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Impressions:  THE Show Newport Beach 2016, Part 1, My Audio Oasis! Awards

07-06-2016 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 86

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Already! Already THE Show has come and gone! Where did June 9-12 go?

The first post-Richard Beers event is in the books now, and the results are in. According to Maurice Jung, the new president of THE Show, and his staff, total attendance was nearly 10,400 over the four days. The “Industry Day” was Thursday, from 2:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.; Friday-Sunday were open to all. Judging by what I saw of the traffic, interest was higher than ever, and the general public days saw steady traffic throughout. No slow day on Friday…traffic was good…and no huge vacuum on Sunday, wherein I saw a good crowd in the halls. Had Richard Beers been in attendance, he would have been as pleased as punch at the outstanding turnout. Certainly Bob Levi was enthusiastic!

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Positive Feedback did another hospitality room at this year’s show, and were in the same place (441) as last year. We had our usual great Ristretto Roasters coffee, made fresh throughout each day, plus single malt whiskey, bourbon, and some wine. (The response was pretty keen, as you might imagine.) Our four days of DSD-only playback via our world-class-yet-compact system was a high-point for many of our visitors, who sipped, listened, and talked with others and with us.

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The amazing darTZeel LHC-208 Integrated Amplifier with Quad DSD DAC

Once again we had another high-quality audio system in our own room, featuring the following products courtesy of their designers/distributors:

  • Evolution Acoustics MMMicro One Loudspeakers
  • darTZeel LHC-208 Integrated Amplifier with Quad DSD DAC
  • LampizatOr Golden Gate Quad DSD DAC with balanced output (via four 101D directly-heated triodes)
  • Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack with Grid Shelves
  • Skogrand Cables Beethoven speaker cables, interconnects, and USB cable
  • Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit and Elation! Ethernet cable
  • Synergistic Research Active Ethernet SE cable

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A vision of tubed glory:  The LampizatOr Golden Gate Balanced with 101D directly-heated triodes serving DSD playback…yowzah!!

The results were truly excellent, and four days of only Single, Double, and Quad DSD in our hospitality room led to some great times of listening. I didn’t hear anyone complain about the quality of the sound in 441. Must have been the absence of PCM.

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The PF hospitality room system, partway through setup. It takes a lot of work to put together these systems, and optimize them on a short timeline. The top shelf is where the LampizatOr Golden Gate would be placed on the following morning, to finish out the rig.

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American finger-picking style master guitarist Keith Knight, with his beloved vintage Taylor Leo Kottke 12-string guitar...amazing!

But there was more:  On Saturday, we had live music sessions in our room with the master American finger-picking style and blues guitarist, Keith Knight…what a knock-out time we had! Hearing Keith’s mastery on 6- and 12-string guitars, up close and personal, was a revelation. (Of course, the bourbon and the single malt helped.) In fact, four tracks of Keith’s music was recorded directly to Quad DSD on the exceptional Merging Technologies HAPI A/D by none other than Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records. The results, which I have here in our reference listening room, were nothing less than spectacular. Cookie should be releasing these as Quad DSD downloads very soon now.

Naturally, the show itself was excellent. In fact, this was the best THE Show ever, in my book. There were a gratifying number of superior rooms, ones that easily qualified for my Audio Oasis! Award. For new readers, let me explain that one. As I wrote back in May regarding my Audio Oasis! Awards at AXPONA 2016:

“As always, my Audio Oasis! Awards are intended to recognize rooms at audio shows that are well above the run of the mill. Yes, we all know that shows are tough environments for fine audio…yes, we all know that it takes special skill and knowledge to put together synergistic matches in those settings. Some folks hit upon a really good combination by serendipity…but some people get great results year in and year out.

All the way back in PF issue 23, January/February of 2006 (HERE), in the aftermath of CES, I put it this way:

The result of this approach is a new [Positive Feedback] show honor, which I'm dubbing the "Audio Oasis!" awards. This is my personal recognition of the rooms that, even under show conditions, really connected with me, and refreshed me in the midst of the tyrannous urgency of CES. If these systems can connect emotionally at CES, I reckon that you can count on them doing great things in your listening room at home. That's a good thing to know if you're looking for guideposts on your audio quest.

A word of warning for my readers: the "Audio Oasis!" awards should not be viewed as a variant of the nearly worn-out "best of show" recognitions that are all too common in audiodom. I did not see every room at CES and T.H.E. Show, and can have no idea of how what I didn't hear sounded like. Furthermore, there aren't nearly enough days at CES to do that properly in the first place, and its hotel-based environment is marginal, at best. "Best of Show" is only a legitimate designation if the listener: a) heard every room at CES/T.H.E. Show, and b) knows what he or she is talking about. Think of it as the combination of opportunity and sensibility. I don't think that these conditions are met very often; if they were, there would probably be fewer of such pronouncements. Enough said.

I republish an introduction with each iteration of the Audio Oasis! Awards, to keep the rationale firmly in sight. These are no throw-aways; they are based on my long experience in fine audio, are deeply meant, and carefully considered.

Let us hie ourselves to the exceptional rooms, then. In no particular order, and with some summary notes…

 

GTT Audio/Alma Audio/Audionet/YG Acoustics/KRONOS/Kubala-Sosna

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No surprise here at all. Bill Parish, Joe Kubala, and Dick Diamond have their rooms down to a science, and deliver exceptional sound show in and show out.

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The combination of YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2 speakers, Audionet electronics (PAM G2 Phono Stage, EPX Power Supply, MAX Monoblocks), KRONOS Pro turntable with Black Beauty Tonearm and Air Tight Opus 1 MC cartridge, and Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit and Elation! cables provided a stellar experience. I always relax in a room where Bill, Joe, and Dick have been operating…and this was a really big room! This combination filled it up with the real thing, and made effortless, world-class music.

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A well-stacked room! The KRONOS Pro LE turntable system with Black Beauty tonearm and Air Tight Opus 1 MC cartridge, Audionet PAM G2 phono amp with EPX external power supply, Audionet PRE G2, Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit, on an Audio Vault Rack.

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The GTT Audio Audionet room gang:  From left, Joel Alperson, a member of the YG Acoustics family, Joe Kubala of Kubala-Sosna, Bill Parish of GTT Audio, Arturo Manzano of Axiss Audio, and Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics.

No further comment needed. This is the real deal, a slam-dunk call. And those of you new to our industry would do well to imitate these folks. Bill, Joe, and Dick know how to do it to it!

GTT Audio/YG Acoustics/Mola Mola/Kubala-Sosna

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This goes ditto for this room, where Bill, Joe, and Dick linked up with Bruno Putzey’s Mola Mola to provide compact and attractive electronics with astonishing punch and touch.

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The Mola Mola Makua Linestage with optional Phonostage, DAC, and Metal Remote were pushing signal to the Kaluga Monoblock Amps, which in turn drove a pair of YG Acoustics Carmel 2 loudspeakers via Kubala-Sosna cables. I also noticed that the AURALiC ARIES was in the room.

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The AURALiC ARIES in the audio chain with YG Acoustics Carmel 2 loudspeaker

I have to admit that I’ve developed a real affection for the Mola Mola line. It’s trim stuff, very attractive, and really drives the Carmel 2’s with transparency and authority. You find it hard to believe that such compact designs can push the Carmel 2’s around the room so effortlessly, but Bruno’s electronics does so with ease. The sound was great, and the whole system could easily fit into an apartment.

High aesthetic appeal, too, which can make a difference to one’s spouse.

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The YG Acoustics Carmel 2

Any doubt about the result here?

Nope, not at all.

GTT Audio/Kii Audio/AURALiC

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In this room, Bill Parish had the brilliant Kii Three powered loudspeakers with built-in DACs. I’ve raved about these before, and am going to do so again.

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In the GTT Audio/Kii Audio room with the Kii Three loudspeakers

The Kii Three’s are really beautiful speakers, with integrated DACs and amps. These amps directly push the drivers that they were designed for, which is the best way to do the amp-speaker interface, if you can get such an arrangement. Kii has included incredible electronics that allow the user to shape the output characteristics of the speaker for the characteristics of the room, as well as the ability to slave the far speaker to the single stereo input to the master speaker, thus minimizing cable runs.

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Bill Parish of GTT Audio with the Kii Three

The sound is highly dynamic, a definite kick-ass loudspeaker! In tandem with the AURALiC ARIES, the Kii Three’s filled this room easily, with taut potent music. No preamps or amps to be seen…about as simple and uncluttered a setup as you could imagine.

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The compact and powerful Kii Three with the AURALiC ARIES in the loop

Anyone looking for a highly compact all-in-one reference-grade speaker system will definitely need to check out the Kii Threes. They’re a knockout in all categories.

An Audio Oasis! Award winner, of a certainty.

Blue Light Audio/Alma Music and Audio/Audio Evolution Acoustics/darTZeel/Wave Kinetics/Durand Tonearms/Talea Audio/Analog Audio Inc./KLAudio/Ortofon

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Another no-surprise room, with truly stellar sound! Jonathan Tinn, Kevin Malmgren, Joel Durand, and friends teamed up to put together a room that was a real mountaintop experience.

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The room was large, but the sound of the Evolution Acoustics MM3 speakers and MMExact external crossover, driven by the darTZeel NHB-18NS preamp, LHC-208 danalogue integrated amp with Quad DSD DAC (also in the PF hospitality room), 458 reference monoblock amps, and fed by Wave Kinetics’ NVS turntable with Durand Kairos tonearm, or Joel Durand’s new Talea Audio tubed Quad DSD DAC, was beyond great…it was bloody spectacular…just what the editor ordered! Absolutely full-range sound, with extraordinary transparency, and yet with truly authoritative dynamics.

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The Blue Light Audio/Alma Audio Gang:  From left, Scott Wasserman, friend of the family, Joel Durand of Durand Tonearms and Talea Audio, Jonathan Tinn of Blue Light Audio, Kevin Malmgren of Evolution Acoustics, Din Johnson of Ristretto Roasters, and Ron Resnick of Mono and Stereo.

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Jonathan Tinn and his passion for all things darTZeel...putting his mono on the block!

In fact, the only thing larger than the MM3 plus MMEXACT in the Evolution Acoustics quiver are the even larger and more impressive MM7’s, which are truly monumental. (Just ask the guy who knows. That would be me, among others.)

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Joel Durand with his Athanor tubed DSD DAC, an amazing performer in the Blue Light Audio room:  a portrait

It didn’t matter what we were listening to:  DSD, LP, or open reel tape, the results were all the same. First rate and world class on all counts! Take that to the bank. And this was another room to imitate, newbies to the biz…Jonathan Tinn and company know how to do it right!

An easy winner!

On A Higher Note/Merging Technologies/Luxman/Vivid Audio/Joseph Cali/Shunyata Research

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Another one of the big-gun large rooms on the main floor, which constituted a murderers’ row of excellence. Philip O’Hanlon is another distributor who definitely knows how to put together an impressive audio space.

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This time, it was the big Vivid Giya G2 speakers in conjunction with the also-big Luxman B1000f monoblocks, assorted Luxman electronics, and the Merging Technologies NADAC MC-8 Quad DSD DAC, which DSD DAC is always a winner. Philip was doing work with both stereo and surround playback in DSD, some of which was still coming together when I visited his room on Friday. That was in addition to the fantastic sound from the ½” half-track tape deck. Nevertheless, the playback quality of the DSD material was outstanding…yet another full-range system, with state-of-the-art sound. Really good synergy here, under the challenging stress of a big room on the ground floor.

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The exceptional Vivid Giya G2 speaker with its accompanying Luxman B1000f monoblock

I stayed for a good little while, just taking it in. Open reel tape and DSD…what’s not to love?! Lots of traffic here too, for sure, I noticed, with people taking in both stereo and surround experiences. Philip was very ambitious, and worked hard to make this wide array of audio experiences exceptional for his audiences.

No doubt here:  A clear Audio Oasis! Award winner once again for Philip O’Hanlon and On a Higher Note.

MBL North America/MBL/United Home Audio

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This year’s THE Show room for MBL/UHA was (no surprise!) another excellent go of it. MBL’s Jeremy Bryan is one of the real show room setup kings, with MBL’s customary exceptional gear.

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There were some changes from AXPONA 2016. Instead of the humongous 101 X-treme configuration with a quadsome of 9011 reference monoblocks, which is the top-of-the-heap for MBL, Jeremy went with their 101E Mk. II speakers powered by their Noble line amp with its Class D design. There was still the 6010D reference preamp, though, always an excellent thing. Definitely a fine sound overall, with the usual holographic effect that MBL’s surround speakers produce, but I would not put it in the same category of awesome authority as the AXPONA 2016 system. That’s no shame for the Noble line, of course; the sound was still very impressive, and delighted the crowds that flocked in due to the quality of the results.

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The United Home Audio Phase12S OPS (outboard power supply) RTR tape decks

UHA’s Greg Beron was once again squiring one of his very fine Phase12S OPS RTR machines, and spinning some outstanding tapes for the pleasure of the throngs that made their way through this room.

Despite the changes in the associated MBL system from AXPONA 2016, this was a very fine system, and worthy of my Audio Oasis! Award.

Done!

The Voice That Is/TIDAL Audio/LampizatOr/Dynamic Design/Stillpoints/Resolution Acoustics

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Doug White of The Voice That Is knows how to put together a righteous system, without a doubt. This year at THE Show, the team in the TVTI space really showed their stuff!

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The TVTI gurus:  Left to right, Bill Artope of Dynamic Design, Fred Ainsley of LampizatOr North America, Doug White of The Voice That Is, and Olu Sonuga of Dynamic Design.

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In The Voice That Is room...gorgeous in every way

Doug and I first crossed paths at AXPONA 2015, when his large room was positively spectacular. That was my first intro to TIDAL Audio of Germany, Dynamic Designs, and so on. (For my AXPONA 2015 show report, see http://positive-feedback.com/show-reports/impressions-axpona-2015/). We saw each other again at RMAF 2015, where we made the arrangements for a full TIDAL Audio system review. This took place from December 2015 through March 31, 2016…my review will be out by summer’s end…and confirmed in our reference listening room what I was hearing at shows. TIDAL Audio is a serious, first-rank, world-class audio company, with top-notch electronics, speakers, and cables.

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The TIDAL Audio Preos-D preamplifier on its Stillpoints Ultra VI Isolation Feet and Stillpoints ESS Rack with acrylic shelves

So it was no surprise then when I visited this room at THE Show 2016, and found that Doug and company were once again making beautiful music together. The TIDAL Contriva G2 speakers were smaller than the Agoria speakers that I had here for review, but in tandem with the Preos-D preamp and Impulse Dual Mono amplifier, cabled by Dynamic Design, and fed wonderfully by the LampizatOr Golden Gate DSD/PCM DAC, produced notably excellent sound.

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The TIDAL Audio Contriva G2 loudspeakers:  standard-setting beauty

There was no doubt about it:  This room had the magic touch! Every time I hear Doug’s room at shows, I am more and more impressed, and rightly so. TIDAL Audio plus Dynamic Design plus LampizatOr Golden Gate plus Stillpoints plus Resolution Acoustics is a synergistic match made in heaven.

Definitely an Audio Oasis! Award winner.

Synergistic Research/Soulution/Magico/Berkeley Audio/Sonorus Audio

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Speaking of synergistic!

Ted Denney III and company mounted the most spectacular Synergistic Research room that I’ve ever seen, with an eye to providing demonstrations of the difference that Synergistic Research designs make in fine audio systems…even in the most demanding settings. Ted is always striving to put on a convincing show as he does his demos, and his enthusiasm and conviction are always notable, and generally infectious. And talk about a massive room to do it in!

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In the Synergistic Research room, with the Magico S7 speakers and the Soulution 701 monoblocks. How big was the space? Well, those really large Soulution 701’s are looking pretty small….

This particular collection of equipment was the most ambitious that I’ve ever seen Ted gather:  big names and significant designs like the Magico S7 speakers, Soulution 725 preamp with phono stage, Soulution 701 monoblocks, a Sonorus Audio ATR12 RTR deck, Sonorus Audio Proximity Bass Correction System, plus a ton of the Synergistic Research products (the room sheet listed 19 SR items), including many that I was familiar with (as commented upon by me back in Issue 82:  http://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/impressions-in-which-dr-david-invites-synergistic-research-to-visit-and-gets-gob-smacked/).

But the SR room was HUGE. I couldn’t even tell you how big it was…what, perhaps 30-40’ wide, 50-60’ long, and well over 20’ high? I didn’t have a long tape measure with me, but the place was immense!

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Synergistic Research’s Ted Denney III demonstrating his system enhancement products

And yet, when Ted did his usual listen…then subtract SR treatments (including power conditioning and distribution) and listen again…then return the treatments to their places…the effect was immediately noticeable. With SR products = wonderful; without SR products = disappointing, by contrast. Scott Robertson, one of our PF reviewers from Vancouver, Washington, was with me, and was really amazed at the improvements that Synergistic Research brought to such a large space.

Me, I knew that we would be impressed…we have a set of Synergistic Research components here in Portland, and experience their benefits in two listening rooms every day.

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The new Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF…clarity in spades!

What can you say? This was a painfully obvious decision to give the SR room an Audio Oasis! Award.

So let it be written; so let it be done.

PranaFidelity/Groove Note Records/ORG/Basis/Luxman/Kubala-Sosna

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Now here was a very pleasant surprise…and it was just directly across the hall from the PF hospitality room! In this room, Steven Norber and Ying Tan were running one of the intensely musical spaces at THE Show.

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The equipment included the PranaFidelity Vayu/fs speakers, the Purna preamplifier and amplifier, and some great sources:  A Basis Audio 2200 Signature Turntable and Superarm with MY Sonic Labs Ultra Eminent cartridge, an Ampex ATR-102 reconditioned by Bernie Grundman, and a Luxman D-08 SACD/CD player. All were cabled with Kubala-Sosna.

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Steven Norber of PranaFidelity, a portrait

The results on both tape and LP were fantastic. Though the room was smallish and rather narrow…Steven chose to run the system on the wide side of the space…the music felt immersive, and not overwhelming. Ying Tan had some great LPs, as usual, while the tapes played were definite kick-ass material. Certainly the Vayu/fs speakers are one of the real steals of high-end audio right now, at only $6,950 in their basic finish. Incredible kick and value. And the Purna electronics mated quite synergistically, as one would expect with a single designer at the helm.

The results were harmonic, organic, and musically rich. There was a ton that was right about this room…its seductive quality was undeniable.

Quick! An Audio Oasis! Award for Steven and Ying!

Constellation Audio/Von Schweikert Audio/Critical Mass Systems/MasterBuilt/Audioquest

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You know, this isn’t the first time that I’ve been knocked out by the Constellation Audio/Von Schweikert Audio tandem at shows. The same thing happened last year at THE Show 2015, with the same result (see Issue 80 at http://positive-feedback.com/show-reports/impressions-my-audio-oasis-awards-for-the-show-newport-beach-2015/).

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The Von Schweikert Audio/Constellation/Critical Mass Systems/MasterBuilt/Audioquest room was an imposing sight and sound…

This year Constellation and Von Schweikert teamed up once again, with stellar results. The Constellation electronics consisted of the enormous new Constellation Centaur II Stereo amplifier (250 Watts per), the Cygnus Media Player DAC, coordinated by the attractive Virgo III Preamplifier, all feeding the VSA Aktive VR-55 loudspeakers, a long-time favorite of fellow PF scribe Greg Weaver. Joe Lavrencik’s Critical Mass Systems supplied state-of-the-art racking and isolation, with MasterBuilt providing their Ultra cabling, and Audioquest providing the power conditioner.

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The Constellation Audio Centaur II Stereo Amplifier:  Meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy!

This was a powerfully dynamic and gut-punching room, with the ability to rock and roll…but it also had a lot of the Ali-like “float like the butterfly” sense of audio nuance, with the ability to handle quiet and delicate passages with aplomb. The synergy here was notable; these components work and play well together, confirmed now two years in a row.

Color me impressed; there was very much to like in this place.

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The Von Schweikert Audio VR-55 Aktive Loudspeaker...bloody striking!

A definite Audio Oasis! Award winner, without a doubt, and richly deserved.

Colleen Cardas Imports/Brigadiers Audio/PureAudio/Audio Union/Furutech

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As I said, there were some very pleasant surprises during THE Show 2016. That the sunny side of a lack of audio omniscience…the possibility of being delighted by the unforeseen.

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In the Colleen Cardas Imports room with the Brigadiers Audio BA2 loudspeakers, the PureAudio Control Preamplifier and Duo 2 Power Amplifier, the PureAudio Vinyl Phono Preamplifier, Audio Union Helix 1 Turntable, with Furutech cabling and accessories. A gob smacker!

One of these involved this Colleen Cardas Imports room, which featured some unique designs from down under, in Aussie-land. The combination of Brigadiers Audio BA2 loudspeakers, PureAudio Duo 2 power amplifier, PureAudio Control preamplifier, the PureAudio Vinyl phono preamplifier, Audio Union Helix 1 turntable, The Wand tonearm, Les Davis Audio 3D2 constrained layer dampers, and Furutech cables and accessories (Speakerflux loudspeaker cables, Lineflux RCA interconnects, Powerflux-18 power cords, and fTP-615 power line conditioner) was the flea’s knees when it came to some very organic, very juicy music making!

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The PureAudio Duo Amplifier

Colleen Cardas and Marc Phillips did yeoman’s work in putting together a smashing-good package, with LPs sounding heavenly on the Mark Doehmann-designed Audio Helix 1 TT, a real piece of work, and the PureAudio electronics driving the Brigadiers Audio BA2 monitors into a truly seductive zone for me. Excellent harmonics…great detail…but always musical, top to bottom. Beautiful gear, too; quite attractive to the eye, as well as the ear.

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PureAudio’s prez and lead designer Gary Morrison (left) talks with Positive Feedback reviewer Scott Robertson about his work.

I was unfamiliar with all of these components…thus the surprise…but damned impressed by the results, and pleased that I can still be bushwhacked!

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The very attractive Brigadiers Audio BA2 Loudspeaker:  Beauty meets great sound!

A definite winner here…killer stuff!

EAR USA/Marten/Helius/Kiseki/Waveform Fidelity/Jorma/Townshend Audio/Entreq/World Power

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Then again, there are surprises, and then there are old, reliable friends. And Dan Meinwald is certainly one of these, for many years now.

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The maestro Dan Meinwald at the helm…a portrait

This year was no different than tons of other years. Once again, Dan showed himself to be a consummate master of room setup, of optimization of his products, and a connoisseur of great music on LP. Dan knows his stuff…deeply…and has been a reliable guide to what’s what in res audimus.

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The superb EAR USA room…audio ambrosia aplenty

The EAR USA room featured a front end that included the brand-new Helius Viridia turntable with Helius Omega Silver Ruby 10-inch tonearm and Kiseki Purpleheart cartridge, the EAR 509 monoblocks and EAR 912 912 preamplifier, all cabled with Jorma Prime and Origo cables, interconnects, and power cable, plus a Waveform Fidelity GM Mk2 power cord. Townshend Audio supplied the stands and isolation; the grounding box was the Entreq Silver Tellus; power distribution was supplied by the World Power Power Wing.

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The lovely Marten Mingus Quintet Loudspeaker

At the further end were Dan’s long-time love-crush, loudspeakers by Marten. In this case, it was the Mingus Quintet, a beautiful and elegant design. I was extremely taken by what these Martens were doing:  Full-range sound, terrific transparency, and a seamlessness of presentation that soothed the soul as it impressed the mind. EAR and Marten seem to be made for each other; via the Jorma cabling, they were audio ambrosia. And, as always, Dan’s taste in music was top-notch, with a mixture of jazz and classical that was quite alluring. (Looking for important titles on LP in these genres? Check with Dan.)

Yet another of my Audio Oasis! Awards for Dan, for yet another year of showing just how soul-satisfying fine audio can be for us all.

German Physiks/Merrill Audio/EMM Labs/VPI/VAS NY/EQUI-CORE/Stillpoints/GIK

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Going back to the realm of audio surprises once more, I must admit that I was very taken by the audio results in this space.

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The Merrill Audio/German Physiks/Stillpoints/VPI/EMM Labs/EQUI-CORE/GIK/VAS NY room…another bushwhacking for Ye Olde Editor

There were quite a lot of participants, to wit:  German Physiks HRS-130 omnidirectional loudspeakers, being fed courtesy of Merrill Audio ANAP speaker cables by some very fine electronics:  the Merrill Audio Christine Reference Preamp and Merrill Audio Jens Reference Phono Stage linked to the Merrill Audio VERITAS Monoblock Power Amplifiers via Merrill Audio ANAP interconnects. The DSD DAC was the EMM Labs DAC2X; the turntable was the VPI Avenger Signature with the VAS NY Nova Signature Cartridge. Stillpoints provided the rack and isolation via their exceptional ESS Reference Rack with Acrylic Shelves. Other accessories included the EQUI-CORE Balanced Power Cord Conditioner and GIK Tri-Corner Bass Traps.

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The German Physiks HRS-130 omnidirectional speaker with carbon fiber enclosure

I’ve heard the German Physiks speakers before, but it had been a number of years ago at Scott Robertson’s listening room. The sound there was promising, but nowhere near the performance of this latest iteration GP speaker design, expressed in carbon fiber, and driven by the Merrill Audio electronics and the VPI Avenger turntable. Zounds! The HRS-130's were not just somewhat better; they were way better! By far the best that I've ever heard German Physiks sound! The sense of the holographic and authoritative presence of the music was really noteworthy, and I found myself compelled by the musicality and soundstaging of the system. In fact, I stayed longer than I expected, bemused by the significant gains over my earlier experience with German Physiks. They had clearly improved their designs, but Merrill Audio was just as obviously showing its stuff.

Audio life is funny that way…there’s always more to learn, unless you’ve allowed yourself to drift into becoming an old curmudgeon/a know-it-all. (It happens; I hope that it has not happened to you, though.)

Great sound and real mojo in this room, and an Audio Oasis! Award to all involved!

Kyron Audio

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While on the subject of surprises:  The Kyron Audio room was probably at the top of this list for me. I hadn’t heard of Kyron Audio before…no, I don’t generally read other audio publications, to keep my mind clear from being influenced in my impressions by other voices…and so had no preconceptions about them at all. I just happened to be on their floor, was passing by their room, glanced in at the very different speaker design, which was without enclosure…and then the music seized me, and pulled me in!

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The Kyron Audio system on parade…zounds!

That’s generally a sign that I might be in the presence of an Audio Oasis! room. I always pay attention to that.

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Kyron Audio’s room had the Kronos system with its DEQX-designed DSP system to actively control and tune the response of the speakers in any room. The integrated amp/preamp system develops around 2,000 watts of fully dedicated power to the Kronos speaker array. There are two 1” ring tweets, a single 7” mid, and two 12” woofs, designed as a dipole array…both front and back, with no enclosure. No enclosure; no big problems of dealing with the sonic characteristics of the box per se.

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Having problems with loudspeaker enclosures? Go naked!

The Helix 1 turntable, the same that was in Dan Meinwald’s EAR room described above, was the LP source, with a Schroeder tonearm, and a cartridge that I missed. The phono stage was by Orpheus, and was likewise unfamiliar to me. No matter; the sound of LPs in this place via this system was truly exceptional, mind-bogglingly clear, clean, and uncolored. In fact, it was perplexing in a very good way to be accosted by such wonderful musical reproduction by a collection of unknown players. The Kyron Audio approach represents a collection of audio technologies that have been brought together in a creative new way, and the audio virtues represented thereby got my attention immediately.

Another example of audio brilliance by the folks down under. Wonderful!

And a definite Audio Oasis! Award winner. Nicely played, gents!

The Lotus Group/PranaWire/Gauder Akustik/Accuphase/Resolution Audio/Air Tight/Hanss/Durand Tonearms/WireWorld/fo.Q/Acoustic Revive

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Back to the world of old friends once more!

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Joe Cohen of The Lotus Group and PranaWire

Joe Cohen’s The Lotus Group room never fails to move me, as it always seems to reflect Joe’s marvelous set of audio values about what is (or ought to be) right, true, and beautiful in the audio arts. A musician himself (see, for example, his article in Issue 84 at http://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/my-life-in-music-by-joe-cohen/), trained in the discipline of Indian masters, he has a sense of the mystical and emotional connections that music has to the human soul.

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His selection of audio lines/products shows this. At this year’s THE Show, he had a room showcasing the Gauder Akustic RC-7 MkII loudspeakers, fed by the Hanss T-60E Special Edition turntable and Joel Durand’s Kairos tonearm with an Air Tight PC-1S Phono Cartridge, with a WireWorld phono cable. Electronics included the Accuphase C-2820 Preamp and A-70 Stereo Amp, and an Air Tight ATE-2005 Phono Preamp. All cabling was by Joe’s own PranaWire.

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The Hanss Equipment Rack provided the foundation, with fo.Q HEM-25-B andS footers supplying the isolation. Power conditioning was supplied by Acoustic Revive.

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The very fine Hanss T-60E Special Edition turntable and Joel Durand’s Kairos tonearm with an Air Tight PC-1S Phono Cartridge…making beautiful music together!

As usual, Joe’s room put me into a state of real relaxation, allowing the hurley-burley of THE Show to drop away. Again, this is the heart of an Audio Oasis! experience for me…this sense of slowing down, taking it in, and reconnecting music with soul. There was a truly organic rightness here that indicated exceptional synergy.

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Year after year, Joe Cohen achieves what all should be striving for:  Contemplation and meditation that flows from the divine gift of music.

This award’s for you, Joe!

ModWright/Daedalus/WyWires/VPI/GIK Acoustics

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Let me introduce you to another collection of long-time audiobuds:  Dan Wright of ModWright, Lou Hinkley of Daedalus Audio, Alex Svetinsky of WyWires, and Mat Weisfeld of VPI. Year in and year out, these gents get it right!

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Daedalus Audio’s beautiful Athena V.2 Loudspeakers delivering the goods for the rest of the ModWright/WyWires/VPI/GIK Acoustics system

Dan was in great form, appearing with his new Ambrose A30 monoblock tube amps, being singled-ended EL34 designs, his Elyse DAC (which I am still waiting for DSD upon!), the LS 36.5 DM preamp, his PH 150 tubed phono stage, and his ModWright “Truth” Oppo BDP-105 two-box tubed SACD/Universal player (which I own and love!).

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Dan Wright’s great new monoblock tubed amplifier, the Ambrose A30 EL-34-based design

Also in the room was Lou’s Daedalus Audio Athena V.2 compact floor-standing speakers, his DiD isolation devices (the real thing…we use them here), and his new DiD turntable isolation platform.

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The proud papa Dan Wright with his new A30’s:  a portrait

The turntable was Mat Weisfeld’s VPI Aries TT with the JMW 12 tonearm…hmmm, missed the cartridge, somehow.

All cabling was by Alex’s WyWires, including the Silver, Diamond, and Platinum levels of cabling. Great stuff!

Finally, acoustical treatments were provided by the GIK Acoustics Alpha Series panels and bass traps.

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Daedalus Audio’s Lou Hinkley with his creation, the Athena V.2 loudspeaker:  a portrait

The results were very fine, even at the opening of the event. Dan’s new amp sounded delicious:  rich, musical, and yet nicely detailed and capable of notable punch with Lou’s high-efficiency speakers and Alex’s lovely cables. Mat’s VPI TT provided a fine level of groovy grooves, showing that VPI is very solid going into the next generation with Mat at the helm. Dan, Lou, and Alex have been showing together on a regular basis for years; being in this room shows you why they do so. The superior synergy is obvious…these designs really work as a team.

Don’t ever break up, amigos!

Another THE Show, another PF Audio Oasis! Award for the Three Musketeers….

Stein Music

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Holger Stein of Stein Music is a creative person who is well outside of the proverbial box when it comes to system enhancements. I’ve been using products like the DE-2 optical disc enhancer and DE-3 LP enhancer for years now, plus his discs and his Harmonizer room treatment system. All very interesting products that show definite ameliorative effects in my listening room.

So when I went to Holger’s room this year, I was expecting to see a collection of his accessories.

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Instead, I got a room absolutely stuffed with an arresting looking complete system, with electronics that included the top-of-the-line Stein Music MP 2 music player, Amp 2 integrated, and a remarkable looking horn system, called the SP 12.3 loudspeakers (also called the “Bob” for some mysterious reason), itself stuffed with a rather mind-boggling complement of mid-bass (3x10”) and bass (6x12”) drivers. The bass array of each speaker is driven by two dedicated 450 Watt amplifiers with DSP; everything above 60 Hz is passive and pushed by your external amp.

Holger Stein believes that all components, including so-called “accessories” are critical to the mission of maximum connection to the emotion of the music. His array of such items from Stein Music included the Excel Power III power cable, the Excel Power Star power distribution unit, Excel Flat Hybrid Copper speaker cables, and the Silver Matrix interconnects. He also had his Harmonizer System in place, featuring three pairs of H2 Harmonizers, five Blue Suns Signature with Blue Diamonds on top of each Blue Sun, the Quantum Organizers Q3 behind the speakers and the power distribution, and Super Naturals Signature footers under Music Player, Amplifier, Power Distribution and Speakers. Finally, he had placed E-Pads on the glass of the frame pictures and prints in the hotel room to avoid nasty reflections.

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Holger’s hoard of high-end harmonics!

The result?

Yet another gob-smacking moment! I had no idea that Holger had branched out so aggressively into both electronics and speaker design. While I was near the end of the show when I dropped by, and I was really on the move, I must say that the easy dynamics, lack of nasality from his horns, and neutral presentation of his sample music (all PCM digital, I think…no turntable or DSD) was pretty striking. That was appropriate, because the SP12.3 was a striking-looking speaker. I can see that I’m going to have to keep an eye Holger much more carefully now!

While I would have liked to have heard much more from this system…available time is always a bloodhound…what I did hear was impressive enough for me to decide to give Holger and Stein Music one of my Audio Oasis! Awards for some pretty unique work.

Done!

Skogrand Cables…and notes on the Positive Feedback hospitality room

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Then there was the Positive Feedback hospitality room.

For some pretty obvious reasons, I’m not going to give our own room my own award, but it’s not because it didn’t deserve it. I’ve given recognition elsewhere in this article to companies like darTZeel (LHC-208 integrated amp with Quad DSD DAC), LampizatOr (Golden Gate Quad DSD DAC), Evolution Acoustics (MMMicro Ones with stands), Stillpoints (ESS Reference Rack with Grid Shelves), Telos (Active Ground System), and Kubala-Sosna (XPander Power Distribution Unit, Realization USB Cable, and Elation! Ethernet Cable). All of them were also in our room, where they did extraordinary work in handling four days’ worth of Single, Double, and Quad DSD recordings. The reaction of the throngs of folks who made it through during those days was uniformly enthusiastic, though I reckon that the bourbon, single-malt whiskey, and wine contributed to the joy too.

And I should also mention the live 6- and 12-string guitar playing by Keith Knight on Saturday afternoon in our room that kept the joint jumpin’! Definitely yowzah! stuff.

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Knut Skogrand:  A portrait

I’ve already given awards to them, but I need to do a major tip-o’-the-hat to Knut Skogrand and Skogrand Cables for providing the main body of cabling in the PF room. Knut’s Beethoven reference speaker cables, USB cable, and RCA interconnects were crucial components in our system, and showed that Skogrand is absolutely in the first rank of cable designers and manufacturers on the plant. This was confirmed day in and day out for me, as we listened to many hours of very demanding recordings through the rest of our system.

Thanks to all (Jonathan Tinn of Blue Light Audio, Joe Kubala of Kubala-Sosna, Fred Ainsley of LampizatOr North America, and Bruce Jacobs and Paul Waukeen of Stillpoints) for their help in our room in 2016, but Knut, this Audio Oasis! Award is especially for you, amigo!

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And so…

…another THE Show goes into the books, the largest in the history of this event. As I think back on it, I’d have to say that this year’s show was the best ever. Much appreciation to Maurice Yung and the Beers family, Marine Presson, Bob Levi and the LAOC Audio Society, and all the people who have helped to grow this event to a place of special prominence in North America.

If you weren’t there, you really missed it! Don’t make the same mistake next year….

 

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