Report By Rick Becker
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Roksan had a room
full of turntables, including this Radius 5 model on silent display.
Better known in their homeland in Britain, this brand is steadily gaining
recognition and presence on this side of the pond. In fact, it is a fave
of one of my local dealers, The Analog Shop, in nearby Victor, New York.
Roksan has an interesting line of both turntables and electronics that for the
most part does not reach into the financial stratosphere.
Roksan Acrylic Turntable
ASW loudspeakers from Germany were featured in two rooms. The
system that really excelled was the one driven by McCormack
electronics. The $4,900 CN loudspeaker had a d'Appolito configuration
of mid-tweeter-mid on its narrow face, along with a side firing woofer.
The sound and appearance reminded me of the Audio Physics loudspeakers, except
the ASWs had a metal faceplate surrounding the front drivers. This
seemed to be a very well balanced system, and I liked it a lot. It was
also a rare opportunity for me to hear McCormack gear, and it is much better
than I recalled from earlier generations.
At the cocktail party on Saturday night, I had the pleasure of meeting
Robert Deutsch and his wife, and Tom Norton of Stereophile
magazine. That's my wife Linda, who shares many of my adventures,
further to the left in the photo.
The Project room had a complete range of turntables from their
amazing entry level package at $379 CN that included table, arm and
cartridge — all the way up to the RPM 9 model at $2K CN. Also on display
was their tube phono stage at $700, switchable from MM to MC, with a subsonic
filter and selectable impedance. A solid state phono stage is also
offered for $149. More unique products were their special speed box
controller with digital readout for $700 CN, and a less expensive one without
the readout. The RPM 9 was feeding Exposure electronics that were
driving Magnapan loudspeakers. While not state of the art, this
was a very good sounding room with affordable prices and the music was
certainly enjoyable here. I had a very interesting conversation with
Kurt Martens, from Belgium, about the state of analog. He pointed out
that there are 38 used record stores listed in Toronto. Turntable buyers
today, he says, fall into three basic categories. The first market is
comprised of audiophiles, who are really into the gear and perfecting the
sound of their systems. Second, is a group of people who simply like
music. They started in the ‘60s and ‘70s with records, and never
stopped. But now, they need replacement turntables, since their old ones
are biting the dust. The third group, surprisingly, is young kids, who
see the turntables in clubs, and are anti-CD, because that is what their
parents have. And G-d designed teenagers to not want what their
parents have — except, perhaps, their car.
Connoisseur introduced their second model, a new 300B integrated
amplifier, the SE-8, at $2495 that powered stand mounted JM Labs
loudspeakers that were not top of the line, but sounded great nonetheless. No global feedback, point to point hardwiring, and 300B auto bias circuitry,
all in a stainless steel chassis. This young company plans to introduce
two more models this summer. I'll be watching.
Wilson Benesch Discovery loudspeakers (the stand mounted model with
the exposed driver on the bottom ($12,5K CN) were sounding very good with Foundation
Research and Audio Aero electronics and the Wilson Benesch Circle
turntable ($1,999) with Act 2 carbon fiber arm ($2,990) and Carbon cartridge
($3,800). I'm glad the Circle is still on the market, as I think it is
one of the most visually interesting designs — and at a price that doesn't
go through the roof when more reasonably equipped with the Act 0.5 arm
and Ply cartridge ($4800, CN). And did I say there was lots of analog at
this show? First class all the way here in this room, with a total cost
in the neighborhood of $55K CN.
With a little shuffling of equipment, including the floorstanding A.C.T.
loudspeakers, and the Audio Aero Prestige SACD player/pre-amplifier, the
other Wilson Benesch system came in at about $60K CN. Different
models of Wilson Benesch loudspeakers were played in these systems on
different days, so your experience might well have differed.
Final electrostatic loudspeakers have intrigued me since I first
encountered them at Montreal many years ago. (Don't ask.) They've always
seemed well designed and reasonably priced. This year they surprised me
with a small, black, wall or stand-mountable version designed for a 5.1
surround system. The five speakers (including a smaller center channel
version than the one that was actually on active display), with a separate box
containing the electronics, is targeted at $2,000 US. I thought this
demonstration was particularly articulate and with its small size and
affordable price, it should be a winner. One last thought — I believe
the price includes the small powered subwoofer in the lower right corner of
the photo below.
Final Surround Sound With Subwoofer
Newform Research presented a real statement system that showed off
the high quality of their crossover-less R645 loudspeakers. $2,537
US for a pair of loudspeakers without a crossover, delivered? The
secret lies upstream. Pioneer's universal disc player, that
retails for $150 in the US sends its digital signal to a $350 US Behringer DCX
24-bit/96kHz digital crossover with EQ capabilities. From there, the analog
output goes to a Panasonic XR-45 digital receiver that puts out 6 x 100
watts. A separate channel drives each ribbon and bass driver. This
receiver, if you can find one — since it has become something of a cult
item, goes for about $300 US. For less that $3,500 US, plus the
cost of your favorite cables, you have one rockin' high-end system!
Furthermore, the size of the components in this rig will not take over your
living room, although it will not be easy to ignore the presence of the
loudspeaker with its tall ribbon. This brings me back to the diminutive,
much more aesthetically interesting loudspeaker that I wrote about last year.
John Meyer explained that with its complex rounded shape, it has become a
target of perfectionism and is still in development, which I interpret to mean
"Expect it when you see it". I'll be watching, and wishing him the
best of luck.
Audio Note CD 2 transport with DAC 2 combined with a Quad
preamplifier and tube monoblocks to drive the conventional Quad 22L
floorstanding loudspeakers. This system, rather casually presented, put
out a remarkably good sound that was probably overlooked by most show goers.
I raved about this loudspeaker when I heard it for the first time last year,
and my praise continues. This is a very fine system when space or
spousal acceptance is at a premium, though it should be good in medium size
Likewise, in the next small room where Musical Fidelity X-Series
powered the Quad 12L loudspeakers on stands. The system included
the relatively small X-Ray V3 CD player and X-150 integrated amplifier. Also on display was the new X-Can V3 headphone amplifier, for $550 (on one
side of the border or the other), and the X-Can V3 LPS phono stage. Real
quality here. And real value.
Musical Fidelity X Series
Musical Fidelity Dual Mono Integrated Amplifier
Moving from the one-meter diving board to the cliff divers in Mexico, I hit
the very big league once again in the room where I first heard the Kharma
loudspeakers last year. The rig was considerably simplified this year,
and had a much more tidy appearance. The modified Phillips
transport fed the ones and zeroes into the production version of the EMM
Labs DAC/pre-amplifier combo, which fed its analog signal to the stereo
version of the Tenor hybrid monoblocks (premiered last year) with all
cabling by Silversmith Audio.
The 150Hps puts out 150 wpc into 8 ohms, doubles down to 4 ohms and hits 500
wpc at 2 ohms. More importantly, the tube input stage comes from their
outstanding classic series of OTL tube amplifiers, using solid-state only in
the final output stage. The combination of the wood and metal chassis is
an eye-catching design, permitted by the high cost of these amplifiers. The
loudspeakers were Verity Audio Parsifals, which came across with much
more authority under the command of the Tenor amplifier than I expected in
this rather large room. The Parsifals are not a physically large
loudspeaker — just modest in size and world class in stature. As last
year, this room was one of a handful of premier demonstrations at the show.
I suspect the intensity of people listening to music in this room might have
been intimidating to newcomers to the high end, which is a bit unfortunate,
because this was a perfect room to recalibrate your ears. Next year,
perhaps, I'll remember to lighten the mood with some classic rock 'n roll.
Tenor 150 Hps amplifier
EMM Labs Six Channel DAC/Pre-Amplifier
In the conference room around the corner, was a scene that looked more like
a store than a place to demonstrate musical ability. Many rooms take
that tact at the Montreal show, and usually the musical presentation suffers
for it. Amid a lot of Denon and its higher end cousin, Integra, an
intriguing system stood out. It was comprised of a Pereaux CD
player and power amp driving a pair of Angstrom Modular 4 bipolar,
stand-mounted loudspeakers ($900/pr CN). In the midst of this room
filled with other loudspeakers whose drivers were inevitably vibrating in
dissonance with the Modular 4s, this system caught my attention like a diamond
in the rough. I'm having a déjà vu feeling like I wrote these same
words about this same loudspeaker in last year's report.
In the room with all the Denon and Integra home theater
equipment, two extremes impressed me. The first, at the top of the line,
was the new Integra 10.5 receiver that had replaceable boards that can be
changed as the surround sound technology changes — as it seems to do every
year. This big boy comes in at $3,500 US, list, and requires a course in
audio technology at your local community college. At the other end of
the spectrum are the two All-in-One surround sound boxes $600 for the Integra
and about $450 for the Denon version. These little puppies, which take
after the Linn Classic concept, incorporate the CD/DVD player and surround
sound receiver in one box. I have to admit, as a cutting edge Baby
Boomer, the simplicity of this approach has tremendous appeal — particularly
for a bedroom system. In the family room, however, the thought of peanut
butter on the fingers of grandchildren steers me toward an inexpensive
separate disc player.
Continuing the home theater thread, a 5.1 system of Proac Hexa
loudspeakers showed a glimmer of quality through the din of conversations, but
at $7,000 CN, it seemed rather overpriced. The quality of their real wood
cabinets, however, would fit into the most distinguished homes. Driven
by the Arcam AVR 300 receiver, the Hexas may not have been receiving
the quality of signal that they deserved. I remember being much more
impressed with them last year when I heard them as a stereo pair. Also
in this room were the new Pathos Logos integrated amplifier with 150
wpc, and the prototype power amplifier with the name "Pathos" extruded in
the heat sinks. Very trick, in an art deco kind of way — which is to
say that I like it.
Pathos Integrated Amplifier
Song Audio was at the show again this year with their very nice
looking 300B tube monoblocks (SA-300 MB, $3,600 US/ $5K CN) driving the
ultra-efficient Loth-X single driver loudspeakers. The low power/
high efficiency crowd is a small one, especially when you consider the music
that is most popular today. But if you find yourself in that elite
coterie, these are definitely two brands to be checked out.
Song Audio System
Arvus loudspeakers were a new name to me. This company hails
from New Zealand and produces their own drivers, putting them in high-quality
floorstanding boxes with very nice woodwork. The model I heard had a
silk injected dome tweeter and a side-firing woofer, in addition to the
front-firing midrange. While this is not a novel design, it was
certainly well executed. A $1400 CN Esound CD player
(another unfamiliar name) served as the front end for a very nice Chinese Cayun
integrated amplifier at $4K CN. At the higher distortion limit, it puts
out 100 wpc in pentode, 40 wpc in triode. Using the more realistic lower
distortion level, those figures fall to 70 wpc in pentode, 35 wpc in triode.
This system had a lot of punch in this rather large room, and overcame a lot
of extraneous conversation at the back of the room.
Cayun Integrated Amplifier
And at the back of the room was another impressive system. A Clearaudio
Emotion turntable and cartridge ($1000) served as the front end for an Acoustic
Arts integrated amplifier ($6K) and Acapella loudspeakers from
Germany with a horn tweeter and four front firing drivers.
But for me, what was the most impressive piece of equipment was a massive
wood equipment stand from Harmonic Resolution Systems that embodied
something like seven internal dampening features and ranged in price from $6K
to $9K US, depending on the number of shelves. Being a big proponent of
vibration dampening devices (see my reviews of Symposium Acoustic shelves and
rollerblocks, and Stillpoints cones in the archives) and fine woodworking
(I'm also in the furniture business) this rack was like a magnet for me.
The woodworking and aesthetic exterior design are gorgeous and deserving of
the finest systems and homes. If the resonance control of this rack is
as successful as my friend Bob Lietz at The Analog Shop claims of the Harmonic
Resonance shelves, this rack should be a very significant contribution to the
systems of those who can afford it.
Harmonic Resolution Systems Rack
Having encountered my friend Israel Blume at the cocktail party the night
before, I knew just what to expect when I entered his Coincident Speaker
Technology room. Again, this year, there was the bare bones room
with electricity coming right out of the wall into the components. Using
the same out of production CD player and preamplifier as last year, he managed
to borrow a couple of his beautiful 18 watt tube monoblocks from a customer
— they sell so fast that he never has any in stock — at $4,000/pr US.
The cabling, of course, is his, too. I had the good fortune to sample
his reasonably priced CST 1 speaker cable during some reviews last summer and
found them very synergistic with my Partial Eclipses. The treat, this
year, was having an opportunity to compare the Partial Eclipse (now, $3,500 US)
with the newer Super Eclipse ($6K US), which uses the same drivers, but
doubles up on the mid-range and side-firing woofer.
With the extra
drivers, the Supers need a somewhat larger cabinet, but both have the same
excellent wood veneering and style that fits so well into virtually any
environment. Using a familiar CD, it took me all of three seconds to lock in
on the familiar sound of the Partial Eclipses, which still grace my home with
music. Switching over to the Super Eclipse while the music continued to
play, the result was stunning. Israel asked me if I would like a pair
for review. I said I can do that in two words: Mo' Better! Or is
that only one and a half? Anyhow, save the shipping costs, Israel.
With the same sonic signature as the Partials, the Super Eclipse is more
than twice the loudspeaker at less than twice the price.
Everything gets better — dynamics, transparency, fullness, bass,
soundstaging, smoothness, even the treble. And in a parting perception,
I noticed the loudspeakers were not even on their brass spikes! Of
course those beautiful monoblocks might have been contributing something, too.
Israel Blume With Partial and Super Eclipse Loudspeakers
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