Jana Wraps Up Her LAAS Coverage

In the Austin Hifi room, I heard the following: a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable with Ittok LVII tonearm (vintage), a Reson Lexe MC phono cartridge ($2600), a Crimson CS 710 preamplifier with MM/MC phono ($7000), Crimson CS 640E-III mono amplifiers (two pairs; $6000/pair), and Tocaro Model 42 loudspeakers (natural finish, stands included; $14,000/pair)—all connected by Crimson cables. Also pictured but not played during my visit: Resolution Audio Cantata music center ($6495). The exhibitor, Austin Hifi Inc., is the North American distributor for Crimson and Tocaro.

"Natural" doesn't only describe the finish of Tocaro Model 42 speakers. The speakers are hand-built and German-born, made with "only pure cotton from controlled organic farming" and driver membranes "made by hand from raw cellulose." Audio to complement your organic, locally sourced, seasonal, farm-to-table meal. Not to mention—their crossover-free sound was natural, organic, and a sonic textbook opposite from the usual (unnamed) liquid-sounding audiophile pinnacles. Listening to The Beatles' "Come Together" and Elliott Smith's "Walk You Home," I wrote down in my notes that the sound was "percussive, plump, and dark—in a very good way." Consider me a fan.

Next door, in local Los Angeles retailer Venice Audio's showroom: more handsome Harbeths to lust after; the Harbeth Super HL5plus loudspeakers ($7495)—reviewed by Art Dudley in mid-2015. I auditioned Curtis Mayfield's "Billy Jack" spun on a Well Tempered Lab Amadeus Versalex turntable ($4450) with an EMT TSD15 MC cartridge ($1950), going through the following Naim components: a SuperLine Reference MC phonostage ($4195), an NAC-N272 preamplifier with integrated streamer ($5995), an NAP 250-DR power amplifier ($6995), an XPS-DR power supply upgrade, and a HiCap-DR power supply ($2595). The system charmed me with its rich, detailed, grooviness.

All right, LA Audio Show. You have me convinced: the next pair of speakers I buy will be Harbeths.

In the AVM/PMC showroom, a surprising crowd (for a Sunday) of eager young boys showed great interest in a system featuring AVM's new SD 8.2 preamplifier ($10,999) and SA 8.2 amplifier ($14,999), playing music from a MacBook through a pair of PMC IB2 SE speakers ($24,000/pair). They demonstrated John Powell's Ready for the Big Ride, a cinematic orchestral piece from the soundtrack of the movie Face Off—a piece so tonally predictable it could easily be mistaken for a Disney soundtrack. The IB2 SEs struck me to be pretty, agile, and impactful.

In the Studio Electric/ModWright/WyWires room, not only were there complimentary cookies, but also: 16-bit sound files from a MacBook Pro, an Oppo UDP-205 "4K Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player" used as a DAC ($1299) with ModWright modifications ($2500), a ModWright KWI 200 integrated amplifier ($5500), and Studio Electric FS1 loudspeakers ($5900/pair without grilles; $6250/pair with grilles). The modifications to the UDP-205 include: a 6922 tube buffer, transformer coupling, and an outboard power supply.

Manning the room was David Macpherson, owner of Studio Electric. We spoke about his extensive 32+ years designing and building loudspeakers in the pro-audio market, and how his speakers were used on Broadway, in concert halls, theme parks, and cruise ships! The FS1s incorporate three drivers, weigh 90 lbs, and are environmentally friendly, made of recycled Wenge from reclaimed wood products. He played me "Caravan" performed by Marty Williams, and the FS1s soundd musical, neutral, and refreshingly even throughout the frequencies. Pro-audio sound with a hi-fi touch.

Also pictured but not played (at the time of my visit): a VPI Prime Signature turntable with a JMW-10 tonearm and Dynavector XX2 Mk. II MC cartridge and WyWires phono cable. I hope more rooms at hi-fi shows start offering cookies.

The last room on my list: Vinnie Rossi, Spatial Audio, and Anticables.

"Wicked Game" by Jenna Mammina and Rolf Sturm sung through a system that comprised a Vinnie Rossi LIO "super integrated" amplifier ($11,880 as configured; a Stereophile Class A Recommended Component 2015–2017), a pair of Spatial Audio X1 "UniWave" loudspeakers (standard painted $14,000/pair, gloss Lucite surface $17,500/pair), and Anticables throughout. The sound of the LIO's ultracapacitor-powered, modular system paired with the X1's uniwave dipole design was widespread, transparent, and profoundly engaging—the perfect end to my Los Angeles Audio Show experience.

Eoldschool's picture

Hey Jana, thank you for your coverage of LAAS, it was very enjoyable.
I am bummed that I did not get to meet you, but it appears we were on vastly different schedules and covering mostly different rooms, so it just did not work out that we run into each other there. It would have been nice to meet you.

For some reason, I thought you were focused on covering the more affordable gear at this show (I know “affordable” is a relative term), but I know how it is). I was covering strictly the more affordable HiFi within the parameters I have. I did notice we covered at least a couple of the same rooms and you covered a room (the Rethm room) that I somehow missed (shame on me), so thank you for catching that. I also regret missing the Madisound room.

As for meeting females in the industry (not hired booth babes…I fail to see the point to booth babes myself, but who am I to say), rare or strange though it may seem, as a member of the male species, I’m right with you Jana believe it or not. I always find myself saying, “Too much testosterone in the industry”. There are some super nice and wonderful guys in the industry (another rarity) true, but we need more equality in the industry. When it comes to audio, I place high value on the female opinion and perspective. Perhaps it is at least partly because of the way I listen to music (I tend to listen with my whole body or being, feeling the music and the message). Anyway, I also note that it is a lot harder to run into the dreaded dark-side audiophile (oh how I dread them!) among the female crowd. I find that females, even with the slightest interest in audio at all, to be far more level-headed and non-self-centered than the males, on the whole. (Every time I run into those dreaded dark side creatures, I am glad I am not an audiophile right after I turn tail and run away full speed at first opportunity). By the way, Carolyn is very nice. I wish I could write about Zesto gear (it’s so beautiful), but it is way outside of the scope of my blog.
I always run into a few rooms run by wonderful folks at shows, but you are right, it’s a dice roll at times. (I could have directed you to at least two other rooms run by very nice folks had I met up with you, oh well).
About gracefully leaving a room Jana, you and I have the same problem! I dread when a designer, rep or what have you, asks me what I think about what I heard, etc. Yes, never lie Jana! I’m as good at it as you are, you can see me lying a thousand miles away. I try to find a way to “tell the truth” (which is really just my opinion), kindly and gently when required. I too know what goes into the products and I never want to hurt feelings. It’s even harder when you happen to know the designer or person involved with the make. Fortunately, I have never been in that situation, finding something I really don’t like and personally knowing the designer, but I’ve already been in the initial situation too many times. I just try to let my heart do most of the talking and find ways to be encouraging. (I know, easier said than done).

Jana, stick with who you are and find your voice, both of which you articulate well. (I’ll never be as good a writer as you).
Don’t try to change for the industry, it’s the industry that needs to change. We kind-hearted people need to stick together and help hold each other up.
I hope someday to be able to chat with you a bit.
Sorry for the lengthy comment, but I wanted to say it.

ppgr's picture

"only pure cotton from controlled organic farming"... I (hope) sense some derision here.

ckharbeth's picture

Jana, I share your love of the Harbeth sound. I've had Magnepans, Proacs, Spendors and KEF's and my Harbeth SHL5+ are the most natural sounding and musically satisfying speakers I've had the pleasure of owning. Amidst all the modern forms and technologies speakers today, there is something very soulful about the evolved old school BBC sensibility of Alan Shaw and the Harbeth speakers he continues to evolve. Along with a Rega RP3 with dynavector 10x5 and Hegel H160 streaming hifi tidal I feel like I have found a sweet spot in relative value of around $10,000 system. I can get a kick out of reviews of $100,000 plus systems and even single components feeling good that it is possible to create a high quality audio system for so much less. And too each his own, I love that the uber high end and low end all have their fans.