Hope Springs Eternal at T.H.E. Show

I've included the long view of this room to demonstrate the lengths to which Ocean Way Audio's Allen Sides, in partnership with Viola Labs, went to achieve reference quality sound at T.H.E. Show. That the two companies succeeded by means of semi-diagonal placement, lots of room treatment, and invisible room treatment behind their sign is a testament to their dedication and perseverance.

The sound was superb, right up there with the best Wilson/VTL/D'Agostino/dCS rooms I visited throughout the show. (Other top-contender systems, which would have included speakers from YG Acoustics, Vivid, Hanson, and Magico, among other companies, were not on my turf this time around.) Trumpeter Chris Botti may not perform my favorite type of music, but the space around his instrument was captivating, and the fullness of his tone was immensely satisfying. Switching to very different and far more challenging music, performed by Eighth Blackbird, the depth, color, range, and quality of the sound were excellent. Because I didn't spend as much time in this room as I would have liked, and it sounded so good, I hope to visit this combination again soon. RMAF perhaps?

Honoring the music were the Ocean Way Sausalito loudspeakers ($31,500/pair), two Viola Audio Concerto stereo amplifiers ($22,500 each) in bridged mono mode, outputting 400W/speaker, and Viola's Sonata DAC/preamplifier ($35,000).

In an adjacent room, Ocean Way showed its HR4 two-way active (self-powered) Reference monitor with built-in DAC ($6000/pair). The dual-horn HR4 has a claimed 100% dispersion pattern and constant directivity, as well as a frequency range of 37Hz-23kHz. The electronics in each enclosure output 250W and accept data streams up to 24/192. Designed for control rooms where the engineer desires to hear a very large soundfield, the HR4 has both analog and digital inputs. On my recording of the large-voiced soprano, Eileen Farrell, captured in her prime, the tone had a bit of an edge. More disturbing, while the soundstage was wide, its height was diminished, as though Farrell's voluminous instrument had been shoved into a shoebox. The HR4 must work well in control-room settings, because both multiple-Emmy-nominated composer/producer/musical director Rickey Minor and five-time Grammy Award-winning engineer/producer and studio owner/designer Allen Sides use it. It should be noted, of course, that Sides is very much involved with Ocean Way Audio.

Questyle set up quite the demo. Using Focal 3 loudspeakers and Nordost cabling, the idea was to compare the sound of the Questyle Portable DAP (Digital Audio Player, $899) feeding Questyle's prototype T8 preamp ($2999) and R200i prototype 200Wpc wireless monoblocks ($1699/each), driving the Focals, to the sound of the player alone, heard through Questyle in-ear monitors.

Great idea, huh? Only one small problem. Despite every attempt by Westone's clear-eyed and charming National Sales Manager, Adrienne Ann Alterman, to get those in-ear monitors into my ears—she tried every foam and silicone and whatever else form she had—my left ear canal proclaimed, "Nyet." In the end, the experience was the closest I've come to having sex with a woman in close to 50 years, although, if memory serves me right—I'm no expert in these things—the roles were reversed. Needless to say, we all had a screaming good time with my pathetic case of monitorus interruptus, with one of the other Westone staff members snapping a photo of Adrienne's futile attempts to stick it to me.

I did, however, learn that Questyle now has available AMPro30 ($439.99) ambient monitors. These babies are designed to let environmental noise in without letting the bass out. In other words, they're the safest monitors on the planet, because you will actually be able to hear the person sneaking up behind you at the ATM machine, or the cars about to run you over because you're too busy with your iWhatever to notice, etc. What a great idea! As long as you can get them in your ears, of course.

Audio Plus Services demonstrated the IsoAcoustics Aperta speaker stands ($249/pair). In a comparison between a loudspeaker resting on a wood block and an identical speaker at the same height resting on an Aperta stand, the IsoAcoustics device facilitated much cleaner bass response. This is a relatively inexpensive no-brainer, whose stablemate I use, to great effect, with Dynaudio active desktop loudspeakers.

Audio Plus Services also showed the Paris-made Micromega M-One 100 ($3995). This is a 100Wpc, class-A/B integrated amp/all-in one, with dual-differential DACs that can handle up to 24/384 or DSD. It also has a phono section with MM and MC settings, and even boasts a $600 DSP option with automatic room correction, which Micromega calls MARS. The standard MARS analyzes a room from 250Hz down, but for $1000 you can have an expanded MARS system that corrects between 20Hz and 20kHz, and addresses amplitude, phase, and time arrival.

With a slew of inputs, including fully balanced, you can hook the M-One up to a router or NAS drive and stream music. A switch-mode power supply also enables it to take up less space than other devices. This baby even has an output for a subwoofer. Or you can ignore a lot of what it offers, and use it solely as a preamp. If this sounds like the M-One is poised to take on similar devices from Devialet, I think you're on to something.

In the Micromega M-One's pairing with Focal Sopra No2 loudspeakers and Crystal Cable Classic cabling, Bruno Coulas's "Norbu" sounded spacey as hell, with great bass. A recording of Saint-Saëns' appallingly overplayed Danse Macabre had me fantasizing "the pumpkin's revenge" or something far more lurid as I admired the system's all-encompassing sound. The soprano solo from Reference Recordings' equally classic (and classically overplayed) Rutter Requiem—a recording made possible because John Bevier, who formerly worked at Sennheiser, retrieved out-of-production, discarded Sennheiser mikes from the company's trash bin and sent them to Keith O. Johnson of RR to be modified for this particular recording—sounded quite lovely. As did the fact that yours truly had now completed Day Two, and could return to his room at the Hilton, just down the road, to get food delivered and write until the eyes refuse to focus. Which, on this particular night, did not give me much time to get anything down on virtual paper.

LyleHughes's picture

Really dig those Oceanways- great speaker!

Bluejimbop's picture

Did you drive your car with the "PCV valve" to use your "PIN number" on the "ATM machine"? ;-)