Jana's First Afternoon at the Show

After a forgettable lunch (the food at the Sheraton Gateway hotel was mediocre at best) a change of pace was required. It was time for a mid-day treat: compact horn-loaded speakers. Greg Roberts of Volti Audio and Pete Grzybowski (nicknamed "Triode Pete") seem to consistently know how to produce good sound in hotel rooms.

As I entered their room, a woman wrote on their board something along the lines of: "My husband's been dragging me to different rooms all day and this is the only one I've enjoyed." The system included a pair of recently released Volti Audio Rival speakers (starting at $7900; $11,900/pair for the rosewood finish photographed)—reviewed by Stereophile's Ken Micallef last month. The source was an Acoustic Signature Triple X turntable ($5995) with an Acoustic Signature TA-2000 tonearm ($2399) and Dynavector 20X2 HOMC cartridge ($995) through a Perla Audio Motif phonostage ($5500) and class-AB 100Wpc Perla Audio Signature 50 integrated amplifier ($9500); cabling was all provided by Triode Wire Labs.

Triode Pete put on "Poinciana" played by Shelly Manne and Jack Marshall. (This was a fun take on "Poinciana", but I'm still partial to Ahmad Jamal's 1958 Live at the Pershing version.) The three-way, horn-loaded boxes, already boasting "sold" stickers this early in the show, were as alive and full-bodied as I remembered from last year's New York Audio Show. From my limited experience with the Rivals, they can be a little sonically V-shaped in some rooms depending on the music, but I couldn't care less.

Next stop on the list: the Audio Plus Services room featuring Focal and Micromega. For me, the Focal sound signature has always been enticing in a methodical, forensic way. It's like sleeping in pristine white linen sheets, bathing only in 21-year-old bottles of Hibiki, and snacking on human flesh.

The system featured a pair of Focal Sopra No.1 two-way stand mounted speakers ($8999/pair) atop IsoAcoustics GAIA 1 isolators ($1200 for a set of 8), powered and sourced by a Micromega M-One M-100 all in one integrated amplifier/DAC/streamer ($4495), bound by Crystal Cable reference speaker cables ($5000/pair). There is a subwoofer pictured, but it was not active when I visited the room.

Audio Plus Services' John Bevier gave a brief yet engaging presentation outlining Focal's brand and engineering principles, then played a mix of music, including Jeff Buckley and Johnny Cash. The system sounded as I had predicted: authoritative but deliberately cool in emotion. The Sopra No.1s are compact, high-performing, low-distortion robots with charm.

The design of these newly released flat panel Emerald Physics EP-2.8 open-baffle loudspeakers in a natural macassar ebony finish ($9995/pair) makes me think of the spirit "No-Face" (or, "Kaonashi") in Hayao Miyazaki's brilliant animated film Spirited Away. The EP-2.8s were paired with the Emerald Physics Bass Optimization Module (BOM), and driven by the new Emerald Physics EP-200.2SE 200Wpc, hybrid, dual-mono amplifier/controller. ("It's the best amp we have ever made," says their product lit.) The source was a Mac mini running Audirvana through a PS Audio Direct Stream Junior DAC with a network bridge ($3999). The system also included: a Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 1800 ($1995) power conditioner, and the new Deep Core A/C processor ($995). The whole system retails for $20,978, but is also available Internet direct through Underwood Hifi for $12,000.

The EP-2.8 has been shown at shows previously, but is now finally production ready and will be shipping in two weeks. It is accompanied by the EP-2.4 in its release (though not pictured), and both the 2.4 and 2.8 are Emerald Physics' new top of the line series panel speakers in their lineup.

Has anyone seen the sci-fi movie Arrival that came out last year? The strange spacecraft that look like massive pebbles? That's what the KEF Blade Twos ($25,000/pair) remind me of. After I spent what felt like far too much of my lifetime ogling at their slender metallic figures—though I do prefer them in white—I could finally focus on the sound. The source was a MacBook Air playing through a Hegel HD30 DAC ($5000), a Hegel P30 preamplifier ($8000), and a Hegel H30 power amplifier ($17,000). Pumping out Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further," the Blade Twos were more than charitable at providing volume and dynamic range.

Worthy to note: I was glad to not see the same tacky Hegel advertisement of a woman sitting next to a component as the backdrop. In my mind, Hegel's marketing strategy has transformed from tacky to tactful.

In the Audio SUMMA room, I was supremely impressed by the new Silverline Audio Minuet Grand Monitors ($1999/pair), which were premiering at the show. They sat atop adjustable speaker stands by Core Audio Designs ($1275), and driven by an upgraded 50Wpc, class-A Brown Electronic Labs BEL 1001 Mk.V ($7995—not available till 2018), using a Denon DN951A CD player (not for sale) as a source and a Silverline C-1 stereo preamplifier (not for sale). Also included: a Sound Application powerline conditioner ($18,000), isolation components by Symposium Acoustics, interconnects and speaker cables by BEL, and power cords by Furutech Cables.

Silverline's energetic Alan Yun played us a wide variety of tracks off of CDs that demonstrated the range and capability of the Minuet Grands. The sound was orderly with a nice bite—surprising for their size. At one point, he exclaimed, "I'm playing Mahler! No one plays Mahler at these shows!" emphasizing the difficulty of reproducing Mahler painlessly.

For $1999, the Minuet Grands are an excellent deal. I only wish that it would've been possible to hear them paired with more affordable components, perhaps in a system totaling under $5000.

LStrom's picture

I do like your writing style Jana, very enjoyable to read.


grantray's picture

You're doing it wrong. You're in LA, so get tacos from the food trucks.

Also, maybe give the Natural Sound room another go? The craftsmanship of Audio Tekne is on a similar level to Kondo-san. Just tell whoever's there the volume knob is there for a reason.

smorgen's picture

I am already a fan and use larger floorstanding Silverline speakers in my main system. I visited this room to say hello and see what was new. The new Minuet Grands sounded amazing to me and worthy of the excellent system they were matched with. For small and relatively inexpensive speakers, it will be fun to assemble a second system with them. I ordered a pair and anxiously await them.

jporter's picture

I am sure Focal will be reaching out to you for help on future advertising...

gptruncus's picture

Jana, really glad you enjoyed the Minuet as well. I liked them so much I bought them.
I went to this show as a first timer, to hear as many speakers as possible and these really stood out for this size and price. The bass really kicks in when called for, and they've got a lot of kick.
what I loved about this event was being able to meet the actual creators of the products, like SIlverline and Vanatoo which I also loved.