Coverage by Rick Becker
to e-mail reviewer
Quad is perhaps most famous
for their panel speakers, but they are also makers of conventional
loudspeakers and electronics. The Quad 99-CDP ($2,400) is not only
a CD player, but also a remote controlled digital pre-amplifier with a
24-bit/192kHz DAC with six digital inputs and a single digital output. Also on active display was their 909 amplifier at $2,200, driving their 21L
conventional loudspeakers. Having seen their ads, I took note of
the loudspeaker on Saturday and was not terribly impressed. Dropping in
again on Sunday, whether it was the particular music, or a change in the
system, I was much more impressed with this attractive $2,000 model.
Tondino had a nice looking
under $3,000 two-way loudspeaker in rosewood playing in a room tweaked out
with Golden Sound tuning dots, DH
Labs cones and very nice looking cable risers. Life is in the
details, here, and I noted interconnects with bullet-ended RCA interconnects.
Shanling showed CD players at
$3,000 and $4,000 CN. I'm starting to get accustomed to the nuovo-Chinese
styling here. I thought their $3,900 50-watt push-pull tube monoblocks
were especially nice looking, if somewhat pricey. The sound coming from
the Revelation Audio Lyra 5
speakers ($3,500 CDN) in this system, which also featured a line stage, was
very nice, too, upholding my high regard for this reasonably priced, Canadian
loudspeaker manufacturer. On silent display were a couple of conventional
box CD players, one the SCD-S200 with SACD, the other the HIT Audio CD-22 with
a tube output stage, upsampling, and HDCD capable. Each was only $1,899
Rogue Audio has apparently
seen the light. Not only have they leaped significantly upstream with
their Zeus dual mono 225-wpc amplifier with 12 KT-88s, built-in meters and
adjustable bias under the top plate, but they have finally done away with
their crow logo on this model. Of course, in this more
aesthetically pleasing and powerful neighborhood, the price is $6,000. The Zeus powered Meadowlark's
flagship Blue Heron2 loudspeaker with ease. Also on silent display were
the Krestel2 and Swift models. All featured inlaid wood accent lines
giving these already fine looking loudspeakers additional visual interest and
class, and moving them deeper into the contemporary design camp.
Reference 3A is a brand I've
been following at Montreal for many years and always thought they were pretty
good. Not having had the privilege of extended auditioning that our
editor has, I just kind of left it at that. This year the new MM de
Capo-i model at $2,990 CDN really stood out from the pack. Mounted on
Phenolic stands ($849 CN) and fronted by a Copland
CDA 822 CD player ($3,495) and CSA 29 integrated amplifier ($3,900), the MM de
Capo-i took a major step forward from my past recollections. This minimal
crossover design is exceptionally tube friendly and 92dB efficient.
Also in the room was 3A's L'Integral Nouveau floorstanding two-way speaker
looking like an arc of Corian with inlaid drivers for $8,990 CN.
Antique Sound Labs
shared the room with Reference 3A and Copland and at the time I visited, their
300B stereo amplifier was not in use. Also on display was their The
Absolute Sound award winning Hurricane monoblocks at $6,500 CN, as well as a
couple of interesting tube powered headphone amplifiers. I would hear
the Hurricanes later on in the Coincident Speaker Technology room on Sunday.
RL Acoustiques has been
making horn loaded single driver speakers for quite a while, and I have been
pretty iffy about them in the past, sometimes loving them, sometimes feeling
like they were just too over priced. This year Robert Lamarre pushed me
into the "loving" camp with a new smaller model, the LamPipe, at
$4,950 CDN, about half the price of his larger models. And they seemed
to sound just as good as their larger brethren, as best I could recall. Of
course, it couldn't hurt that they were driven by Tenor
monoblocks fed directly from the CD player.
P.E. Leon played their $4,000
Enzo loudspeaker with Naim
electronics this year.
And I heard the two-way, stand mounted Gala-Solo
loudspeaker ($3,500 CN) played with Simaudio
Arcam and Ruark
combined in a $40,000 home theater presentation that did justice to Diana
Krall. But it was an Arcam FMJ CD player feeding a dCS
DAC that ultimately fed an Acoustic Energy
AE-1 Mk III loudspeaker that perked up my ear. This stand mounted
two-way monitor is steel lined with an aluminum baffle and real wood cabinet
and lists at $5,000 CN. "Stimela" was a familiar reference
recording for me here, and it must have been playing in at least a dozen other
rooms I visited.
A Rega K-9 turntable at $6,000
CN was idle when I visited the room, unfortunately. It looked pretty
much like the Planar 25 model and was highlighted by an orange LP going round
D-Box was playing their iliad
T1 loudspeaker, with two 6.5" drivers with a textile dome tweeter between
them ($1,100 CDN). I believe a Sherwood Newcastle was driving this affordable entry-level
JM Lab and Parasound
combined for a first class cinema presentation, complete with a front
projection video rig. But unfortunately, being in the dark, I was in the
dark. Presumably it included the Halo C-1 controller that was introduced
at the press conference earlier.
Another very high quality surround presentation combined bel
canto electronics from Minneapolis with ASW
(Accurate Sound Wave) loudspeakers from Germany. bel canto is rapidly
reinventing itself as a top player in home theater and high definition
surround sound. The Genius line of loudspeakers from ASW includes a
variety of models utilizing various combinations of the same mid-woofer
driver, and the same tweeter, plus a separate subwoofer. Using a wide
variety of wood finishes with real wood veneer cabinetry; these loudspeakers
should fit in almost anywhere. Their contemporary metal stands
include a clamping system that is supposed to keep the stand from vibrating.
The sound in this room was excellent.
In a room with more light, once again this year, YBA
electronics were teamed up with a high end JM
Lab loudspeaker. It is a difficult, rather large space
that opens into an adjacent room where other components are on silent display
and other show goers seem to always be talking. The Utopia Nova BE in
light wood, at $50,000 CN, was the featured loudspeaker this year,
representing the new Utopia line with Beryllium tweeters. I had
heard the next model down, the Alto BE at $25,000 CN, upstairs earlier in the
day, and was very impressed with it. But this room has always seemed to
be under-whelming to me. The young woman attending the equipment said,
"Oh, we've got that!" when I asked her to play my Burmester copy of
"Stimela." "We've been playing it all day long," she
added as she left the room after starting the CD. I couldn't resist.
With maybe one other person in the room, I went over, found the remote, and
boosted the volume to something just a little bit louder than live, had Hugh
Masekela been playing in the room. Voila', the system came ALIVE, like
toys in Toy Story! So this
is why people rave about the Utopias! (Not to forget the wonderful YBA
electronics that were driving it). The next day, in the Four Points
Hotel, I would have a chance to hear one of the old series Utopias being
offered at a closeout price. While the older model is still an excellent
loudspeaker, the new BE series is clearly more transparent and more dynamic,
while losing none of the fine qualities of the preceding generation. Of
course, the volume had to "get real" for that to become evident.
Count me as a fan.
The Utopia BE line has expanded to indulge wealthy home theater devotes.
Starting at the top, the Grand Utopia BE, about 6' tall, list for $120,000
CDN, the Nova @ $50,000, the Alto @ $25,000, the Diva @ $15,000, the Micro @
$8,5000, and the Center @ $7,000 CDN. Of particular interest is the way
the tweeter and midrange are housed in their own separate cabinets on the
Grand Utopia. Hence, you could actually see right through the speaker,
above and below the tweeter cabinet, reminding me, in a fashion, of the
isolation afforded in the multi-tiered Halcro amplifiers. Other models
of the Utopia BE line had similar, if not so extensive separation of drivers.
Returning to earth, across the hall was a modest $6,000 system composed of Roksan
components driving Vandersteen
2CE Signature loudspeakers. I've become a Vandersteen fan since the
Signature series brought the focus up to contemporary standards. This
system rocked at a price that
people who like to rock (or hip hop), can afford.
Proac was in its usual room
at the Delta with a new Lexicon
surround processor. But what differed this year, instead of doing
surround with large and expensive Proac models, they premiered a new small box
system that seemed to work as good as the bigger rigs I have heard there in
the past. For $7,000 CDN you get five small speakers and a sub, all in the
expected real wood cabinets that Proac is known for. And of course, not
that I pay an enormous amount of attention to home theater, Lexicon is a big
name player in that league.
LG, the contemporary
stainless steel refrigerator manufacturer, were also at the show. Not only
with their refrigerators, (which had been picked bone dry by the time I found
them), but a department store full of big screen and LCD TV's. Just as
the kitchen--and the outdoor stainless steel kitchen--is developing a
"High-End" of it's own, LG tackles touch screen TV and enters
television land. Never underestimate the wife acceptance factor of
stainless steel appliances. Guard your audio dollars carefully.
And remember, you heard this warning here first.
Among the many smaller booths in one of the conference rooms I encountered
Anthony Padilla who presented a smoke and mirror comparison of his Exactpower
EP15A that corrects both voltage and waveform variations without
current limitation. His "noise sniffer" compared
the EP15A with a number of competing products and convinced me that I would
love to get my hands on a review sample to try on my various dedicated and
Wandering into the Salon Vivaldi, one of the larger rooms, which seldom
seems to have a satisfactory rig, I was immersed in rather fine music this
time. The room also seemed a bit smaller than I recalled--perhaps
because I now have a larger listening room that is about two-thirds the volume
of this one. Also, there were relatively few people in it at this late
hour on Saturday, making it a bit livelier than usual. (There were also
about a dozen other pairs of speakers at one end of the room that probably
suck up a good bit of the acoustic energy). Totem
Acoustic Winds were being driven by conrad-johnson
electronics. Lew Johnson came over to me as I started to make my video
notes and explained this was the North American premier of his new Premier 140
tube amplifier with the new 6550C tubes. It debuted in silence at CES,
and was being publicly heard for the first time at this show. For $6,795
US, it comes as a 140-wpc stereo amplifier, or a single 280-watt monoblock, as
it was being used to drive the Totems. Lew took me over and showed me how easy
it was to bias the tubes with a meter and a self-contained screwdriver hidden
under a top panel of the amplifier--very neat. The styling is typical of
conrad-johnson gear. The ART pre-amplifier updated the corporate look a
few years ago, but it is still reserved, tasteful and classic. The music
being played was classical, too, but what I really wanted to hear was some
classic rock or blues. Unfortunately, the people were listening so
intently that I didn't want to drive them from the room. Color me
polite. My time will come.
Across the hall I finally met up with Vince Bruzzese of Totem
Acoustics, winding things down at the end of the day in his stereo
demonstration room. I promised I'd be back on Sunday to talk to him about his
new Lynx surround speakers and Thunder subwoofer. I never made it back, but I
did spend enough time in the Totem surround room that evening to know I wanted
to hear more. Vince sounded almost apologetic about making these
surround sound oriented products, because "It's what the people
want," but I think he's got a couple of winners here. The surround
speaker is switchable from dipole to bipole, and the sub features a main
driver and two passive radiators, plus 280 watts. For those who decorate
in a country or traditional style, this is one of the few brands on the market
that fit in unobtrusively. Plus, it also fits contemporary design in an
Seeking a little solitude, I wandered into the Sony
area and found myself in a little room devised with curtains listening to the
surround sound SACD of Dark Side of the
Moon. Perhaps it was the lack of hard walls, but the
presentation was only moderately engaging. I would hear other, much more
expensive, surround presentations the next day that would take the format to a
Stopping back at my room I dropped off my literature, charged my camcorder
battery and watched Kansas beating somebody else in the Elite Eight round of
the Big Dance. Little did I know at the time they would go on to face my
favorite, Syracuse, in the finals.
I dropped back to the Delta for the cocktail hour for presenters and the
press that Marie-Christine Prin so graciously provides each year. After
thanking her for linking the HiFiexpo.com show site with the show reviews on
Enjoy the Music.com™, I found one of my many favorite Canadian beers, and
enjoyed talking with some people I had met earlier in the day, and some I
would encounter again on Sunday.
The weather was mild at this year's show, and I spent some enjoyable time
walking around this upscale area, window-shopping after dinner. The jazz club
I wanted to drop in on had closed down (for renovations)?
motorcyclist rode down the main drag. A telephone call home made me want
to be both places at once.
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complete listing of show exhibitors.
Click here to see last
year's show coverage.