I was at the show Sat. am and some of the afternoon. I noticed that a rep from Stereophile, The Absolute Sound and Positive Feedback were among the crowd. Not sure about any other media coverage but interesting to see these names in attendance. I was on the elevator with a rep from an amp company and one of the media reps. In response to a question to the amp rep of "what do you think?", the hesitant answer was "a little quiet." I guess that was polite for not-so-much turn out. Maybe so, I don't have a lot of experience with these shows but it does make for a lot more room in the listening rooms. I spent most of my time with Salk/AVA. Partly intentional as a prospective buyer and partly because the sounds were very nice.
The room was (wonderfully) unadorned and limited in terms of equipment presented. All focus therefore was left to the sound and not spot-lighted bottle amps and massive amp chassis. Two speakers, two amps, DAC and streaming source. Oh, wait, Jim had his laptop and tablet to guide the music streaming. Not sure if this reduced essence of the two-channel audio experience was intended, whether the boys just wanted to travel light, or just a reflection of the men behind the gear. Works for me any which way.
Unlike most here I am not an AVA owner (yet) so I have no stake in the game, no basis for what AVA “sounds” like. I went to their room first and last with a lot of stops in between to get a reference in mind for that later visit. I was surprised to see Frank and Dean in attendance and had a chance to ask some questions personally to Frank and Dean about the hybrid concept. Also got to talk with Jim Salk on his fine designs. Beautiful sound, wonderful craftsmanship.
In a nutshell the system sound was clear, effortless, and surprisingly dynamic. The SoundScapes are large floor standers but not physically imposing as the Wilsons were downstairs. Yet the sound was full and the low end was there in full measure. The speakers need a good energizer (I guess) and the AVA amp provided all that was needed and more. I mentioned to Frank and Jim I had was impressed with the clarity without the transient “bite” that often comes with such clarity. The decay did not intrude and cause any kind of overhang or hash. The overall sound did seem affected by the room (just a wee dram) but overall a good full response, no bloat, no glare, no slap.
I thought the MBLs at the show also excelled at clarity combined with substance. The sound in the MBL room was equally impressive in clarity but seemed larger in soundstage. Then again they had a larger room. And needed it to house their huge, massive amplifiers. Impressive equipment but I can’t fathom the cost. The Wilson room was larger still and the seating was distant and centered between very widely spaced speakers. It was nice to hear such equipment but between the seating arrangements and unimaginable costs I felt the distance in many ways.
So hiked back up to room 426 and settled in again to something more familiar, a lot more comfortable and much more attainable. Good job Frank and Jim.
PS, the best surprise for me at the show was a setup room-tuner Bob Hodas put together. Focal speakers and VTL amplification with a half inch reel-to-reel as source. Whoa! Kind of pissed me off when someone pulled out a CD for a demo. That tape stopped and the fun just kind of fizzled away.