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Stereophile Show
Home Entertainment 2005
Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event

By Rick Becker
Page 2

 

  Kam Lueng from Focus Audio was another familiar person from the Montreal show. Here Focus Audio teamed up with another Canadian company, Blue Circle Audio, with a little help from Dodson Audio in the form of their DA-218 DAC ($8K). Blue Circle used their Galatea Mk II tube preamplifier and BC 202 hybrid stereo amplifier, about $5K each. Cabling was by the acclaimed Acoustic Zen company, and power conditioning was by Audience adeptResponse ($3800). What I didn't notice at the show was most interesting. Acoustic Zen Cables are reviewed here while Blue Circle's AG 3000 preamplifier, AG 8000 monoblock amplifier, Music Ring balanced power conditioner, CS integrated amplifier, and BC-8 monoblock amplifiers have also been examined.

The TOAC AS-5 component rack listed on their room sheet comes from one of the Toyota group of companies with expertise in controlling engine vibration and precision casting. Next time I'll take a closer look. The floorstanding FS78SE at $3450 is their 10th anniversary edition that sports an improved crossover, higher purity copper wire, gold plated copper binding posts and a new 7" Nomex/Kevlar Hexacone woofer. But what always impresses me is their gloss burl finishes, such as the burr walnut seen here on the smaller FS68SE monitor ($2050). For all the well-respected components in this system, I didn't think it sounded very good from my chair off center, close to the wall. But when I stood up and crossed the room at the back wall, the music suddenly snapped into focus giving me a much better opinion of this room.

I had a good look at the new Moscode 401HR hybrid power amplifier that puts out 200 wpc. The drop-down front face with the etched glass window that permits easy tube swapping was very trick indeed. This amplifier is available only factory direct over the Internet, but comes with a 33.3 day in-home trial. The introductory price is $4995. Unfortunately my notes are dreadfully inadequate for further comment.

The next room felt almost like I was stepping back in time to the early to mid ‘90s. The Analysis Audio Omega full range planar — ribbons ($15K) reminded me of the Apogee Stage that was so highly acclaimed back then. The preamp was an Audio Research LS 25 Mk II and one source was an Audio Research CD3 Mk II. The Omegas were bi-amplified with four H2O Audio monoblocks at $4K/pr. I had the pleasure of listening to an LP played on a VPI Super Scoutmaster with a Dynavector cartridge. In this crowded room I was unable to listen from the sweet spot that is often so critical with planar loudspeakers. But what I heard sounded promising.

Aperionaudio.com was also at Montreal, and here they presented their very affordable new 5 and 6-Series speakers targeting the home theater crowd. Not only do you save factory direct, but at the show, they offered special pre-order pricing to show attendees. Entry level is the 532-LR bookshelf speakers ($360/pr) that featured their new HD-X3 crossover that yielded a very flat impedance curve. The larger 632-LR model ($598) was said to go down to 45Hz. For casual home theater, their systems may be all you ever need. Aperion Intimus 522D Powered Towers are reviewed here.

 

This being New York, what could Adrian Butts of Tetra bring to the show except his Manhattan 305, painted by his wife in what is called the Ode to Liverpool theme. The Manhattan series is designed for small to medium size rooms and the floorstanding 305 is a two-way, bi-wireable model with a rear port. The column actually extends the volume of what looks like a small monitor on top of it. It starts at $3450 in satin black, jumps to $3950 in various two-tone wood veneers, and skyrockets to $5500 in the custom hand painted version — a small price to pay for spousal acceptance! This model should also be quite easy to move into proper position for critical listening if it must be stored out of the way on a daily basis. The Tetra was driven very well by a beautiful compact Chord system including the One CD player ($6K), Prima pre-amplifier ($5500), Mezzo 140 amplifier with 120 wpc ($6500), all held at the proper angle by a Choral rack ($1700). For a high quality system in tight living quarters, this rig is a strong contender. Now, let's see — Right on red, go on green!

We all know the computer world is going wireless, and some of us know a portion of the audio/home theater world is headed that way also. There were two examples of this at the show (that I found, at least). Sonnoteer is a British manufacturer of audio equipment and they brought a modest rig with them to demonstrate their new Bard Audio system for transmitting uncompressed digital audio signals. The BardOne transmitter is about the size of a USB computer memory stick and contains programming to send signals from your Mac or PC, a CD or MP3 player, to amplifiers or stereo systems within a range of 20-40 meters. The BardOne receiver that looks like a flying saucer about the size of a Dinky Toy attaches to your amplifier or stereo system with a pair of interconnects. The Bardthree is a universal power supply that plugs into the wall socket (with various worldly snap-in adapters), a receiver (of the digital signals sent by the BardOne) and a digital amplifier for powering your remote loudspeakers — all rolled into one tiny package. If this sounds like a toy to you, imagine, a few years hence, a similar version manufactured by someone like Jeff Rowland and costing many thousands of dollars. In the photo, to the far right of the laptop is the round BardOne receiver. The box to the immediate right of the laptop is the Bardthree. And the BardOne transmitter rests on top of the Bardthree. The BardOne sender and receiver sell for $599 and the same package with the Bardthree is $1295. Very interesting. Now hook this up to your digital server with your 2000 LP record collection stored in it, transmit to your wireless headphones, and go mow the lawn!

To get to the next room I must have entered the Twilight Zone. I know I was there because I have some literature, a couple of photos and the business card of Mr. Kazuo Kiuchi, the managing director of the Comback Corporation of Japan which brings us the Harmonix tuning devices and Reimyo audio equipment. These companies are not listed in the catalog, but were located in the May Audio room. Last year I raved about the sound of their Bravo loudspeaker made for them by Gradient of Finland. It was even more special this year, perhaps because of the super-tweeter placed on top of the Bravo. Or perhaps because of their new Royal Stage rack system pictured here. Each stage costs $5400 and a set of extension legs that allow you to stack two stages costs an additional $1300. At the very least, this is the finest jewelry you can buy for your audio system. Quite possibly, it is also a world-class tuning device, which may not be the same thing as a vibration dampening device. The music here was very smooth and open within the limitation of the small driver at the low end, but limitless at the high end with the contribution of the super-tweeter.

The highly acclaimed Reimyo CDP-777 player and their separate DAC are designed to take advantage of the JVC 20bit K2 processing that extends frequency response to ethereal levels. I know I don't "hear" music that high in frequency, but somehow it makes a contribution to what I can hear in the main body of the music. I expect they were playing the JVC CDs to maximize this effect, so next year I will have to be sure to request a selection from my compilation CD. This, too, was among the Best Rooms at the show. I'm sure they will not be sending me a Royal Stage to scratch up with my components, but possibly a set of spikes will come my way for audition. Combak Reimyo CDP-777 CD player/transport is reviewed here.

Across the hall from the Harmonix room, Innersound presented their complete system, with only four listening chairs for only four people at a time. I guess the press comments (I'm guilty, too) about needing to be in the sweet spot have inspired them to limit their access. I certainly hope it worked to their advantage, because in my past experience, their system has been among the very best. Since I had just commented on their presentation at Montreal, I pressed onward. Check Chris Boylan's show report for his commentary on this room.

 

In the April Audio room I had my first look at Stello electronics from Korea. Somehow, I missed their room last year. The music, or rather music video, sounded outstanding. Disappointment set in when I realized it was not the Stello CD player that my friend Robert Hart had been raving about, but the new Theta Compli universal player ($4500-5900) beneath it that was playing. Nonetheless, this was another of the Best Rooms at the show. While the Stello components are straightforward and modest in both design and price, they certainly get the job done. The loudspeaker was the NHT Evolution T6 Tower ($4K) recently reviewed and rated Class A by Stereophile's John Atkinson. Not only did this system hang together acoustically, but it was visually and financially balanced as well — although more so with the more affordable Stello CD player.

The Aural Acoustics Model B loudspeaker boasted a lot of technology and design consideration for a $4500 loudspeaker and the results certainly justified their effort and more than justified the price. The system was a strong one with Arcam CD 23 player, conrad-johnson ACT 2 preamplifier and a c-j MV-60SE stereo amplifier. The loudspeaker is time and phase aligned, sporting a stepped front baffle and individual chambers for each of the three drivers. Inside, the surfaces are coated with their AccuRange™ technology that minimizes back waves to improve decay and transparency. The isolated, separate baffles were also mounted on felt to minimize transmission of vibrations to and from the cabinet. And the drivers mounted the phase correct crossover in the base to keep it away from magnetic interference. While it was shown in black ash, it is also available in cherry and maple. With its small footprint, fresh design, and outstanding sound, I was very impressed with this loudspeaker. In retrospect, I should have spent more time in this room. The Model B has an awful lot going for it. conrad-johnson's 17LS preamplifier is reviewed here.

Rhapsody Music and Cinema presented an MBL system featuring the new model 116 loudspeaker in the range of $17-18K. This expensive and formal looking line with omni directional loudspeakers from Germany put out a very precise sound that does not nail the listener down to a narrow sweet spot. Rhapsody segued from their presentation at the Hilton to evening presentations at their showroom on 24th St. on Friday and Saturday evenings, but I couldn't take advantage of the offer.  MBL consistently presents excellent sounding systems comprised of products made entirely in-house.

Silverline Audio Technology has been forging an excellent reputation over recent years and their new Bolero expands on their success with the SR17. The Bolero is a three-way, rear-ported design with Dynaudio drivers and a wide frequency response going down to a claimed 28Hz. With 92dB efficiency and 8-ohm impedance, they proved its tube-friendliness by driving it with their custom tube CD player (NFS) and the Silverline 300B tube amplifier that puts out 7 wpc ($7K). They also had a Creek CD53 SE Mk 2 on hand and were using a conrad-johnson Premier 17LS2 preamplifier. The music here was very, very good and very easy to listen to, suffering only the limitation of the low power amplifier. Fit and finish was typical of other Silverline loudspeakers, which is to say excellent. Silverline Audio SR 11 minimonitor and Panatella III's have been reviewed.

 

Nobody in this industry is deeper in the trenches fighting for high quality sound at more affordable prices than Roy Hall. And but for one component, he had the least expensive high quality rig at the show. That one component would be the stunning Shanling CDT-300 tube CD player costing $7000, pictured here at the Montreal show to give you an idea of how it would look under low lighting conditions. It looked great in the jungle greenery of Roy's room, too. The loudspeakers were the acclaimed Epos M5 stand mounted monitors ($650) recently reviewed in Stereophile and given a "$$$" rating for high value. But while that rig featured the new Creek 5350 SE MK 2 integrated amplifier ($1495), what really excited Roy was his new Music Hall cd25.2 player ($600) and matching receiver shown in prototype form. These are sure to kick the doors to the High End wide open. On the analog side, Roy introduced the new Music Hall MMF-2.1 LD turntable with a bright Ferrari red plinth and Music Hall Tracker cartridge for $399.  For a more upscale look with a wood tone finish (forgive me if it is really vinyl) he had the new MMF-5SE at $895, complete with tonearm and dustcover. No excuses for not taking the plunge into vinyl in this room. In fact, even those deeply committed to LP playback found something of interest in the $2595 Whest Audio PS.20 photo stage with external power supply so highly praised by Michael Fremer, The Absolute Sound and others.

 

Last year I suggested that we would be hearing more about Hyperion Sound Design and sure enough, my own editor picked up their HPS 938 monitor and HPS 938L bass units for review in the Superior Audio section of our e-zine. The gloss black version now goes for $4500, and I'm becoming a little more accepting of the somewhat awkward styling of this two-box configuration. This year they've added a Birdseye maple option for an additional $1500. After Steve's rave review, I paid even closer attention this year and loved the music in this room even more. Most likely, the cause was their new HT88 tube monoblocks utilizing two KT88 tubes for an 18 watt output in class A. These come home for $2800 and were very handsome, coordinating with the gloss black loudspeakers. A single wrap-around glass shield acts as a protective tube cage and presumably aids in the cooling process, acting like a large chimney. The preamplifier was Hyperion's BEC-P25 solid-state model for $1500. I don't expect any flack from Steve in naming this room one of the Best Rooms at the show, and a high value one, at that.

ARS AURES audio is a Sicilian company that produces very fashionable and high quality loudspeakers. With digital music coming from the hard drive of a Yamaha recorder, the signal was sent to a Gill Audio Elise DAC and on to pair of Art Audio Quartet monoblocks ($11,900), each with a pair of 845 tubes and transformers specially wound to take advantage of the 845. The loudspeaker was the floorstanding MIDI Sensorial that is available in a variety of special order paint and wood finishes, but was shown here in gloss black at $19K. The sound was excellent, but exhibited a bit of glare which probably could have been tuned out with some vibration absorbing footers or shelves under the amplifiers, which seemed to be resting directly on the carpeted floor. On stands at the back corners of the room were MINI Sensorial loudspeakers ($9400 without stands) looking either very futuristic or very retro, depending on which version of the Superman movie you saw when you were a kid.

 

The Almarro room was proudly displaying our Enjoy the Music.com™ award for their A318A amplifier ($1500) based on the 6C33C tube, but what really grabbed my attention was the big brother A50125A integrated amplifier (($2950) boasting an octet of 6550 tubes putting out 125 wpc. The tube cage, while minimal, was visually very striking. This amp doubles upward to 250 watts as a monoblock. What I actually heard in this room was Lilliputian by comparison — their 5 wpc A205A amplifier with volume control and input for a single source. This mouse pushed their full-range M2A loudspeaker with 88dB sensitivity with aplomb with female vocal music at the time. The M2A starts at $2300 in MDF wood and steps up to $3000 in piano black. This loudspeaker could be a real bargain.

 

thiphiAudio makes no pretense for High End but aims specifically at second system applications, including surround sound for the bedroom offering one for $999 with a credit card size remote control. New this year was a dual cylinder loudspeaker.

 

Vince Bruzzese, Chief of Totem Acoustics, brought a smaller version of his rectangular teepee down from Quebec. He omitted the home theater and presented what looked like the Hawk floorstander and the Rainmaker monitor, two very successful models for him. His rooms are always so filled that I never get a good seat in them.

The next room brought another friend, Peter Bizlewicz of Symposium Acoustics, whose products I reviewed some years ago. I was delighted to see that he has responded to the market and is now offering a wide variety of sizes of the Svelte Shelf and Isis Platforms for components — and even loudspeakers (Svelte). On the Rollerblock front, the Series 2 is now offered with tungsten carbide Superballs in Grade 3 at a hefty up-charge, and a Doublestack Kit is offered for those who want to sandwich their balls between two blocks for even greater improvement. The Rollerblock Jr. is likewise now offered in a Plus version with tungsten carbide balls for a modest up charge. Symposium Acoustics Isis Shelf And Rollerblock Jrs. reviews Part 1 and Part 2, Symposium platforms and Rollerblock, and their Quantum Platform assessments.

Symposium shared the room with WAVAC tube electronics and the Talon Firehawk loudspeaker. Virtually everything was isolated by various Symposium products. The WAVAC preamplifier was interesting in that it had three separate boxes for signal control, power supply and transformer. All three companies aspire toward tight focus and accuracy, and the system presented clarity in the extreme. Some will love this approach and others will feel it is too sharp an edge for the music. In this chosen direction, it was probably state of the art. Peter treated me to a special CD that was burned directly from the master tape by producer Steve Hoffman. The song was Peggy Lee singing "Fever." I was a kid when it came out, and I remember it well. In fact, in the summer of ‘58, almost every music system was still tube powered — even cars! This was one of the most special moments of the show for me. Naturally we have reviews including the WAVAC Model MD-811, EC-300B amplifier, MD-300B amplifier, and PR-T1 preamplifier.

 

Klaus Bunge of Odyssey warned me in Montreal that he was going to have something special here in New York and he was quite right. Using ScanSpeak drivers in thin boxes, they have developed thin wall hanging loudspeakers that feature artwork on the grilles. In fact, you can send them your own photos or artwork and they will digitally scan it and silkscreen it onto the grill cloth. The sound was pretty damn good and unexpectedly transparent.

High Water Sound brought together an interesting room full of products that are rarely heard. The front end was a huge SE-1 turntable from Sound Engineering in Old Hickory, Tennessee, costing somewhere in the $12K range, plus the Swiss made DaVinci Audio Labs tonearm and an unidentified cartridge. It was on an SRA platform. Note the use of the brass ring at the circumference of the LP and the beautiful cocobolo wood platter. Other hardwoods can be specified. While the brass weights suspended below the wood platter looked very trick, in action, I personally found them distracting while listening with my eyes open. The preamplifier was from the British company Tron Electric ($13K) as were the tube monoblocks ($20K/pr). The horn-loaded loudspeakers were from Horning Hybrid Systems in Denmark, which are in the same price league. A variety of Harmonix and other footers and shelves seemed to be under virtually every component. The sound was transparent, dynamic and neutral on the small jazz combo music I heard on this analog — only rig. It was obviously very carefully set up, and ranks with the Best Rooms at the show. I just wish I had brought some favorite LPs that might have allowed me to get a little more excited about this system.

 

Click here for page 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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