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Stereophile Show -- Home Entertainment 2007 Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event
Stereophile Show - PRIMEDIA Home Entertainment 2007 Audiophile and Videophile Event
Report By Rick Becker
Click here to e-mail reporter.

  It's a little like visiting a Science Fair so much to see, so much to learn. But that's not why I write audio show reports. Music is the social lubricant of civilization. And this industry helps people enjoy it more. If more people listened to music more often, as well as a wider variety of music, there might be a lot less hatred and strife in the world. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, judging from their activity in Pakistan, would like to snuff out music, among other things. So in some small round-about way, this is my contribution to the war on terror. It's also my contribution to people in the industry who work so hard to make music sound better. Without their magnificent creations, my interest in music would have withered.

Check-in at the show was a breeze, and my bi-annual hug with Lucette Nicole, the show organizer, made me feel instantly at home as the Home Entertainment show returned to New York after a year at Los Angeles. In addition to old friends who drifted in from as far away as California, I reached out to chat briefly with Sam Tellig and Wes Phillips for the first time. John Marks, Mike Fremer and Robert Deutsch were three familiar faces, and two writers I was hoping to meet again did not seem to be present, Kal Rubinson and Art Dudley. There were also a number of familiar faces from the recent show in Montreal. It was nice to break muffins and spill coffee with our hosts. After stuffing my fanny pack with a tall bottle of Mt. Dew and a half-dozen granola bars, I hit the floor as the rooms opened on Saturday morning.

In the Lamm Industries room the intended star of their show was a lone ML3 Signature monoblock sitting at the side of the room like a dancer without a partner.  It is a 32 watt single ended design with a separate power supply. Unfortunately, its mate was inoperable due to shipping damage, which is really unfortunate considering they cost about $63K each. A back-up pair of ML2.1s was pressed into service to drive a pair of Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy 8s that were strangely placed far back into the corners of the room. A Lamm L2 preamplifier with its separate power supply and LP-2 phono stage were further upstream. The front ends were spectacular with the Metronome Technologie Kalista CD transport ($34K) seen here with the gold CD spinning in open air. The Gaia turntable was equally eye-popping at $35K. Critical Mass Systems isolation and damping systems took care of vibrations with a series of component stands that brought the height of components to a common level, eliminating the need to bend way down to operate them a big plus as well as amplifier stands beneath the Lamms. Kubala-Sosna's highly regarded cables provided the connections. While the room still sounded very good, it was not as good as I heard the Watt/Puppy 8 in Montreal or later on in the show in the BAT room where the loudspeakers were brought further out from the front wall.  I really jumped into the show at the deep end here. This ultra-high end room was clearly a room for the few.

As you see in the photo, the Escalante Designs Fremont loudspeaker was placed far out into the long room. Like my previous experience reviewing their Pinyon monitors and Uinta subwoofer, and hearing the Fremont in Montreal last month, the soundstage is exceedingly recessed and deep. I had the pleasure of meeting designer Tierry Budge for the first time and asked him about this phenomenon. He explained that the 55 microsecond rise time of his exceptionally fast 12 woofer allows more ambient room information to come into play after the rapid decay of the note, creating this greater perception of a recessed soundstage. (Of course his explanation was considerably more detailed and technical). As I reported from Montreal, the Fremonts have outstanding resolution. They were run here with a dCS Scarlatti transport with separate power supply and a dCS DAC. With a VTL preamplifier and powerful VTL tube monoblocks the Fremonts sounded even better in this larger room. Seen here is Matt Waldron, chief honcho at Escalante, and Tierry on the right.

Bobby Palkovic usually puts on a rather straightforward display. Yet his room is simply one of the Best Rooms year after year because the music itself is inviting, involving and eminently listenable. An Audio Aero Prestige CD player ($14K) was at the front end and the latest VSM MXe, lead-free European version of his Merlin floorstanders (with super bam) was at the other ($10.5K). Everything was connected with Cardas Golden Reference cables. The star this year was the premiere of the Ars Sonum Filarmonia integrated amplifier putting out 30 wpc (the first 22 watts in Class A). I've had the fascinating experience of watching and hearing this amplifier develop over the past several years when I would visit Bobby on my way to furniture shows in North Carolina. It has grown into a beautiful swan that can sing with the best of them. What started out as a $3500 amplifier now commands $4000 due to the devaluation of the U.S. dollar and given the sound I heard with the Merlins, this is still a great value. Both the amplifier and his loudspeakers are built with lead-free solder, which Bobby asserts improves the sound as well as being good for the environment not that you will want to throw either into your local landfill. At the end of the show I revisited the room and had the pleasure of meeting the manufacturer of the amplifier, Sr. Ricardo Hernandez, from Spain.

Next door was Gershman Acoustics with their flagship Black Swan loudspeaker driven by Simaudio Moon electronics connected with Magnan Cables. While the room still lacked acoustic treatments (aside from a few pillow in front of the window shade), and the components were simply stacked on top of each other on the floor, this was simply the best I had ever heard any Gershman loudspeaker. It is tantalizing to think of what a few simple tweaks might do for this system. A few doors down in 1667 they had their new Sonogram loudspeaker, now priced at $2700/pr. This was my second look at the painted faux wood finish and I have to admit, with all my furniture background, I do not find it the least bit objectionable for the intended purpose. The music, driven by the Simaudio Moon i5.3 integrated amplifier and the CD5.3 player from their Classic Series, grabs your attention and the system presented excellent value. Check out my Montreal report for photos (LINK IT HERE!!).

Where's Elmo? Somewhere on the back of a loudspeaker... possibly in the High Water Sound room, I spotted this unusual tweak that is sure to set off another flurry of scientific exploration and argument, as well as possibly a smile or two.

At the Lipinski Sound room I finally found a surround system that could play my Mozart Violin Concertos recorded using the new DXD (Digital eXtreme Definition) technology developed in Norway. (See www.lindberg.no for details). This technology records four times the data of DSD using 32 bit floating point at 352.8kHz. This leaves plenty of headroom for editing and balancing before the signal is downsized to DSD. The recording of Marianne Thorsen and the Trondheim Solistene is packaged as a two-CD set, one in SACD/DSD surround, and the other in Red Book stereo CD. In my rig at home, the stereo CD is the best classical recording I've ever heard there. At the Lipinski Sound room in SACD surround, the recording delivered a magnificent sense of Being There.

The orchestra was properly located to the front of the room, but the sense of hall space was enveloping, allowing a very small leap of imagination to the event itself. The Lipinski system incorporates their L-707 monitors (with D'Appolito driver configuration) and their power amplifiers nestled within the stands below the loudspeakers. I spoke with Lukas Lipinsky who told me the system runs about $6K per channel. Two subwoofers at $2K each were employed and they seemed to mate seamlessly during my brief audition. And unfortunately, it was brief. Lipinski also produces their own CDs and he switched back to one of their own. Regardless, I was very highly impressed with this surround system using Sony SACD gear at the front end. I came away thinking that with this DXD recording technology, CD is climbing even higher, just as it is being eclipsed by music servers much in the same way LP playback improved by giant steps when it was eclipsed by the CD. If I was on the recording side of the fence, I would certainly check out DXD. Can you hear me now?

 

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