This page will take about 40 seconds to
become visible and 10 minutes to fully download at 56K baud.
We apologize for any inconvenience and, if you prefer, there is also a version that has one picture per page.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Day -2, Tuesday,
The Show Starts - High Noon - Thursday, June 5th
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
Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble;
Silent Lucidity / Shunyata
Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; Marcus Miller M2; Rachmaninov.
Sound Applications / Talon
Play list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; New Flamenco; Cafe Blue
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...
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.
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
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.
Tenor / GTT Audio / Blue Light Audio Room
list: Skip, Hop, Wobble; New Flamenco, Rachmaninov.
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.
Immedia / Audio Physic Room
Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble; New Flamenco, Rachmaninov.
Play list: Skip, Hop, and Wobble.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
1. Wilson / Spectral
2. Immedia / Burmester
3. Sound Applications / Talon / Goldmund
Best of the Dynamics is
1. Wilson / VTL
2. Cain and Cain
Best of Balanced System at
a Reasonable Cost Category
1. Silent Lucidity / Shunyata
2. Acoustic Dreams / Ayon
3. Experience Music
Our Best of Show
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]
room (best value)
Rooms we really regret not getting a chance to hear (Argh!):
[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!