Sasha at T.H.E. Show, Part Two

During the second part of my first day at T.H.E. Show, I paid a visit to the Hotel Irvine's Woodbridge Room—a poetic name that gelled with the quality of the gear on display. The companies featured were here from Japan—Concert Fidelity Inc. based in Nagano, and Maxonic/SRC Inc. in Tokyo. On offer was the Concert Fidelity CF-i300B Integrated Amplifier ($10,000) and the Maxonic TW7000B Field Excitation Speaker System, with cabling from the Maxonic Miyabi line (pricing not provided). As the name implies, the Concert Fidelity integrated utilizes 300B tubes, and puts out 9Wpc. Maxonic also offers their own electronics: the CF-080 hybrid line-stage preamplifier, and the ZL-120 and ZL-200 solid-state monoblock amplifiers (again, pricing not provided on these products, which were not active). The aesthetically pleasing Maxonic Miyabi cabling is described in their brochure this way: "Copper wire is native copper wire, covering is silk, exterior is cotton, and staining is plant dyeing." The Maxonic TW7000B loudspeaker is a fairly large wooden floorstanding cabinet, employing a coaxial design that uses an aluminum horn speaker inserted into the middle of a standard-looking largish woofer. However, an additional twist here is that the woofer employs a magnetic "exciter-type configuration"—a possible reference to a field coil? The 9W produced by the Concert Fidelity amp found a suitable companion in this speaker, which has a rated sensitivity of 104dB (!). From a restored Denon turntable I was treated to 88 Basie Street, and those 9 watts were finding the sweet spot, sounding as tight and funky as I know this Allen Sides-engineered LP can and should sound.

In the Hotel Irvine's Conference Theater, a very substantive "System Optimization Seminar" was being presented by four individuals with in-depth knowledge and experience. On my forced march on Day One, I only got to experience a part of this as it was in-progress, and I had to leave before it finished—which I regret. Much of the subject matter was on an elevated technical level, while other aspects were grounded in simple matter-of-fact empirical experience—in other words, welcome to the High End. Two of the presenters whom I was able to hear briefly were Grant Samuelson of Shunyata Research and Bruce Jacobs of Stillpoints. Samuelson addressed a real grab bag of issues, and mentioned that Shunyata fields requests to improve the background noise levels in hospital electronics, which are particularly sensitive in cardiac medicine, where ultimate physical and electronic quiet is required. Jacobs got things back to the mechanical/electronic interfaces that can plague so many components, with a very straightforward presentation of some mysterious matters.

Leaving the rest of the main-floor rooms to my pals John, Jason, and Tom, I finally got on one of those crowded show elevators and headed up to the third floor of the Hotel Irvine. Frankly, though the shortcomings of hotels are an easy target for unhappy audiophiles (is that a majority or a minority at any given event?), I did not hear a lot of complaining—from visitors or exhibitors. A year ago, at T.H.E. Show 2015—which had just moved to the Hotel Irvine—I had a conversation with the late Richard Beers at the end of the last day. I asked him what he thought of the Hotel Irvine, and Beers said that, yes, this is where he wanted T.H.E. Show to stay. So here we are!

In Room 302—no more folksy, imaginative names from here on—I spent a little time with a mixed menu from four different companies. Pure Audio Projects bridges the DIY world and the "here you are" approach. Result? Outstanding value for the money. People seem to be picking up on this, as Pure Audio Project has offices in the US, Israel, and Germany. Those with some technical knowledge and building skills will be happy as pigs in clover (albeit pigs with good soldering skills). For the rest of us, everything Pure Audio sells, they can also show up at your house and build on-site. Last time I caught up with Pure Audio Project's loudspeaker designs they were featuring a smallish two-way floorstander, the Trio 15 Voxativ ($5,500). At T.H.E. Show 2016 I heard a larger floorstanding model, the Stellar 12 ($20,000). The Stellar 12, like its cousins, is an open-baffle design; the baffle frame is constructed from thick, attractive aluminum. This large floorstander utilizes four drivers on each side for the lows and mids. Once you've got your kit together, you can plug it into the SST American High Fidelity Ampzilla 2000 Second Edition monoblock amplifiers ($9,000/pair). These units put out a hefty 300Wpc into 8 ohms. I also heard the SST American High Fidelity Thoebe II Preamplifier ($4,800). I wasn't provided info on the streaming source hardware/software, but music there was: I heard a different take on Stevie Wonder's pretty "Vision in My Mind," by Antonio Forcione and Sabina Sciubba, and the familiar and always-great The Firebird from Stravinsky: Wham!

I enjoyed a brief and focused visit to a room hosted by Berlin-based Voxativ and their US importer, Highend-Electronics of Apple Valley, CA. This system started off with the Totaldac D1 Server ($5,000) and D1 Tube DAC ($10,000), feeding the Voxativ T-211 integrated amplifier ($13,900), which uses two 211 tubes for 12Wpc. That drove a pair of fairly small Voxativ Zeth floorstanding loudspeakers ($9,900). The loudspeakers are rated at 97dB, and use a "single-driver back-loaded horn," as described to me by designer Holger Adler. Cabling was Voxativ interconnect ($1,500/m) and speaker cable ($2,000/2.5m). I was unable to listen for long, but what I did hear—of a 1964-vintage Maria Callas recording—was a delicate and very open sound.

MSB Technology was next at the plate. Up top we had the MSB Signature Universal Media Transport V with Dual Power Supply ($11,990), the MSB Select DAC II with Mono Power Base and Femto 33 Clock options ($129,950), and the M204 class-A mono amplifiers ($39,950/pair). The amps deliver 200Wpc, with no negative feedback. I particularly admired the aesthetics of these hefty amps: with their fluted bases, they look like fragments of a Corinthian column on display at the British Museum. This awesome system was topped off with Analysis Plus Gold interconnects ($11,000) and Gold speaker cable ($22,000, lengths not specified). Listening was via the YG Acoustics Sonya 1.2 loudspeakers ($74,800/pair). I heard Duke Ellington doing "Mood Indigo" along with some unidentified pipe organ music. Both had a very nice dark sound—in a positive sense, the system complementing the sounds of clarinets and muted brass on the Duke and the soft, reedy textures of low organ pipes on the other recording. For me, the upstream system produced the best sound I have heard from these modestly sized and very revealing speakers.

Dantax Radio A/S is the mother company of Raidho Acoustics from Denmark. When I first encountered designer Lars Kristensen's loudspeakers a few years back, I wasn't the only one to be knocked out by the quality and wide sonic spectrum created from very modestly sized enclosures, as in Raidho's model X-1. Here at T.H.E. Show I was confronted with another beast entirely, at least in terms of size: the Raidho D4.1 ($110,000/pair), which measures 61" tall. Frequency response is stated as 25Hz-50kHz. Complementing Raidho's sealed ribbon tweeter are six of the company's Diamond Drivers: four 4.5" bass cones and two 4" midrange cones. A softly bowed structure places the tweeter in the middle of the mirrored layout. Sensitivity is stated as 89dB, and the cabinets are vented in the rear with what look like the tailpipes seen on the hottest and fanciest of sports cars. Sitting in reverent meditation, I made notes on only one demonstration track—the Beatles' "And I Love Her"—but that was enough to let me know with no uncertainty that Lars and his team are creating some of the very best speakers in the world.

Like a fire inspector dutifully clearing the halls, I continued my careful inspection of the third floor of the Hotel Irvine. Retailer AudioLogic put together a fine system: A full line of Ansuz Acoustics cabling was featured, including Ansuz Sparkz Diamond speaker cables ($$16,000/2m pair), Signalz Diamond interconnects ($14,000/1m pair), and Mainz Diamond 15amp power cords ($10,000/1m pair). The turntable was the Hartvig TT with custom Black Pearl inlay ($16,750). The table was fitted with Ikeda's IT345CR1 9" tonearm ($6,900) and 9TT moving-coil cartridge ($4,400). Rounding out the system was an Aavik U 300 Integrated Amplifier ($30,000). In this room I also heard the small, stand-mounted Raidho D1.1 loudspeaker in Walnut Burl with black stands ($28,800/pair). This two-way design is deeper than it is high, rated at 85dB sensitivity, and contains one 4.5" midbass Diamond Driver and one sealed ribbon tweeter. (Diamond particles are blown onto the cones of the Raidho drivers in a physically intense manner, which may be among the technical reasons for the excellent sounding results.) A Bach solo violin recording on an unidentified LP sounded the way Bach should—simultaneously calm and intense. Perfecto!

Colorado-based Sanders Sound Systems, self-described as THE Electrostatic Specialist (their caps), was in charge in Room 315. Roger Sanders is the designer, and Sanders Sound Systems sells direct and through select dealers. Their demonstration system featured the Sanders Model 10E loudspeaker ($15,500), a tall electrostatic panel augmented with a dynamic woofer. This was driven by Sanders' own amplifier, the Magtech Stereo ($5,500) and their simply named Preamplifier ($4,500), the latter including a phono stage. Obviously, these products are reasonably priced, so much so that the average audiophile would find it easier to bring home a Sanders system than most of the other gear I heard at T.H.E. Show—a good thing, because in the Sanders Sound Systems room, no music selection was allowed to play for more than 30 seconds. (Without prompting, some selections were played for even less time than that: the person running the demonstration must have had a lot of coffee!) So I can only really tell you how measure 34 sounded—and it sounded good.

I got to experience more Voxativ gear in a second room hosted by importer Highend-Electronics. In this second pass with Voxativ, the main visible difference was a much larger loudspeaker: the 103dB-sensitive Voxativ 9.87 System with the company's AC-4x wideband wood-cone driver ($34,900/pair). The Totaldac Music Server and DAC were identical to what I had heard in the previous room— however, whereas before the amplification was provided by an integrated unit, here it was a Voxativ Ampeggio preamp with MC phono ($11,900), used with Voxativ 845 monoblock amplifiers ($17,500), the latter outputting 18W from their 845 tubes. When some unidentified singer started puttin' down Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," I felt that this was the most drive and oomph I can recall hearing from a really high-efficiency speaker: It practically drove itself.

bornie's picture

Hope a reviewer might add some pics and impressions of these two rooms.. thx in advance...

Art Dudley's picture
Thanks for your note, bornie—there is much more to come!
Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'm afraid you won't read a report of the PS Audio room, because there wasn't one. Individual PS Audio components, however, contributed to the sound of multiple rooms. As for Constellation, I believe Sasha covered them. Much more to come...