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Home Entertainment 2004
Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event

Report By Rick Becker
Page 1
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Music, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

 

  I make no apologies for the length of this report.  I suffer from the Kid-in-the-Candy-Shop-Syndrome.  You might want to print this out and read it on your lunch breaks during the week.  Forgive me if I sometimes state the obvious.  I do so for the newcomers to our hobby.  And forgive me for my mistakes.  I, too, am fallible.

 

Friday Afternoon
7th Floor

Starting on the top floor of the show, the Goldmund room was unusual in that virtually one manufacturer made everything.  With silver the primary color of even the loudspeakers, it had a very unified, clean, look to accompany the very precise, if somewhat dry, sound.  Very Swiss, though not as dynamic as the Swiss Piega loudspeaker I recall at Montreal in years past.  The little squares with brass inserts on the sides of the loudspeaker are for mounting brackets that couple the loudspeaker shown with a larger bass module that would be offset below it.  As shown, the aluminum loudspeaker on tall stands certainly raised my anxiety and kept me at a distance.  Lots of straight edges and sharp corners make this rig unfriendly for environments with children.  This should not really be a problem because at the prices Goldmund sells for, there are likely to be very few children playing with it. (They will all be away at prep school).  The Eidos 18D Multi-format DVD player goes for $10,570; the new Mimesis 24 Multi-Channel Processor goes for $39,600; the amplifier, I believe, was the new Mimesis 18.4 200 watt monoblock with both analog and digital inputs at $7,450 each; the Epilogue 1 loudspeaker is $26,140, the pair.  As configured, they were running a fully digital system.  While they were showcasing some of their premium gear, they also make the SR line, which is considerably more affordable, but still expensive by more common standards.

 

From Switzerland, we now slide over to France, where I heard the new Prame HR-2 loudspeaker with a statuesque wood body and sculpted wood horn.  What else to mate with this tall, 100dB efficient loudspeaker than a beautiful Jadis DA-60 amplifier?  The woodwork was very impressive for such a large loudspeaker at $12K, with their name carved right into the side of the cabinet — very tasteful, indeed.  And the sound?  With tubes and a high efficiency horn-loaded loudspeaker, it was very smooth and inviting with a great sense of spaciousness.  All I really missed was very deep bass and a glass of red wine from France.

 

 

From Ontario, Canada came Focus Audio with their FS888 loudspeaker in piano burr oak finish at $7750, driven by Blue Circle Audio electronics, also from Ontario.  The source was a Sony CD player, 999ES modified by Audience, a California firm.  Coming only two months after the Montreal show, this was a familiar sound, and an easy one to listen to.

The Focus loudspeakers are among my favorites both acoustically and visually.  Blue Circle's brand new BC 206 stereo hybrid power amp ($10K), configured in the vertical array that is so en vogue lately, easily drove the Focus loudspeaker with its 180 watts per channel.  This amp will be available in custom colors for those who wish to integrate it with the décor of their listening room.  A nice poster revealed the inner architecture of the amplifier — something other manufacturers might consider doing in the future, for use at shows, as well as point of sale.  This was the world premier of the BC 206.

 

 

The Living Voice OBX-R showed up once again in gorgeous cabinets driven by the very cleverly designed short stack rack of Chord electronics featuring their new Blu CD transport feeding their DAC 64, which I reported on in my Montreal show report, where the Chord was driving a Neat loudspeaker.  The sound here in New York was also very respectable.

Brinkmann combined their turntable and electronics (with the help of an EAR 324 phonostage, $4K) to drive Marten Design's Coltrane Alto loudspeaker with ceramic midrange and tweeter, and a downward firing woofer, $24K.

I seem to remember the Brinkmann/Eggleston Works room sounding a little a little better at the Montreal show earlier this year, but this, too, was certainly a very good room.  Cabling was of the expensive variety, as you might expect, from Jorma Design Cables.

 

 

Thor Audio manufactures one of the most beautiful lines of audio equipment in the industry, with circular black chassis and polished brass surfaces to highlight the faceplates.  This equipment would be at home in the finest of homes.  The music was first rate, too, with an Electrocompaniet CD player and WHT loudspeaker complementing the Thor preamplifier and 60 watt monoblocks.  A third monoblock, their equally beautiful150 watt beast, was on silent display, because its mate suffered shipping damage en route to the show.  In the confines of the hotel room, their Plan B was plenty sufficient.

The WHT loudspeaker was new to me, and seemed worthy of further investigation.  The electronics were supported on Equaracks — a tall one for the source and preamplifier, and short ones for the monoblocks.  These racks seemed much more substantial in person than what I envisioned from their website, though aesthetically, they were clearly out-classed by the Thor electronics.  Note the Thor logo etched in the vertical glass that shields the power tubes.

 

 

South America is hardly considered a bastion of high-end equipment, but its brightest star, Audiopax, is certainly world class.  It was a pleasure to meet Eduardo DeLima in the Rhapsody Music & Cinema room and experience his Model 88 monoblock amplifiers for the first time.  These 30 watt amplifiers go for $12,990 in chrome and $9490 in black lacquer.  A special Timbre Lock feature allows adjustment of timbre and definition for different loudspeaker.  The system began in a Zanden 2000 P (Premium) transport that includes AES/EBU, BNC and an I2S to mate perfectly with the new Zanden 5000 Signature 16-bit DAC.  The 5000 Signature now includes a phase inversion switch — a feature some experienced audiophiles would like to see become more universal.  The Zanden seeks perfection in the Redbook standard, without resorting to re-sampling, whether it is "up" or "over."

An Audiopax preamp sent the signal to the Audiopax monoblocks, which drove the Audiopax loudspeaker.  Cabling was by Kabala Sosna, who I know nothing about, and the equipment was supported on Grand Prix Audio stands.  An Equi=tech Q1000 and Q1.5 provided clean balanced power.

Back in the Real World, I heard mighty good sound in the Music Hall room, replete with garden, coming from the Epos M-22 loudspeaker ($2K) and Music Hall Maverick CD player ($1500) and Mambo integrated amplifier ($1300).  I was amazed to witness the normally sedate Roy Hall leap across the room and turn off the CD player when it kicked into loud continuous white noise, apparently triggered by static electricity.  Roy deftly brought the system back to life.  Perhaps next time we will see a fog machine or a small frog pond to keep the humidity up.  But what might be the really big news in this room was really quite small — the new Creek OBH-22 passive remote controlled line stage for $500.  The controls for source switching and volume are duplicated on the front of the unit, and the remote also includes a control for balance.  Is that a headphone jack I see on the faceplate?  Very nifty!

 

Certainly, the most fascinating room for me, and among the best at the show, combined a most unlikely cast of characters.  Art Audio's gorgeous DM VPS line stage ($3350, $3800 w/remote) and Adagio monoblocks ($18-20K, 44 watts each) powered an equally gorgeous pair of Bösendorfer loudspeakers.  This loudspeaker was considerably smaller and much more apropos for the size of the room, than the large pair I raved about at the Montreal show in March.  Bösendorfer is world renown for their pianos, and have now ventured into loudspeaker with cabinetry that includes an offset soundboard resonating in tune with the main box.  My friend Art Shapiro (Positive Feedback Online) is an expert on piano music and I directed him to give this room close scrutiny.  Like me, he returned several times.  Supplementing the Bösendorfer was a Virtual Bass Technologies (VBT) subwoofer that looked like an aluminum shipping box capable of transporting the entire system in this room.  At least that is what I was told.  There were several other, more conventionally sized VBT subwoofers in the room that made me wonder if I wasn't being hoodwinked.  The large aluminum box certainly did vibrate thought, and the bass was certainly very deep, powerful, effortless and tuneful.

 


Ellis Baxter with Art Audio Adagio amplifier,
Bösendorfer loudspeaker, VBT subwoofer, and show goers.

 

But what made this room so absolutely fascinating for me was the personage of Ellis Baxter, shown here holding court from atop his subwoofer.

He's the one with multiple badges, one of which came from the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, held the prior week in New York.  With my roots in the furniture business, we had an instant affinity.  Ellis is an extraordinary individual with experience on all three sides of the music industry.  Not only has he done major work on the studio and playback sides of the industry, but back in the 70's he was renown for modifying the instruments of major rock musicians in the Southeastern states.  Currently, he is working on developing a high-end furniture store bringing together three disparate styles and incorporating high-end audio in the mix.  If I had only spent the time that I did, studying Gabbeh rugs at Momeni, and talking with Ellis, my trip to New York would have been worthwhile.

Heading to the opposite corner of the ring, I stepped into the thipi/Audio room and heard a reasonable 5.1 surround loudspeaker system for $1200, that includes built-in Dolby and DTS decoders, pre and power amplifiers, all controlled by a credit card size remote.  The petite, space frame loudspeaker enclosures reportedly use molybdenum mixed in with the plastic to improve the sound.  Now, with great restraint, I will not get started on the theft of scenic Mt. Emmons near Crested Butte, Colorado, by a large mining corporation with extensive interest in molybdenum.

The Reference 3A Royal Virtuoso loudspeaker ($4K) were supplemented with the Alón (or is it Nola?) Thunderbolt subwoofer ($1695).  The Royal Virtuosos were held aloft by Reference 3A Corian stands ($750/pr.).  The Antique Sound Labs AQ 1009 monoblocks ($6K) with their 845 tubes made beautiful music with the tube friendly Reference 3As.  On silent display when I visited this room was a Kuzma Reference turntable.

 

 

The Robyatt Audio room was both unusual and educational, not to mention reasonably priced.  Well, I will anyway.  The system was $3200 including a $1779 Tektron 2AQ3/50SI integrated amplifier (less tubes), plus $275 for Sophia Electric 300B 2.5 V tubes.  The loudspeakers were Omega Grande 8 standards, complete with whizzer cones, mounted low and angled up at the listener with Mapleshade solid maple stands.  The trick here was that one can swap out different tubes to alter the sound to one's preference.  It amazed me that he did this without turning off the amplifier, but the amp has a switch that apparently makes this procedure safe.  Also interesting was a rack full of tubes that presumably work with this amplifier.

 

 

AperionAudio.com presented a very respectable and reasonably priced surround sound loudspeaker system at $3200, including electronics.  The $500/pr surround guys were switchable from bi-pole to di-pole.  Enjoy the Music.com™ is currently reviewing a pair of floorstanders, so keep tabs on us.  Equally interesting, if not more so, was Aperion's Home Theater 101 course on their internet site.  It explains all the basics of home theater design, both video and audio and has an interactive component that helps anyone, novice or expert, configure and price out a system.  My wife, Linda, took this course and wrote about it in her blog.  Now dozens of clergy know about it.

 

 

The next home theater took a substantial jump in cost, combining Bohlender-Graebener's Radia series loudspeaker with Parasound's premium home theater electronics.  The Radia planar and planar hybrid loudspeakers were very nicely designed and produced a remarkably stable image as I walked around the room.  The image was not as highly focused, as it might have been if I had been anchored in the sweet spot, but it was certainly stable.  The reputation of the Parasound Halo series is now well established since its introduction in early 2002.  It was in Montreal of that year that I first met Richard Schram, and it was a pleasure to talk with him again in New York.  He shared with me that Parasound will be introducing new models in their regular, more reasonably priced series, and that this series will include surround sound components, as that is clearly where the mainstream is headed.  Presumably, it will incorporate some trickle-down technology from the Halo products.  We can look for their introduction in late summer, he said.  This should be exciting news for many people because this is the arena where Parasound built its reputation for quality and high value.  For further down the road, he spoke of Parasound's need to team up with other high tech companies for products at the cutting edge.  He certainly caught my attention!

Wes Bender didn't really get it that I wasn't terribly impressed with the new Innersound Kaya loudspeakers at Montreal, but I was more than happy to renew the acquaintance in New York.  And I'm glad I did.  It sounded much better here, probably because the listening position was precisely specified in this smaller, more rectangular room.  These line source loudspeakers work best when aimed directly at the ear of the primary listener, and work very well they do once you've found the sweet spot.  Powered by Innersound's own massive amplifiers, with the external crossover/bass amplifier on the floor behind them, there was more than enough dynamic punch in this small hotel room.  But the size of this loudspeaker demands a larger room, as you might conclude from the photo.  Their clean, contemporary design garnered recognition in a recent article on loudspeakers in Architectural Digest.  This article, in itself, represents a breakthrough for the high-end audio industry, as Architectural Digest rarely acknowledges the existence of audio or video home entertainment.  Perhaps audio equipment is finally becoming expensive enough to attract the attention of High Society?

 

Click here for page 2

 

Click here to see a
complete listing of show exhibitors.

Click here to see our 2003 show coverage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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