Publisher Profile

2011 AXPONA Coverage II

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A company with which I was not familiar, but with which I ended up spending quite a bit of time, is Carnegie Acoustics. The company president is Ron May, whose prior company – Dr. Crankenstein – is well known in the car audio world. Ron’s goal in starting Carnegie was to bring high quality speakers to the market, with a high spouse acceptance factor, at a reasonable price. Carnegie speakers will be sold only through dealers. Danny Richie of GR Research, well known for his expertise in cross over design, played a pivotal role in designing the speakers. The model on display at AXPONA was the CST2 ($6,000), a handsome tower speaker in their Contemporary series. Supplemented with 4 servo subs filling in the lowest octave, the speakers were powered by a VAC Signature MK2 Triode preamplifier and VAC 200 monoblocks. To the exhibitors’ credit, the room was well treated with a combination of side and rear curtains, and a number of absorber/diffusers. The source was a dB Tranquility DAC, fed digital bits from a Mach2 Music server, which begins life as a Mac Mini, and is then heavily modified to improve sonic performance. The sound was extraordinarily well balanced and musical. While not the last word in detail, it was the kind of system one could listen to for hours without listener fatigue. Quite an impressive showing. Carnegie also makes much more expensive speakers, and I have expressed to Ron my interest in reviewing them. Last but not least, I must mention how much I enjoyed socializing with Ron, Danny, and their colleague Rich Hollis of HAL Audio, a great group of guys.

Laurence Borden (center) and staff of Carnegie Acoustics Exhibit

A product generating a lot of buzz at AXPONA was the brand new Da Vinci DAC from Light Harmonic, which is based in both the United States and Singapore. Claimed to be the first 384 K DAC, I initially heard it in the Light Harmonic room, with Pass amplification driving Wilson Sophias. I was later treated to a much better audition when co-designer Henry Chew carried the DAC (no small feat, as it weighs 60 pounds!) to the larger and better treated Carnegie Acoustic room. Though I was unable to A/B the Da Vinci with another DAC, its performance with Redbook certainly seemed impressive. However, where it really showed its stuff was with hi-rez recordings, which were extremely impressive. I suspect we will be hearing a lot more about this DAC in the upcoming months.

At virtually every show the High Water Sound room is one of my favorites, and AXPONA 2011 was no exception. Jeff Catalano brought the TW Acustic Black Night, featuring two TW Acustic arms and an Ortofon Windfeld cartridge (I didn’t note the other cartridge). Speakers were the Horning Euphrodite ($22,000 per pair), which use a modified Lowther as a midrange driver, a proprietary horn-loaded tweeter, and 2 pairs of isobarically loaded woofers. The Phonostages were stereo and mono versions of Tron Sevens. Unlike previous years, the amplifier was not from Tron; instead, Jeff brought the Horning Sati 1605 SE integrated amp ($24,000), a two-box (power and signal) single-ended amp providing 22 W per channel. The sound was immediate and punchy, yet simultaneously warm and inviting. And as always, Jeff’s selection of music is hands down the best in the show. A superb sounding room, from a really nice guy.

In a world of mega-priced gear, it is always a pleasure to hear great affordable sound. Wharfedale was showing their Diamond 10.5’s, a 3-way floor-stander. After a brief listen I guessed their price as being in the $4-5K range, and was floored to learn that they are only $1,299 per pair. Upstream was a Musical Fidelity “CLiC” musical controller ($2,000), a Musical Fidelity M3i Integrated amp ($1,500), and Musical Fidelity M3 CD player ($1,500) This room showed conclusively that very enjoyable sound can be had without breaking the bank.

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