Vandersteen x 2

What actually transpired as the person in charge of the darkened room began to change LPs:

Me: What are you putting on?
Him: (sounding slightly hostile) What am I putting on?
Me: Yes. What music are you playing?
Him: It’s violin music.
Me: (To myself: Yes, I do know what a violin sounds like.) To him: What violin music?
Him: “I can’t pronounce it. Here, you look.”

This is supposed to entice someone to buy equipment?

Thus went the start of my visit to the first of two rooms, hosted by The Audio Alternative of Fort Collins, that showcased Vandersteen loudspeakers. Here were Vandersteen Model 7s ($52,000/pair) with Audio Research Reference 150s, vertically biamping the speakers. The rest of the chain, with prices not specified, included Audio Research Corporation’s Reference 10 preamplifier, Reference 10 phono stage, and Reference CD9 compact disc player/DAC; AMG’s Viella 12 turntable and tone arm with Lyra's new Etna MC cartridge ($6995),making its worldwide debut,; AudioQuest’s Wildwood speaker cables, Wild Blue Yonder interconnects, NRG-100 and NRG-10 power cords, Diamond USB cable, and Diamond Firewire cable; and Harmonic Resolution Systems’ highly praised SXR 1921 isolation stands, M3X 2123 isolation bases, and R1-1921 isolation bases.

The system emphasized the violin’s midrange over its soaring top. Wondering if the LP playback system might be at fault, I asked to play my CD of soprano Eileen Farrell, whose voice is accompanied by an orchestra recorded with considerable midrange body. That, unfortunately, led to this:

Him: What’s the volume level?
Me: I can’t tell you.
Him: You can’t tell me?
Another attendee: There is no volume. (It was now 37 seconds into the track.)
Him: There is no volume? Oh, I have the mute on.

I am not making this up. Nor can I pretend that the sound was other than overly sweet, yet damped on top. Everything sounded flat, with the orchestra’s depth and richness absent.

More successful, on all levels, was Audio Alternative’s adjacent room that mated Vandersteen 5A Carbon loudspeakers with M7-HP balanced crossover ($25,000/pair), Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum Preamplifier ($26,000) and Momentum monoblock amplifiers w/Momentum floor stands ($60,000/pair), ARC’s Reference DAC 8 ($5000) and Reference Phono 2SE ($12,000), Rega RP-8 turntable with RB-808 tonearm and Lyra Kleos MC cartridge ($2995), Rega Valve Isis CD player ($8000), similar AudioQuest cabling save for a Wild AES digital, and Grand Prix Audio Monaco Equipment racks. This system definitely had a top as well as very fine bass—wonderful bass, in fact—but violins on Reiner’s recording of Scheherazade were strangely wiry. When I asked about power conditioning, I was told, “We don’t do a lot of that in our store.” Perhaps its absence in the electrically hostile hotel environment accounted for the wiry top?

Stephen Scharf's picture


Clearly, "Him" was a music lover! I'm sure he could tell you if the violinist was Alan Loveday, Jascha Heifitz, or Arthur Grumiaux and if we has playing a Strad, a Guarnerius, or a Guadanigni! wink

Sorry; clearly someone only interested in selling gear. 

I can tell you that that was not the experience I had with the brilliant loudspeaker designer, Andrew Jones of TAD, serving up the tunes in the TAD room. 

Good seeing you at the show. 

Ken Harley's picture

Isn't that what everyone there is doing?

"but violins on Reiner’s recording of Scheherazade were strangely wiry. When I asked about power conditioning, I was told, “We don’t do a lot of that in our store.” Perhaps its absence in the electrically hostile hotel environment accounted for the wiry top?"

Wouldn't finding out if the hotel's wiring did have excessive noise on it be the first priority before acussing it of being so?Also, how do you come to this conclusion JVS that the abscense of power conditioning caused the wirey sound?Maybe your ears were tired from listening to other rooms or you stood in the wrong spot.Was the cartridge properly aligned?Was the recording pristene or worn?Lots of factors to consider.

Stephen Scharf's picture

The wiry top was most likely due to the fact many attendees felt that the Teflon caps in the Ref 10 SE preamp and the amps were not fully burned in (they take upwards of 1000 hrs). The wiry highs are classic symptom of that. 

Regarding selling gear, well, there's selling gear acting like a smart-ass and selling gear with grace, intelligence, courtesy, and professionalism. Part of that is creating an beguiling and engaging musical experience and understanding and judiciously selecting the music being presented. That's what Jason was referring to. 

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

My comment, which was speculation rather than a foregone conclusion, was a friendly attempt to give the equipment and room hosts a way out. What I take from your comment is that, in the future, I would be wise to simply report what I heard, and let others speculate on the origin of the problem. Thank you for driving this point home.

Thanks as well to Stephen Scharf for his informed speculation on the matter. I wonder if the problem of insufficient cap break-in accounted for the hardness I heard on the Wilson Alexia / ARC pairing I heard at T.H.E Show Newport 2013?

Ken, can you imagine that any commercial hotel supplying high voltage to well over 165 active exhibits would not have "excessive noise" on its power lines? Can you imagine why a store wouldn't market power conditioners and the like, given that stores also must deal with noise on their AC lines? Finally, can you imagine me trying to evaluate a system while standing, rather than attempting to sit in a position where my ears are more or less aligned with the tweeters?

For my take on the business of selling equipment at shows, please see my As We See It, "There No Business Without Show Business," from the April issue. Please see:



jaxwired's picture

Remind me not to spend $100k on a hifi system.  Apparently it's just "so so" at best.