I'm sorry, not too many pix this year, I was too busy trying to hear everything, seeing friends and making new friends. The show this year was a mixed bag for me. The main thing I came away with is it costs SERIOUS money to get great sound and I'm not sure it's possible to get truly great sound reproduction from anything other that a tape or vinyl source.
I hate saying that because I've been committed to making digital work for quite a while, but everything I heard at the show that was sourced from digital had a noticeable distortion that I'm not sure how to label. It was most noticeable in big symphonic works, choirs, sustained high violins, all in the upper frequencies, it usually has one or more of the following qualities: glare, peakiness, congestion, hardness/grain, hash, even over-modulation. I talked with many people about this at the show and I got as many opinions, really, everyone had a different take on it. I left unsure what to do next, but with several interesting ideas. Putting that little tantrum aside, there were a lot of really good set ups and a few really outstanding rooms this year. These may not be the best because I didn't get to hear everything in depth, but these are the ones that bowled me over:
Hifi One's room was stunning. You can see most of it on their website, if you look at the reference system: rbhifi1.com. But what really blew my socks off was Arian Jansen's Sonorus tape deck, proximity subwoofer and tapes. The closest thing I can compare it to is the big MBL rooms at these shows, but more realistic and natural. I won't pretend to understand it, but I'll try to give a simplistic description: He takes multi-channel sources and through his own proprietary process creates a two track 1/4 reel-reel tape that produces much of the same effect. I don't know if he can mimic 5.1 discreet channels, but it's more to recreate the ambiance of a hall or auditorium, etc. And it does that convincingly. The soundstage is HUGE. But more than that, everything is right there, no matter how softly or loudly, it's uncannily real. He also has a little 8" subwoofer that isn't used to reinforce or extend bass. He says it's used to "condition" the room. To be honest, I couldn't quite grasp what he was talking about. It had something to do with harmonics. But the result is that the sound presented was reaching our ears in a closer way as if it were live, in that venue.
Purist Audio Design was my second favorite room. They had these little floor standers that pressurized the room perfectly. The digital source had problems to my ear, but the $50,000 turntable into these little monsters was amazing. I think we played some Berlioz? I can't remember, but it was a huge symphonic orchestra and I was as close to a real symphony as I've ever been without actually being there.
Silverline Audio had their Bolero speakers there again and they sounded great again!
Vinnie Rossi had his Lio "all-in-one" box there driving a pair of Harbeth Super HL5 (I think) speakers. It was so good, I was sorely tempted to dump my whole system and just simplify.
Channel Island Audio: Duffy had some prototype bookshelf speakers that were really great looking with some kind of proprietary tweeter with a cool looking waveguide. His room was laid out so simply and elegantly that you could just sit, close your eyes and drift away on the music. Oh, and they sounded fantastic. HUGE presentation, smooth, detailed. I couldn't find anything wrong with this room. Best I've heard from him to date.
Fritz has a new tower speaker that is just as beautiful as his bookshelves. I could have spent a lot of time in that room, it was such an easy listen. They were articulate, yet laid back. They took everything I threw at them and kind of said, "So what else you got?". They sounded great.
I heard the Meridian MQA demo and I'm still not ready to make a judgement on it. I'm not familiar with their speaker system, so I wasn't sure what I was hearing. I liked what I heard and there was certainly something unique in the sound. Whether I was hearing something closer to the Master or as they say, drilling all the way back to the microphones… I'm not sure. I'd need to hear it on my system or one I'm familiar with. I have high hopes for this though. Not so much for the compression, which is great, but more for the promise of actual Master quality.
Merrill Audio was showing off these new bookshelf speakers driven by their Thor mono blocks and they sound far better than they had any right to. Thor is the right name for these amps, they had an iron grip on these speakers. Big, kodachrome (without feeling fake). Only was there a short while, time running out, but really liked this room.
The last room I heard was the Elac room with Andrew Jones new line of speakers. I only heard the little $229 bookshelf and I was gobsmacked! I thought his budget pioneer bookshelf was fine, and a great value for the money. But this one went far beyond that one in sound quality and it's a great looking speaker too. I don't know how he managed to get so much low end, and yet keep it well defined and articulated. I never saw that in that small a box before. And the mids and highs were equally solid. I don't know what he had driving them, but I'd imagine you'd want an amp that can take a firm grip of the speaker. It certainly can take it. That speaker could sell for 1K easily.
My favorites at Headphonium:
Campfire Lyra iem. It had a straight forward, honest presentation. The only fault I could find with it was the bass could be overloaded, but it didn't react badly when it was, it just sort of hit a ceiling.
Danacable had a little side by side comparison for their headphone cable. And yes, their headphone cable gave a smoother presentation and less strenuous than the stock cable. But what was really impressive was the Wells Audio headphone amp. WOW.
Hifiman 400s were sweet, neutral with a warm low end that didn't interfere with the rest. It's a low cost winner
Noble K10 is the first IEM I really love, WOW. The lower cost Savant were very good but the Kaiser 10 had much better detail and the bass was downright seductive.
Questyle DAP, R version... a little big and heavy, but handsome. I actually like the user interface, it reminds me of my first ipod and the sound was quite good on the K10's and not too bad on the Mr. Speaker's Ether cans. I'd probably stick to iem's with it though.
I spent about 30 min. on Friday with the Ragnarok/Yggy stack at the Schiit table with 4 different headphones and I wasn't really feeling it. Nothing objectionable, but nothing to write home about, a little dry, a little lean. But today I spent another 20 min and I think I started hearing what all the fuss is about. There was an ease of presentation and I couldn't find any of the digital gremlins I've been noticing EVERYWHERE lately. I'm assuming the shift came from having enough warm up time. I'm still reserving judgment and need to hear it in my speaker system. But this thing just might be the real deal.
There were so many rooms I just didn't get a chance to listen to. Believe it or not, three days isn't enough.