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Home Entertainment 2007
Day One: Friday
Opening day at the Home Entertainment 2007 show, held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in NYC, seemed pretty well attended to me, based on the morning Press Only hours. (It opened at 9 a.m. and I left around 1 p.m. Four hours are more than enough listening and schmoozing at one time for me. General admission began at 2 p.m.)
Joe Kubala on the left and Vladimir Lamm
Critical Mass Systems Joe Lavrencik
Metronome Importer Jim Ricketts
Lamm Industries Room
Immediately after registration, I spied the welcome sight of Joe Kubala talking with Vladimir Lamm outside their room. Inside, Lamm ML2.1 SET monoblocks alternated with M1.2 Reference amps, along with the L2 preamp, and LP2 phono stage. The new two-chassis $126,000 ML3 Signature monoblocks were on static display. Digital was spun on a Metronome Kalista transport and C2 DAC through Wilson Watt / Puppy 8 speakers. Everything was supported by Critical Mass Systems platforms, with Kubala-Sosna Emotion cables in use throughout.
One needed to keep reminding oneself that there were only 18-watts feeding those Wilsons. The sound was big, with lots of low-end authority, in this untreated midsize Boardroom, and it was unmistakably the sound of SETs, with a slightly heavy, but lusciously textured midrange that had plenty of resolution where it counts. Nothing else captures a bowed cello like these amps. Imaging wasn't strong—I mean the stage did not segregate images but gave you a blend, yet you heard everything you needed to hear.
On Friday, it was quite humid outside with occasional rain. Inside, many rooms had a soggy, wet aspect that did not benefit the sound. This may have accounted for the thick middle and slightly damped treble. (Note: I went back on Sunday afternoon when it was drier: no more thick middle or damped treble.)
The BAT Cave
The Wilson Watt/Puppy 8s were also holding forth in the BAT room and provided an interesting contrast. Driven by the VK 150 SE tube amps and the new, two-chassis REX preamp, they sounded much more dynamic and powerful. The soundstage was located in a strange space: there were no hall cues or ambience to speak of—it felt close. Especially with the overhead lighting turned off, it was a beautiful and transporting experience. Shunyata power products and signal cable were used throughout.
Loiminchay and the Mandarin Supreme Speaker
Inside the BAT room, I could hear the strains of a reasonably good-sounding operatic soprano bleeding in from outside. I traced it to the Loiminchay room across the hall. Maria Callas was singing via the Mandarin Supreme speakers. (It takes balls to play a 1950s mono recording at an audiophile show; gotta give them credit for that.) Where to begin? The speaker enclosure is made of layered wood. The woofer surround is cement. And the price per pair starts at $80,000. Not your conventional transducer.
The sound was nice up through the midrange, but I wasn't hearing any treble, and it seemed trapped in the enclosure. Could be the recording, I thought, so I asked them to play my Magdalena Kozena SONGS CD (DG 2124-02). Odd: Magda sounded much like Maria.
mbl Importers Peter, David Alexander and designer Wolfgang Meletzky
Even from the hallway or just poking your head inside, you could tell the superb sound in the mbl room was expensive. It has certain qualities that you only hear from rarefied and costly gear. This can understandably be off-putting for some. As a fellow show-goer and I exchanged notes, he seemed to take for granted the superb sound, tossing it aside with a "but it's so expensive." He was surprised when I told him there were two levels of more affordable components below the Reference Line in use.
My Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet CD (Telarc SACD 60597) played back via the brand-new 1622 SACD transport had vast low-end authority and dynamic headroom in this bigger, again untreated, room. Yet pianissimos were rendered with appropriate delicacy and finesse. It was predominantly midrange, a little dark, a little smooth—I thought it could use a bit more energy on top and more edge and texture. (This was on Friday. When I returned on Sunday, it was no problemo.)
An omni directional speaker has no equal in terms of reproducing big spaces. This room full of mbl Reference Line gear was able to convey the immensity of 100 musicians, the scale of space and air, like no other. The stage it creates is kind of diaphanous, kind of swimming (but not like the Lamm room's stage, because the omni sound seems to come from all around you). However, a problem arises with solo instruments. When we first walked in a CD of piano music was playing and the keyboard seemed immense, as wide as the distance between the speakers.
Magico V3 speaker
In the hotels' hallways, there was considerable buzz about the Magico speakers. I specifically went there early, to see if it was justified.
All was not well in room 1408. I did not find much to like in this RPG-treated room, with the new Magico V3 floor standers, Spectral front-end, VAC amplification and MIT Oracle wires. Sure, it had clarity and detail in spades, but it was also aggressive, fast, thin and dry. Tonally, the upper mids predominated with not much happening in the frequencies below. And timbre went unfulfilled—the piano in its upper register had the same signature as a large ride cymbal.
Later on, I heard the new Magico Mini II monitors, the latest iteration of the TAS speaker of the year—they were a little warmer than the V3, a little lower in their tonal center, but basically had the same character.
I understand the appeal of this kind of sound: it is exactly what mainstream audiophiles are educated to value. But music is about more than Clarity, Definition and Detail.
Day Two: Saturday
The crowds were out on day two, more so than I recall from the last Home Entertainment show in NYC in 2005. Many rooms had so much conversational whispering and sales talk going on as to preclude serious listening or photo taking.
Still Points and Paul Wakeen
The first LP played back over the new Continuum Criterion Turntable and Copperhead arm ($51,000) was a reissue, limited edition, 45-RPM test pressing from Audiophile Record Service. The duet of piano and double bass was full, dark and rich sounding, and set my foot a-tapping. "This man has nimble fingers," I thought, but the perspective was off—it was close enough to feel like you were sitting on the bridge of the instrument.
This was just after they opened the door and as it played through the Concert Fidelity tube preamp and Silicon Arts solid-state mono blocks from Japan, all supported on Stillpoint products and wired with Stereovox cables, you could hear the sound open up: timbre, dynamics and the soundstage bloomed with each passing minute. Cartridges need a good hour of play to warm up before they show what they can really do.
The small, floor-standing, two-way Peak Consult Princess speakers had a way of disappearing into the room, with thoroughgoing coherency. Overall, the Princess speakers had a nice, unforced, very listenable quality, quite the opposite of the punchy, heavy-handed Wilson Watt/Puppies. (Note: The soundstage improved vastly when I returned on Sunday, after the speakers had been moved back 10 inches. And then the Criterion turntable sounded pretty special.)
I hope to have more to report on the Concert Fidelity preamp and phono stage soon.
Krell IPOD docking station
I suppose a rock concert in a stadium sounds something like this. Six hundred watts of famous Krell power were driving the speakers. Everything in the room was Krell, even the CAST interconnects, except for Nordost Valhalla speaker wire.
Yes, I suppose it was perfect for amplified rock. To replay this kind of music, you can't do better than Krell. But it couldn't reproduce a violin. Switching to my Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet CD, yes, I was transported. The image it conjured was a thundering herd of horses coming out of the west and stampeding across the wide screen… This has nothing to do with a symphony orchestra and, of course, there wasn't any screen: for that matter, there wasn't any air or ambience. The information is there, but the timbre wasn't.
High Water Sound's Jeff Catalano and Avatar Acoustics Darren Censullo
Sounds like a voice. Sounds like a piano. Magdalena Kozena was recognizably herself on my SONGS CD. The low-powered SET amps and high-efficiency horn loudspeakers in this extensively treated room yielded seamless, grainless and dynamically virile sounds, with a hefty low-end punch when called for, yet you could relax into it. Sometimes the dynamics were too much for this small room.
In addition to plentiful Acoustic System Resonators, lots of wooden pucks from a new-to-me tweak-meister from England called Abbingdon Music Research were about. This company also made the CD-77 player in use. But vinyl is this boutique's specialty, and the TW Acustic Raven AC turntable, along with the new, more affordable Raven One model, starting at $5000, serviced this. One of my favorite preamps, the TRON Syren, was the heart of a TRON lineup, including the Cantata 300B monoblocks and the Seven Reference phono stage, all on Silent Running Audio racks. Speakers were the Aspara HL1.
I haven't seen Jadis on these shores in a while. I'm glad they now have a North American importer. This untreated room sported a minimal setup: an $8K tube integrated, a $3500 CD player and $7500 Proac speakers. It was soft and caressing, a beautiful sound with smooth dynamic ramp up to forté. But it had a dull edge—where was the texture? The setup obviously needed more attention—it looked like the electronics were mounted on their shipping boxes, providing a spongy platform indeed.
Day Three: Sunday
Happy Mother's Day!
the Cabassé lineup
Cabassé, La Sphere
Is it possible to have a spherical sound? Something about the sound of the Cabassé La Sphere speakers was decidedly different from the "linear" types of drivers.
Silverline's Alan Yun
Silverline's Alan Yun has done it again, with the diminutive Minuet bookshelf ($600/pair) and the narrow, floor-standing Prelude ($1200/pair). This was one of the surprises of the show. No, they are not contenders, but if you're under severe budget or space constraints, these mites made music.
You can often tell what the sound will be like before anything is played, just by looking at the CDs lying around. I spied Cecilia Bartoli's collection of eighteenth-century songs, If You Love Me, and asked to hear it. So began our mezzo-soprano face-off. I dug how the system was able to keep Cecilia in scale and how it let her breathe, without strain on the high notes either in the room or from the gear.
This was highly musical and at a price that belied its quality: the Hyperion HPS-968 speakers are $6500; the preamp, $1700; the HT-845 monos, $4800. The system was bi-amped, giving each set of drivers a dedicated 25 watts. A SONY SCD-1 was the front-end.
It was so good, I had to tempt fate and ask to hear Magdalena's SONGS. Nice. She sounded different, and to my ear, even better than Cecilia. Why not go for broke? We put on Bach Cantatas, with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Sounded different again—maybe not as lovely as Magda, but it had Lorraine's incomparable emotional fireworks. For classical music lovers, the Hyperion gear is a bargain entry point to the good stuff. If you can afford more than the Silverline, this is a good place to go.
Some Additional Rooms
Vandersteen model 5 and Audio Research amp
Nagra and Verity Audio
Salagar powered speakers with class D internal amps
Old-fashioned stereo was everywhere. Turntables were much in evidence and vinyl was quite popular on the retail floor, even more so than digital, it seemed to me, although the number vendors and their overall floor space was down. What happened to home theatre and video? What happened to the predictions of the demise of two-channel and the rise of surround sound?
Going into the weekend, many of the insiders I spoke with were staying away because of the expense of exhibiting in NYC, plus the low return from recent Home Entertainment shows. Nevertheless, there appeared to be about as many rooms to see as at the last HE show here.
Personally, I was happy for the time spent with acquaintances new and old, and ALL of the exhibitors I talked to were pleased with the traffic. I'd rate HE2007 a successful endeavor. I hope Primedia arrives at the same conclusion.