JA's Second Report from the LA Show

I tend to be skeptical of tweaks. Too often in the past, I have heard an astonishingly audible difference when the whatever is demonstrated by its promoter, only for any difference to stubbornly disappear when I try the same thingamabob in my own system. But listening to the difference when Isotek's Bjorn Hegelsted replaced the cheap power strip and stock AC cords in a MoFi Distribution system using the impressive but affordable Wharfedale Diamond 225 speakers ($449/pair) driven by a Quad Artera Play CD player ($2199) and Artera Stereo amplifier ($2299) with a star-wired, 6-outlet Isotek Polaris conditioner ($495) and Isotek Premier AC cords ($149 each), the improvement in image palpability and dimensionality, the elimination of "shoutiness" on female voice, was extraordinary. "A typical AC cable is a better RF antenna than it is a power cord," said Bjorn when I asked what was going on, and the Sheraton's rooms that weekend was indeed swamped with 2.4GHz energy from what was literally hundreds of WiFi networks from the hotel and exhibitors.

While the Polaris has one filter serving all six AC outlets, Isotek's more expensive Aquarius ($1995) has a filter for each outlet. And the difference replacing the Polaris with the Aquarius took the improvements in the same direction. Food for thought.

From the affordable to the not-so-much: The other MoFI room featured the TAD Micro Evolution One speakers ($12,495/pair, review underway by Tom Norton) driven by TAD's C2000 preamplifier ($29,000) and M2500 power amplifier ($24,000), hooked up with Nordost Valhalla 2 cabling with the electronics sitting on SolidSteel racks and fed power conditioned by Isotek's Mosaic AC regenerator ($9995) and Titan conditioner (4495) via Synchro C19 DC-canceling AC cables ($2195 each) and Optimum C15 AC cables ($995). LPs were played on a Spiral Groove The Revolution turntable ($18,000) and Centroid tonearm ($6000) with a Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge ($7495) feeding a Balanced Audio Technology VK-P12SE phono preamp ($9995); SACDs and CS were played on a TAD D1000 player ($15,000).

Playback was at too high a volume for these ears, but the clarity and the evenness of the tonal balance was as superb as you should expect at the price. On a long-discontinued CD of Carol Horne (?) singing "Except Maybe You" (??), the slight fret buzz as an electric bass guitarist lifted off at the end of each note played was readily identifiable as such, not just an anonymous noise.

Magico was demming its S3 Mk.II loudspeakers ($28,000/pair in M-Cast textured powder coat finish) with tubed Convergent Audio Technology preamplifier and Statement amplifier, with diffusors sensibly placed at what would be the first reflection points. The S3 Mk.II debuted at the 2017 CES and with an LP of Muddy Waters' Folk Singer played on a Kronos turntable, the sound had a natural tonality and clean highs. On an LP of, I think, de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat, the dynamics were excellent, with an absence of grain and impressive bass extension.

A CD of the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" was playing when I walked into the Wyred 4 Sound room. The California company was demonstrating its limited-edition, 10th-Anniversary DAC-2v2SE processor ($4499) its new MS Music Server ($2000–$3000, depending on options) and SX-100R class-D, 625W/8 ohm monoblock amplifiers ($3598/pair), all hooked up with Wyred 4 Sound cables and driving a pair of KEF Reference 1 speakers ($7999/pair plus stands at $1499/pair). The sound was more forward-balanced than I was expecting from the KEF speakers, but the clarity was impressive.

Harman had set up three systems featuring Mark Levinson electronics, Revel and JBL speakers, and JBL amplification in a large ballroom on the Sheraton Gateway's ground floor. All was confusion when I entered due to the system featuring the new Revel Concerta2 F36 2.5-way towers ($2000/pair, above) missing the left channel. Once the problem was sorted out, I listened to an acapella track from the Fairfield Four, played on Kevin Voecks' laptop running Roon. The sound? At $2k/pair, the F36 should be a winner.

While I waited for the problem to be fixed, I had a good look at the Mark Levinson No.519 CD transport, Bluetooth, streaming, network playback, D/A headphone amp ($17,000). Since its debut at the 2017 CES, the No.519 will now decode MQA data and act as a Roon endpoint. It was being demonstrated with a pair of Revel Ultima Salon2s ($22,998/pair), one of my favorite speakers ever!

The second floor's mezzanine area had a number of booths, but one that caught my attention was that of Yarra 3DX, which was demonstrating surround sound from a single, diminutive, 12-driver soundbar. The source was a Blu-ray player feeding a Smyth Realizer binaural processor. Sitting in the sweet spot, I listened to one of the new Beatles' remixes from Sgt. Pepper—"For the Benefit of Mr. Kite"—and the swirling calliope effects extended far to my left and right. I had heard something very similar from the Bacch SP-3D process at CES a couple of years back but that system required individual calibration for each listener. The Yarra 3DX worked well without any calibration. Yarra is running a Kickstarter campaign to bring this technology to market.

Regular readers will know that I am a measurements geek, so they will understand why I was attracted by the Avermetrics booth on the Sheraton Gateway's mezzanine. Avermetrics manufactures test equipment modules for electronics production lines, but at the LAAS they were demonstrating an all-in-one generator/analyzer, the AverLAB, which will sell for just $3000 and weighs less than 6 lbs. Controlled by an app running on both MACs or PCS, the network-connected AverLAB will analyze two-channel balanced and single-ended analog signals with a digital bandwidth up to 88kHz and its residual distortion below –107dB, and digital signals up to 192kHz via S/PDIF, AES/EBU, TosLink, and ADAT ports. The AverLAB won't replace my Audio Precision gear but for anyone who needs to measure gear on location, it would be the perfect solution.

dalethorn's picture

I just love that opening line ("I tend to be skeptical of tweaks.") Anyway, I ran into something earlier today, before reading this, that had me dragging my AQ JitterBug out of the accessories drawer. I have a CD of Steely Dan's Then and Now, a 1993 remaster on MCA. The track Deacon Blues has some distortions (as heard through the AQ DragonFly Red) - a kind of edgy hardness that gets pretty bad at certain points, and so I thought I'd insert the JitterBug and see what happens. It didn't clear up the distortions of course, but it took the edges off in a gratifying way.

So I thought, maybe one good way to find out if a tweak really works is to get some tracks that are right on the line between being just barely acceptable at a reasonable but reduced volume, and being unacceptable. Not that that test would necessarily push the acceptability one way or the other, just that it might provide some insight into if and how the tweak makes a difference.