News Flash! It warms my heart to see that Mobile Fidelity
is being resuscitated from the ashes of the old company. The head of the
new MoFi is also the head of Music Direct, Jim Davis. The
director of new technology for MoFi is John Wood. They plan to
release 180 gram LPs, plus CDs and SACDs, using the original studio in
Sebastopol, California. You may have known all that, but I’ll bet you
didn’t know this. The new company will be hiring Stan Ricker to
do much of the LP mastering. Stan co-founded the original Mobile
Fidelity Sound Lab, invented the half-speed mastering process, co-developed
the UHQR (ultra high quality recording), and mastered virtually all of the big
MoFi titles. Sharing the mastering duties will be Paul Stubblebine,
another shining light in the LP firmament, and a good buddy of Stan’s.
Tim de Paravicini will be building the cutterhead electronics, as he
has done innumerable times in the past for other companies. Tim’s
overriding goal is that his electronics must be able to reproduce a 100 kHz
square wave, which is no mean feat. (Ask him about it, and he’ll tell
you.) Ed Meitner will be doing the digital electronics. So
they’ve definitely got the A-team assembled here. Releases will be
heavy on jazz and light (if at all) on classical, and they will be aimed at a
broader market than just audiophiles, with plans to make their releases more
affordable to the average consumer. For starters, three Patricia Barber
albums will be released on SACD in March, 2002. Go, guys, go! www.mofi.com.
Press Conference! There was an audible gasp from the crowd
when Mike Hobson of Classic Records announced their new Blue
Note Mono Series of LPs. Many highly sought-after titles that
command hundreds of dollars as mint originals will be released. This
project has been more than a year in development, solving problems such as
what to do about the lack of a groove guard on the originals. Classic
really did this right when they decided to bite the bullet and restore a
Westrex mono cutting system, with a 2A cutting head, and a mono Ampex 300 tape
deck. The impetus for all of this work is the fact that they compared
the results of test pressings from stereo and mono cutting systems, and found
that the results from the mono system were “spot on.” Their first
release is an album by Miles Davis as a young man. Friends who went up
to the Immedia room to hear the playback after the press conference uniformly
raved about the sound. Classic will also be doing a Vanguard
Classical series from the original tapes. It’s great to see that
we can look forward to more classical releases from Classic in the near
future. Kudos to Mike Hobson, Coleman Brice, Neal Jones,
and the rest of the team from Classic. www.classicrecords.com.
The Best Sound in the Show was from Merlin Music Systems.
The ever gracious Bobby Palkovic demonstrated the Merlin VSM Millennium
loudspeaker, ably powered by Joule Electra tubed electronics from Jud
Barber. This system had a combination of aliveness and dynamics,
coupled with delicacy, transparency, and definition that I found absolutely
captivating. The massed choir on the Proprius Cantate Domino was
exquisite, with the business end of the room replaced by a gorgeous rendition
of real singers in a real space. The choir on Winston Ma’s Hush,
The Angels are Singing was reproduced with articulation and dynamic
expansion that were beautiful. And the high-energy jazz track #4 on John
Marks’ Harry Allen Quartet: Blue Skies was fleshed out better than on
any other system in the show. And that wasn’t all. During a
return visit, Bobby brought out the Radiohead: Amnesiac CD. The
low bass on track 1 played through the VSMs launched discrete acoustic blobs
at various parts of my body that impacted with tactile puffs of air.
This engendered glee from Stan and me. Even after 18 CES shows, new
experiences can be had. Kudos to you, Bobby, for a great system, and
thanks once again for your always generous hospitality. Associated
equipment was a VPI TNT turntable, a Cardas Heart phono cartridge, and an
Audio Aero CD player. www.merlinmusic.com.
The system with the Best Spectral Balance was from ORCA Design
& Manufacturing Corp., run by Kimon Bellas. ORCA manufactures the venerated Raven ribbon tweeter in California, and they import drivers from French companies such as Focal, Cabasse, and
PHL. The loudspeakers at the show used the Raven 3.0
tweeter, a PHL 12” cone for the midrange, and a PHL rear-firing 18” cone
for the bass, with the Raven crossed over at 750 Hz. I was immediately
struck by the purity of tone and the utter rightness of the spectral balance
on my favorite choral recordings. The reproduction on this system was
clean, natural and transparent. The speaker system was voiced by Pat
O’Brien of W.A.R. Audio in Perth, Western Australia, who did a
truly outstanding job. The Bel Canto Evo 4 digital switching amp, which
uses PDM (Pulse Density Modulation) technology, was driving the speakers.
This system was a Stan and Dave fave. www.orcadesign.com
for ORCA, and 011-61-8-9242-5538 from the US for Pat O’Brien.
The Most Stunning Electronics, producing one of the very best sounds
in the show, were from the Hovland Company. Jeff Tonkin, a
former professional architect of great taste, is responsible for the
appearance of the highly regarded HP100 preamp and the drop-dead-gorgeous
Sapphire amp. The Sapphire is a hybrid solid-state-input tubed-output
push-pull design, and two were being used in bridged (80 W) mode to run a pair
of Audio Physic Avanti 3 speakers. This system sounded natural and
relaxed, with outstanding timbre and articulation, but also with excellent
transient response. It’s the kind of system that you can sit and
listen to all day. Track 1 of Sonny Boy Williamson: Keep it to
Ourselves sounded so natural that it was almost literally scary.
This year, Bob Hovland and Mike Garges had to stay home to oversee production
to meet the high demand for the HP100 and the Sapphire, but Jeff and Alex
Crespi soldiered on to put on an excellent show. Hovland was one of
very few systems that really stood up during my end-of-show pass through my
candidate best-sounding rooms. It was a true pleasure, guys.
Associated equipment included a GD Transforms CD player and an Immedia RPM
I should also note that Hovland’s highly regarded tonearm cable is
everything that the reviews say it is. My experience with this cable,
firmly ensconced in my reference system for years, has helped to make my vinyl
listening a consistently rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Many thanks to Mike Garges for the opportunity to hear the latest
incarnation of the outstanding Music Groove cable, which just seems to keep on
getting better as new versions are developed.
Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen
The Best New Large Speaker was from Impact Technology Ltd.
Upon first seeing the Airfoil 5.2 loudspeaker, I immediately was reminded of
the Linneaum driver. It turns out that Paul Paddock, the designer
of the Linnaeum driver, also designed the “bending wave transducer” for
the Impact. This speaker is a beautifully crafted line source tower,
covering 170 Hz and up, resting on a woofer enclosure. This system was
being demonstrated in one of the largest rooms in the show, and had excellent
transparency, neutrality, inner detail, and delicacy, coupled with great bass
and a stunning soundstage. This system produced one of the best sounds
in the show, and it was one of the very few that stood up to my end-of-show
second pass after everything else was put into perspective. Contributing
to the outstanding sound in this room were cables from Robert Lee of Acoustic
Zen Technologies, who from long ago I have come to know as one of the most
dedicated and discerning practitioners of the audio arts I have ever had the
pleasure to meet. Associated equipment: BAT (Balanced Audio
Technologies) CD player, preamp, and VK-150SE amps. www.membrane.com/impact/
for Impact, and www.AcousticZen.com
for Acoustic Zen.
The Best Merger of Audiophile and Pro-Audio Sensibilities was much
in evidence at Manley Laboratories. The ever upbeat and
take-no-prisoners EveAnna Manley was showing off the highly acclaimed
Manley Steelhead phono preamp, which has an incredible array of useful
features right on the front panel, and the usual high build quality.
EveAnna was also featuring an upgraded Wave Preamp/DAC (with a new 24/96
board), and the new Snapper 100 W monoblock. These were powering a pair
of Coincident “Total Victory” loudspeakers from Israel Blume.
(Hey, the solar astronomer here ...me... wants to know what happened to the
“Total Eclipse” speakers from last year ... have they been overshadowed by
a newer model?). There were many, many other Manley products on static
display, including the new entry-level Shrimp preamp, along with veritable
heaps of vacuum tubes that looked like they were recovering from a big party
the previous night. The sound of this system was thoroughly enjoyable,
relaxed, musical, dynamic, and F*U*N. The LP reproduction was
phenomenal. The CD reproduction really floated my boat as well. It
was one of the very few rooms where I just wanted to sit and listen. My
hat’s off to EveAnna (not that she ever takes hers off) for taking the helm
of this company and running with it. www.manleylabs.com
The Best High-Power Tube Amps were in the Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL)
room. Luke Manley was featuring the MB-750 monoblock, a monster
of a double-decker amp that uses twelve 6550s per side. That’s twice
the tube complement in my beloved VTL Deluxe 300s. The MB-750 puts out
750 W in tetrode mode, and 350 W when switched to triode mode (which is done
at the flick of a switch). Luke was also featuring the new TL7.5
Reference preamp, a two-box fully-balanced design which is designed to be the
matching front end for the MB-750 and its big brother, the Wotan MB-1250.
Running a pair of Wilson Watt/Puppy loudspeakers, the sound was magnificent
and effortless, with quite real reproduction of the lower organ pedals coupled
with delicate choral voices. VTLs are just about the only tube amp that
will make my Eminent Technology LFT-8s really stand up and sing (many thanks
to Ted Conger!), and I am quite enamored of them. www.vtl.com.
The Most Refined Sound in the show, and one of the very best sounds,
was in the Halcro room. This Australian company builds highly
regarded solid state preamps and power amps, and this year I found out why,
when I finally heard them. Philip O’Hanlon (the US distributor)
was demonstrating the Halcro dm10 preamp and dm58 monoblock amps, powering
Wilson Audio Maxx loudspeakers. He was playing some gorgeous Nagra
master tapes kindly lent by Peter McGrath. This system sounded
utterly clean, natural, and effortless, with a delicacy and reproduction of
tiny inner details that was bordering on mesmerizing. It was obvious
from literally the first note that this system was qualitatively different,
and a cut above, almost everything else at the show. The sound of this
system was astoundingly clean, but that cleanliness was coupled with
outstanding authority. These amps, designed in South Australia by Bruce
Candy, appear to be a tour de force. www.halcro.com.
The Most Cutting-Edge Solid State Amp was being shown by John
Ulrick of Spectron. John designs and manufactures digital
Class D switching amps that operate on the principle of Pulse Width Modulation
(PWM). The 125 Wpc Troubador stereo amp weighs only 12 lbs, but this is
no musical lightweight. Powering a pair of Von Schweikert VR-5 HSE
loudspeakers, this all-digital amp was utterly clean and musical, with
fantastic peak handling ability. John had a nice, succinct explanation
of the operating principles of his amplifiers, all on a single poster. Positive
Feedbacks’s digital guru Mike Pappas has gone full-scale gaga over these
amps. I was intrigued enough by this technology to ask to hear one in my
own system. Kudos to you, John, for your pioneering efforts to bring a
new technology into high-end audio. www.spectronav.com.
The Most Awe Inspiring Solid State Amplifier was from GamuT ApS
of Denmark. Their gracious designer, Ole Christensen, greeted me
as if I were an old friend, and proved to be a sheer joy to talk to. A
system comprised of the GamuT CD-1 CD player, C-2R preamp, D-200 power amp,
and GamuT Phono Stage, running a pair of Magnepan 3.6 loudspeakers, produced
one of the best sounds in the show, with outstanding timbre and reproduction
of a real choir in a real space. I was also really struck by the build
quality of these units. Their faceplates were polished brass overlaid by
polished nickel overlaid by polished chrome, and were visually stunning.
But the real showstopper was the new Gamut S300 stereo amplifier. This
401 lb brute sports twenty Rifa 20,000 µF capacitors, and four 10-inch
diameter 2500 W toroidal transformers. This thing can double as a step
stool or as an extra seat for a visitor, as gleefully demonstrated by Ole.
But the thing that really got my attention is that this beast has only a
single (MOSFET) output device per side. As Ole puts it, the amp sings
with a single voice, rather than with many that slightly differ. The
sound, as you might guess, was authoritative and clean. A full
assessment was precluded due to the small room size. www.gamutaudio.com.
The Best Small Planar Speaker was from Eminent Technology and
the ever gracious and understated Bruce Thigpen. Bruce’s small
LFT-142, which has been in development for several years, is now in
production, and it was sounding quite good at the show. This new small
panel represents an evolutionary version of the Eminent Technology LFT-8
push-pull magnetostat. That speaker has resided happily in my reference
system for many years now, standing up against all contenders. The
LFT-142 creates very nice bass for such a small panel, which led
Stan to wonder where the subwoofer was, which led Bruce into a long technical
discussion of their innovative construction. Ultimately, Bruce plans to
use the small panels as the building blocks for a new large system, which I
can’t wait to hear. Bruce also makes a very nice small planar speaker
for use as computer monitors. It was a pleasure to see you as always,
Dave Glackin and Frank Hale
The Best New Desktop System was from Frank Hale and Jannie
Tsui of Swans Speaker Systems. Frank is the original owner of
Swans, and it was a treat to see him brought back as a technical consultant by
the perspicacious new owners of the company. The self-powered desktop
system consists of two small satellites and a woofer module, and it retains
the gorgeous appearance of the classic Swans loudspeakers. But what
really grabbed me was the sound quality. This little system sounded
better than many of the big systems in the show on my reference Cantate
Domino CD, with soloists, choir, and organ all sounding quite good.
The appearance and sound quality of this little system belie its list price of
$200. Frank, it’s very nice to see you back! www.swanspeaker.com.
The Best Clues to the Mysteries of the Universe were offered by Ric
Cummins of Rosinante and Argent Audio. Ric has
annually been transporting large quantities of the proprietary and mysterious
DarkMatter from Eudora, Kansa, to Las Vegas, Nevada. Astronomers have
now linked this oscillation in space and time to a heretofore unexplained
perturbation in our local arm of the Milky Way galaxy. This mystery has
greatly perplexed astronomers who have been struggling to interpret data from
the Hubble Space Telescope, but after eliminating all other possible
explanations, they have now concluded that it must be due to Ric. His
smiling face will soon appear on the cover of the Astrophysical Journal,
as an example of an A-number-one troublemaker. Nice going, Ric.
(I’d hate to see what havoc you could wreak with a little DarkEnergy in your
What the heck does this have to do with audio, you ask? As it turns
out, not much, and if that bothers you, go read something else. But just
a minute, maybe there is a connection after all...
Ric’s Dulcinea speakers, exhibited at the show for the second time, are
awash in DarkMatter. Heck, the whole baffle board is made with the
stuff. And when used in audio, instead of to perplex poor astronomers,
DarkMatter really shows off its positive qualities. Ric’s system was
sounding smooth, musical, transparent, and authoritative, with an expansive
soundstage. His efforts really show, as it sounded the best that it ever
has. The thorough thrashing that he recently received at the hands of a
ragtag band of irate astronomers must have jolted him into action.
Ric’s Sancho powered subwoofer was handling the frequencies below 40 Hz, and
is said to be flat to 18 Hz. Also aiding the sound were several Argent
RoomLens room treatment devices (Helmholtz resonators that are quite effective
at taming room acoustics). Associated equipment: Gill tubed preamp and
tubed DAC (both available with remote) and an Art Audio Jota 13 W tubed amp.
Ric was in fine form, throwing a great quip off the top of his head when he
opined that: “Karma is merely random revenge without the satisfaction.”
Check out www.roomlens.com,
if you dare.
The Most Effective Use of Primordial Vacuum was by Keith Herron
of Herron Audio. Keith has succeeded where all others have
failed, and has uncovered a source of nearly fifteen-billion-year-old vacuum,
deep under Transylvania, which product he has cleverly dubbed Pinot Noair,
containing only “single crystal oxygen free vacuum.” Keith noted
that “theory has it that this was the pure stuff that flooded the universe
in the instant (at minus one chronon... the smallest particle of time) before
the big bang.” Now let’s see. That means that in the
infinitesimally small instant before that, the universe underwent... the big
suck. Or not.
Sadly, Keith noted that his far-flung expeditionary forces had originally
discovered two mines, the one under the Himalayas producing prodigious vacuum
until it imploded, thus necessitating the arduous move to Transylvania.
From this mountainous region, they transport the primordial vacuum on
railcars, frozen into a relatively safe wet state, referred to as Liquid Vac.
But with the recent slowdown in the market, Keith noted that he has, sadly,
been forced to store large quantities of vacuum underground near his
facilities in St. Louis. So watch your step.
And how does this primordial vacuum sound when it’s injected into little
glass bottles? Pretty cosmic. Keith’s tubed electronics were
being used with an Immedia turntable, the new soon-to-be-available Audio
Physic solid state amps, and the Audio Physic Avanti III loudspeakers.
The sound was effortless, with great delicacy, and a gorgeous soundstage that
floated in the room. This Herron/Immedia/Audio Physic system created one
of the best sounds in the show. In an adjoining smaller room, the Herron
VTSP-1A preamp, VTPH-1 phono preamp, and M150 power amps were running a
pair of the small new Audio Physic Yara loudspeakers, with an Immedia
turntable and Helicon cartridge providing the input. The sound had a
delicacy, subtlety, nuance, and tonal purity that was captivating. This
was one of the small handful of rooms in which I just wanted to sit and
listen. Keith’s impeccable musical sensibilities always seem to have
that effect on me. www.herronaudio.com.
And needless to say, Keith took Best Quip of the show.
Work on it, Ric.
The Best New Small Dynamic Speaker was the Audio Physic Yara,
as heard in the Herron/Immedia room above. This looks like a real
bargain for $1495 list price. www.immediasound.com/AudioPhysic.html.
The Best Use of Carbon Fiber in high-end audio goes hands-down to D.J.
Casser of Black Diamond Racing and Mike Maduras of the Glass
Amplifier Company. Mike was showcasing his new, much more cost
effective amp, the PL509SE.1. It may not have a fancy faceplate, and it
may use a tube that most folks never heard of (the 40KG6), but this 17 watts
per channel SET
amplifier sure sounded nice! Last year I reported that my experience in this
room was the only time that I have liked the Avantgarde horn loudspeakers.
That experience was repeated this year. Stan spent a long time in this
room, being quite drawn in by the sound, and having a blast with his Swedish
Jazz Kings CD. I should also note that DJ’s shelves, pucks and cones
are used throughout my reference system, and they are really helping my system
to sing in top form. www.blackdiamondusa.com
The Best Application of Art to Audio was Emotive Audio,
hands-down. Shown in the S.A.P. (Strumenti Acustici di Precisione) room,
the Sira preamp had a stunning etched metal top plate, signed by the artist,
Jacob Rogers. This must be seen to be believed. www.emotiveaudio.com.
The Most Stunning Turntable was exhibited by George Cardas of
Cardas Audio. The SpJ La Luce turntable is a true work of art.
On a more personal note, George’s contributions to audio, his dedication,
and his concern for the well being of others in the field are becoming
legendary. One particular act of his a year ago that I am privy to left
me practically speechless. My hat is off to you, to say the least.
I should also note that George’s interconnect and speaker cables have been
making my reference system sing in top form for many years. www.cardas.com.
The Most Stunning Turntable (Runner Up) was the clearaudio
Maximum Solution. It can accommodate up to three tonearms, and has a
power generator that resynchronizes the power to the three motors. www.musicalsurroundings.com.
The Best Classic Turntable was the Garrard 501 from Loricraft
Audio of England. Loricraft have acquired sole rights to the Garrard
name from the Brazilian company that did own them, and their factory is close
to the site of the original Garrard factory. Terry O’Sullivan
demonstrated the 501, the “first new high-end Garrard turntable in 25
years,” and the Missing Link phono stage, in the Kondo/Audio Note
room. Martina Schoner of Loricraft and Scan-Tech Europa discussed
some of the company’s ambitious future plans. The sound of the system
was gorgeous, and as loyal readers of Positive Feedback know, the
turntable is a winner. www.garrard501.com.
The Prettiest OTL Amps were in the Tenor/Rockport room.
Robert LaMarre and Francois Lemay were showcasing the
drop-dead-gorgeous 75 Wpc OTL monoblock amp. They were powering a pair
of the enormous Rockport Hyperion loudspeakers which, in this reviewer’s
opinion, did not do the amplifiers justice, because I know how good they can
sound. This company has ambitious plans, and I have always been quite
enamored of their products, and impressed by the high-tech nature of their
The Best Headphone Amp in the show was from Antique Sound Lab.
I had an informative discussion with Joseph Lau Tze Wah, the designer
of Antique Sound Lab’s equipment. The new Twin Head headphone amp,
which uses 2A3 tubes, has two outputs: with a transformer in the signal path,
or OTL. The pre-production prototype that I heard sounded quite
impressive, and it will drive the low-impedance Grados as well as my fave
The Best Modern Interpretation of a Classic Speaker was in the Quad
room. The new Quad 989 has a kind of ultimate purity of tone that is
attention-grabbing, probably matched only by the Raven tweeter in the ORCA
room. I’ve always wanted to hear a pair of Quads in my own room, and
my experience at the show this year may finally get me off my audio butt to
make that happen. www.quad-hifi.com.
The Best Grit and Determination (Permanent Award on the Mantel) goes
to Barry Kohan of Bright Star Audio. Barry’s well known
line of vibration control products are used in many applications throughout
the industry now, and they were scattered profusely throughout the show.
Barry was showcasing his more cost-effective products this year, the improved
Air Mass 3 ($99) and improved Air Mass DVD ($149), as well as the
mind-bogglingly inexpensive IsoNode feet. Barry has suffered tremendous
personal adversity over more than the last year, and it was a real relief to
see him fully recovered. His attitude has been a serious inspiration.
Barry’s products can be checked out at www.brightstaraudio.com.
The Best Reborn Tube Company is the Westrex division of Western
Electric. While this company is not exactly new news, Charles
Whitener continues to lead an organization that makes what are generally
recognized as the best sounding 300Bs around. Soon, the WE274B, a
full-wave rectifier, will become available. Newly manufactured Genalex
Gold Lion KT88s are also due to become available in 2002. Finally, the
company has plans to produce the 212E, one honking big audio tube at 13 and
5/8 inches high. You can take an interesting tour of the Kansas City
factory at www.westernelectric.com.
The Best New Room Treatment at the show was by Ben Piazza of Shakti.
This was demonstrated in the E.A.R. room. The Hallograph Soundfield
Optimizer is a tall floor-standing wooden device designed to work in the room
corners behind the speakers. On top of a wooden post are three vertical
wavy wooden segments, made out of two different kinds of wood, each containing
a resonant chamber. They are difficult to describe in words, but they
did work. With the devices in place, the soundstage filled out and the
midrange and treble sounded more natural. With the devices removed,
there was reduced ambience and naturalness to the sound. Go to www.shakti-innovations.com
to learn about the audio (and automotive) products from this company.
The Best Depth of Image in the show was attained by Randy Bankert
from O.S. Services. Randy is a distributor of audio equipment
from around the world. He was demonstrating an impressive array of
electronics from Cadence Audio and Audion, and hybrid horn/cone loudspeakers
from the Italian company Zingali. The Zingali horn midranges are crafted
from solid blocks of poplar, using a proprietary exponential horn design with
a rapid flare rate. The tulip wood cabinets were beautiful, as befits
anything Italian. We heard the Cadence Audio Canasya 845-based amps (50
W Class A, 200 W Class A/B) and the Audion Premiere 1.0 remote control preamp
with the Zingali Overture 3S loudspeaker. This system produced startling
depth of image, outstanding image definition, and immediacy. And the
room treatment? None other than the bedspread provided by the Tuscany.
The Best Lamp of the show reared its pretty head in the GamuT room.
Darrin and Gene O’Neill of Audiolimits were displaying a
stunner of a lamp created partly from a big old Western Electric 861 tube,
whose filaments were glowing brightly. These aren’t inexpensive
devices, but are perfect for the audiophile who thought (s)he had everything.
I want one. Check them out at www.audiolimits.com.
The Best Visual Setup at the show this year was by Ron Welborne
of Moondog Audio, which is a new arm of Welborne Labs. Ron was
showing his Oris horns from Europe (106 dB efficiency with Lowther drivers),
sitting on top of bass cabinets using Cabasse drivers. They were being
powered by the Moondog 2A3 monoblocks (3.5 watts per channel). www.moondogaudio.com.
The Best CD Treatment in the show was from Toy Shigekawa of Torumat.
Toy’s fluid has been an essential part of my reference system for years, and
his latest CDX-16-3 is his best yet. I also use his Torumat TM-7 fluid
in my Nitty Gritty to clean LPs. It helps when you have someone with a
degree in physical chemistry making this stuff. Toy also manufactures
turntable mats and pucks, which have received very favorable reviews, and I
hope to audition a set on my VPI TNT shortly. Contact Toy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Best Demo of the Advantage of >2 Channels was in the Gradient/van
den Hul room. Ever since hearing a demonstration of what 5.1 channel
sound can do for full orchestral recordings, at the home of none other than
Gordon Holt, I have been convinced that something is missing with two-channel
sound. And I’m not talking about egregious sound-effects crapola that
would have you perched right between the oboe and the bassoon. I’m
talking about the realism that is added in terms of acoustics and hall sound
to well-recorded source material. While in this room, I had a most
enjoyable discussion with A. J. van den Hul about journalistic ethics,
himself a former journalist, and we found ourselves to be in complete
agreement. A most refreshing discussion. www.vandenhul.com
(the fi being Finland, not what you thought at first...).
The E.A.R. room was sounding great, with electronics by Tim De
Paravicini driving Quad 989s. The E.A.R. 312 preamp and M100A monoblock
amps were powering a system that sounded holographic, with great articulation
and transparency. www.ear-usa.com.
The VAC (Valve Amplification Company) room of Kevin Hayes was
sounding tasty, with the new VAC Virtu amp powering a pair of the towering
Pipedream loudspeakers. This was the best sound I have ever heard from
these speakers. www.vac-amps.com,
for the Pipedreams.
The ReTHM/Diva room was sounding great, producing one of the best
sounds in the show (except for some unfortunate voice-coil rubbing in the
Lowther drivers). The ReTHM speakers, being demonstrated by Jacob
George, and the Diva tubed electronics, from T. S. Lim, combined to
create gorgeous timbre, great spaciousness, and naturalness, with excellent
peak handling ability. We heard the 25 Wpc Diva Tian Zhu amplifier, a
parallel single-ended design, with EL34s being driven by 2A3s (how’s that
for something different?). www.rethm.com
The deHavilland/Buggtussel system produced a sound that was alive
and dynamic, yet delicate, with a great sense of a real choir in space, and
excellent low bass reproduction of the organ on Cantate Domino. A
pair of Buggtussel Lemniscus loudspeakers was being driven by a pair of
deHavilland GM-70 SE triode amps. These are unusual amps, in that the
300B sitting up front isn’t the output tube, it’s the driver for the
output tube, which is a Ulyanov GM-70. An unusual setup, but the results
speak for themselves. www.dehavillandhifi.com
I should also note that Kevin Blair of Buggtussel manufactures a very
interesting record cleaning solution called Vinyl-Zyme Gold, which contains an
enzyme that biologically munches all of the bad gunk in your grooves. An
interesting, different, and reportedly very effective product.
Vince Bruzzese of Totem Acoustic manufactures what is, in my
opinion, one of the consistently great line of loudspeakers. This year,
he was demonstrating the Totem Wind loudspeaker, powered by electronics from
Myryad, and they were sounding as beautiful and holographic as always.
Totem has more recently expanded into in-wall and home theater systems, and
the Dreamcatcher 5.1 system was sounding excellent. www.totemacoustic.com.
Lionel Goodfield of SimAudio was demonstrating his Moon line
of electronics: the Eclipse CD player, the P5 preamp, and the Moon Rock (get
it?) monoblocks, with fully balanced differential circuitry. This is a
real beast of an amplifier. Powering Merlin VSM Millennium loudspeakers,
the sound was spacious, with excellent bass. www.simaudio.com.
Jan Jurco from J J Electronic, manufacturers of tubes and
some gorgeous tubed electronics from Slovakia, were playing their JJ 243
preamp and JJ 322 amp (single-ended with 300Bs) into Reference 3A
loudspeakers, a high-efficiency favorite. The sound was warm, natural,
and seductive, lacking only in the low bass. Check out their
electronics, and their wide variety of tubes, at www.jj-electronic.sk.
The Best Manufacturers Missing in Action from the show were D. J.
Casser of Black Diamond Racing, Dr. Bruce Edgar of Edgarhorn,
and Cy Brenneman of Cyrus Brenneman Audio. They all seemed
to have excellent excuses, but I don’t plan to cut them so much slack next
The Best Editor Missing From the Show was David Robinson.
Stuck in Portland was he, poor guy. A lot of folks were asking after
you, David. Hope you make it next year.
The Best Dealer Missing From the Show was Brooks Berdan of Brooks
Berdan Ltd. in Monrovia, California. Brooks is an internationally
recognized turntable guru, audio pioneer, analog maven, and source of
excellent advice and support. My system wouldn’t be what it is without
him. Brooks can be contacted at (626) 359-9131.
The Manufacturer I’m Most Sorry to have Missed is Status
Acoustics. Twice in past years, I have awarded designer Shane
Rich and company founder Roger B. Hassing best sound in show, for a
loudspeaker that Stan Ricker and I both thought just did everything right.
My only excuse is that they were only showing at the Convention Center, and
there was simply too much to see where I was. My humblest apologies,
gentlemen. This is a company that deserves major recognition. www.statusacoustics.com.
The Best Breakfast at the show was graciously provided by Steven
R. Rochlin, editor, publisher, and chief web grunt at Enjoy the
It was nice to be able to meet some of my fellow writers, whose ranks seem to
be growing rapidly. And the tux was a nice touch, Steven (although I
kinda missed the cigar smoking dog slippers).
The Best Evening Social at the show was kindly provided by Coleman
Brice, Neal Jones, Troy San Thompson, and their chief, Michael
Hobson. It is always a distinct pleasure to deal with Colie Brice,
an outstanding individual who is doing an exceptional job as Director of
Marketing for Classic. We also had a fascinating conversation with Neal
Jones, their Director of Production, about all of the things that go into the
record jackets that most people would never even notice. I’ll look at
Classic’s LP jackets with more insight from now on. Thanks for the
great evening, guys!
The Best Live Music in the show? I heard two good
choices. The first was a concert by Crosby, Stills and Nash put
on by Monster Cable as part of their annual awards dinner.
Although the sound reinforcement was excruciatingly bad in the Grand Ballroom
of the Mirage, and these fellows’ voices aren’t what they were in the
sixties, it was great to see them perform a lot of their old hits. The
highlight of the evening had to be Stephen Stills’ guitar playing. He
remains a real virtuoso (even if he did stick to electric guitar ... where was
the acoustic, man?). Many thanks to Noel Lee of Monster Cable for
The second choice for Best Live Music was a concert by The
Persuasions, made possible by David and Norman Chesky of Chesky
Records. This a cappella group has been around for four
decades. They performed at the CES party on Tuesday evening, and sang
Beatles songs, mostly from Abbey Road, using nothing but their voices
for both instrumentals and voice. This has got to be a real challenge,
but they were innovative, polished, and witty, and they really held the
audience’s attention. Kudos to Chesky for having the imagination to
record this group, and for having the generosity to make it possible for us to
hear them live. www.chesky.com.
The Most Collegial Fellow Writers in the show were Clark Johnsen
of Positive Feedback and EnjoyTheMusic.com (great minds think
alike), and Bob O’Neill of Bound for Sound. Stan and I
enjoyed our evening at the Holy Cow, Clark. Clark knows his brews, cold.
The Best Audio Buddy in the show was mastering and musical maven Stan
Ricker. Stan and I have done the show together for several years
now. This year, I thought that if I’d had a tape recorder running
during all of our conversations over the years on the way to and from CES, in
the hotel room, at dinner, etc., that I could write another 45-page interview
with Stan that readers would enjoy as much as the original one in Positive
Feedback. FYI, that article reappears on Enjoy the Music.com™.
Click on “Review Magazine”, then on “Archives”, then on “Factory
Tours and Interviews”, then on “Stan Ricker.” Curl up in your easy
chair with your laptop, and enjoy the story of one of the few true renaissance
men of the audio and music world.
Upcoming Music Reviews
Here’s some of what will be spinning in my listening room soon. The
following folks have kindly given me LPs, CDs, and now SACDs to review.
You’ll be reading about these in the future. Chad Kassem of Acoustic
sent SACDs of Wild Child Butler and Harry Hypolite, as well as 45 rpm LPs of
Henry Gray and Pinetop Perkins some time ago, which have yet to be reviewed
due to home remodeling. I’ll have the listening room back soon, Chad!
Mike Hobson and Coleman Brice of Classic Records (www.classicrecords.com)
supplied the first of their mono Blue Note recordings (Miles Davis) and a new
Sarah Vaughan LP. Joe Harley of JVC XRCD (www.xrcd.com)
fame supplied new CDs of Kenny Burrell, West Side Story, and Henry Mancini.
Winston Ma of First Impression Music (www.fimpression.com)
supplied a new CD entitled “Autumn in Seattle,” plus three new SACD
titles. John Wood of the newly reborn Mobile Fidelity (www.mofi.com)
supplied an SACD of Patricia Barber. David Chesky of Chesky
supplied a new CD of The Persuasions singing Beatles songs a cappella
(see description of concert above). Mark Waldrep of AIX
Records, a new company, supplied a DVD Audio/Video sampler which has two
sides. The DVD-A side contains brand new recordings done with 24 bits/96
kHz mixed to 5.1 channels. The DVD-V side contains the video of those
performances, along with stereo and Dolby Digital audio mixed to 5.1 channels.
I’ll have to find a willing friend with a great home theater system on which
to try this out fully (www.aixrecords.com).
Robert Pincus of Cisco Records provided new LPs of music by
Prokofiev and Mozart. These LPs represent a new departure for Cisco, who
are now producing their own 180 g LPs in the US, mastered at AcousTech
Mastering, and pressed at RTI (Record Technology, Inc.). Check out www.ciscomusic.com.
Finally, a brand new label called Pure Audiophile, started by Dennis
Cassidy in Kansas City MO, has released their first LP. It is a new
interpretation of a classic album by my favorite saxophonist. EntitledBallads:
Remembering John Coltrane, by Karrin Allyson, it was originally released
on Concord. This 2-LP set, half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker, is
available on 180 gram blue vinyl, pressed at RTI. The blue vinyl
requires special pressing and quality control techniques. Karrin Allyson
was nominated for a Grammy for this performance. e-mail email@example.com
The Reference System
And for you new readers, so you know where I’m coming from, the following
is a description of the system used in the post-show reviews. LPs are
played on a VPI TNT with a 10” JMW Memorial arm, a Benz Ruby cartridge, and
a Black Diamond Racing (BDR) record clamp. The turntable rests on a BDR
"The Shelf for the Source." (My Bright Star Big Foot TNT will
be added back to the stack before too long ...). This all rests on a VPI
TNT stand filled with 200 lbs of lead shot, spiked to a reinforced floor.
A Hovland Music Groove tonearm cable takes the signal to a Klyne SK-2A headamp,
then Cardas Cross takes it to a Music Reference RM-5 tubed preamp (using Top
Hat tube dampers). Cardas Golden Cross takes the signal to a pair of
Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL) Deluxe 300 tubed monoblocks, outfitted with 6550 WE
Sovtek tubes. Biwired Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables connect the
amps to Eminent Technology Model 8 loudspeakers, which themselves are
Cardas-wired and mounted on Sound Anchor stands. The equipment before
the power amp is isolated in a walk-in closet, while the amp and speakers are
in a dedicated listening room treated with RPG Diffusers, Room Tunes, ASC Tube
Traps, and a big Navajo rug. Everything except the power amp is plugged
into two Audio Power Industries Power Wedges. Plug polarity is done
correctly with an Elfix polarity tester. A Philips CD680 CD player is
used as a transport, connected to a Theta Cobalt DAC via Cardas Microtwin
(with an Audio Prism Wave Guide cable enhancer), while Cardas Cross is used
from there to the RM-5. The DAC uses a Hovland power cord. The
electronics in the closet (except the headamp) are on a Target B5 stand.
The headamp, preamp, amp, CD transport, DAC, and TNT power supply are isolated
with various combinations of BDR Pyramid Cones, Pucks, and Shelves. Open
reel tapes can be played via a Technics RS 1500 semi-pro 2-track 15 ips tape
deck, the one with the big U-shaped transport (a really good machine which is
used as a transport by Chesky in their analog mastering). CDs are
treated with Torumat CDX-16-3. LPs are cleaned on a Nitty Gritty 2.5 Fi
using Torumat TM-7XH. A Hunt EDA Mark 6 record brush, the best I know,
is used for dry cleaning of LPs. Headphone listening can be done with an
EarMax tubed triode headphone amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD-580s. And
there's some decent FM, mainly used for listening to Car Talk and What
Do You Know (or is that Whaddaya Know?) on NPR.
And as we go off into the sunset... until next year!