HE 2002: Day One

HE 2002's first day was filled with press conferences, but none was more widely anticipated than Sony's. The pre-conference chatter was filled with insiders insisting they positively knew for a fact that Sony was confirming last week's rumor that Universal and Sony were discontinuing CD manufacture in favor of dual-layer SACDs—and also by insiders who insisted it was simply a rumor.

However, when David Migdal, David Kawakami, and Tim Baxter spoke, they did not even mention it (although all three did stress SACD's imperviousness to ordinary ripping—which led some observers to speculate that such a move is still not out of the question). The focus of the event was SACD's growth in the consumer market, its growing acceptance by record labels, and new manufacturing facilities—an added line at Sonopress and a joint Sony/Crest National dual-layer plant to be constructed in Hollywood.

Among the labels newly championing SACD were Harmonia Mundi and ECM, both long respected for their commitment to sound quality. Jody Klein, of ABKCO, announced a collaboration with Sony to reissue, on dual-layer discs, ABKCO's entire catalog of early recordings by the Rolling Stones, totaling some 22 records. This also has been the subject of recent rumors—the British music magazine Mojo had reported Sony about to release a 15-disc box set of the Stones live. For years, there has been speculation about ABKCO's remarkable restraint in not having issued updated CDs of its early Rolling Stones catalog—several critics have questioned whether the master tapes for those records even existed any more. Those conspiracy theorists will not be comfortable with the language in Sony's press release, which reads, "The restoration process for ABKCO's The Rolling Stones Remastered Series started with hundreds of hours of painstaking research on both sides of the Atlantic to determine the analog sources most true to the original Rolling Stones studio recording." Bob Ludwig directed the mastering process and the discs will bear a retail price of $18.98 per single disc.

Dynaudio announced the new Confidence line of speakers. Present at the show were the $16,000/pair C-4 and the C-2, for $12,000/pair. Still to be shown but scheduled for release later this year are a center speaker, surrounds, and in-wall and on-wall speakers.

The C-4s are handsome, with a "floating" baffle and two 8" woofers, two 5" midrange drivers and two of Dynaudio's new Esotar2 tweeters. The C-2s are similar, but a two-way design with a pair of 7" woofers and a pair of the Esotar2 tweeters. Despite the uncongenial and generally hectic show conditions, the C-4s sounded not just promising, but fabulous, in demo. Their bass was deep and well-defined and the speakers, driven by Naim amplification and CD front end, had a top-end as airy and silky as (gasp) the real thing. The C-4s were a better restorative on a busy show day than a draught of strong spirits.

Another extremely impressive loudspeaker was the Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy 7 ($22400/pair). Fresh on the heels of the successful Sophia—reviewed in the forthcoming July issue of Stereophile—the latest version of this venerable classic employs a new cabinet material and crossover on the WATT, while the Puppy sports new proprietary drivers, a new crossover, and new, improved Puppy "wings" (we're not making this up), which align the WATT to the Puppy. The differences between the VII and previous models was not subtle—gone, apparently, is all vestige of the Puppy's bass hump. Also on display was a new $9850 subwoofer, the Watchdog, which seemed extremely impressive in demonstration.

VTL was showing off a new preamp, the TL7.5 Reference Line Preamplifier, a $10,000 software-driven two-box hybrid (tube gain with MOSFET output) design that seems a total change in direction for the Chino, CA–based company. Boasting sleek, elegant metalwork and brimming over with innovative technology, the preamp drew a collective wow from a room of jaded reviewers. Fully differentially balanced circuits are housed in a separate enclosure from the controls—a classic "dirty box/clean box" assembly, according to VTL's Luke Manley. Also slick was the software-driven control system and clever resistor-ladder volume control. This one's worth a trip to the dealer's to see.

Also in the same room was a fledgling speaker company, Devore Fidelity, which was demoing an impressive two-way tower for $2800. Called the Gibbon 8, it is easy to drive (88dB/w), had impressive response (35Hz–25kHz), and sounded extremely impressive at low volume. A newcomer worth keeping an eye on—and a speaker worth auditioning.