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CAS

2011 2nd CAS Coverage, Part XI

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cas-tbThe second California Audio Show by Dagogo has come and gone with great success. This year the show was held close to the San Francisco International airport which, from what I over heard, was very convenient for both attendees and manufacturer/distributors.

The show was spread across all five floors of the hotel and all the large and small conference rooms on the Lobby level. With some of the manufacturers using some very large speakers in some small rooms, it was very interesting to see the variety of set ups and configurations that the systems were in.

One of the interesting things I noticed is there were a lot of very good and very different sounding $2000 speakers on display. There was the Angel City Audio’s Trinity speakers with their beautiful finish for $1995, so pretty in fact they might have beat out Salk Signature Sound for best looking speaker in show. Margules Group Mexico had their floorstanding SA-2.3 speakers for $1690; Blue Light Audio had the Evolution Acoustics MMMIcroOne Loudspeakers for $2000, great looking and extremely clean sounding. Santa Rosa-based retailer Soundscape was showing off the new Martin Login Electro-Motion speakers for $2000, and Fritz had his $1750 bookshelf speakers that have a fantastic mid-range. It was wonderful to hear the verity of great sound at that price point.

On the Lobby level, Emeryville-based retailer Audio Image was showing off the Magico Q-3 ($34,000) speakers with Audio Research Ref 250 mono blocks ($25,590), which was a U.S. premiere for the power amplifiers. The rest of the system included the Audio Research Ref Anniversary Line stage pre-amp ($25,000) with MIT Oracle MA Speaker Interfaces ($27,000), MIT Oracle MA-X balanced interconnects ($8,849) and MIT Oracle Z-III power cables ($1,199). When I first walked in we were presented with a demonstration from the Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC ($5,000) and the Auraliti L-1000 file server ($3,500). I heard blue grass, folk, some pop rock and an impressive Bach Oregon piece. While the sound seemed technically perfect, it was a bit too emotionally void for me. On my second time into the room on day three of the show I wondered what had changed? The perfection was still there but now there was also emotion and body to the music. It turns out the source had changed to the TransRotor “Orfeo” turntable ($17,000) with a Graham Phantom 9-inch arm ($5,995) and Air Tight PC-1 moving coil cartridge ($6,000). What a difference a source makes. And while the Q-3s in the large room were very good I have to say I was more awe struck with the small, $20,000 Q-1 speakers in a much smaller room. More a room in a home I could afford, which for me means the piece of equipment changes from the ethereal plane of ‘will never own’ to ‘could possibly own’. Those smaller little Q-1 speakers were awesome.

Upstairs I found the Soundscape Audio room, a distributor from Santa Rosa, a city a bit north and inland from the Bay Area, which from what I’ve heard of late seems to really have an interesting and diverse arts and music culture. Soundscape was showing off two systems, the first had a new Vincent SV 400 50-watt solid-state integrated amplifier and a Vincent source with on board USB DAC, a Phillips transport and Burr-Brown PCM 1716 DAC chips for $865. These were driving Martin Login pre production models ML16 small bookshelf speakers that cost $800. It featured a 5.25-inch two-way ribbon tweeter that covered 9 square inches. System 2 consisted of a Vincent SV-236 MKII 150W integrated amplifier with the new Martin Login Electro-Motion speaker. The bookshelf Martin Login speakers blended in very well, and its pairing with a Velodyne sub were full and impactful.

In the Blue Light Audio/Playback Design room Jonathan was showing off the very amazing Evolutino Accoustic MMMicroOne loudspeakers ($2000) with a backing system costing about $40,000. A major part of that being the $22,000-ish darTZeel CTH-8550 integrated amplifier and the DRSC speakers cables ($6000) and The Link Ref. 50 Ohm BNC interconnects ($6000). The sound was linear, detailed, dynamic, with extremely precise sound stage. Though it didn’t quite materialize the saliva on the signers’ lips, it did just about everything else.

I heard from a few folks’ compliments of the sound from the Audible Arts/Wells Audio room. The main speaker on display were the Usher Mini II loudspeakers, which aren’t ‘mini’ in any way. Rather large floorstanders for $4999. Backing it was the Wells Audio Innamorata amplifier ($5500), ModWright LS100 pre-amplifier ($3500), JPS Labs Aluminata spakers cables ($8999), JPS Labs IC ($1199) and MIT Z Stabilizer Power Conditioner. The sound was large, musical, succulent and very attractive. I think folks who are into the vinyl/tube sound would have been very pleased with this room.

Margules Group Mexico had two systems one could enjoy. The first being fronted by the Grand Orpheo ceramic driver loudspeaker for $29,999 with the U280sc tube amplifier for $3,799. The sound easily reflected the price point of the speakers. A real treat to listen to. While I was in the room though I asked about the smaller floorstanding speakers, turned out they were only $1690 so I asked to hear those as well. They were brand new, never played before, and used the Analog Enhancer ADE-24.1 behind them. I was very surprised at how good this little system sounded considering it had never been played before. But what truly caught my eye in the Margules room was the realization of art meets audio. The beautiful turntable that was developed by an art student and materialized by Margules Group. Aimed to come in under $1500 the table is still in prototype stage but it certainly will appeal to the art crowd. Let’s hope that it sound good, too!

Over the three days of the show I returned to a couple rooms more than once. And I’d like to quickly go over two that I spent a lot of time in. There aren’t big pricey systems, that were played too loudly in smaller rooms, rather these system fit the size of the room and the pocket book of the average music listener; one being the Fritz Speakers room and the other being the Angle City Audio room. I’ve head the Fritz speakers three times now and each time they have sounded good, but were missing something for me. At this CAS Fritz was paired with Alex Stventitsky’s WyWires and a new and beautiful looking phono amp from Zesto Audio, the Andros PS1 phonostage. It took a little while but the naturalness to the mid-range started to grow on me. I found I could listen to these speakers for long periods of time without any fatigue or strain. In fact, I ended up taking my breaks in the Fritz room for two reasons, wonderful and kind folks in that room, and the sound was easy and pleasing while still doing so much right in terms of imaging, texture, tone, dynamics. But it breathed so easily in the room it was just re-energizing to hear.

The other room I spent a fair amount of time in was the Angle City Audio room. Hugh Nugyen was showing off the Melody amplifier and his Trinity loudspeakers. The Trinity speakers had loads of showgoers’ comments on the finish. They looked fantastic. They were being driven by the Melody AN211 or the Melody PM845 mono blocks. The combo of a well controlled tube amp and the Trinity speakers makes for a detailed and dynamic mid-range like no other in this price point. At least I mean, no other that I have heard. Currently, I have the AN211 and the Trinity speakers in for review, so look for that in the coming months.

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