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Musical Fidelity, dCS North America, Tempo High Fidelity, Verity Audio, Vibex. There was a real rock fest going down here with Frank Zappa’s Hot Rocks album playing at fairly high volume over the Verity Audio Amadis speakers powered by Musical Fidelity M8700m monoblock amplifiers and M8PRE preamp and adCS Paganini stack. All seats were full and everyone seemed to be transfixed...

...  Frank’s guitar was wailing and the bass was clean and fast. This was a very good-sounding room and had I been able to stick around to hear more types of music, I think it would have ended up as one of my better rooms of the show.

Wisdom Audio. Jon Herron represented Wisdom Audio speakers partnered with Musical Fidelity, a dCS Paganini stack and Transparent cables. A Redbook recording of Suzanne Vega’s My Name Is Luka played. I found her vocal image to be a little diffuse but there was good tone and body on voice and instruments. Leading-edge performance was state of the art. Impact and speed especially on percussion were some of the very best of the show.  Bass (275Hz and down) was powerful and dynamic from two woofers in a transmission line enclosure...

...  It seems that Wisdom Audio is very close to breaking into the upper echelons of high-end audio. It’s not a new company but it seems that their products have undergone some major redesign since I last heard them. A novel subwoofer with a slim 7" wide vertically oriented profile was in the system and hidden behind the curtains.

Esoteric, Teac Reference Series, Cabasse, Wireworld. Cabasse distribution has been acquired by Esoteric and this system was an impressive debut of the new partnership. Both L’Ocean and Riga speakers acquitted themselves with aplomb on Esoteric electronics. My friend Bill played a freshly purchased copy of M&K Realtime Records For Duke on the VPI turntable and it was superb. The timbre of the trumpet was some of the best I have ever heard. The soundstage was seamless and realistic with state-of-the-art imaging. Bass was clean and punchy but Bill felt that overall the whole performance could have been a bit more dynamic. Still one of my best sounds of show.

Paragon Sight & Sound - Doshi Audio, Wilson Audio, Transparent Cables, Harmonic Resolution Systems, SME Limited. I own a Doshi Purist Alaap v2.1 preamp and am a satisfied customer. Here new slimmer Nick was playing Joni Mitchell from Both Sides Now on a SME turntable and tone arm fed through the Alaap preamp into his 90wpc Jhor tube monaural amps driving the Wilson Maxx III speakers. While I surmise that these speakers sound even better in a larger room, the system made a very convincing presentation with both power and finesse. I still would like to hear a smaller speaker and think that the Sophia might be a better Wilson choice. I admit that I am not a big fan of Wilson speakers though.

Brodman Acoustics, Electrocompaniet Inc. I was glad to see Brodman back this year. Last year I had a lengthy and pleasant conversation about the history and design of their unusual and beautiful speakers. This year they wisely played their smaller stand-mounted Festival S ($4.500/pr) since it mated to the room acoustics better than their larger model. I also liked their choice of Electrocompaniet electronics since I find this brand to be some of the most pleasing solid-state gear on the market. Another benefit of visiting this room was that these people know good music. I was treated to a CD of a masterful cello performance called Prayer to God that made it hard to leave. Thank you.

Burmester of North America, ELAC, Vertere. You have to hand it to Burmester for their tremendously handsome product styling. I’d like to have just an empty one of their amp chassis hanging around for artistic display. Then they add top-shelf performance to create the total package. The ELAC speakers in this room (FS 509 VX-JET, a four-way bass reflex) were interesting too with sophisticated driver technology that appeared to have faceted surfaces to the cones. I did not have enough time to investigate further. We listened to some Dead Can Dance as well as Mika, a young Lebanese pop star. The sound too had a sophisticated air to it, managing finesse combined with some unexpectedly serious bass impact on the Mika cut. Very nice.

Apex Audio – Focal, Graham Engineering, Running Springs Audio, TARA Labs, Soulution, Transrotor, Critical Mass Systems, Accuphase, Air Tight. The same Focal Stella Utopia EM ($95.000/pr)-based system of last year had exhibited some bass boom when I visited. This year I heard nothing of the sort. Different components, source material, other? Not sure. This room was definitely up there with the most expensive equipment on hand, here via Soulution 700 monoblocks and 720 preamplifier, 745 CD/SACD player, Transrotor turntable and such. They had an Alison Krauss LP spinning which was sublimely sweet and airy. This should not be taken as faint praise since I often hear Alison’s voice with a nasal pinched quality. This was one case where the glorious excess of a megabuck system actually delivered the goods. Later in the day after official closing time, a number of folks were hanging out here. The system was cranked up full tilt and there was no sign of distress or tonal imbalance. Quite a feat and one of my best sounds of the show.

GTT Audio & Video – YG Acoustics, Tenor, Veloce, Accuphase, Kubala Sosna. Some Gen-Y guy was sleeping in the prime listening seat until I nudged him...

... Between myself and Larry Borden of Dagogo we got him to move. Sitting in the catbird seat, the YG Kipod speakers exhibited soundstaging, transparency, and dynamics that were as good as any. I detected a little forwardness with one classical piece but it could have been the recording. I wish I could have spent more time here.

High End Palace – Eggleston, BAT, Bertran Audio, Nirvana. Larry Diaz had an interesting new computer playback component called the Nirvana Model 9500.  It looks like a server but is called a computer audio transport. It apparently has a built-in DAC which fed the signal to a TACT Audio RCS 2.2 XP and on to a BAT VK-255SE amplifier powering the Eggleston Andra III speakers. Unfortunately my notes are blank on the sound and I’m not sure why. Sorry Larry.

Austin HiFi - Resolution Audio, Tocaro Loudspeakers, Crimson Products Ltd. The unusual Tocaro loudspeakers in this room apparently were descendants of the French Rehdeko speakers. They are 99dB sensitive and now designed and built by Miguel Herrero in Germany. There is no crossover in this two-way. The drivers have a wooden spider for maximum stiffness and response speed. Crimson class B amps drove them with a separate amp on each driver. A Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center served as source. Vocals had great purity as one might expect but some other selections did not fare as well.

BSG Technologies LLC – QOL. BSG was demoing their innovative QOL signal completion stage with a pair of Vandersteen speakers. The same track s played with and without QOL. Hampering the comparison was the fact that QOL made it louder which was not adjusted. Given that caveat I did hear a major increase in soundstage bloom and dimensionality. It was not subtle and I heard no downside.

Sonist Speakers, Snake River Audio, Increcable, deHavilland, Cary. A Joe Bonamasso CD played in this room with the Cary Audio CD player. Randy Bankert showcased his Concerto 4 speakers which are 97dB. The Increcable TIA-280 tube amp drove them easily and considering the affordability of the system, the sound was very well balanced and enjoyable if perhaps giving up some in soundstage depth and wide dynamics. Dean played his Jim King CD and the vocal was as good as we heard it anywhere and better than some of the more expensive rooms.

Gershman Acoustics, Clearaudio, Esoteric, VAC. The Gershman Acoustics Black Swan speaker was new to me and houses the mid/tweeter assembly separately from the woofer box by straddling it on slanted legs that form what appears to be the outside of a single cabinet. This gets around the problem of coupling a mid/tweeter assembly to the top of a woofer cabinet. The latest VAC preamp and amp powered the speakers and a Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable with a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge provided the vinyl front end. An impressive assembly of three Esoteric components (P-02 transport, D-02 DAC, GOrB clock) handled digital sources. Harry James’ Corner Pocket spun on the turntable and upper mids were a little edgy on Harry’s trumpet.  Otherwise there was excellent dynamic impact.

Amherst Audio – Reynaud Speakers, Resolution Audio, Crimson Products Ltd. Bob Neill showed a different model of Reynaud speakers this year, the Abscissa ($5.500/pr). It's a floorstander and not the top model but a favorite of Bob’s. The Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center was source and the speakers were biamped with Crimson mono amps. A Crimson preamp and cables completed the system. My taste differs from Bob’s I guess as I greatly preferred his setup last year with Blue Circle electronics and the Reynaud Offrande Supreme V2 speakers. Dean played the Jim King CD. While the rim shots were crisp, the overall tonal balance was a little lean and raw.