Part 1 Report By Kemper Holt
My first stop on Friday morning was the United Home Audio suite showing a debut of a new KT 150 output tube in a pair of JoLida Luxor mono blocks, sporting four KT 150s per amp. The Luxor's are a four-piece set with outboard power supplies. Greg Beron of UHA said the KT 150 is sweeter up top, with better bass than the already great sounding KT 120. The Luxor's were driving MBL 116 speakers via Celtic cables and the sources were two of UHA's Phase 11 RTR tape decks. It was a beautifully decorated room, and sounded even better. The Beatles and Eagles tracks I heard were dynamic, and voices and instruments were placed individually across the stage in 3-D glory. Greg and I both noticed the aural phenomena of improved perceived sound quality when he turned down the overhead lights. To the delight of many attendees, Greg hosted late night listening sessions with spectacular comments from those who stayed late. I visited this room many times to enjoy the music being played.
High Water Sound took a lobby level conference room and transformed it into a plant emporium that was packed most of the weekend. Somehow getting bad rooms to sound good is Jeff Catalono's calling card. The TW Acustic AC table caught my eye first, massive with a three motor drive and two Raven arms carrying Miyajima carts. Horning Eufrodite speakers fool you at first, all slender, sleek and pretty, then a tympani roll, bass drum, and a full orchestral crescendo set you back in your seat with amazement. That came from those? Looking around back at the woofer array tells the rest of the story. Jeff assembled a Thorens preamp, phono stage, and 845 SE monoblocks to show off the Eufrodites and plugged everything in to a Silver Circle Tchaik AC conditioner. Another room to sit down in and relax, both the sound and atmosphere were inviting.
The Surreal Sound room, shared with Luminous Audio, had Ralph Hellmer showing off an improved Fifth Row speaker. Since my last audition at a mini CAF in February, Ralph added a Heil tweeter to the existing Tang Band midrange driver. Luckily he didn't mess with the stack of push-pull woofers driven by an outboard amp and DSP correction. Opting for a striking natural birch finish showcasing the P-P drivers, the impact of a drum kit was concussive, and you could follow the drummer's path through the set. Overall the Fifth Row sounded open, detailed, and fun. I removed a water bottle for a close up photo of the top drivers, only to find out the bottle and a nickel placed on its side were demonstrating how inert the cabinet is, sorry Ralph. He was also debuting a smaller speaker, the Encore, offering a lot of the performance of the Fifth Row, not requiring bi-amp'ing, while making it easier on your wallet.
Luminous Audio debuted a new phono stage, the Arion, designed by Mike Bettinger of GAS Audio. I heard Luminous gave Mike a no limit cost budget to design the best phono stage he could, the result sounded wonderful in their room. The Arion was fed by one of the many VPI tables at the show, this one a special prototype Classic Direct, direct drive incorporating a magnetic floating feature that will come at sincere coin. This room was always filled and with good reason, the vinyl spun by Ralph made me smile and tap my fingers and feet, I visited this room many times to just relax and enjoy.
Next room was the Legacy exhibit, the new Aeris on one end, and Whispers and Signature SEs on the opposite wall. The Aeris is smaller and better looking in person, and sounded... well I played Tricycle from DMP's CD Flim and the BBs at a fun (loud) level, and the impact of the drum kit and overall dynamics were not bettered anywhere at the show, impressive performance. The Aeris did not benefit from an uber expensive front end, an older Oppo 83 and a Coda amp, and it made me smile. The built in amps for the woofers, active room correction, and the AMT tweeter array all contributed to the well balanced presentation. The Sig SEs displayed a similar sound, incorporating the same folded ribbon array as in the Aeris and Whispers, they might be the best value in the line with much of the performance of its bigger siblings at a skimpier price. This room was very busy with the Aeris and Whispers or Sig SEs taking turns wowing potential customers. Bill Dudelston, Tom Kulavic, and the rest of the staff made the room a friendly escape from show frenzy, and they gave out free CDs with fun songs to make equipment comparisons to boot. Bill gave his Murphy's Law experience, when he personally delivers Whisper's to a client, it's always on the first floor, easy peasy lemon squeezy. If he's installing a pair of Helix's, a substantially heavier speaker, invariably it's down the stairs to the basement, or up a flight or two for the loft. The customer service delivered to Legacy customers ranks with the best in the business.
In the first of two The Voice That Is rooms, the Tidal Contriva Diacera speakers were on display looking beautiful. My eyes were drawn to the 2 Audio Power Labs 50TNT monos, it's tough to upstage the Tidals but the 50TNTs have real stage presence. The Aurender S-10 server displays program info on its front panel making it easy to see what's being played. Steve McCormack's SMC VRE 1 preamp, a Bricasti DAC, Purist Audio Design cables, and Stillpoints completed the system. Clean, clear, and detailed described this room.