T.H.E Show 2014: Day 2 Morning

Hands down, the most impressive full-range system I encountered during my first hours in T.H.E. Hilton on Day 2 of T.H.E. Show Newport Beach was jointly sponsored by Synergistic Research and Scott Walker Audio of Anaheim. Held in the freezing Crystal Ballroom, which definitely called for hot music as an antidote to potential hyperthermia, the system paired Magico Q7 loudspeakers ($185,000/pair), VAC's Master Signature preamp w/phono ($40,000) and State monoblocks ($78,000/pair) with an unidentified computer audio/music server set-up and unauditioned Kronos Sparta turntable with arm ($28,000) and Sonorus ATR open-reel machine ($17,500).

The key link, of course, was from Synergistic Research. Take a deep breath, because the list is long. How about, for cabling from the top-of-the-line Galileo series, Galileo LE speaker cable ($15,000/8 ft. pair), LE interconnects ($7500/1m pair; $12,300/4m pair), the new LE USB cable ($1995/1m) that I'm dying to audition, LE Digital and LE Analog AC power cords ($5600/5 ft.).

Throw in, for power conditioning, two new Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 UEFs ($6000/each) and two equally new FEQ PowerCell equalizers ($1250/each). Throw in as well, a number of Tranquility Base XLs ($2995/each) arrayed on a Solid Tech 4-shelf rack ($2495), with equipment support by MiG footers ($150/3).

In addition to the FEQ frequency equalizers ($995/each) and HFT high frequency transducers ($299/5) that Synergistic Research has been selling for less than a year, the company presented The Black Hole ($TBD). This baby, which I seem to have missed in my photo, is basically a cylindrical black object that rests on the floor via heavy, flesh-tearing spikes, and that can be used in conjunction with the HFT, FEQ and ART System Vibratron to do the same work as Synergistic Research's full complement of ART system bass stations and satellites.

Listening to both guitarist Paco de Lucia play Flamenco and cellist Peter Wispelwey play Bach suites confirmed that the system was capable of producing, for 16/44.1 files, great depth, astounding image size, and beautiful, natural tonalities. Strings were a bit wiry on a hi-rez bit of Copland's Billy the Kid—it could have been the recording or orchestra—but the bass was taught and the timbres just right. While the sound was still a bit dark—I'm told it really opened up on Day 3—the combination of lifelike tonalities, sonic beauty, bass slam, and something approaching natural instrument size won me over.

In a series of experiments, Synergistic Research's Ted Denney turned off all his FEQ devices, and then turned them back on. It was clear that engaging them provided more realistic depth. An advanced prototype of the Black Hole, when placed between speakers and the ART system Vibratron, better defined the pitch, radiation pattern, and overtones of a massive bass drum.

Sanders Sound Systems brought along the10d ($15,000/pair), the latest version of their Model 10 electrostatic loudspeaker. The 10d includes a new aluminum-coned woofer, digital electronic crossover, and Magtech amplifier. Also heard were two Magtech stereo amplifiers ($5500 each), each of which included a linear voltage regulator. The new Sanders preamplifier ($4500), Sanders' own cabling, and the same 10-year old Tascam flash recorder as heard on previous occasions completed the chain. Sound on an otherwise unidentified recording of the Hungarian Rhapsody was very smooth and fairly transparent, but colors were washed out and the system lacked brilliance.

Brooks Berdan Ltd. of Monrovia set up an all-Auralic system to show off the company's new Aries streaming bridge ($1595). Designed to stream hi-resolution audio via WiFi, the device can stream up to 2x DSD or DXD (24-bit, 352.8kHz). I loved the sound of the cymbals on a DSD file of Miles Davis. The smoothness of the trumpet, and the realistic bite of sax were also quite appealing. Bearing equal responsibility were Auralic's Vega DAC ($3500), Taura preamp ($2200), and Merak monoblocks ($5000/pair), all connected to Spendor D7 loudspeakers ($6500/pair) via Cardas Clear Light cabling.

Here, Richard Colburn holds the Aries streaming bridge. Available the end of July, it includes a 3D-printed top and bottom. Colburn claims the sound is as good or better than via Ethernet connection because there no noise is generated during transfer.

Peachtree Audio and Amarra showcased an under-$20,000 system, one of whose centerpieces was a beta version of the Sonic Studio Amarra 3.0 hi-res music player with iRC(b) Room Correction (impulse response correction) (approx. $349, TBD). This player also supports DSD file playback (.DSFand .DFF) via real-time conversion to PCM in order to take full advantage of Amarra's processing capabilities. Target release date is June 17, end of June at the latest, give or take.

With a MacBook Pro with dual SATA SSD and 16GB RAM feeding MartinLogan Montis hybrid electrostats ($9995/pair) via the Peachtree Audio nova220SE 220Wpc integrated amplifier w/ESS Sabre DAC ($1999) and cabling from AudioQuest and Shunyata, dynamics were mightily impressive on a 24/96 file of Max Richter's Vivaldi Recomposed. But the somewhat wiry sound that afflicted many rooms—how many times can you say hotel dirty power x 120 big systems and countless headphone displays in a single breath?—was also on display.

New father Jonathan Derda of Peachtree showed me the microphone that he and the Amarra folks used to measure 9 different spots in the room and custom tune Amarra's four filters to create a very linear room response. "Once you're done measuring, you can tweak the system for warmth, or create your own filters," he said. To prove it, he let me hear the very audible "Amarra JD (Jonathan Derda) warm filter," which added a 3dB boost to the system in the 80–150Hz range.

Lots of new stuff was the byword in a rom that included the new Gingko Audio ClaraVu 7 Mk.3 loudspeakers ($8995/pair), new Wells Audio Innamorata Signature amplifier ($13,000), LampizatOr new Big 7 DAC (with the tubes on left of photo) ($11,500) and Transport music streamer ($2650), and cabling from DanaCable that included the new Diamond Reference biwire speaker cable ($6550/3m pair) and Diamond Reference digital cable ($795/1m).

The Innamorata Signature incorporates Jack Bybee's latest technology, which is said to both lower noise and increase three-dimensionality and refinement. The system's sound was quite beautiful, but on the new ECM recital from pianist Myung Whun Chung, it emphasized the leading treble edge of the piano at the expense of its full weight and depth.

Audio Summa of Redondo Beach showed a neat little system—well, neat if you ignore the Furutech cables—that included the three-piece HRT STAGE system (Black) ($1449.95), complete with 70Wpc amplifier and speakers—dedicated stands with built-in subwoofers are somewhere down the pike; Kuzma S12SE w/VTA Tower turntable and Stabi S w/ext. power supply plus Transfiguration Phoenix MC cartridge ($11,015 total); and Parasound Halo P5 DAC/preamp w/USB and phono ($950). On an LP of Arnold's English Dances, performed by the London Philharmonic, bass was strong, but cymbals a little bright and glaring.

Silverline Audio made a major statement with its Ode to Love, special limited edition loudspeaker with Tigerwood veneer in piano finish ($90,000/pair). Claiming an impressive 18Hz–35kHz (±3 dB) frequency response and 94dB sensitivity, the speaker joined Conrad Johnson's GAT preamp and 140Wpc ARTsa power amp ($40,000 total), Alan Yun's own 24/96 upsampling tubed CD player, and AudioQuest's Wild interconnects, Redwood speaker cable, and NRG-100 power cables to throw an exceedingly big, high and deep soundstage. The CJ equipment, which was not broken in, was a bit euphonic, but its lovely warmth almost seduced me into ignoring that the presentation was neither supremely focused nor detailed.

Ryan Loudspeakers, handcrafted in Riverside, CA, made their debut via the new company's R620 floorstanders ($3000/pair). With a Mac outfitted with J River feeding Auralic electronics via AudioQuest cabling, and an old Richard Gray unit doing something on the power end, a double DSD file of Eric Bib sounded very smooth, with nice bass and depth save for some lack of bass control. ("The usual bass problems," I wrote about the Hilton's difficult-to-control rooms.) Ella Fitzgerald sounded absolutely beautiful on 24/192 rendition of "Our Love is Here to Stay." I look forward to the opportunity to spend more time listening to these speakers.

alan@audioexcellenceaz.com's picture

You are too funny, Jason! Good seeing you again (several times) over the weekend. I too enjoyed the Ryan loudspeakers....clean, clear, and lovely on all the music I heard. They truly are a good value, certainly compared to so many other many-times-more-costly offerings elsewhere that do not deliver either a coherent, seamless, or effortless presentation.

eugovector's picture

It had been a while since JVS unabashedly gushed over tweaks and magic from Synergistic. It's good to see that, in a room with $350k of speakers, power, and sources, that "key link" is still blindly identified as Tens of thousands of dollars of voodoo with not a hint of objectivity.