Stenheim, VTL, dCS, Nordost, VPI, and Lyra Wow Once Again

Last year in the large Schaumburg F air-walled room in the Convention Center, Stenheim, VTL, and Nordost put together one of the finest sounding rooms I’ve heard at any show. This year, the sound was again among the best I encountered in the over 40 rooms I auditioned.

Given the room’s sponsors, it's not surprising that classical music was given the volume it deserves. If the first two selections, Jordi Savall’s interpretation of the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem and “Le Spectre de la Rose” from Berlioz’s Les Nuits d'Été, sung by the magnificent Sandrine Piau, were too downbeat for a fresh-faced 10am listen, they nonetheless sounded transparent and beautiful. Piau’s voice was gorgeous, her high notes defying age with youthful shine and beauty. Air was first rate.

Spirits lifted with Kenny Burrell’s "Saturday Night Blues" and Talking Heads' "Genius of Love (Tom Tom Club)" from the new 40th anniversary LP reissue of Stop Making Sense. Room effects rendered bass was a little muffled—rarely was it totally in control in any room I visited—but the overall sound rated a solid 9.5. A great demo.

The room included a few new products. The Stenheim Ultime Two SX loudspeakers cost $186,500/pair with their new Reference Platform designed to transmit more subtlety and better bass. VTL showed a different amplifier line-up, with different tubes. Last year, they used MB-450 monoblocks with KT88 tubes for the speakers’ midrange and top and MB-185 Series II Signature monoblocks ($27,000/pair) on the bass.

This year, they used MB-185 Series II Signature monoblocks throughout—but the monoblocks now had new output transformers and KT77 tubes (an EL34 variant).

Other VTL products included the TP-6.5 Series II Signature phono preamplifier ($15,000) and TL-7.5 Series III Reference line preamplifier ($35,000). dCS supplied a Rossini Apex DAC ($32,800) and Rossini Master Clock ($10,850). Records were spun on a VPI Titan Direct turntable ($60,000) with a Lyra Etna cartridge ($8995).

Nordost went head-to-head with Synergistic Research in the multiplicity department—see my report on the Journey/Creation room they co-sponsored—by listing 25 products in this room: Odin 2 cabling (including the tonearm cable), QBASE Mark III (QB8) AC distribution unit ($2299.99) and higher-level QBASE Reference ($17,999) which I’ve never auditioned, QSOURCE linear power supply ($2749) and QNet Network Switch ($3199)—see my review here and marvel at the comments—and more.