T.H.E. Show Newport 2011

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  2 comments
The big room. Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($100,000/pair) standing at over 6' tall, dominated the room, looking like Transformers ready to devour us with music. The Burmester 911 Mk3 amplifier ($29,995) managed the Grand Utopias, the Burmester 089 CD ($28,995) and a Burmester preamplifer (I did not note the model but I bet it costs $xx,995) took care of rest, with Transparent Opus and Reference cables.

It's very difficult to ignore the pair of 573.2 lb speakers in the room but my note, just one, read "Jack be nimble." Of course, anyone interested in auditioning hi-fi for potential purchase, especially when spending this kind of money, will take their time listening and not base their judgment on a few minutes. Jack don’t be quick.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
The bigger rig from the MBL Reference line: Radialstrahler 101E MkII loudspeakers ($70,500/pair), the world premier of the piano-white lacquer with chrome finish, 9011 monoblock amplifiers ($53,000/each), 6010D preamplifier ($26,500), 1611F D/A converter with MBLMCMi asynchronous USB input ($28,700), and 1621A CD transport ($28,000). Additional equipment included a Linux-based vortexbox computer by Simple Design, Wireworld Eclipse 6 cabling, Locus design cynosure USB cable, and SRA Scuttle rack.

Fortune smiled upon me again, as I got to spend time in the MBL room with none other than Michael Fremer. If you don’t already know, Michael is very quick-witted and very funny, seemingly always on the lookout for a zing here or a gaff there. He’s also very serious about music, in a very non-serious way, and we were treated to some greatest hits from a CD he’d brought along for the show including “La Bamba” (the original), Irma Thomas singing “Time Is On My Side” (the original), and lots of other varied and equally wonderful and some wonderfully whacky music. I would also add that Michael Fremer’s informative introductions to each track added to the experience. . .

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
The Ayon Audio room used a pair of gracefully curved LumenWhite Artisan speakers ($35,000/pair) with the Ayon Orthos II monoblock amplifiers ($24,000/pair) and the Ayon CD-5 CD Player with integrated preamplifier ($11,380). The CD-5 features USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, i2S and Toslink inputs and S/PDIF (RCA), i2S, and AES/EBU digital outputs. Cable was from Synergistic Research and the equipment rack was the Bassocontinuo ($10,000) from Italy, shown here with German Plexiglas shelves. Around the room you’ll also notice the Synergistic Research Art devices inviting comment.

I noted a very strong center image, lots of body/weight, and a physical yet nimble presentation.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
The only negative I heard from exhibitors came from those whose rooms abutted the outdoor live entertainment area. When I arrived in the M•A Recording and The Signal Collection room, the band outside was in full boogie at full volume. While Chris Sommovigo from the Signal Collection did his best to overcome, the live music overcame our demo.

The promising-looking and, from what little I could deduce from listening through the live music, promising-sounding Transmission Audio MI1I loudspeakers ($4500/pair) were designed by none other than Bo Bengtsson. The speakers were coupled to a Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier, with a Korg MR 2000 playing digital files from an laptop.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
Retailer Affordable Audio was showing off the very intriguing Zingali Zero Otto loudspeakers ($5999/pair) from Italy. This was the Zero Otto's US debut and I’d say they did better than fine. With its 93dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the low-powered crowd should be pleased to have another option.

Associated equipment included the Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary integrated amplifier ($3995), a Bel Canto CD2 Transport ($4999), and Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB ($3495), with cable from Cable Research Lab’s Bronze Series.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  4 comments
Kal Rubinson reviews the Sony SS-AR-1 loudspeaker ($27,000/pair) in the July 2011 Stereophile, due to hit newsstands next week, so I’d highly recommend reading his review if you want to know about these wonderful-sounding speakers. In addition to the Sony SS-AR1s, equipment in this room included Pass Labs X350.5 monoblocks, Sonoma 32 DSD multitrack recorder and editor, EMM Labs CDSD, EMM Labs DAC6SE, EMM Labs Switchman 3, with cable from Kimber Kable. System price, with two pairs of the Sony SS-AR1s, was $263,220.

We listened to a gospel track and the sound was expansive and detailed, with pinpoint imagining and all in all offered a truly moving performance. In this case, the Sonys seemed to enjoy this large ballroom, which makes me wonder what they'd be like in a normal listening room.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
San Diego-based retailer SimpliFi Audio was showing the Gradient Revolution Active loudspeaker ($11,995/pair) with the Gradient Revolution SW-D dipole subwoofer ($6995/pair), much to the chagrin of their neighbors, especially when playing organ music into the nether regions at I-think-I'm-going-to-be-sick levels. Also in use was a pair of the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 8033G ($595/each one per subwoofer) a digital room-correction device, "the cure for boomy bass." From what I heard, it works.

When I was in the room, SimpliFi was showing the Gradients with a "$500 Fosgate amplifier" and DNM $12/ft speaker wire to show that you don't need to be spendy to get flat response to 20Hz. The RA Opus 21 CDP/DAC/preamp ($3500) was being fed its music files from a laptop.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
Room 3 was owned by Burmester, no one else need apply—B30 loudspeakers ($15,995/pair), 911 amplifier ($29,995), 088 preamplifier ($28,995), 089 CD Player ($28,995), V1 rack (no price given) with, you guessed it, Transparent Cables. If Dieter from Sprockets was an audiophile, this would be his hi-fi. And Dieter loves music: "Touch my monkey."
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
I was looking forward to the MBL rooms because I’ve never had the time to spend the time listening to their gear. MBL is another singular manufacturer following an extremely personal vision, yet in this case one that tries to widen the appeal, so to speak, to a larger audience. The smaller MBL system consisted of the Radialstrahler 120 loudspeakers ($21,400/pair) with stands ($1630), 9007 monoblock amplifiers ($21,400/each), 6010D preamplifier ($26,500), 1511F DAC with MBLMCMi asynchronous USB input ($11,800), and 1521A transport ($12,200). Cabling was Wireworld Eclipse 6.

This smaller system, which mixed and matched components from MBL's three lines, Reference, Noble and Corona, sounded like a smaller version of the larger system in Room 2. While this sounds like a positively idiotic thing to say, in my experience you can sometimes lose important qualities when moving down a company’s line. While this system is obviously intended for a more modest room and perhaps pocketbook, the presentation was very much cut from the same sonic cloth—resolute, incisive, powerful yet delicate when called for. I could have listened all night. And to state the obvious, the omnidirectional radiation of the Radialstrahler 120 loudspeakers energizes the room in a different way than a conventional speaker. I found MBL’s implementation enchanting. Yes, enchanting.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
Yorba Linda, CA-based retailer Scott Walker Audio was responsible for "audio equipment, room set-up & tuning." Solos Audio is the sole distributor for SonicCraft solid-state amplifiers. The setup: Magico V2 loudspeakers ($19,500/pair), SonicCraft Signature stereo amplifier ($3450), which puts out 25Wpc in pure class-A, SonicCraft Opus preamplifier ($3450), Esoteric K-03 CD/SACD player ($13,000), Esoteric G-03X Master Clock ($5000), Synergistic Research cables and power cords, and the Synergistic Acoustic ART Room Treatment System ($3150).

I noted "rock-solid" imaging and a crazy level of micro-detail. "If Dianna Krall had even the merest hint of a cold, you’d know it," read my notes.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
In the second room, the Vandersteen Model 5A Carbon loudspeakers ($24,000/pair) were paired with the Audio Research Reference 150 Vacuum Tube Stereo Power Amplifier ($12,995), Audio Research Anniversary Edition Reference Preamplifier ($25,000), and the Basis Audio Inspiration turntable (no price noted), which that comes with the Vector 4 tonearm with VTA Micrometer, Synchro-Wave Power Supply, Cable Isolation System, Vacuum record hold-down system, and Microthin belt. All cables from AudioQuest.

The Carbon 5A loudspeakers have a 400W subwoofer amplifier built into each speaker and Richard Vandersteen says the frequency response is 22Hz to 30kHz ±2dB, and I believe him—even in this small room, the bass was taut and fast with no bloat to be heard. The sound was relaxed and engrossing.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  1 comments
LA retailer The Audio Salon was showing an impressive sounding system—Magico Q5 loudspeakers ($59,950/pair), Spectral DMA 360 Series II monoblock amplifiers ($20,000/pair), Spectral DMC 30 SS Series II preamplifier ($10,000), and the Spectral SDR 4000SL CD Player ($19,000). Cable was from MIT and acoustic design was by Art Noxon of ASC. (From Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon: "The Audio Salon built a hidden, non-parallel, zig-zagged wall, and frame system behind the curtains for the acoustical treatments. Over 120 lengths of 8' 2x4's made up the 16 huge 6' x 8' hidden walls.")

The room was very dark, the Q5s were set up very far apart and the California Guitar Trio's version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" from their CD California Guitar Trio Rocks the West rocked my expectations, and I kept expecting (and kind of hoping) Freddie Mercury or his voice, would peer out from behind the curtain.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  0 comments
On display in the Legacy/Coda room were the Legacy Whisper HD loudspeakers ($20,000/pair), which include a pair of 500W internal amps driving the four (4) 15" carbon-fiber/pulp-composite subwoofers. I arrived at this room around 4:00pm on Sunday, the show closed at 5:00pm, and I got the feeling the very genial guys in the room were ready to relax. Since they didn’t have a hand-out with model and pricing information, one of the reps offered to write up a list which I'll share verbatim: Coda monoblock amplifiers ($10,000/each), Coda 05X preamplifier ($5500), and Coda CD player (no price given), for a total of $45,500 including the Legacy Whisper HDs. Cable was from Kimber.

My notes read "very immediate vocals, balance tipped up/beaming." Clearly more time and care would be needed to hear this system at its best.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  7 comments
I got to hear both the Audience ClairAudient 2+2 loudspeaker ($5000/pair, reviewed in the July 2011 issue of Stereophile) and the diminutive ClairAudient THE ONE ($995/pair). Associated electronics and cables were also from Audience and included the Wavepower monoblocks ($14,000/pair), a class-D analog switching power amplifier that put out 200W into 8 ohms, the Wavemaster preamplifier ($13,000), and AU24e cables and power cords and an Adept Response High Resolution Power Conditioner ($5000). The source was an Audience-modified Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player, which was not for sale (priceless).

The Audience guys seemed to get no end of enjoyment watching people’s jaws hit the floor, the rug was littered with audiophile jawbones, when they played the single-driver ClairAudient THE ONE, which has nearly unbelievable bass performance for its size. Both speakers actually sounded big and solid with a nice fat midrange.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 07, 2011  |  2 comments
Next up was Digital Ear's MartinLogan and McIntosh room. While I was there, the new MartinLogan ElectroMotion EM-ESL loudspeaker ($1995/pair), which "features both electrostatic and compact Folded Motion™ thin-film transducer technologies," was playing very nicely with a McIntosh MC452 amplifier ($6000), McIntosh C50 preamplifier ($5000), which includes a USB DAC and phono stage, a Cambridge Audio id100 iPod/iPad dock ($1299), all tied together with Transparent Audio Reference Series cables.

While this room sounded very inviting and was doing all those things MartinLogans are known to do, I almost wished they'd used a less expensive amp/pre combo to show off a sleek, relatively affordable system. One of the McIntosh integrated amps comes to mind—less muss, less fuss.

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