrange depiction on the first track from Patricia Barber's Smash. That's what happens when, instead of the low-grade electronics and generic cabling used at the last show, you use Pass Labs XA100.5 class-A monoblocks ($16,000/pair), a Sony XA9000ES SACD player, a Linn Audio passive preamp, AudioQuest Oak speaker cables, and AudioQuest interconnects. Oh, and your speakers are excellent to begin with.

"Nice Nice Nice. So Warm. Nice Nice Nice. Absolutely captivating. Just great" That's what I wrote when I heard German trumpeter Till Broenner blow on Oceana. I was equally enthused by a cut from Hans Theessink and Terry Evans'—theTerry Evans, I'm happy to say—LP, Delta Time. Credit Voxativ P loudspeakers ($13,500/pair), KR Audio's Konzilla SX power amp ($23,000 with T-1610 tubes) and P 130 preamp ($5500 with KR 05 tubes), High Fidelity Cables CT-1 interconnects ($1600/1m pair), and Voxativ speaker cable ($3000/3m pair). Then add, for analog, the Aurorasound VICA phonostage ($4990), SoundWaves Cantano Grande turntable & tonearm ($26,900), Lyra Delos & Zyx 4D cartridge, and an extra tonearm that my arm says don't type because enough is enough. But there's also, for digital, the totaldac D1 Tube DAC ($8000), highend-electronics MusicServer 1 ($999), and really wonderful Synergistic Research USB Active SE USB cable ($595/1m). Power conditioning from Synergistic and Audio Magic, vibration control from Gregitek, and room treatment from HighEnd. Put that all together, and it sounds, from whatever source, nice, nice, and nice.

Steven Lester, who spends much of his time training Northern Californian dealers and pushing them to focus on music rather than hardware—"convenience has trumped music," he laments—also says he "scours the planet for when magic happens. Hence, he decided to confound folks by combining Tannoy Limited Edition Definition DC10a loudspeakers ($16,000/pair) with an Oppo player, Linn Klimax Chakra Twin amplifier ($10,990) and Klimax DSM network player/preamp ($23,500), van den Hul cabling, and projection and screen from SIM2 and Vutec to get really fine sound from DVDs.

I had a ball watching an intentionally retro, B&W–to–color special with Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. I would have stayed longer to watch and listen to more of the documentary DVD of Leonard Bernstein recording West Side Story, but I was spoiled for the recent, historic first live West Side Story concert version performance by the San Francisco Symphony, which used the same arrangements that Lenny used for his recording. Besides, how many times can you watch José Carreras squirm under Bernstein's bullying?

volvic's picture

Besides, how many times can you watch José Carreras squirm under Bernstein's bullying?


OMG! Many and I enjoy it! 

Et Quelle's picture

Pretty cool every show is a little different!

untangle's picture

FYI: The sound of these was great, but be advised that the Yamaha's room correction (EQ) was in use. I have since spoken with the owner of LRE and he said that such EQ was "required to get the correct sound."