Jana Starts Her Second Day at the LA Show

"So how did it sound?" they like to ask as I'm walking out. If I enjoyed the sound, I'll be honest. But what if I didn't?

Option 1: Lie. Even though it'll be obvious, because I'm a horrible liar, aren't I?

Option 2: Tell the truth—kindly, if at all possible. Even though it'll be difficult, because I'm a horrible person, aren't I?

Right. So audiophiles are often eager to share their thoughts on forums, at their local dealer, or at the monthly local audio society meet up. But try looking a designer in the eye, knowing how much they've dedicated to their product, and how much emotional, physical, and financial energy has gone into the show. It's a bit more challenging.

Day 2 at LAAS was a learning experience. I learned that I have not yet mastered the art of gracefully exiting a room at a hi-fi show, and I don't know that I ever will.

In the first of two Auralic rooms lay an Auralic Polaris wireless streaming amplifier ($3799) and a pair of Ryan R610 speakers ($2000/pair).

My favorite Goldberg Variations album performed by Murray Perahia was available on their iPad so I stuck to that for a while. The R610s allowed me to peer in to Perahia's piano, with minimal coloration. I then switched to "Veto" by Sohn—a track that may or may not have been made famous by the Devialet Phantom, and one of the (in my opinion) more pleasant, modern, audiophile-deemed–worthy tracks to listen to. The Polaris/R610 combo was brazenly bassy and effortlessly percussive, seeming more at ease with the electronic, fluid nature of "Veto".

In the second of two Auralic rooms across the hall: an Auralic Altair streaming DAC ($1899), an Auralic Taurus preamplifier (discontinued), Auralic Merak monoblock power amplifiers ($5000/pair), and Ryan R620 speakers ($3500/pair).

For readers who visited the two Auralic-sponsored rooms at AXPONA in April, Auralic had two systems centered around the same electronics—the Polaris, and a combo of the Altair/Taurus/Meraks, but paired with speakers by different manufacturers (Ryan and YG Acoustics.) At the LA show, I appreciated that Auralic instead opted for two different pairs of Ryan speakers, which allowed for an easier lateral comparison with two similar sound signatures.

Being a pisces, I wonder if Auralic will ever make a component named "Pisces."

At AXPONA, this entry-level DIY fiend discovered SB Acoustics and waxed poetic on their latest DIY speaker kits. At the LA show, their US distributor Madisound announced PBN Audio's new built-it-yourself speaker kit: the SEAS CX871. The floorstanding SEAS CX871 is available as a kit (with full instructions and technical support) for $1590 through Madisound, or as a completely assembled and tested pair for $5999 through PBN.

A pair of SEAS CX871 speakers were playing quietly, paired with a Liberty Audio B2B-2 preamplifier/DAC and B2B-100 power amplifier—meant more for display than for sonic demonstration.

In the Esoteric room: two sources—an Esoteric K-01X SACD/CD player/DAC ($20,000) and an Esoteric N-05 network audio player ($6500), an Esoteric G-01X master clock ($20,000), an Esoteric F-03A class-A integrated amplifier ($13,000), and Canton Reference 3K speakers ($15,600/pair).

A couple tracks in, we listened to "Summertime" performed by Miles Davis. The overall sound was quite good, but the reproduction of bass was unrealistic. There was a certain wetness—a funny sheen on top—where it should've been dry and firm, perhaps a result of the room.

Are you familiar with European flat oysters? (Also referred to as "belons" or "Maine belons" depending on their origin.) Raw bars here in New York have them from time to time. They are lush and meaty, with a very distinctive copper finish, leaving your mouth sparkling with a metallic aftertaste. They pair well with a nice chilled Muscadet on a summer afternoon in the park.

For those who visited the Markaudio-SOTA room for their official US debut at AXPONA, the entire system and demo CD presented at the LA show were identical: the range of Markaudio-SOTA speakers including the Cesti T ($3495/pair), the Cesti B ($2995/pair), and the Viotti One ($1895/pair); electronics consisted of a Marantz CD6006 CD player ($495), a Parasound P5 preamplifier ($995), and a Burson power amplifier ($1495).

For me, the sound signature of Markaudio-SOTA speakers resembles the pairing of a half-dozen European flat oysters with a chilled Muscadet—a scrumptious, well-balanced blend for the mouth, but perhaps one that is too metallic in its harsh upper frequencies for the ears to appreciate just yet.

In the darkened, vanilla-scented GamuT room: a Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas turntable with a Cornet 2 tonearm ($7995; optional power supply $1995) and an Ortofon Cadenze Black cartridge ($2729), a Pear Audio Blue reference phono ($4495), a GamuT D3i dual-mono preamplifier ($8490; optional R2R board $1990), and a GamuT D200i dual-mono power amplifier ($25,990), playing through GamuT RS3i speakers ($19,990/pair), wired with GamuT cables throughout.

I requested to cover this GamuT room because I knew I would enjoy it, and enjoy it, I did. Audio Skies' stoic Michael Vamos played an LP cut of "Here We Go Again" performed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The sound was as I had remembered: breathy and warm, with a mighty expansive soundstage that keeps me coming back for more.

Worth noting: I was getting my things together to head to the next room, when I overheard a man in front of me say, "I was fine until I ate the three leftover meatballs . . ."

volvic's picture

Everyone talks about the Gould - Goldberg variations as the pinnacle to judge others, but, to me the Perahia version is just so right and dare I say better.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

And newer versions from others keep coming. The Perahia is indeed very special. I wish I had time to listen to all that have come since. Then again, this is an audiophile show, so of course people are playing Gould, because Gould's first version received the audiophile imprimatur decades before Perahia recorded his. Like "Hotel California" and any number of Living Stereo titles, Gould's Goldbergs seem to be the gift that keeps on giving.

volvic's picture

Was the one I was referring, the one where his humming is pronounced, although worlds apart and unfair to compare, I still revert to his earlier recording as the one I prefer from the two. I must also mention the Angela Hewitt version, recorded on the Hyperion label, as a strong contender. Sneaky suspicion Perahia will re-record it in the future. Special mention to Schiff and Barenboim versions, have others but the Perahia version is the gold standard to me.

Anon2's picture

If the Goldberg Variations make a show, I'll take it. I don't think the Goldberg Variations would have flown at Axpona 2017, at least most of the rooms that I attended.

Nyeeaayyyh-dunno about those Glenn Gould recordings of the Goldberg Variations, though. I know all of the CBS Records lore: about the 1950s recording, the 1980s reprise, the nightly 2:00 am egg breakfasts in Toronto, and all the rest. Those records just don't do it for me. I have often thought that these ones are the closest to how Liberace might have played a stripped-down and sped-up version of these works. But I know, for others, these Gould recordings are a mainstay.

For the Goldberg Variations, and Bach in general, I'll go with the late Mr. Gould's Canadian compatriot every time: Angela Hewitt. I think that most of her earlier Hyperion recordings have been bundled in a box set. However, not to be deterred, Ms. Hewitt keeps churning them out. She has down Steinway and Fazioli versions of the Well-Tempered Clavier and, recently, the Goldberg Variations. She is also broadening her repertoire to other baroque, and 19th century composers.

Angela Hewitt is great in concert. She's also very affable, and seems to love meeting people in the autograph line after concerts. She signed CD boxes, when we saw her in Chicago, with a large silver-colored Sharpie. I recall from her website that one of her most memorable recitals was, of all places, in Bogota, Colombia. She remarked that she had never seen as many concert-goers carrying scores of what she played than on that day.

The Andras Schiff "brick" of Bach recordings is another must-have. It is going for around 50 bucks on Amazon in the used section now.

A final Goldberg Variations that I like, though it may not appeal to all, is the Andrei Gavrilov reissue. This reissue is on the DG/Decca/Philps/Universal "Virtuoso" series. This is a high octane, high-speed rendering that I like very much.

Let's hope for more Goldberg Variations at shows in the future. Music at shows continues to be a challenge. Exhibitors need to branch out more. Even "good rooms" seem to get stuck in a rut oftentimes.

Thanks for the reporting, Jana. You should do some more show videos like the MQA "man-on-the-street" that you did at Axpona 2017.

volvic's picture

I like Gould's early recording and don't really mind his last recording of them, in fact the contrasts as I mentioned are very interesting to me as he definitely took a more contemplative approach to them, as he was getting older. Is it the best? No, between the Hewitt and Perahia version Gould's is somewhat less controlled, especially Perahia's, which is the epitome of controlled playing making the whole work less disjointed but just one whole connected beautiful work. I believe Hewitt does the same. I saw the Gavrilov CD a few weeks ago somewhere not sure where, maybe when I was back in Montreal and did not get it as I felt I had enough versions to last me a lifetime, now you're making me wish I had purchased it.

tonykaz's picture

Big Shows are far less than ideal venues for demonstrations.

We should only expect or even hope to discover the possibility of a useful Audio Device that we "might" want to have a much closer look at ( in our own place ), with our peerage. Arn't we all simply hunting for a "Gem"?

I've done a great many Shows, I've discovered few outright winners. Most of the stuff on display at CES or any other Show are "also-rans", well down the field from the "outstanding" stuff.

Journalistic coverage of Big Shows has always been 'paper-thin', how could it be anything else? but you might just land on a pair of speakers that somehow seem to 'speak to you'. Ask those people for a sample that you 'might' take over to HR's place to see if you're on to something.

I had that experience when I was selling Rogers LS3/5a, Linn Kann, Celestian SL6 & SL600, Spica TC-50, Quad ESl-63, KEF R101 speakers by the truck full. My British Distributor gave me a scratched pair of Pro-Ac Tablets which proved to be the finest Shoebox sized Speaker of the 1980s. A 100%, home-run hitting Gem. Two other great discoveries were the Audible Illusions Modulus Pre-Amp and the Koetsu Red phono cart.

I have empathy for people wearing the "Stereophile" Badge at an Audio Event. I could be in the very same space, carefully examining a device and be largely ignored as the Magazine person is the center of focus. Nobody would expect me to say something useful about how their stuff sounds, they might ask if I've discovered anything exciting or did I "buy" something but I'm never under pressure to applaud their efforts or products.

All Shows of every type are exhausting and tedious, the discovery comes from comparing notes with the "Fellow Travelers" after a dinner or over breakfast ( after the previous days explorations ).

The Big takeaway now is that we're beginning the Largest Format change in the history of Recorded Music: Streaming 24/192 folded into 24/44.1 distributed to the entire Globe's music lovers. Gear like LG Tone are the break thru products rendering more than 60% of LAAS display gear obsolete.

Welcome to the 21st Century

Tony in Michigan

Glotz's picture

While I think it's unfair for a designer to ask someone what they think at a show (because it's unfair to themselves as it is a huge challenge to overcome a cheap quality hotel room), I think Tony has it right about later discoveries after reviewing ones' notes about initial show impressions. I think the initial introduction of a product is so fraught with unrelated variables in a busy show-space that anything else would be a criticism of how someone smells or whether you like slick suits on designers. I mean did someone just 'mansplain' a woman at the show, a designer with years of experience? If I was a female reviewer, or even a listener, I would be 'distracted' to say the least.

Herb said it best in his review of the Zero turntable this month... (paraphrasing...) We, as listeners, should be able to IMAGINE what it would sound like in our rooms, as we don't have other important controls in the experience, nor measurements or knowledge of the room. It's the heart of good audio writing and if only a partial picture evolves at a show, so be it. The desire to stay objective is always there, but is it enough anyways at the show, in any room?

The shame is at the really lucky rooms where everything comes together on an exciting new product. Stop hyping that shit, despite the passion to do so! The bar set for the hotel is a constantly variable one, and one that most designers won't get perfect until the end of the show, if they're lucky! (SR's Ted spoke of the bass in his room, etc.)

Can you convey what you heard so I can understand your language? Don't rush to judgments, but rather give me your impressions of what this demo'd product can do. What are your 'general feelings' in terms of expected experience or at least a forecast of what you may hear with more time in your joint. I don't like 'subtractor' criticisms of products at shows; while they might be utterly critical in the formal reviews of this magazine, at a show there is so much at stake and so little to point the finger at, I would rather you talk about the visual and physical dimensions than fling boogers at a product so early.

And pictures!!! More pictures!!! Bigger pictures!!

Oh, and great writing, Jana! Seriously evocative.

Staxguy's picture

Big Tony,

"25/192 folded into 24/44.1"?

Sounds like you are talking of folding time and space ala Dune.

So what did you think of HDCD?

Which musical device (DAC) would you think would render 60% of the rest, obsolete?

1) Meridian Explorer 2
2) Brooklyn MyTek

Ok. The LG Tone looks like reasonable earbuds, but what's with the thing around the neck? Really...

I for one was really excited when I saw the explanation (technical) for MQA. It looked like a cute / intelligent system, but didn't make sense.

Well, of course it does. Just like Apple taking away the headphone jack "as a feature."

Now goofs like me will have thousands of $'s of ear-buds (wired) already, and for reason of that, not buy an upgraded Apple iPhone. $'s of headphones, also.

While I'll smile at adding some wireless models to my collection, I just can't get all excited by MQA.

24/96 FLAC to Apple Lossless is Ok.

SACD / DSD 2x is awesome.

I liked reading your experience selling gear. Was just looking at a Pro-Ac Tablet just ealier on Craiglist for $750.

Ah, it was the ProAc Response 3.5 which really did it for me.

That and the Duntech PCL 25 in the same category.

Much better than the B&W 801/805, which I loved.

Loved the Soverign 2001, also, but MQA to me is mass-hysteria / propaganda.

Which means it is a neat enough marketing plan / gimick ala bottled water.:)

Give me a Vitel over an Evian any day, or let me buy any variety, but I'll stay clear of Clearly Canadian, as I live up in the True North Strong & Free...

I for one always marveled at Bob Carver and his Sonic Holography - combination of marketing and chutzpah and all the guys who built boxes (circuits) to make stereos "sound better."

And I get that MQA is neat encoding.

But with Neat Momentum SX7i or Neat Ioata Alpha, I think "what's wrong with the original?"

The audio world doesn't need a Neat Ultimatum XL 10 (MQA) to hear good source.

You for one are a marvel.

I love hearing what you read.

Here's to Marvel Comics and the MQA press.

I for one will stick to Science Fiction like Frank L. Herbert, rather than the equivalent pumping the MQA.

All the best. :)

BTW I adore Meridian, I'm just not into formats. :)

tonykaz's picture

I can't imagine the 2022 Marketplace selling inefficiency.

We're heading to Class D, Streaming, Personal stuff tailored to our personal hearing.

Of course, Old geezers like me will still cling to our Class A Amps and low efficiency loudspeakers, maybe a tiny few will buy $30,000+++ Record players.

The entire World has gone digital ( except the Transducers )

Geez, even Wire has gone wireless, for gods sake!

Tony in Michigan

Staxguy's picture

Ah Tony. Maybe 2022 will do it?

I listened to the AKG N90Q ($1,495.00 USD / $1,999.00 CDN) which best fits into your personal stuff tailored to our personal hearing.


Comfort wise, it was great. Up with the AKG 812, well not quite.
Sound wise, it was better than the Ferrari Calvino T250 ($299.00) and Tumi Monster Inspiration ($77.00) but that's all that I can say.

Would I trade my now unused AKG Q701, AKG K550, or even my in-ear AKG K375 for them? I'm not sure. Maybe my AKG XS in-ear, but maybe not you may say...

Now these AKG N90Q are supposed to measure the ear (active sonar like, like a modern subwoofer today), and DSP cablibration (think B&O BeoLab 5, but measuring the ear, and not the room), but the Diana Krall I heard was distant and barely a sound.

Now, I've played with her (admittedly long ago), so I should know what she sounds like, but it sure didn't sound like modern audio to me.

More like an Edison Cylinder.

I asked the guy who'se headphone store it was if it sounded ok to him, and he said ... yes.

Somehow I feel that the stereo hi-fi press is largely like that headphone store guy with regards to MQA.

I sure darn will likely buy a Meridian Explorer 2, just to support the thing. Just like I will likely buy a Pono one day too. :)

The Pono at least has an active display, and looks like a Toblerone, so it will fit on a desktop. :)

I brought up the AKG N90 as you talked about stuff tailored to our hearing. :)

Have you played with Burwen Bobcat?


Have you seen that guys stereo? :)


Many people put down Mark Levinson for his Red Rose Music and called him a sheister - I for one admired hin, and still might get a pair of his Red Rose speakers! :)

His SACD recordings from that store, I love.

His new company Daniel Hertz uses the Burwen software, Master Class.


in a much more simplified format.

It's sort of Cello Audio Palette in software. :)

How's Tony?

ppgr's picture

Jana, you're the best.

daveinva2's picture

It's Jana's enthusiasm that brings me to this site. That and her empathy for folks without lots of money. The system I've enjoyed the most cost less than $100. Some equipment was new, some was used. And it allowed me to enjoy a little peace while I was a caregiver. I used to be perfectionist about equipment. Now I'm appreciative of equipment that brings the joy of music... no matter how low the price. Jana is truly a breath of fresh air in a stodgy industry.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Jana is doing wonderful work. But please do note that the stodgy industry hired Jana, assigned her to blog LAAS, and divided up territory with her. The stodgy industry also encouraged her to explore the bulk (but not all) of the low-cost products at LAAS, which would have been covered regardless. In short, the stodgy industry, including someone who is feeling just a bit defensive right now, has vision, and is always looking towards the future. The goal is to serve people of all ages and income levels. For more on this, please see my forthcoming AWSI in the August issue, available July 15.

philipjohnwright's picture

Definitely in my top 5 pieces of music

I'm not a Gould fan; just doesn't connect with me emotionally. And I haven't heard the Perahia so will seek that out.

I have however fallen in love with the new recording by Beatrice Rana; quirky, if that's the right word, but wonderfully engaging (don't turn the volume up, she starts very quietly)

The other straight piano version I'm fond of is by Kimiko Ishizaka, a German-Japanese Olympic weightlifting pianist (I kid you not) who released an open source (hi-res) version that is wonderfully serene. Google her and hopefully you'll find a link to it, as it's available free of charge.

Finally, the Sitkovetsky transcription for strings played by the Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Gould is just sublime. One of my Desert Island discs for sure. The first variation just soars; hairs going up on my neck at the thought of it

Thanks Jana, and welcome to the world of Harbeth; they do tend to get under your skin. Why don't you try a pair of the little P3ESRs; a complete shoe in for your LS3's

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've been considering reviewing some recent Goldbergs. There are so many possibilities of worthy recordings to review, and I try to balance out new with old. Your recommendation of Rana's disc is appreciated.

Murray Perahia spent two years studying the Goldbergs while healing from the infection that prevented him from playing. The spiritual depth of his interpretation is a gift to behold. Definitely not suited for background music as you watch TV news.

findhdmusic.com lists 202 hi-rez versions of the Goldberg Variations. Rana's is there, but not Perahia's. Maybe Sony will release it as an MQA CD. See http://www.findhdmusic.com/album-search/?q=Goldberg+Variations

John Atkinson's picture
Jason Victor Serinus wrote:
Murray Perahia spent two years studying the Goldbergs while healing from the infection that prevented him from playing. The spiritual depth of his interpretation is a gift to behold.

Perahia's English Suites are also well worth a listen.

I interviewed Murray Perahia 40 years ago for Hi-Fi News magazine - a charming, talented man. We met up at Abbey Road, then went to a pub where we were joined by Paavo Berglund.

Good grief, that was a long time ago!

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

volvic's picture

His English Suites are great, frankly he is one of the great pianists of our generation. Two years ago at Princeton record exchange I gulped and bought his complete discography in a handsome Sony box: Murray Perahia the First 40 Years. His Mozart piano concerto are magnificent - save the inconsistent sonics. His Mozart is as good as Gerald Anda's and Barenboim, his Schubert as beautiful as Kempff's. You are a lucky man Mr. Atkinson, Paavo Berglund was a sensational musician and a great interpreter of Shostakovich and Sibelius to name a few.

Staxguy's picture

What's everyones impression of Robert Silverman, these days?

Has he produced any Zemph Binaural Recordings?


Does anyone have any impressions of the recording pianos, today?


The full sized grands, not the baby g's. :)??

philipjohnwright's picture

when you complained if your beer was served cold!

volvic's picture

Listening to Kimiko Ishizaka's beautiful interpretation. It is available to listen on her website, would have loved to purchase her CD however she only offers FLAC download.

philipjohnwright's picture

The recent Igor Levit version of Goldberg is very good to. But I'm in danger of sounding like a Gramophone wannabee now (both Igor and Beatrice were recommended highly - the former was their recording of last year I think - triple CD, other works besides Goldberg).

Both on Tidal, so easy to have a listen

volvic's picture

Have have not purchased, as how many more versions do I need - I have over 5000 cd's and the stack of unheard gets higher and higher.