Home Entertainment 2004—Day Three

Saturday is always the crunch day at the Home Entertainment Show. There are more people in the halls, more bodies in the rooms, and more noise everywhere—and it's wonderful. People here really speak our language: audiogeek spoken here.

One of the things most frequently spoken about here is the absence of musical events during show hours, which dedicated attendees have always used to re-calibrate their ears, rest their aching feet, and reconnect with audio buddies who have wandered off on their own (footnote 1). Fortunately, the blues lunch featuring Honeyboy Edwards, courtesy of Acoustic Sounds, and the jazz lunch showcasing the Mario Rodriguez Group still serve the same function, and have been packed.

Another treat for showgoers' ears could be found in Glacier Audio's room, where Abraham Laboriel put on a master class in bass guitar technique. Laboriel is a quiet man with a gentle demeanor, but he's a monster on his instrument, caressing notes, plucking, slapping, sliding, and punctuating it all with strategic sections of rasgueado—heck, Mr. Laboriel does stuff on the bass they don't even have words for!

The kicker is that Mr. Laboriel and his accompanist, keyboard player Ron Feuer, play through Atma-Sphere MA II.3 monoblock tube amps ($33,000/pair) and Gilmore Audio Model 2 planar loudspeakers ($19,500/pair). With most loudspeakers, this would have disastrous results, especially with as percussive a player as Mr. Laboriel, but the Gilmores, with their four 12" woofers and 60" ribbon tweeter, handled the transients and overtones just fine. Actually, they threw out Mr. Laboriel's assault-rifle runs and staccato pops with unbelievable force.

We should also mention that the Gilmores sounded pretty good when playing prerecorded music, too. An MSB Technology Platinum CD player ($7900), Atma-Sphere MP I preamp ($9500), and Silver Audio cables completed the system for CD and DVD playback.

Lady luck was with us when we visited the room, because Vince Curasi was taking requests and two attendees came through with fantastic demo discs. The first was Stereophile's Record of the Month for February 1997, Theater of Voices' The Age of Cathedrals (Harmonia Mundi France HMC 907157), which floated the polyphonic vocals in the air of the large room like a cloud of warmth direct from the 13th century.

The second selection was from the Dave Holland Band's Extended Play: Live at Birdland (ECM 96702 CD), which featured Steve Nelson, the vibraphonist from Stereophile's Rendezvous CD (STPH013). The system did just as good a job of floating Nelson's vibes in the middle of a huge soundstage as it had the Theater of Voices, but it also captured the silvery flash of Nelson's note clusters as he stroked the sounds out of his metallophone. Overtone city—and it had the purity and impact of the real thing.

On the fourth floor, the DeVore Fidelity/Simaudio room was also sounding uncannily like the real thing. Simaudio was debuting its $5200 Moon P5-LE preamp, $6000 Moon W-5 LE power amp, and $7200 Moon Eclipse LE CD player; all resplendent with anodized silver faceplates and polished chrome accents. All three feature massive power supplies with toroidal transformers; all function at lower operating temperatures to prolong life expectancy.

John DeVore was showing final production samples of his Silverback loudspeakers ($14,000/pair), which were gorgeous in a Fiddleback anigre veneer. The Siverbacks are a fascinating loudspeaker, utilizing a pair of opposing, side-firing 8" woofers, a 0.75" silk-dome tweeter, and a top-mounted custom 6" midrange driver. DeVore has developed what he calls the DeF SVDX (Suspended Vibration Damped X-over), which pots the filter components in Vibraflex in order to control coil, resistor, and capacitor resonance. In addition, the speaker has a sensitivity of 90dB and never drops below a 6-ohm load.

But the proof of the puddin's in the listening and we were pinned to our seats for a nice long while, first listening to some of Ray Kimber's Iso-Mike recordings. As usual, Kimber's recordings produced some of the best sound of the show. One particular track, by the vocal ensemble T Minus 5, was a killer! According to Kimber, the band will have a hybrid SACD available sometime this summer—we're ordering one now.

Then DeVore put on a favorite track, James Carter's "JC on the Set," which just flat-out burned. Musically, of course, but also as a demonstration of all the ways that audio systems usually blunt the sharp edge of a saxophone's sound. The Silverbacks do not do that. They deliver all the buzz and burr and sheer wallop of overblown overtones and keypad impact—not as noises, since Carter uses them as punctuation and the Silverbacks capture the thump of a tuned column of air inside the brass cone of the sax's body. Wow!

Attention must be paid.

And you definitely had to pay attention in Jeff Joseph's demo.

Joseph is always a consummate showman, but this year he outdid himself. After ushering in the audience, he took his place in front of a system that included his new $12,000 RM55s, a pair of Manley 250 monoblocks ($9000/pair), a new version of the Manley Steelhead with a line level input ($7700), and a Theta Compli ($4500)/Gen 8 ($10,000) front end. After talking about the components, Joseph began to play music and elicited comments concerning the presentation and sound.

People seemed to like what they heard, so Joseph drew back a curtain with a flourish and reveled that we'd been listening to his $1995/pair in-wall loudspeakers, The Insiders, driven by a Manley Stingray integrated amp ($2250).

Word is, John Atkinson goggled in disbelief. We were sitting up front, so we had noticed that the soundstage seemed a trifle elevated, but we can't claimed we exactly anticipated that denouement.

The RM55s sounded pretty good, too, but people were buzzing about how good the in-walls sounded.

Klaus Bunge thinks people are spending too much on hi-fi.

Actually, Klaus doesn't care if people want to spend a lot on gear, but he's offering two systems for folks who don't want to. For $1500, Odyssey is offering a system that constricts of Etesian passive preamp, 110Wpc Khartgo class-A/AB power amp, and Epiphany stand-mounted two-way monitors. Bunge even throws in his Kronenberg audio cables. As he puts it, "Throw in a Rotel CD player and you're in business for under $2000."

It sounded pretty good to us. Jacintha was a warm, almost life-sized presence in the room, which we thought was quite a soundstaging trick. Even better, she was a giant emotional presence as well. We felt her heartbreak—and that isn't something you usually can get at such a great price.

Of course, Bunge will sell you a more expensive hi-fi if you want. He has another system for $4500, which includes the Tempest active preamp (with MM and MC phono section), the 150Wpc class-A/AB power amplifier, and floorstanding Lorelei two-way ported loudspeaker. And yes, cables are included in this one, too.

We like the $1500 system, but the $4500 system did everything the little 'un did—and then some. This isn't always true when you go up a company's product ladder, but Odyssey has obviously figured out how to demonstrate the advantages inherent in its pricier option. We don't think you could go far wrong with either one.

And we have to confess that finding audio bargains is some of the best fun you can have at a Home Entertainment show. The only thing that beats the thrill of the chase is the ecstasy of shopping well.

And we'll get t do it all over again in San Francisco in November!

Home Entertainment 2004 lasts for one more day, Sunday May 23, at Manhattan's Hilton Hotel on the corner of 54th and 6th.

Footnote 1: There was other live music: Saturday at the Show ended with a killer performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations, performed by Peter Sykes on a 1977 recreation of a French harpsichord by English Luthier David Rubio. Gratifying sponsors UK speaker manufacturer Wilson Benesch and their US distributor The Sound Organisation, the Regent Parlor was packed with more than 100 audiophiles and music lovers. This was my personal Best Sound of the Show; my personal thanks to Stereophile columnist John Marks for making it happen.—John Atkinson