The Sony Dream Machine sitting on the nightstand in my room was the first piece of audio equipment to meet my gaze as I checked into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Burlingame, CA. For a split second the temptation seized me to play one of my demo discs, but I came to my senses. I was not going to replace the memory of my preparatory listening at home the day prior with that! Besides, doesn’t the Crowne Plaza know that Redbook is dead and they should provide streaming audio? I jest, but as the first of hundreds of pieces of electronics seen the next three days I include brief coverage of it.
Unlike the Sony SS-AR1 Loudspeaker which was part of the CAS, this device, which had a lovely periwinkle hue, was disqualified on the grounds that it was not technically part of the show and is not a High Fidelity device. On that last point you may disagree, but if so this show report is likely not for you! There were at the show components, cables and speakers the likes of which, “dreams are made of.” Here are a few of them.
A good sign of CAS growth is that this year Dagogo reporters were assigned to cover rooms, versus fanning out and seeking out our favorites. When I was in college I liked being a self-starter, often completing term papers well ahead of schedule. I often timed the completion of my papers such that when at about two weeks prior to the deadline the professor announced, “Remember, your papers are due in two weeks,” I would raise my hand and offer, “If we have it done now can we hand it in?” Death stares and groans.A procrastinator I was not.
Keeping with that tradition I will submit for you first the assigned rooms of my coverage, followed by those I feel deserve special comment. If you are interested in pursuing the MSRP of products mentioned here I direct you to the CAS pre-show “Countdown” articles on the site which contain many of the prices.
The first morning took a decidedly upscale turn as I entered the two Simplifi Audio Distribution rooms. A more affordable lifestyle rig headed by Resolution Audio’s Opus 21 system drove DLS wall mounted speakers, and in the next room the Cantata Music Center and C50 Amp worked with the Gradient Revolution Active Loudspeaker and accompanying SW-D Subwoofer. I was impressed by the cleanness of the smaller system, as it eschews interconnects entirely! The larger rig had much of the spatial attributes of an ESL; it is a line-source speaker. The Gradient Revolution was designed to compare favorably to Quad speakers – in terms of clarity and detail it does. Though the system was set up almost without regard to the room conditions, it was purposefully so to demonstrate the capacity of the speaker system to accommodate any room conditions. It was an impressive display as this rig sounded tighter than many which had been carefully laid out.
In the On A Higher Note room the Luxman D-06 SACD/CD Player and L-590A II Integrated Amplifier were replaced on day two with the company’s newer D-38u Vacuum Tube CD player with selectable solid-state or tube output and SQ-38u Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier. Even though I only heard this system on day one, apart from the higher-end components I thought it quite respectable. The Vivid speakers have captured my imagination over several shows, and here once again though using metal drivers they sounded anything but harsh. Vivid follows the trends better than most, offering a white speaker. The only other speakers or components of any appreciable physical presence that I saw were the MBL system.
Two rooms which had open-reel tape players running the sound of which was burned into my mind was On A Higher Note and the over-the-top Blue Coast Records/Tim Marutani Consulting room which had big gun gear, such as Magico speakers and Constellation amplification. Both of these rooms had analogue which was dripping with beauty and vanishingly low noise levels.
One of the mind-bending experiences of the show was hearing the Da Vinci 384K DAC by Light Harmonic. If I had multiple thousands to fritter away I likely would have left the show with it. I’ve never heard USB digital done so well and it ranked overall as one of the two or three most organic yet phenomenally rich in detail digital sources at the show. Those with deep pockets and a desire to move entirely to a system utilizing a USB link (solely, for this unit only accepts USB input) will want to consider it.
Neko Audio/Chapman Audio Systems presented what would be for many a real-world system, that is, one at a realistic price point. Chapman speakers have always carried plenty of heft in the low end and in the small exhibit room they were too boomy, an effect which would largely be dissipated by a more generous room. The D100 is a no-frills, non-upsampling DAC which was a good choice for the Chapmans as these speakers sound similar to Vandersteens, tending to be laid back. The Cary amplification likely contributed to the mellowness of the system. The exhibit was wired completely with MIT Cables: Oracle Matrix 120 HD Speaker Interfaces, Oracle MA-X and MA-X2 Interconnects, Oracle ZIII Power Cords and MIT Z Powerbar Power Conditioner. There would be no fence-sitting with this rig; it was a romantic, warm sounding system which would appeal to those who appreciate a weightier sound.
I have now heard the Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum Amplifier two times with what seems basically to be the same rig as I heard at C.E.S. 2011. I would be fudging if I were to say I heard much different this time; like last encounter the amp seems effortless and well delineated. I would like to hear it with a different stable of speakers to form a more in-depth opinion. I draw only a mild comparison between the Light Harmonic room and the D’Agostino room as they both used Wilson speakers. The Sophia was used in the Light Harmonic system and the Sasha in the D’Agostino rig. Of the two systems the one piloted by the Da Vinci DAC in the Light Harmonic room was more elegant and coherent, as well as tonally spot on. I attribute some of this to the more advanced Wilson speaker but not all of it. I feel the Momentum amp’s show rig needs a rework of perhaps non-networked cables and an alternative front-end to allow for a fresh perspective on this product; I believe doing so would perhaps reveal even more attributes to love.
Synergy is an important and often overlooked element in establishing a system. One can do much worse than simply locating a brand with good sound and buying the entire rig as a whole. Of the few manufacturers I would ever do so, Electrocompaniet is one which is worthy. I felt the Nordic Tone One gave nothing away to the new Sony SS-AR1 Loudspeaker and in terms of entire systems I preferred the Electrocompaniet rig.Another system I have heard previously is that of Electrocompaniet, which changed only slightly from last year’s show; in place of the AW600 Stereo Amplifiers bridged were two trim AW180 Monoblock Amplifiers. New to the system is the Prelude PD-1/EMS-1 Wireless USB DAC.
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