This was a unique sounding system, with remarkable detail and accurate timbre, especially with wind, brass, and stringed instruments. Tom and snare drums had both an organic weight and impact as well. Listening to Dave Brubeck's Time Out, piano was smooth and organic, and with Santana's "Oye como va," from Abraxas, the individuality of each percussion strike was exceptional, as was its weight.
As I mentioned, the Larson line is something unique, as their distinctively angle mounted tweeter, and the overall approach to the driver installation and placement allow these speakers to be placed directly against the wall behind them. And while the soundstage had good height and width, I suspect that even with that proximate wall placement being part of the design objective, being so close to the wall had something to do with the slightly limited depth. Overall, this system sounded slightly to the brighter side of neutral.
The Montgomery room, just off the large Atrium area, featured one of my longtime favorites, and a standard-setting speaker, the Legacy Focus SE. Legacy was also introducing a new powered monitor (500 Watts internal), the Calibre XD in a black pearl finish ($7,230). Most of my listening while in the room was done with the well-known (though continually upgraded) Focus, now in the SE edition, in their stunning looking Cabernet finish ($11,990/pr.).
Using a laptop to stream files, or in this case, to play my CD, the Legacy Wavelet DAC/Preamp ($4,950) sent the signal on to the Raven Silhouette Mk 2 Reference Preamplifier ($13,995), then on to Raven's just introduced Audio Shaman Mk 2 Monoblocks ($49,950 pre-order price).
Playing my piano recording of Beethoven's "Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor," "Appassionata," by Mari Kodama, revealed vibrant tone color, thrilling attack, and honest texture. The overall result was remarkably pure timbre, good detail, an inviting presence, and great extension in the low end, all with excellent definition.
Moving to the Randolph room found Lou Hinkley's statement Daedalus Audio Zeus loudspeakers ($33,500) in Maple with the base cabinets finished in a beautiful ebonized walnut. The source while I was in the room was the Super Komputer ($8,000), an i7 based Server, using a custom OS and proprietary power filtration and delivery, feeding the new LampizatOr flagship, the Pacific DAC ($25,500). Electronics in this room were all the David Berning design from Linear Tube Audio, including the microZOTL Preamplifier ($4,400) and the Ultralinear Power Amplifier ($12,000). WyWire provided all cabling, including Diamond series ICs and speaker cables, Silver power cords, and their Platinum digital cable.
The result was an amazingly seductive midrange, with outstanding tone color and texture. Dynamic scaling was amazingly accurate, and overall, the system projected just the right combination of body and detail. With "The Man's Too Strong," from Dire Straits Brothers in Arms, Mark Knopfler's voice was eminently corporeal, while revealing exceptional instrumental layering and string definition of his guitar. Overall, the system rendered remarkably accurate pitch definition.
It was The Audio Hunters/Vinyl Revivers second room in 554, featuring the new KEF R Series of speakers, that really impressed. Three of the new models were on display, the R3 ($2,000), the R5 ($2,800), and the R7 ($3,800), but there is also an R11 (at $5,000), and an R2c center and R8a "Atmos" surround as well. They were also introducing the new LSX ($1,099), a smaller, powered, sibling to the LS50, but I never saw it rotate into play when I was in the room.
But, the new R3, featuring the 12th generation of KEF's famous Uni-Q driver, with its 1" aluminum cone tweeter mounted in the center of the 5" aluminum coned midrange, and its new 6.5" Shadow Flare woofer, was in the spotlight.
Driven by a laptop based, hard-drive fed music system, using an all Parasound system, including the P 6 preamp ($1495), with its internal DAC, and JC 5 stereo power amp ($5,995), all cabling was from Straight Wire (~$1,200). This system was very deserving of all the attention it garnered, with alarmingly good impact, open, detailed mid bass, highly neutral mids, and surprisingly good upper registers. These little guys really brought their A game, with just a slightly shallow, but beautifully wide, and accurately high stage.
But it was when Johan Coorg of KEF, who was hosting the room, moved to some classical music at my request that I really got to hear what this little upstart could do. Given its diminutive stature, it offered very good scale and exceptional articulation. Strings were rich, full bodied, and cleanly delineated, overall, giving the R3 the sound of a considerable larger model. Well done KEF!
Walking into the Plaza 1 room on the third floor was a trip, mostly because it was manned by none other than Rich Hollis, of Hollis Audio Labs. When I lived in southern Maryland (1994-1999), Rich was a major player in my listening group, and was in fact, the man who introduced me to the original Von Schweikert Research VR-4.
Rich was showing an amazingly original kit speaker system. Called the "The Monoliths" at $7,500, this system includes a pair of cabinet kits, four of the 12" GR Research open baffle Servo Subs (two per channel), a pair of Bohlender Graebener Neo10 Planar Transducers, and a pair of the Bohlender Graebener Neo3-PDR Planar Tweeters. It also includes the Rythmik Audio HX300 Servo Sub Amps, the Hollis Audio Labs MS-3 Music Server, and the Danville Signal dspMusik 2/8 Multichannel DAC, which manages the digital crossover, inputs, volume, and remote control! That is one boatload of gear for the dough!
Using the MS-3 Music Server to drive the system, employing two Parasound Halo A23 amps ($995 ea.), a pittance worth of cables (Mogami), about $1,700 worth of PI Audio power conditioning devices, diffuser panels, and some GIK Free standing acoustic absorber panels, this room flat our ROCKED!
I heard several great cuts, but with Nils Lofgren's "Keith Don't Go," from Acoustic Live, the vocals were so natural and full bodied I was stunned. Depth was a bit shallow, likely owing to how close the speakers were to the wall, but the images were solid and remarkably accurately sized. Guitar speed and definition was off the hook, as was its exceptional pitch definition, and both timbre and texture. All I can say is that the sound that this fully digital system delivered was untouched by anything else in or near its price range.
Dan Wright, of ModWright Instruments, LLC was showing with John "Fritz" Heiler, the designer of Fritz Loudspeakers. While I've had the great pleasure of knowing Dan since 1999, when he first launched ModWright, I first met "Fritz" at the 2010 AudioKarma Fest held in the affluent Novi suburb of Detroit, Michigan.
This paring in room 312 was one of the most synergistic I encountered at this year's show. Sourced by a Fern & Roby The Montrose turntable ($7,100), and using the Hana SL cartridge ($750), it fed the new ModWright PH 9.0 phono stage ($2,900). I listened to files from a laptop decoded by an ModWright modified OPPO Sonica DAC ($2,900 Mod Only).
This system featured the ModWright HA300, a 300B single ended triode based, pure Class A, 8-Watt stereo headphone/Integrated amplifier. That's right, it was originally designed as a statement valve headphone amplifier, and Dan decided to include speaker outputs, just for the versatility. Speakers were the beautiful Fritz Carrera BE monitors ($3,500), using a Transducer Labs Beryllium 1" dome tweeter and a 7" ScanSpeak Revelator mid-bass drive, with all cabling from Zu Audio.
Ok, so perhaps you wouldn't expect the level of synergy I heard in that room from an 87dB/W/m efficient monitor hitched to an 8-Watt triode amp, but DAMN! I got to hear a Jeff Beck cut from the Blow by Blow release, and this system was pure magic, with depth, space, and air in abundance. The degree of detail, focus, and bloom was off the hook, especially for the system price. Tonality was spot on, with impressively honest timbre and a faithful presentation of musical texture. Wow! Who'd a thunk it! Great job Dan and "Fritz!"