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Home Entertainment 2002 Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event

The Big Carrot Review
By Rick Becker
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Two Channel


There seemed to be a lot of turntables spinning at this show.
As the owner of a rather large record collection, I took more than passing interest in the event that in a moment of foolishness I might upgrade from my modified Linn Valhalla.
At the very least, I know I need a new cartridge.

In a room where everyone was going gaga over VPI's new $10,000 TNT HR-X, I happened in at a moment when they switched over to their relatively new Aries Scout with a $500 Grado Sonata cartridge. At $1,500, you get both the Scout and the new JMW-9 tonearm. I'm here to tell you, Kimosabe, this sounded pretty good. It was not the best of show, but well worth the money, and probably worthy of more expensive cartridges, as well. A review in one of the handouts suggested that there are easy mods to take it to even higher levels. I like this table for it's manageable size, and simplicity of design. The multiple motors and belts of more complex designs intimidate me: spend all that money and don't get the set-up just perfect, and you end up sounding just like the less expensive model. But don't forget to factor in a set of interconnects to get the signal from the junction box to your phono stage. Of particular interest to Rega owners, the JMW-9 arm is available with a Rega mounting base that will drop in and give you VTA adjustment ($850 for the arm alone).

If, like me, you also appreciate more compact turntable design, but still feel compelled to spend $10K, the Avid Acutus is the one to check out. Again, the photos do not do its jewel-like finish justice. It is drop-dead gorgeous in person. For those who appreciate the Acutus' technology, but need to spend a little less, there is the Volvere model that has a more austere, industrial finish, not unlike the Simon Yorke table, or the Wilson Benesch Circle table. Interesting... all three come from Great Britain

The best sound from LP at the show? I'd have to give the nod to the Spotheim La Luce table in the Joseph/Manley room--but I'll comment further on that room later on. With clear acrylic as the dominant material, the Spotheim has an aesthetic that is unique among turntables and will probably either attract or repel prospective shoppers. At $8,000 each,
very few will have to agonize over that decision.

There were lots of other tables I saw and heard, but others with more turntable expertise than I, will comment on them. What I spoke of is what grabbed my attention and appealed to me.


Integrated Amplifiers
(And the speakers I heard them playing)

One of the big directions at the show this year seemed to be integrated amplifiers. And they were presented in systems that made no apology for the absence of separate pre and power amps. Furthermore, they spanned a very wide price range. I've mentioned the all in one-box systems above under the surround sound heading. Here, I'll stick to two-channel.

First, I encountered the new Plinius 8200 Mk II that borrows technology from the new Plinius SA-102, which I saw, but did not hear elsewhere at the show. The $3,000 8200 Mk II, with phono and remote control was driving $6,000 Roman Audio floorstanding speakers that incorporated Ray Kimber's Di-aural crossover network. A $5,000 MSB Reference Platinum CD player anchored the front end. Another Enjoy the Music.com™ writer declared this room best of show, and I agree that it had an excellent sound, but I didn't spend a lot of time analyzing the system. Unfortunately, I've never heard, or heard of, a presentation of speakers with and without the Di-aural crossover. It does not seem to be the be-all/end-all definitive crossover, but this is the second year in a row that I've thought the Roman speakers sounded pretty fine. As the least expensive component in the system, the Plinius, with its 175 wpc (the first 18 in class A), must have been doing something right--suggesting that it is a real over-achiever.

BAT had both its CD Player and integrated amp driving the $3,500 Danish System Audio SA K compact stand mounted monitor to good effect. While BAT is well know, System Audio deserves wider exposure. The BAT integrated puts out 150/300 watts into 8/4 ohms, and is available YOUR way; with optional remote control, phonostage, 6922 tube gain stage, or 6H30 Supertube Special Edition gain stage. If you didn't know that separates existed, you probably wouldn't think to ask for more than what this integrated gives you. Sorry, I missed the price on this one. If it is $3,000, it's a steal, but it is probably more like $5,000.

Ayre combined their CX-7 CD player ($2,950) with their AX-7 integrated amp ($2950) to drive a pair of Vandersteen 2Ce Signature speakers ($1549/pr), making them sing as well as I've ever heard them. It is amazing to see how these speakers have continued through the years--albeit with a major upgrade to the Signature version. Actually, when I visited, the Clearaudio Champion Level 2 turntable and Phonomena phonostage with battery pack and Benz Micro Glider L2 cartridge was playing. This combo constitutes a $5,000 front end--much more than you're likely to encounter mated with these modestly priced speakers.

Chord is making a move to achieve greater representation in this country. In what I felt was one of the best systems at the show, I heard a Chord transport with their new DAC64 (favorably reviewed in the July issue of Stereophile) feeding one of their integrated amps, which drove the amazing little stand-mounted Wilson Benesch Arc two-way monitors. At $3,600, including the stylish stands, these are not only the least expensive Wilson Benesch speakers, but also the best value in their line. Stereophile's John Marks invited my good friend Art Shapiro and me to the room for a private audition.

Knowing Art's preference for classical music, especially piano, I politely ducked out, only to return at the end of the day. They handed me the remote and I dropped in James Taylor Live and punched up Steamroller Blues. I cranked it up to the point where I feared they might evict me, though I was well short of the 111db maximum spl this speaker is rated. When I turned around, everyone else was standing at the back wall with a look of disbelief on his or her face. To put it politely, these speakers ROCKED!!! And rocked with finesse! Add to that superb contemporary styling and beautifully integrated stands that belie their $400 up charge, and you've got an incredible speaker. Now, go back to the top of this paragraph, and remember the Chord electronics. What goes in, comes out.

In the VMAX room I had a deja vu experience--it looked to be the same Cairn/Triangle rig that I lauded in March in Montreal, but it sounded even better. Although still somewhat light weight, it was definitely smoother. Getting up close I saw that the Cairn Fog CD player was the new 24-bit/192kHz model with an upsampling card ($1,595 vs. $1,095 for the standard Fog). The amp was the same 4808-A integrated that Sam Tellig raved about in the July issue of Stereophile, for $1,595. We're talking 10 watts in class A, 30 wpc overall. The speakers were the highly acclaimed Triangle Celius floorstanders with 92dB efficiency for $1,995. For small to medium size rooms and listening at reasonable volumes, this is a balanced combination and represents good value with exceptionally clean contemporary styling. I'm hoping a review sample of the Fog 24/192 with the rumored beefed-up power supply will find its way to my reference system in the near future.

Perreaux displayed the inside of their new Radiance Series R200i integrated amp ($3,500) in one room and had it active in another with Vassen speakers, which were exhibiting way too much sibilance for my taste. Having heard this speaker in Montreal, I suspect that is where the problem lies. The Perreaux sports dual transformers and has a heavy, but very ergonomic remote control that controls all functions through its microprocessor.

Gryphon electronics are being imported to this country once again by Dynaudio. I heard the smaller Dynaudio Confidence C2 ($12,000) driven by Gryphon's 200 wpc integrated in conjunction with an Ayre CD player that was probably their new D-1x DVD/CD player at $8,000--there was a video screen between the speakers that I take to be a significant clue. (The matching Gryphon CD player was supposed to be running with the Gryphon amp, but the system had been cross-patched with the Ayre CD player). The Gryphon was gorgeous in its gloss black finish, but its $7K price was a little intimidating. The last time I saw Gryphon equipment it was dressed in the ubiquitous flat black anodized look. Their new look is very classy. It had absolutely no trouble driving the C2s, even in the large conference room. I'll save the full story for later on when I highlight the larger Confidence speakers.


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