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The Calix Phoenix Grand Signature in the Edge / Calix / Acoustic Zen room

Audio Federation
June
2003 Newsletter
Copyright 2003 Audio Federation, Inc.

'Our 2003 San Francisco Stereophile Home Entertainment Show Report'

The Stereophile 2003 Home Entertainment Show

This show report emphasizes the rooms that exhibited very high-end, the tip-top state-of-the-art. We did try to visit each and every room, but in some we were not able to play our test CDs, some were too crowded or too loud to hear the system well, and some, well some were just not our cup of tea. Some rooms were showing complete surround-sound systems that cost less than $1000. Many rooms were a mix of components and accessories that have never been used together before. Almost all rooms had mid and low bass resonance problems. No room was able to be set up before 1:00pm on the Tuesday before the open at noon on Thursday. Given all this, it is amazing that none of the rooms sounded completely terrible and quite a few actually sounded pretty good.

Some non-audiophile people have told us they find it odd, this show atmosphere of people going from hotel room to hotel room, sitting in sparsely decorated rooms filled with often steamy audio equipment, listening for... what? From our perspective, we are all looking for the same thing. The ultimate system. The 'one'. The difficulty is that the 'one' does not exist - all systems are a distorted, misshapen creature in the image of the ultimate system. They all make compromises. And the compromises we as individuals are willing to tolerate vary from person to person.

The landscape looks like like a wilderness, with many paths from the terribly harsh outskirts (littered with swamps and marshes, some might call it Boseland) to the shining city on the hill: the ultimate system in the ultimate room. The path we favor up this, potentially impossibly steep slope, is one that emphasizes, in no particular order: musicality, enjoyability, emotion, timbral accuracy and transparency. We have our reasons for picking these particular attributes (involving lost battles with early digital, the stress of everyday life...).

Yes, there are those who may like to mix peanut butter into their tomato juice. But I think we as a community can arrive at a consensus that some systems are really not very enjoyable to listen to and are just constructed to amaze and astonish with feats of sonic wizardry. Over prolonged periods of listening, and over the course of time, these systems often become a burden and a curse.

Almost everyone has cried during a musical passage, or experienced euphoria, or garnered hope. Often this might be while in a car listening to the radio or in a movie theater on sub-standard audio equipment. What we seek is to reproduce these feelings... on demand... by the assembling of very high quality audio components into a system that can create music that reminds us of who we are and of the sublime, unflappable, damnable, godlike nature of the human spirit. All at the touch of the 'play button' (or the lowering of the tonearm).

Overview

Sure is great to be back to normal after feeling like 2 ears on a stick for 4 days...

My wife (Neli, who assisted with this report and took all the photos) and I attended the Home Entertainment Show 2003 at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square in downtown San Francisco. The hotel is about 100 years old and has been the venue for many historical events. The rooms have extensive architectural details including multiple shades of paint and wallpaper to emphasize the ceiling and all moldings. The sound of the city outside of the hotel only intruded a few times per hour - so it was not really an issue. The weather the first 2 days before the show was a delightful 71 degrees. But that was just a spoiler as the rest of the show the temperature hovered in the low to mid 60s (during daylight hours, then dipped into the 50s after sunset - and it is almost always windy).

The Westin St. Francis is both a good and bad place for the HE show. On the positive side: it has very wide hallways that minimize crowd congestion (though on the 2nd floor, the crowds were such that there was still quite a bit of hallway congestion, especially on Saturday). Also, the walls and floors are substantial, minimizing sound transmission from room to room (in actual practice, the walls were so hard that they transmitted more sound than expected). The architecture and decor of the rooms leant a quality to the affair that ordinary hotels cannot. There were also 3 banks of elevators and 2 stairways, which help speed along the flow of traffic. The negatives were that the hardness of the walls, and perhaps the sizes of the rooms themselves, leant to some serious resonance problems.



A number of rooms did not permit the playing of one's own CDs or LPs. Some just had canned demos like Wilson / VTL and Joseph / Manley and some only allowed playing of one's own CDs at the end of the day (Spectral/Wilson). These systems may or may not sound good - content was obviously limited to those that *they* think sound good. However, it is surprising how often these selections do not, however, sound good.

Saturday was by far the most crowded, to the point where it got to be a little crazy, people going in and out of rooms almost continuously. Whether this was because of the Richard Thompson concert at the hotel that night, sponsored by Dolby and DVD-Audio (free for show attendees), it is hard to tell. We attended the last one and a half hours of the two hour Richard Thompson show. The show was very good, the sound was terrible. Too loud, too many reflections, etc. Kind of surprising for a high-end audio show to have poor quality sound for their own live concert.

We had driven to the show, a 22 hour tour, bringing toys for the Edge room (a pair of Edge Signature One monoblocks). Doing your own hauling is hard work (alleviated somewhat by bell-hops and their carts) but inexpensive. In one sentence or less: the Sierras are amazing, Nevada kind of boring, the salt lakes mystifying, east of Salt lake city is paradise, and Wyoming, well we are happy that it was green from all the rain, and northern Colorado? The smell of Colorado pine and grasslands are intoxicating.
 

The show was on floors 2/mezzanine, 4, 5, 6, 12, and 31. We stayed in the show hotel on floor 10, so we were able to use the stairs to walk down to most of the show floors. There are 3 stairways and 3 banks of elevators (6 in all). The main banks of elevators were effectively unusable do to heavy traffic during the show. The 2nd floor and 31st had most of the big exhibits (Pipedreams/VAC, McIntosh, Wisdom, Wilson/VTL, Joseph/Manley). Registration, retail music booths, and the concert hall were on also on the 2nd/mezzanine floors. Also of note was the large Wilson/Spectral suite on the 12th floor.


Most rooms continue to tweak and improve their performance each day of the show, sounding their best on the very last day. Certainly if one goes to a room the first day and the sound is excellent, then one's visit was worth one's investment of time (and, oh yes, there is not enough time to visit all of the rooms, never mind the subset of rooms that one really would like to hear, and so time is one's most important resource at a show, that and a good pair of comfortable shoes). We 'tried' to make very quick visits to all of the rooms we really would like to hear (running shoes may be of help here), and then set aside specific time on the last day to re-hear the rooms that had problems that first day. The intervening 2 days can be spent doing business (if any) and just browsing the rooms, looking for the 'surprise hits', those rooms that are unexpected (to us anyway) 'standouts' (because of the large number of rooms, word of mouth is a very important factor in finding those surprise hits and for this we also rely heavily on the daily posts on Audiogon, Audio Asylum and EnjoyTheMusic.com).

Disclamer: We are dealers for Acapella Audio Arts, Acoustic Dreams, Audio Aero, Edge Electronics, Lamm, Nordost, Shunyata, SoundLAB, and RixRax. We do try to be as honest (and some may say ruthless) as always regards our reporting the sound of these lines at the conferences, whether they sounded fantastic or completely sucked, but we must necessarily hold back (some :-) on our exuberance, or perhaps even disappointment, in the name of good taste, when referring to these lines or their direct competitors.


Ubiquitous components: Actually, this year there did not seem to be any brand of a traditional component that seemed to be present in more than its share of rooms. One thing we did notice though was an unusually  large number of turntables at the show.
And the Rives room treatment device was found in an increasing number of rooms as the show went on.

Unfortunately, we do not appear to have any pictures of the Rives box. Many rooms added a Rives box during the show, as the problems with room resonances were found to be incessant and intolerable and very difficult to defeat using traditional techniques. The Rives box, which can attenuate a number of different frequencies simultaneously, for one or both channels, helped immensely to reduce the in-room resonances. However, it also unwittingly alters the other frequencies as well (how can it be avoided) and one op-amp is always present in the signal path, even in bypass mode. And when not in bypass mode, there is a slight compression of the microdynamics and a slight dulling of the overall sound.

Missing components: Halcro, Audio Research, Magnepan, Acapella, SoundLAB, EgglestonWorks, Rockport, Rowland, Thiel, Piega, most of MBL.


Test CDs: Jerry Douglas, et. al., Skip, Hop and Wobble (track 1), Gypsy Passion - New Flamenco [Narada] (track 1), Vladimir Ashkenazy - Rachmaninov Piano Concertos 2 & 3 (track 1) [Decca Legends], Patricia Barber - Cafe Blue, dual layer SACD (track 1), Marcus Miller - M2

Pre-SHOW Highlights

Day -2, Tuesday, June 63rd

Lots of uncrating, setting up room treatments, complaining (justifiably so) about the difficulty of having to optimize one or more sound systems in just 2 days. Many of the exhibitors were not familiar with the Westin St. Francis. Also, many rooms were of unexpected sizes, always smaller than the expected dimensions. Most slave away until the early morning hours trying do the best they can in the time allotted and with the materials available.

Day -1 Wednesday, June 4th

Most systems are up and running. Optimization phase commences (and continues throughout the duration of the show).
 

The Show Starts - High Noon - Thursday, June 5th

 

The Edge Electronics/Calix/Acoustic Zen Room

This room had a big, enjoyable, transparent sound. Slightly unpredictable imaging, sound-staging and frequency response. But it was fun, dynamic and smooth and many of the above issues would likely diminish significantly in a bigger room and by positioning the listener in the far-field (versus the near-field which was the case here). Being very familiar with the amps used in this room (we supplied the amps) we were in a relatively good position, experience wise, to evaluate the cabling and source and speakers. Taking the room acoustics into account - it was nice to 'hear' that they all preformed quite well - that they all performed like troopers. Associated equipment: Edge Signature One monoblocks and Signature One 6 channel/2 channel preamp, Audio Note CDT-Two transport and DAC 3.1x, Calix Phoenix Grand Signature speakers


Audio Vision / Audio Aero / Hovland / Triangle Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble;
The sound in this room was OK, but given that we really like the sound of the Audio Aero and Hovland HP-200 pre and Radia amp, we felt that the speakers may not have been up to the same level of performance as the rest of the components. Redbook CD performance on the AA Prestige appears to be quite similar to the Capitole Mk II. Associated equipment:: Audio Aero Prestige CD/SACD player, Hovland HP200, Triangle Magellan speakers

 

Silent Lucidity / Shunyata Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; Marcus Miller M2; Rachmaninov.
A number of systems had a consistent, top to bottom, across the board quality. They did not do anything really bad, but also did not reach the state of the art in any specific category. These well-balanced systems puts them dead center on the path to 'the ultimate/the one' system. A little grainy (mostly evident when played too loud), lots of bass with more than average detail, even response top to bottom except for perhaps a slight mid-bass hump. Somewhat transparent, this system sounded better than expected: the new JM Lab speakers, and specifically their beryllium tweeters, along with the new Shunyata Hydra, cables and power cords, made this system a viable contender. We also listened to the other room with the larger JM Lab speakers; but it was in a smaller room and with that slight mid-bass JM Lab hump, with the room resonance problems in that hotel - it was unfair to even attempt to evaluate it critically. Associated equipment: JM Lab Alto Utopia, Elecrocompaniet CD player and preamp, Manley 250 monoblocks, Shunyata Hydra Model-8 and cabling, Rives PARC.
 

Sound Applications / Talon Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; New Flamenco; Cafe Blue
This room is hard to pin down. We played our disks, and the music sounded nice, but nothing stood out. It wasn't especially musical, or transparent, or dynamic... though we could tell that the Goldmund was a very quick amplifier and that the Goldmund source components were fairly detailed and non fatiguing. There just was nothing here that appealed to us in an emotional sense that drew us into the music. And the overall sound of the system was not so quick and detailed that it pleased our other, techno lust side of the brain (the Wilson/Spectral did that for us).  Associated components: Goldmund 29 amplifier, Goldmund preamp and CD player, FIM cables.

 


Music Lover's Audio / Wilson / Spectral / MIT Room

This room only allowed the playing of attendee CDs after 3:00pm. Top of the line Spectral paired with the Wilson Watt/Puppy 7. Kind of a strange system layout within the room. Very aesthetic, and very likely the best arrangement to optimize the sound, but it allowed for only 3 people to hear the system from anywhere near the sweet spot. Detailed and uncompressed, it was perhaps missing some inner detail and microdynamics, sounding closer to a 'nice sound' rather than music. The hotel was having some voltage issues, at least in this room, the wall voltage being at 160 Volts at one point in time. The other room that had a system in this 3 room suite had the Wilson Sophia and the lower end Spectral and this system did not sound as good and in fact was a good example of the sound that puts people off Wilson and solid-state amplification. Associated equipment: Wilson Watt/Puppy 7, Spectral DMA-360 Reference amplifier.

 

Lamm / Nearfield Acoustics / Damoka Room

We first heard the system with the tiny 2 way pipedreams (maybe 8 inches tall) connected with 2 depth charge subwoofers. Though we did not have time to play our own CDs - so no final judgment can be made - the sound was nice and enjoyable, was able to produce most, if not all, of the music. We later came back to hear our selections on the bigger 'dreams.

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble. Others...
We have the Lamm ML1.1 monoblocks in our listening room - and they, together with the Lamm M1.1 monoblocks on the depth charges - performed admirably at the show (as expected, they are kind of a magical elixir for just about any system - the doubters just had to compare these pipedreams to the same pipedreams that were being driven up on the 31st floor). The CEC transport/Weiss Media DAC sounded somewhat more detailed than the Philips/Meitner setup in the Tenor and Kharma rooms, but not quite as clean and pure. It was slightly on he warm side of neutral (as is the Meitner and as opposed to the completely neutral Burmester separates which are still state of the art, if you prefer your components to be completely transparent).

The Pipedreams excel in large scale dynamics, big soundstages, and large quantities of deep bass. But they lack the ability to render fine detail and mircodynamics that are required to make the music come alive and be 'happy, happy', and, in the final analysis, for the emotion to come through. They also have a big hole in their frequency response between the line array towers and the depth charge subwoofers. All that said, this was still one of the better rooms, as the sound was transparent to a good degree and the macrodynamics were entertaining during the time of our short listening sessions.
 

Associated Equipment: Lamm ML1.1 tubed and M2.1 hybrid monoblocks, Lamm L2 linestage, CEC TL.1 transport, Weiss Medea DAC, VPI Aries TT, Lamm LP2 phono stage,  Nearfield Acoustics Pipedreams.

 

Dynaudio Room

I have heard that some people can get these speakers to sound quite good. Unfortunately, this room did not sound musical or accurate. Dynaudio Evidence Temptation speakers, Musical Fidelity TriVista KWT amps

 

Acoustic Dreams / VYGER / Lumen White / Ayon Room

This room had a nice sound, particularly when playing the Indian Signature turntable. There was a slightly laid back nature and slight lack of detail, and the tube amps used may be a little underpowered in the bass when driving these speakers. These speakers are extremely accurate and will perform up to the limits of the source components with such vigor it can be scary sometimes. The selection of music in this room was excellent and entertaining and the system presented the music in an emotional, transparent manner. Associated equipment: VYGER Indian Signature turntable, DCS, Audio Note M6 preamp, Shunyata Hydra, ASR battery-powered phono amp, Acoustic Dreams racks and cabling, Ayon monoblocks.

 

Acoustic Dreams / Ayon Room

This room sounded nice, and was musical and enjoyable. There is something I really liked about this system - it was naturally dynamic and timbrally correct. There was also something that was troubling - it only happens at a certain, mid-bass frequency, close to the frequency of a male voice, and so may be room interaction as this frequency was a problem in many of the rooms at the Westin. Associated Equipment: Hovland HP100 pre amp, Ayon speakers, Acoustic Zen cables

 

Kharma / GTT Audio / Blue Light Audio Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; New Flamenco; Rachmaninov.
The sound in this room was delightful on simple song passages but quickly collapsed into the speakers and into a limited frequency range on complex pieces. Have been told by a happy Tenor owner that this effect can be addressed by running the Tenor 75 amps off of dedicated 20 amp lines.  Associated equipment: Meitnerized Philips transport, EMM Labs DAC6 6 channel DAC, EMM Labs switchman 6 channel preamp, Tenor 75 amplifiers, Kharma cabling, Kharma 3.2 speakers enigma version, Absolute power cords.

 

Tenor / GTT Audio / Blue Light Audio Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; New Flamenco, Rachmaninov.
This system was the most transparent, musical, and enjoyable system at the show this year. It was somewhat plagued by a lack of bass definition - this is a characteristic of the Kharmas and, interestingly, many of the other most transparent speakers out there). This system had a little of the 'continuousness' (as HP calls it) that we have previously heard only in preamps (quite a bit in the Hovland HP100, and a light dose with the LAMM L2 in our reference system #1).

This is the first time we got to hear the Tenor 300Hp hybrid monoblocks (though these are still just prototypes) . They are attractive, very long amps, nicely finished in wood trim. They have somewhat less immediacy on the Kharmas compared to their smaller tenor 75 brother (a pure tube OTL), though still very good tonal color. We expected and enjoyed the sense of power and control over the bass, but, unexpectedly,  they had a very nice finesse, and perhaps even majesty, to their sound - something the 75s lack, making the 300s seem like a mature, sophisticated evolution of the young fiery Tenor 75's.

The front end was a modified Philips transport feeding a Meitner redbook/SACD DAC6 and Meitner switchman preamp... The redbook sound was clean and pure, on par with the best redbook we have heard. Not as detailed as some (e.g. Burmester, Weiss Medea) but having no sense of smoothing or rounding the notes together as many tube-based DACs seem to do. There was little, if any, digital hash and the notes seemed to come into being and die very naturally. The SACD was better than any digital we have heard, the notes, especially the bass, having a roundness and separation that we have previously heard only on vinyl. There was a huge amount of inner detail in the higher frequencies, a separateness to the insides of the notes that seems to have conquered any sense of digital brightness. That said, it seemed like the improvement of SACD over redbook was more evolutionary than revolutionary - but this instantiation of a decent sounding successor to redbook does make one excited about the future of the digital medium once again. Finally.

The Meitner setup has a quality that is almost totally separate from the usual attributes we assign to music reproduction: a tonal purity that sounds like the pure notes from a tuning fork - as if the acoustic waveforms are generated that match the advance and decay of real notes as the occur  in nature, and this in turn is mapped upon the source data as it flows thru the DAC (but this is, of course, all guesswork on my part). The Linn CD12 had a little of this. Is it natural? yes. Is it what is on the CD? That is an interesting question, as much of a DAC's job is to create music from too little information, esp. when it comes to redbook. But no matter, it is a quality that is probably addictive, so be careful out there!

Associated equipment: Meitnerized Philips transport, EMM Labs DAC6 6 channel DAC, EMM Labs switchman 6 channel preamp, Tenor 300Hp amplifiers, Kharma cabling, Kharma Midi Grand speakers Enigma version, Absolute power cords.

 

Immedia / Burmester Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; New Flamenco.
The all Burmester systems always sound like.. an all-Burmester system. Actually, we might even prefer the lower end Rondo all-Burmester system over the reference all-Burmester system, because it has a little less of that 'company sound'. The reference all-Burmester system has a very, very detailed very slightly warm sound - like their individual components do - multiplied by each component in the chain. For some reason, even though each component by itself is state of the art, and pretty darn musical by itself (or perhaps even in groups of 2 and 3), the system itself comes of as not being very musical at all. The Rondo-level all-Burmester system has a little more character and soul, for some reason, perhaps because its flaws make it seem more 'real'? As always, we would love to see more of the outstanding Burmester digital and preamps mixed in with other systems ...

 

Immedia / Audio Physic Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble; New Flamenco, Rachmaninov.
This room was difficult to judge. We played 2 to 3 of our CDs during each of two visits and got varying results. The system had nice detailed mids, highs that were present and pleasant, bass that was somewhat soft and lacked detail. The CD sound on this system either played fine (though with diminished PRaT), excited a bass resonance frequency (Skip, Hop, Wobble) that made the CD unlistenable at almost any volume, or had an unpleasant almost severe 'etched' quality in the mids (New Flamenco CD). However, other parts of the song, or a different CD, would sound just fine, on par with the best sound we have heard from a single-box player. This ameliorated during the show and was much less apparent, though still present, during our second visit. The vinyl on this system however was very musical and enjoyable - though we thought still missing some PRaT. Associated equipment: Audio Physic mono digital amps, Burmester 001 CD player and 948 power conditioner, Connoisseur Definitions 4.0 pre amp and 4.0 phono amp, Immedia RPM-1 turntable and tonearm, Lyra Titan cartridge, Finite Elemente Pagoda racks

 

Innersound Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble.
This room exemplified many of then rooms this year: play a CD and the sound is missing PRaT, micro-dynamics, timbral accuracy,  etc. Play an LP and the sound becomes much more enjoyable, musical,  and all audiophile attributes are much improved. Sometimes this is because on many of these systems the turntable and associated equipment costs much more than the digital. It is readily apparent that turntables perform better than digital on a dollar for dollar basis. Irregardless, the sound of this system in the mids to highs was quite nicely detailed, dynamic, and enjoyable though still not quite as much PRaT or finesse as we like. Associated equipment: Innersound iTube 150wpc amp, Innersound solid-state amp, Eros Mk III speaker, NORDIC Concept Reference  turntable, Air Tangent tonearm

 

Avalon / Wavestream Room

The Wavestream amps did not have the power to drive the Avalon Opus speakers well in the bass regions. Few amplifiers do. Timbre was also problematic and there was little PRaT. Associated equipment: 3-box Aesthetic IO, Clearaudio turntable, Graham tonearm, CRL cables

 

Quad / Air Tight Room / Transrotor

The sound had good immediacy, but was hard sounding and head-in-a-vice imaging. Associated components: Transrotor Leonardo, Finite Elemente Pagoda amp stands

 

Rethm / Resolution Audio Room

The sound in this room was 'flat' sounding and the timbre was a little off. Seemed like there were only mids and reduced high and low frequencies.

 

Vandersteen / Spectron Room

The bass sounded closed in and compressed and the timbre was not quite right. Associated equipment:: Vandersteen 5A, Spectron 500 watt amplifier, Tri-Vista CD player, Audio Magic cables.

 

Harmonic Resolution Systems Room

The sound in this room had some hardness in the  midrange, the low-mids sounded compressed, there was little or no transparency or PRaT. There was not as tight of upper bass as one might expect from monitor speakers. But except for a little (ceramic-like) hardness in the midrange, the system was indeed listenable. With the turntable, the sound was less compressed and had fewer timbre problems. Still a little hard in the mids even with the turntable. Associated equipment: Rives, Electrocompaniet amps and CD player, Shunyata speaker cable, Elrod power cords..

 

Cain and Cain / Art Audio Room

This was a very relaxed, immediate sound as one often gets with high-efficiency speakers. Timbre was good but there was a little of what seemed like box horn coloration. We did not play our CDs in this room so any detailed evaluation is impossible. Associated equipment: Cain and Cain speakers, Art Audio Carissa, Teres turntable, Orpheus CDP, GILL

 

Moon / Simaudio Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble. This room had a totally portable 'shell' installed in the room, all 4 walls built from metal posts and black cloth. The room sounded surprisingly good, surprising because the results obtained with this less expensive solid-state amp were not as good in a number of areas as other systems we have heard, but those other systems seemed to be seriously deficient in one area or anther that detracted from our enjoyment. But this system was a solid, balanced performer across the spectrum, albeit at a reduced level. It sounded good; though it could have used more detail and PRaT, was grainy, had that 'solid-state' sound, and was only on the verge of transparency it had nice imaging and an OK but shallow soundstage. What this says to us is that these Talons benefit from lots of power. Associated equipment: Talon Firebirds, Nordost Valhalla cables.

 

Silverline / Conrad Johnson Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble. The sound in this room had incorrect timbre, no PRaT and some of that typical early 80s digital sound. Associated equipment: Wadia X861 CD player, CJ Art, CJ Premier 140

 

Penaudio Room

The sound in this room did not perform overly badly, nor did it thrill us. Associated equipment: Conrad Johnson Premier 140 amplifier, 17LS preamp

 

Alon / DeHaviland Room

The sound in this room had a nice presence, but our listening was interrupted by the discovery of friends (Hi Fred! Hi Metralla!)  in the room and we never made it back here.

 

Almarro Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble; New Flamenco.  Using a $250 DVD player as a source, this small tubed (6C33C) integrated amp driving these small speakers, and only using that old, see-through 10-gauge Belden wire speaker cable that we all seemed to have used at one time in our lives, and stock power cords, this system sounded very musical, transparent and enjoyable. Missing much of the deep bass and some of the air of the larger systems - this system did as well as (or better than) systems costing much more . These folks are new but for those who want to get a solid footing on the path to that 'ultimate system' they can bypass a lot of the pain and cost by starting here first. Associated equipment: Almarro Koro-3034A system ($3,500: A318A amplifier and M34A speakers), Panasonic DVD player.

 

Alchemy Room

It was nice to hear one of the Sonus Faber monitors at the show, but we felt that they weren't being utilized to their best effect.

 

Cabasse Room

Big, crowded room, and we were in the back and did not get to play one of our CDs, so we cannot say much about this room's sound except that it seemed like it sounded kind of dull and boring at the end of a long day. Associated equipment: Cabasse Kara speakers, Butler amps.

 

Experience Music

These guys played Led Zeppelin first LP. What a nice change of pace. The sound was well-balanced, top to bottom, detail, PRaT were all present, though not outstanding. We did not play any of our CDs here, and looking at the rack it does not look like they even had a CD player, so we cannot really say much more about this system. Associated equipment: Experience Music "Devotion" 300B tube amp, VYGER Indian turntable, EAR phono/pre, Shunyata cables, Alon subwoofer, Lowther.

 

Nearfield Acoustics / VAC / Rix Rax Rooms

 

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble. The sound in this room lacked inner detail and microdynamics, sounding competent but rather cold and lifeless.

 

 

 

Wisdom Room

This sound was not very transparent and lacked the inner detail and microdynamics to make the sound come alive and be more enjoyable.

 

O. S. Services / Empirical Audio Room

We did not play any of our CDs here, but one of our favorite Louie Armstrong albums was sounding quite musical. Associated equipment: Amazon model 2 turntable, Audion Quattro dual mono preamp with mc phono stage, Audion Golden Dream 300B PSE 22w monoblocks, Cadence Audio Arista electrostatic hybrid.

 

Audio Note / Von Schweikert /Gamut Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble. I guess this system was meant to show the $1K Von Schweikert monitors to best effect - which it probably did. However, the sound frequently collapsed into a small, tonally incorrect midband frequency range. Associated equipment: Audio Note CDT-Two, DAC 3.1x, M8 (!) preamp, and Conquest 18 watt SE monoblocks, Von Schweikert VR-1.

 

Pure Audio / Dali Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble. We only played one CD on this system, and many of the components are unfamiliar, so it is near impossible to judge the effect of each of the very interesting components of this system. The overall sound imaged well and had a nice soundstage. It was fairly transparent, though missing some low level detail, micro-dynamics, PRaT and the timbre was off a little - which robbed the system of PRaT and musicality. But in general the sound was pleasant and enjoyable to listen to, with little negative or unpleasant digital artifacts. Associated Equipment: Dali Megaline speakers, Ming Da MC300B/845A monoblocks, Ming Da MC67-HA preamp, Xindak 5N speaker cables, SEEC Active Signal interconnect, Xindak Pc-02 power cords, Zanden 5000 mk III DAC, MBL 1621 transport, Shunyata Hydra, Shunyata Anaconda power cords, Grand Prix Audio racks, Rives Audio PARC

Gallo Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble. Wildly inaccurate frequency response, grainy, lacking air and weight, but there was amazing amount of bass coming from these little speakers (which now remind me of the robots in the first Star Wars prequel, though they did not have that effect in person). and it was somewhat of a wild (and yes, fun) ride listening to them. Associated equipment: Spectron amp, Rogue audio pre, Arcam CD player, Nucleus Reference III Gallo speakers.

 

Joseph / Manley Room


A canned demo of 10 - 15 minutes in length. The Orpheus transport/DAC sounded nice, i.e. it did not embarrass itself completely when followed by a rather good turntable - which is a very rare occurance. The sound seemed to be decent, on par with say the Silent Lucidity / Shunyata room - but we cannot really tell since we did not (nor did anybody else) get to play our own selections on this system. Associated components: Orpheus digital, SpJ La Luce turntable, Manley steelhead phono amp with line inputs, Manley monoblocks.

 

Wilson / VTL Room

A canned demo of perhaps 10 minutes in duration. One had to stand in a line waiting to get in. They played a number of interesting selections, including a not-then-released Steely Dan cut and a selection on a reel-to-reel deck. We did not like this sound and think that the Wilsons are really finicky about amplification and require amplifiers with more finesse and delicacy. The sound lacked detail, nuance, PRaT, and micro-dynamics. It did have impressive bass performance, though the bass also lacked all the same attributes. Associated equipment: VTL TL-7.5 pre amp, Siegfried reference 800 watt monoblocks, Transparent reference MM cables, Power Bank power conditioner, Wilson MAXX.

 

Denali Room

Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble; New Flamenco. The sound in this room was missing a little inner detail and micro-dynamics, and was kind of laid back and muffled, the timbre was a little off and the sound was perhaps a little hornish sounding. However, many of these problems are known problems with the SCD-1 when playing redbook CDs and this system was nice, if not quite engaging. Associated equipment: Essense amps and preamp, Mobius interconnect, Sony SCD-1 CD/SACD player.

 

 

 

Best of Show

This list is based on the CD performance of each of the rooms. If we were to consider analog performance the list would be much more crowded. Srajan at 6moons.com (our favorite show report) takes a very interesting approach to his best of list. He divides the best of show into multiple categories based on a particular paths to the ultimate system, proposing a sort of separate but equal approach to judging the quality of a system's sound.

If we were to also take this approach, then we would have the following:

Best of the Accuracy / Detail is King Category
[These systems would have made our best of list if perhaps the pre, source, and/or amplification was replaced by a more involving component]

1. Wilson / Spectral

2. Immedia / Burmester

3. Sound Applications / Talon / Goldmund

Best of the Dynamics is King Category
[These systems would have made our best of list if perhaps the cabling, pre, and/or amplification was replaced by a component with more finesse]

1. Wilson / VTL

2. Cain and Cain

 

Best of Balanced System at a Reasonable Cost Category
[These systems could not make our best of list with the change of just one or two components, as the additions would likely throw the systems out of balance]

1. Silent Lucidity / Shunyata

2. Acoustic Dreams / Ayon

3. Experience Music

4. Almarro

 

Our Best of Show
What we look for is musicality, enjoyability, emotion, timbral accuracy and transparency.

1. Tenor / GTT Audio / Blue Light Audio Room (9/10) [Meitnerized Philips transport, EMM Labs DAC6 6 channel DAC, EMM Labs switchman 6 channel preamp, Tenor 300Hp amplifiers, Kharma cabling, Kharma Midi Grand speakers Enigma version, Absolute power cords.]

2. Edge / Calix / Acoustic Zen Room (7/10) [Edge Signature One monoblocks and Signature One 6 channel/2 channel preamp, Calix Phoenix Grand Signature speakers, Acoustic Zen cables, Audio Note CDT-Two transport and DAC 3.1x]

3. Lamm / Nearfield Acoustics / Damoka Room (6/10) [Lamm ML1.1 and M2.1 hybrid monoblocks, Lamm L2 pre amp, CEC TL.1 transport, Weiss Medea DAC, Nearfield Acoustics Pipedreams]

4. Pure Audio / Dali / Ming Da Room (5/10) [Dali Megaline speakers, Ming Da MC300B/845A monoblocks, Ming Da MC67-HA preamp, Xindak 5N speaker cables, SEEC Active Signal interconnect, Xindak Pc-02 power cords, Zanden 5000 mk III DAC, MBL 1621 transport, Shunyata Hydra, Shunyata Anaconda power cords, Grand Prix Audio racks, Rives]

 

Honorable Mentions

Almarro room (best value)
Wilson / Spectral Room (best aesthetics)
Acoustic Dreams (best sound when dangerously loud), best music (tie))
Lamm / Nearfield Acoustics / Damoka (best music (tie))



Rooms we really regret not getting a chance to hear (Argh!):

Avantgarde: [they also had lines of people waiting to get in to hear what appeared to be a canned demo]




See y'all next year in the Big Apple!