There are systems you never forget for good reasons, and there are systems you never forget for other reasons. The Music Lovers Audio/Musical Surroundings room I’ll never forget for one reason, it had the most stretched soundstage I’ve heard at a show from a non-panel speaker setup; the only system I recall sounding wider was the humongous Sound Lab Prostat 922/IsoMike system in years past at RMAF. In comparison to standard setup they were a mile apart.
Other components in this system included the Spectral SDR 4000SL Reference CD Processor, DMC 30SS Series2 Reference Preamp, DMA 360 Series2 Mono Amps, and ULII Interconnects and Speaker Cables. Also utilized were the Asthetix Io Phono Preamp, Clearaudio Phantom II Supreme table with Benz Micro LP-S MR cartridge, sitting on Grand Prix audio racks.
This super-stretched soundstage was not to my taste. I heard too much of the L/R channels independently and not all that solid of a center image. I kept moving back toward the rear wall to try and get more focus, with little success. In terms of other parameters of sound the rig was outstanding. The Spectral/Wilson pairing showed good promise and I would like to hear that combo again sometime; the macrodynamics, definition and tonality were very nice, but the setup did not help in the end. To my ears, this was a case where had the room been set up along the short wall, the equipment likely would have been far more impressive.
The Grant Fidelity room had some interesting items on display. I am usually not impressed terribly by the sound of bookshelf speakers, but the Sheng Ya horns sounded rich with the Consonance electronics. Especially intriguing were the sources; the D-Linear series of components seemed compelling options for someone entering file-based playback, and the built-in DAC of the Grant Fidelity W30GT is a stroke of genius! Note in the picture that the USB source was input directly to this integrated, making for a very streamlined system. Considering that the amp also has phono input, a budding audiophile could conceivably have the means to pursue vinyl as well as streaming audio with no other component than this amplifier! This is the entry-level component built with similar source sensibilities as the svelte Devialet D-Premier Integrated.
For those who question the value of economical components there was the High Value AV room which featured a gorgeous set of equipment at not quite sky-high prices; the system topped out near the $83K mark. It featured the MBL 1621A CD Transport, Music First Reference Preamp (TVC), Ultimate Sound Machine Reference Tube DAC, and ATC Anniversary SCM50 Speakers.
Sometimes the demo music played is not to one’s liking, as in this instance Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side. Despite the displeasure with the song itself, the system was of convincing enough quality that one could see why tens of thousands might be spent for a high-end rig. The ATC speakers made a convincing case for consideration of active speakers in the home environment.
Even though the show was in their backyard, Audio Vision San Francisco elected not to bring one ginormous speaker system, but rather three more petite rigs. I appreciated this as it afforded an opportunity, in a matter of minutes, to hear the nuances of distinctively different gear in three commendable setups. Big power with smallish speakers was the theme of the three rooms.
I was not able to conduct a thorough investigation of all three rooms, but spent time with my music listening to the system chalked full of Naim Audio components, including the HDX SSD Server, XPS power supply for the server, NAC 252 Preamp, NAP 250 Amp with HICAP, and Superline Phono. A Clearaudio Performance table with Talisman MC Cartridge and Nordost cabling throughout fed Nola Micro Grand Loudspeakers.
I was surprised at the depth and breadth of the system with the Micro Grand speakers. There were very few rigs at the show regardless of scale which produced a seemingly boundless soundstage. I was less sure of the exploded imaging, which was dissipated over a wide area, reminiscent of the MBL omnidirectional speakers. Overall I was positively inclined, as the bass output was better than expected with less chuffing of the bass drivers than I have heard from a great many speakers with similar sized drivers, be they small floor standing or bookshelf variety.
The MBL North America room was white hot; white as in luscious, trendy white components, and hot as in the expected voluptuous sound for which MBL is known. Seeking a descriptor for the experience I settled on calling the orbital nature of the omnidirectional speakers as, “the mushroom cloud soundstage.” Hearkening to decades old footage of A-bomb explosions, the power at the base of the system is unassailable, while the music floats above and around settling on the ears in a most unique fashion. The one foible of the omnidirectional is that the locality of the center stage is lost. But for the enveloping experience and superlative mids and highs it’s a compelling choice. The systems mbl puts together are so radically different than traditional stereo that they properly should be classed with larger electrostatic speakers. The setup was good, the sound well above average, as would be expected of a brand which always impresses.
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