California Audio Show
2011 (CAS) By dagogo
That said, the kid was right on the first point that MSB's technology is stellar. If the music in the room was any indication: clean, precise, and packed with musical information. Talking later to MSB's National Sales Manager, Vince Galbo, I realized just how stellar.
The transport I had been listening to, the Data CD IV ($3995), "takes information off of CDs better than it's ever been done in history," according to Galbo. The Data CD IV reads CDs 48x faster than you listen to them, repeats the process as many times as necessary to get *all* the bits, then stores the result in flash memory for delivery to the DAC. MSB uses no off-the-shelf chips, everything is developed in-house, including an all-discreet DA conversion circuit in the Signature DAC IV ($19,500 as configured at the show, with optional iPod dock). It's signal is strong enough that a preamp is not required...the unit has a passive attenuator to adjust volume before sending the signal off to the amplifiers, in this case MSB's own Platinum Mono 202s ($17,500 a pair).
MSBs monoblocks look like large blue air filters, and not without good reason. They are 200 watts each, pure class A, with zero negative feedback and the shortest signal and power paths possible. Completing the system were a pair of Vivid V1.5 speakers.
Neko Audio / Chapman Loudspeakers
When I first arrived in the room, Dagogo Senior Reviewer Doug Schroeder was playing "I Am A Town" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, which was positively seductive in its warmth and detail on this system. Later on, the system funked with Karl Denson's "Jam Sandwich", and rocked with AC/DC's Shoot to Thrill, demonstrating good rhythm and pace with any style of music.
The mids and highs were rendered with such weight and clarity, I kept thinking what a great showcase this was for the Neko DAC (and also how awesome the combination was of the Cary tube preamp with the solid state Parasound beasts). The D100 features a passive output stage: detail retrieval at its purest, and gives the impression that there is nothing in between the digital section and your ears. A remarkable achievement.
Von Gaylord Audio
Berkeley? As in Berkeley, California? Where have these guys been my whole life?
Turns out, that's a question that Ray Leung, Von Gaylord's front man, is used to answering. Von Gaylord Audio used to be known as Legend Audio Design, and has been in business since 1992. The name change came in 2002, and they have been primarily focused on the export market. The company is actually based in Berkeley, but does their manufacturing in Vacaville (about an hour northeast of Berkeley, and if you been to both places, you'll probably agree that manufacturing in Vacaville makes more sense).
Still, a United States based audio company that makes a complete line of high-end audio equipment – DACs, amplifiers, speakers, and cables – is a rarity. And it was all on display in the room next door.
The system they had running consisted of a Philips CD-80 as transport, their own Uni Digital DAC ($9,995), Uni Preamp ($15,000), Uni Earth Triode monoblocks ($12,000 for the set), and VG-One speakers ($7,500). They also offer the VG-One Plus ($13,800), which adds an additional subwoofer unit to each of the speakers. Leung wisely left the subs off their demo system, as the stand-mounted VG-Ones had easily enough low-end heft for the small room as their sound was well balanced from top to bottom without any room treatments. My notes from the session are sparse, mostly just non-specific superlatives. I do remember being *very* impressed. Think I'll leave it at that and try and get a pair in for review.
The bass on the Triode was strong, but not necessarily loud...it gave a sense of scale to the music without throwing off the tonal balance. Highs were buttery smooth...easily the sweetest I heard all weekend. The accompanying electronics, all done by Wavelength Audio, I'm sure get some of credit for the silky treble. The midrange was a tad uneven, but Jordan explained that he had just changed some crossover capacitors the morning of the show (all of Vaughn's speakers are built by hand in San Jose, CA). Bonus points for living dangerously!
Jordan designs all of his speakers to be easy to drive. The Triodes have amplification built-in for the side-firing bass drivers, so the rest of the speaker runs at 99db sensitivity, and the impedance load never dips below 8 ohms. Sweet sounds indeed for the tubeophile crowd!
Angel City Audio
This system did a fantastic job connecting me to the music, vocal music in particular, and the soundstage extended well outside the speakers. The tonality of the midrange here was stunning, highs were extended and not overly sweet. The Trinity speakers might have been exactly the right size for the room had they been just a little farther from the front wall...their designer (and Angel City owner), Hugh Nguyen, said he would have liked an additional six inches, but doing so would have nearly blocked the door... such is shows. Still, the Trinitys put on a moving performance, and are an extremely good value.
I was impressed as well with the Melody amplification...it had a sound that was linear and accurate without being analytical, that could have easily been mistaken for (very expensive) solid-state.
Sonic Studio Amarra
Sonic Studio's system at CAS featured the Amarra Model Four, a FireWire interface / multi-channel DAC / preamplifier / crossover / DSP processor ($3995), a Parasound A21 amplifier, Focal Electra 1028 Be floorstanders, and an Energy subwoofer. A David Chesky piece (that I mistakenly wrote down the title as Oboe Concerto) sounded very nice.