HE2005 Day Two: When the Fans Hit the Site

We get so confused department: Officially, it's day one of the show, even though we've already been here a whole day. But—as we keep having to remind ourselves—it's not all about us. Today was the day the showgoers arrived.

The difference in energy level was remarkable. Yesterday was the busiest press day ever at a Home Entertainment Show, but today, the halls were abuzz with excitement and anticipation. Us too, actually.

With good reason. Our first stop was Ray Kimber's IsoMike room. IsoMike is a baffle system Kimber developed that increases the apparent separation between two (or more, as in this case) microphones. It kinda sorta works on the same principle as your face, which is between your two ears. Well, maybe that analogy needs work, but Kimber's got the recording thing down pat.

The playback system included a Genex DSD recorder, EMM Labs DAC, EMM Switchman III level control/switcher, two pairs of Pass Labs stereo X350.5 amps, and four TAD Model One loudspeakers. Oh yeah, cables by Kimber, of course. That's a lot of hi-fi, but it sounded completely natural playing back Kimber's four-channel DSD recordings—especially a band composition calling for a monster percussion battery underpinning huge chords blocks from the winds.

Holy mackerel, we exclaimed. Who wrote that?

"I can't remember," Ray confessed. "It was a friend of the Weber State Band's conductor. Ah yes, Anonymous, our favorite composer.

The sound was enveloping, dynamic, dramatic, and so believable that when we closed our eyes (Ray insisted) we went somewhere else. Someplace quite specific, as it so happens: Weber State University in Ogden, UT. We were so there.

But, of course, we had to go elsewhere eventually—and we were lucky enough to end up in the Naim room, where the company was showing off its new n-series of loudspeakers, or should we say two of the n-series speakers. What we heard playing were the $1350/pair n-SATS, a closed-box, two-way minimonitor, and Naim's first-ever subwoofer, the $2850 n-SUB, a three input, closed-box, remote controlled powered subwoofer with a custom, extended displacement 250mm driver.

As they say, we couldn't believe our ears. Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams (Brush Fire 414902 CD) had that crisp, rhythmic proper Naim sound, but it sure didn't sound like any three-piece speaker system we'd ever heard. This was coherent, integrated sound. And no, it didn't make us want to tap our foots, er, feet, it made us want to boogie. It goes without saying that we—and the n-series speakers—looked good while we were stylin'.

It probably didn't hurt that he n-speakers were being driven by the Naim CD5x CD player ($2950), 112x preamplifier ($350), and NAP200 power amp ($2800). We could have pitched a tent, but we felt we needed to press on.

Which is how we discovered turntable set-up guru Wally Malewicz in the Signal room, praising the $50, 000 Continuum Caliburn turntable. Now that's an expensive turntable, but you do get a free "The Cobra" organic fiber tonearm—not to mention Wally. Mr. Malewicz (and a designated schlepper, because this is one heavy turntable) will travel to any Caliburn purchaser's house and set up the turntable. "I'll even bring an assortment of cartridges and demonstrate them and show the customer how to set them up," Malewicz said. "After all, if you buy a Porsche, they don't just toss you the keys, they show you how to get the most out of it."

The Caliburn is a pretty impressive-looking—and sounding—turntable. By the way, the Caliburn demo was the second time this week the Peak Consult Empress Reference loudspeakers made us drool. Highlights of the Caliburn: nested platter design, computer-enhanced chassis design, massive stable bearing, and a "zero cogging, battery-powered, linear controlled DC brushless servomotor," with 0.006% time speed error. We're sure Mikey Fremer will weigh in on the subject, since the turntable is heading out to his house after the Show.

We'd never heard of GINI Systems, Inc., but the company's Alfie Lew says that we're going to see a lot of higher quality audio components coming from China in the near future. GINI is hoping to get ahead of that trend with products like its $2950 45Wpc JAS Array 2.1 integrated tube amp, $2290 JAS 1.1 2A3 tube preamplifier, and $2290 JAS Orsa two-way vented monitor loudspeakers. We were stunned by the visceral impact and full-bodied sound of this system playing an instrumental version of Sting's "Walking on the Moon." Nope, we didn't drop a zero—these were good-looking, great-sounding components aimed a price point our checkbook could relate to.

Of course, we heard a few systems with price tags that our checkbooks couldn't cover, but we liked 'em anyway. We stopped in to slobber over darTZeel's $18,181 NHB-108 Model One amplifiers (of which there were two, count 'em two) driving Von Schweikert Audio's $60,000/pair six-way VR-9SE and were indeed knocked out. The VR-9Ses are 50" tall and sport a powered, tunable 15" Kevlar-Nomex honeycomb subwoofer, two 8.5" magnesium midbass drivers, one 7" carbon/Kevlar/cellulose Aerogel midrange driver, and a 5" aluminum ribbon tweeter. Frankly, we though it would be way too much speaker for the 12' by 18' room it was in—and it appeared to be, until we sat in the sweet spot. Then we heard balanced, life-sized (but not bigger) sound that was awfully convincing. The secret? That tunable subwoofer, our sources tell us. We thought about asking for a review pair, but JA gets cranky when we review loudspeakers we can't lift. But meanwhile, we're still thinkin' . . .

One system we could pick up—and darn near put in our pockets—is the new three-piece stack from Chord. Featuring Chord's first single-box CD player. a small form-factor preamp, and a similarly sized power amp, the whole system, including the nifty-looking rack, is $19,000. We'll give you the model numbers tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's a pinup picture to get your juices flowing.

Ours sure are.