Press Day, Schmess Day. Some people were ready, some were not, and a few who said they were ready most definitely needed more time to work out the kinks.”Why don’t they make press day at the end of the show?” one exhibitor asked with a look of frustration. It’s when everything is finally sounding its best.”
“Yes,” thought I. “But it’s also when everyone is most worn out and wanting to go home.”
Happily, by the time of the official show opening, everyone was more or less ready to get going. Nor was the Sixth annual The Home Entertainment Show Newport launched with the typically humor-filled, devil-may-care (as indeed he may) ribbon cutting ceremony. Given the passing of show co-founder Richard Beers (see here), this opening was a decidedly bittersweet affair.
Bob Levi, show co-founder and President/Founder of the massive Los Angeles Orange County Audiophile Society, was uncommonly eloquent as he and, behind him (from left to right), T.H.E. Show’s Marine Presson and Maurice Jung, The Absolute Sound‘s Robert Harley, Positive Feedback‘s David W. Robinson, Enjoy the Music‘s Steven R. Rochlin, and Stereophile/AnalogPlanet‘s Michael Fremer reflected upon Beers’ passing. Levi was also most generous in acknowledging the decades of industry contributions by an unexpected member of the audience, longtime Stereophile Editor-in-Chief John Atkinson. John and his wife, Laura LoVecchio, flew out to attend Beers’ memorial at the end of the first day of the show.
Who could help but smile as four very strong-willed editors, each of whom has the critical acumen to tear each other’s writing to shreds, instead melded as one as they unleashed their metaphorical sword on a poor defenseless Mylar ribbon? With that grand move, and a superb trumpet flourish, it was off and running…
But not before catching sight of one of the handsomest young couples at the show, VAC’s Kevin Hayes and his wife of less than a year, Darlene Monteiro-Hayes. Not only did they look positively adorable in near-matching chapeaux, but they also seemed totally in love. May they be blessed with many joyful decades together.
Of the few rooms I managed to visit toward the end of press day (I had spent the night before in rural Port Townsend, WA, running down the block with my three terrorers, scared out of my wits as I discovered us stalked and potentially surrounded by a pack of yapping, blood-thirsty coyotes who were descending upon us from the woods at rapid speed—thus I needed to go slow as I emerged from the trauma), the only one that was ready was put together by Liberty Audio—the direct-to-consumer division of PBN Audio—and Amcan Audio Footers. The Liberty Xvox speakers ($5500/pair), are assembled using Scan-Speak drivers. (Liberty Audio shared another room at T.H.E. Show with Scan-Speak retailer Madisound, which is also the source for the Peter B. Noerbaek-designed Scan-Speak B1371 speaker kit.)
Designed to “integrate flawlessly’ with the Liberty Audio B2B-100 (350Wpc into 8 ohms) stereo amp, B2B-2 phono preamp, and B2B-2 line level preamp/DAC, the speakers delivered sound with pronounced upper end brightness. Hopefully that had nothing to do with Amcan Audio’s CNF footers. Said to be the same types used in bridge and skyscraper construction, they combine the low- and high-frequency isolation properties of metal and silicone in a manner that is said to cover the entire audio spectrum. Manufactured by Todd Kuban in Riverside, CA and sold direct to the public with a “100% happiness guarantee,” the company’s highest quality footers are made of copper and silicone ($600/four). Bronze and steel are less costly alternatives. All Amcan footers are height adjustable for placement on sloped and uneven surfaces.
With floors parceled out to Sasha Matson, Tom Norton, and myself, I decided to start at the top, as it were, with the VTL/Wilson/dCS/Grand Prix/Transparent room on the second floor. The set-up was beautiful to behold, and the sound as smooth and non-fatiguing as can be. As I learned later on, challenges in the room demanded set-up compromises, which in this instance resulted in a slightly muffled bottom on some recordings—not my SACD of Mahler’s Symphony 9, where control is especially difficult—and toned-down top. But on an LP of conductor Claudia Abbado’s final concert, of Bruckner’s Symphony 9, the size, weight, and volume of images were the most believable of anything I heard on day one of the show.
In the largo from Beethoven’s Ghost Trio, in an 88.2/24 master file by master recording engineer Peter McGrath of a live concert I attended in Miami with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the manner in which the violin stood out from the cello and piano was mesmerizing. Instrumental highlights were magical, and the liquid beauty unsurpassable. The scale on the Channel Classics/Iván Fischer SACD of the Mahler Symphony 9 was formidable, and the midrange gorgeous. The final cut—totally enveloping electronica from Morris Blank—was truly fabulous at high volume. Wow! John Atkinson also tells me that I must return, if time allows, to hear a Kathleen Ferrier LP where the contralto’s voice is to die for.
I did, in fact, return to this room briefly on the last day. By then, there had been time for additional acoustic treatment fine-tuning, and the top end that was previously reticent had now filled in. Just as important, sounds in the upper bass region gained in clarity. At last, the VTL/Alexx/dCS/etc. combo delivered on its promise of superb sound.
The paradoxical upshot of these improvements is that, when I heard a track from the Ferrier LP that John had so praised, the system’s additional clarity made painfully obvious that Ferrier’s voice, originally captured in mono, had been superimposed over a new, recorded-in-stereo orchestral track that was laid down a decade after the mono recording’s original date. Ferrier sounded as if singing in a wind tunnel, and some of the beauty of her sound was compromised. John: Someday, at a future show, we shall find the time to listen to the remastered CD of the original Ferrier recordings, and sigh together at the profundity of her utterances.
Doing the honors: the white and handsome Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeaker ($111,200/pair); VTL Siegfried Series II Reference monoblocks ($65,000/pair), TP-6.5 Signature phonostage with MC step-up ($12,000), and TL-7.5 Series III Reference line-level preamp ($25,000); Grand Prix 2.0 turntable with Triplanar Mk VII U2 SE tonearm ($7500) and Lyra Etna cartridge ($6995); dCS Vivaldi 2.0 CD/SACD playback system with transport ($41,999) and DAC ($35,999); Grand Prix Silverstone F1 isolation stands (two four-shelfers at $28,995 each and two Formula platforms at $3795 each); and a helluva lot of Transparent Premium, Reference, and Opus cabling along with two eight-socket Power Isolators ($3795 each) and two MM power conditioners ($4195 each).
In answer to my question about the difference between Grand Prix’s Silverstone carbon shelf racks and the Monaco carbon shelfers in the room that follows, Mr. Grand Prix, aka Alvin Lloyd responded, “The Silverstone uses a more sophisticated carbon part than the Monaco but the same carbon shelf. It features entirely different isolation dampers and suspension, which have a much lower natural frequency. There are other differences, but I’ve saved those many words for my website.”
What more can one say about this system from Brian Berdan’s Audio Element of Pasadena, other than “so f***ing gorgeous it’s ridiculous—air/timbres/body/edge to violin and instruments were spot on, the top was open and free, the strings were to die for, and the liquidity exceptional”? Those were the words I scribbled as I listened to an LP of Christian Ferras playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
That great sound came from Wilson Audio Sasha Series 2 loudspeakers ($33,950/pair); VTL MB-450 III monoblocks ($20,000/pair), VTL TL-6.5 Series II Signature line preamp ($15,000), VTL TP-6.5 phonostage ($9500); Grand Prix Audio Monaco turntable ($37,500) w/ Tri-Planar Mk VII U2 SE tonearm ($7500) and Benz LP S cartridge ($6000); Transparent Generation 5 XL cabling ($70,000); and Grand Prix Audio Le Mans Tall 4-shelf stand ($7995) and Monaco Amp stands w/Apex feet ($7990/pair). Foregoing LP for the dCS Rossini CD player ($27,499) with Rossini Clock ($7500), snap, crackle, and a lot of intentional pop were all perfectly in place on “Bye Bye Huey” from Eighth Blackbird’s latest Michael Bishop-recorded CD, Hand Eye, and the timbres of the winds were gorgeous. In fact, those qualities did a perfect balancing act with the intentional brutality of the music, which came through loud and clear. This system was a triumph.
The combination of Silverline Bolero Supreme loudspeakers ($15,000/pair) with Linear Tube Audio’s preamplifier ($1700) and 40Wpc amplifier ($5800), Grover Huffman cabling ($6000), Composite Component Racks ($7500), Musica Pristina’s network player ($5000) and tubed DAC player ($16,000), and an old Pioneer Elite used as a transport delivered incisive treble and nice layering on some pop crap. Thanks to diffusers from Bart Andeer’s Resolution Acoustics ($5900), Ron Carter’s bass on his duets with bossa nova great Rosa Passos was absolutely in control. Treble fared far better on this track, and there was also a nice amount of air around voice and bass.
Acoustic Zen’s Crescendo loudspeakers ($22,000) and cabling (under $10,0000) strutted their stuff in a welcome new pairing with SST’s power amp ($3500) and preamp ($4250), sounding just great. Timbres on Murray Perahia’s piano were beautiful, and the air around the notes was excellent. It takes larger speakers to convey the piano’s realistic weight—I was spoiled by the Alexx—but the top was lovely, and the crossover impossible to discern. On another track, entitled “Yellow,” I found the top a little too lively (as in edgy), but the presentation’s spaciousness was quite winning.