Listening to any audio product under show conditions is difficult at best. Critical evaulation in hotel rooms of various sizes, some with additional acoustic treatment and others with none, is impossible. Even if one were able to ascertain the true qualities of any given product or system on a particular day, it may sound completely different a hour later since exibitors are constantly tweaking their systems throughout the show, including changing amplfiers, cables and sources. Many products are fresh out of the box while others are well broken in. Some systems are painstakingly matched while others are thrown together at the last minute. Some rooms are full of people when you visit them while others, for the moment, are empty. How do you think that effects the sound? Some components and speakers that sounded exemplary in Vegas, Montreal or other shows sounded ordinary or worse at this show.
Still, there were certain products that stood out. These are our Best of Show.
There were two systems that stood head and shoulders over other turntable systems. While neither was debuting at the show, both have shown a great deal of consistant, ultra-high quality at every audio show, defying the issues described above which just adds to their worthiness.
While there was quite a bit of analog at the show, the best sounding vinyl was heard over the
Strain Gauge cartridge and preamp system by Soundsmith, even though it was played over their small bookshelf speakers.
The Strain Gage System is just that - a system. It is not just a cartridge but a matched cartridge/preamp combo. The preamp (and there are 7 different models at different prices that all sound the same but provide diffent levels of features) contains special circuitry to drive the The Strain Gauge which is diferent than other cartridge. Designer Peter Ledermann explains it like this:
"All other cartridges, whether moving magnet, moving coil, or moving iron, are "generators" - that is, you put motion in, and you get energy out... they generate a tiny voltage that you amplify and send to your speakers.
The key here in describing all other cartridges is in the word moving......because all other cartridges MUST move a mass around - a magnet, and iron core with wires (moving "coil") or iron.
All other cartridges are all magnetic generating systems, which require a mass to be constantly moved to generate a voltage. The Strain Gauge does not; the effective moving mass has been reduced by over 80%....allowing the stylus to stay in intimate contact with the goove walls.....and allowing the stylus to stop jittering or "bouncing" in the groove as it now is not trying to move a "large" mass back and forth...."
The turntable Peter uses is a VPI HRX, but the Strain Gauge will work with any table. The cartridge/preamp systems start at about $7,500 and go up to $15,000.
Along with Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, Jeffrey Catalano of Highwater Sound is one of the most knowledgeable and passionate-about-analog people we know.
Jeff is the US distributor of the remarkable TW Acustic turntables as well as several other exquistite brands. Not only was his rooms among the very best analog sounds in Denver, it was (and usually is) in the very top eschelon of sound, period. The Highwater rooms are always places you love to just hang out and listen - to the music - and to Jeff. What made this visit particularly noteworthy is that the sound Jeff was producing when James & Linda visited this time was not just vinyl sourced, but in MONO! After spending a half hour listening to different non-stereo recordings on this sytem, we are tempted to start a new section of this journal entitled MonoMojo.
TW-Acustic Raven Two: $7,500.00
Dynavector 507MKII : $ 4,800. with Dynavector XV1-S Mono cart. $4,800.
Ortofon 309D: $2,800. with Koetsu Jade: $8,000.
Tron Syren Reference Preamp with MC phono stage: $22,000.
Tron Seven Mono Phono Stage with adjustable RIAA curves: $4,500.
Tron Cantata 300B Stereo amp: $20,000. with Silent Running Audio Ohio XL base: $1,600.
Horning Hybrid Aristotle Speakers: $9,000.00
Triode Japan CD player: $2,200.00
Silent Running Audio Craz Rack: $10,500.
All cables and conditioning Tara Labs Zereo Gold.
Part of the magic was conjured up by the Hørning Aristotle three-way horn loaded speakers ($9,000). The specs:
FOUR 8 INCH WOOFERS IN PUSH PULL (COMPOUND)
ONE DX 45 BROAD BAND DRIVER HORNING MODIFIED
ONE OPEN ISOPUNKT MODIFIED CONE TWEETER
POWERHANDLING: 30 WATT AT 6 OHM OR 60 WATT MUSIC
PLUS MINUS 1 MM DIAFRAGM MOVEMENT AT HIGH LISTENING LEVELS CAUSING VERY LOW DISTORTION
30 TO 20000 HZ PLUS MINUS 3 DB
EFFICIENCY: 96 DB 2.8 VOLT IN 6,1 OHM (ONE WATT)
HORNING ULTRA SOFT ANNEALED COPPER LITZE INDIVIDUALLY ISOLATED AND COVERED WITH NATURAL SILK
PLAY IN TIME:
60 DAYS TO 95% ONE YEAR TO FULL SOFT DRIVER MOVEMENT
WEIGHT: 33 KG
DIMENSIONS: 100 CM HIGH, 22CM WIDE, 51CM DEEP
The speakers sound as if they are perfect matches for the speed and timbrel accuracy of TW Acustic Raven One, the reference table of Stereomojo's publisher.
In order to get mono recordings to sound right, you must use a mono cartridge. Why? As we leared from Jeff, stereo LP's grooves are made with the audio info on the sides of the grooves - different on each side, of course. Mono records have the info at the bottom of the groove which requires a differently shaped stylus to accurately track. Then there's the phasing issues introduced by a two-channel cartridge trying to produce a mono signal.
The TW Acustic TW-1 Phono Preamp, shown in another room, is new. It costs $9,000, but the all the parts are made by hand - no off-the shelf power supplies or chokes. It has three different coils which will accomodate 4 different arms. It features djustable loading on the front which allows you to tune the loading while you're listening to it! Why is that important? As we revealed in our cartridge reviews, cartridges vary greatly from unit to unit even though they are the same model in the same production run. Those tiny circuits just cannot be manufactured to any level of consistancy. That also applies to loading. If you and your buddy both own the same cart, even though they may have been made back to back on the same day, each may require substantially different loading to sound right. Manufacturer's loading specs are a only a "best guess". If you don't believe us, just ask Jeffrey.
BEST TUBE LINE
Like most high-quality, high value tube components, we assumed Ayon was made in China. NAY! Ayon is designed and made in Austria!
The moment we entered this huge room, our reaction was a unanimous "Wow!". Charles Harrison, who imports the line for North America, did a magnificent job in emplementing this display which was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. While this European gear is not at the bottom end of price ranges (more towards the lower mid), the quality is up there with the big, meg-buck boys. Note the unusual tube types used in these Class A, triode amps.
Ayon makes FIVE different tube integrated amps, THREE different tube monoblocks, TWO pre amps and
TWO tube CD players and
Tons of tubes driving Esclante speakers
Harrsion also imports Lector, displayed here
High in the running for Best Sound was this system (Crossfire integrated below) driving Affirm Audio Lumination speakers ($28,000/pr) with Feastrex Alnico drivers.
TOP LEFT: Crossfire SET integrated amplifier - $9,995
30Wpc, 2 x AA62B output tubes
4 x 6H30 signal & driver tubes
TOP RIGHT: Spark SET integrated amplifier - $4,995
20Wpc, 2 x 6C33 output tubes
2 x 6H30 driver tubes, 2 x 12AU7 pre tubes
Pictured above, appropriately on the top shelf, are Ayon's best "Typhon" monos. Get a load of these features for $12,800/pair:
Full-featured true balanced, ultra-linear vacuum tube mono power amplifier
Pure Class-A triode tube-circuit design throughout all gain stages
6C33 power output tubes (russia), high peak current delivery
6H30 pre and driver tubes (russia)
High current filament-regulator for pre and driver tubes
Timer warm up circuit for all tubes, extends tube life
0dB negative feedback
Central one-point star earth grounding
Choke filtered-regulated power supply
Ideal also for more difficult loudspeaker loads
2 separate power transformers (anode - high voltage and filament - low voltage)
Power transformers are encased, excellent damped and RFI/EMI shielded
Innovative power supply provides a high speed energy delivery on transients
High performance, efficiency and encased output transformer
All transformers are sealed with an anti-resonance compound material
Selected, premium quality passive components used in all applications
Automatic power tube protection circuit system
High speed capacitors
Teflon precision tube sockets with beryllium spring contacts (custom-made by ayon)
Shortest possible signal paths
Gold-plated industrial grade PCB
Teflon isolated - internal wiring
Synergistic internal signal cable
Fully hand assembled to insure the highest level of craftsmanship
Alu-brushed anodized anti-vibration-resonance and non-magnetic chassis
Backlit "ayon" logo - front panel
All front & rear panel descriptions are engraved
External bias adjustment - rear panel
AC phase polarity control indicator
Yamamoto bias analog-instrument with mV scale
WBT/Germany - binding posts
WBT/Germany - input jack
Chassis finish: black / chrome
The Ayon Spirit integrated is on its way to us now for review. One of many Ayon reviews to come, we hope.
Top of the line, two box CD 3 - $6,999
Ayon CD-1 $4,299
Ayon also makes their own power tubes in the Czeck Republic.
While it's nigh impossible to choose ONE speaker that was "Best of All",
we've tried to identify those that stood out the most in terms of sound, price and appearance - in that order.
For a natural, "live performance" sound, there is nothing like a full-range open baffle design. For open baffle design, there is nobody like
Carl Marchisotto of Nola Audio. Stunning. After the show, our Clark Hertz said that nothing he heard at the made him want to sell his reference speakers. Clark owns Nola Viper References.
Clark is also a practical Canadian whom we're sure would, if he could, love to trade up to these Baby Grand's which are the next-to-the-top Nola model
at $55,000/pr . Driven by Audio Research electronics and Nordost Odin wire (which costs more than the speakers), the sound was open and relaxed with an uncanny ability to turn a tiny hotel room into a grand concert hall. The top of the cabinets are open-backed as you can see with ribbons and mids in a line array. The bottom cabinets are filled with twin drivers with exotic (and expensive) ALNICO magnets that propels them down to the 20's in Hz land.Thes big towers just plain disappeared in the undersized room. How do they do that?!
We heard a lifetime of speakers in Denver - many MUCH more expensive, but none conveyed the full sense of real music in a real space as these.
Oh and by the way, they are also drop dead gorgeous in their glowing, piano-lacquered rosewood glory. Most companies charge you extra for finishes this fine. Not Nola. Available in piano black, too.
We are thrilled to have the world's first review of these magnificent beasts coming very soon.
At about the same price were these Model 3.2 speakers from Scaena at $54,000. This is the second "Best of Show" award we've bestowed up these, even though these were a smaller configuration. Driven by a huge VTL S400 tube amp with a through-the-roof priced rack of dCS Scarlatti digital and equally costly Nordost Odin cable, this system painted a different picture than the Nola's but also very impressive.
Completely breaking the electrostatic limitations of not playing very loud or going very low, as well as being very hard to drive, Roger Sander's reasonably priced ($12,999) electrostat 10b will play all day at 100+db and go down flat to 20Hz with 98db efficiency. Integrating with the rugged Ultrastat panel is a 10" bass driver utilizing a magnetic damping system that starts and stops up to 10x faster than conventional drivers, Sanders says. It's installed in a proprietary transmission line controlled by its own included 600 watt Crossover Amplifier. An electronic crossover completes the system and offers finite adjustment of the bass and mid frequency balance to accommodate room variability and personal preference. Just add your own power for the stat panels.(He makes that, too if you need it)
Now if he could only increase that narrow sweet spot so those of us with wives that love to listen with us could hear both channels, too - without sitting directly in back of us. We are expecting these for their first review as well.
BEST VALUE SPEAKER
Go ahead. Show us a better sounding floor-standing speaker for $799 per pair. We dare you. These are the X-Statik open baffle speakers Danny "Curls" Richie designed for AV123 driven by the top tier Dodd preamp we reviewed recently, as well as Dodd tube amps.
If you want to really get down, add a matching powered 15" subwoofer for $699 that has claimed
in-room response down to 17 Hz.
Millennium M-CD Mat
CARBON CD DAMPER
The improvement in CD sound is startling. A couple of exhibitors we know at the show bought these to improve the sound of their demo's. (We told you how the sound gets tweaked throughout the show) These actually caused quite a little buzz in Denver. Our publisher brought one home and says he'll never play another CD without one. They are said to improve the ripping process as well as DVD video. We'll have the first dedicated, individual review of this in the next couple of weeks.
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