Morning greeted me with a sunny warm morning in Sonoma County. As I got ready for my day at the Westin Hotel by SFO (that is San Francisco Airport for those who don’t know), I look forward to a day of complete immersion into audiophile bliss. But first an hour and a half of San Francisco traffic. Oh well, it’s a small price to pay for a day of great sound and music.
The sunny skies of Sonoma County fade away to the fog and overcast skies of the SF Bay. Arriving at the show and checking in went well. I could see a growing group of local audio enthusiasts milling around picking up their free copies of The Absolute Sound and crowding the halls in anticipation of what the numerous rooms have to offer them.
The first room was importer Audio Skies featuring a GamuT system. They are a high-end Danish manufacturer of everything from speakers to electronics, CD player and cables. On display was their RS-3 ($20k) 7” oil impregnated small bookshelf speaker with a ring radiator tweeter. Driven by their dual mono D200i amp ($14k), D3i Dual mono preamplifier ($8k), CD3 ($8k) and a Reference Phono stage ($3.5k). I found the system smooth and well defined, although I’d have liked more WOW for an investment exceeding $55,000. That being said, you have to admire the musicality of the system. It showed surprisingly good bass extension for such a small speaker, but I fond the top end of the ring radiator tweeter a bit soft. Imaging was precise and well focused.
On to the next room, Bricasti Design. Bricasti was showing their M28 Mono Block Amps at $30k a pair, driven by their $9,000 M1 Dac/Preamp The speakers were Tidal Piano Tidal Piano DiSera. These German built Dual 7” Towers with Diamond tweeter sell for $35,000. Also on display was a Silver Circle line conditioner at $10k. My fist impression was the system was exceptionally smooth with no sense of brightness. Also, I find it slightly laid back with just a touch of air around the instruments in the passage being played.
Up to the third floor. I noticed a name from my past. Audio Alchemy and Elac. For those of you who don’t know, Audio Alchemy was started back in the 1980s by Mark Shifter and renowned hi-fi engineer Peter Madnick. Mark is gone and Peter has completely reinvented Audio Alchemy. And Elac is a very old German company best known for their Mirachord Turntables of the 70s and 80s.
Audio Alchemy was showing their newly introduced DPA-1 125/ch Solid State Hybrid. Featuring a Class A front end and Class D output stage priced at $1,995. The front end was their new DDP-1 Digital Decoding Preamp / DAC / Headphone Amp also at $1,995. Good solid gear at a far more affordable price than most of what I had been experiencing.
The Big WOW came from Andrew Jones (formerly of Pioneer TAD fame and many others) one of the world’s top speaker engineers. At CES in January I listened to his 6” TAD bookshelf speaker that retail for $26,500. Impressive, but seriously, that is a ton of money. Now he is designing for Elac. On display were the Model B5 bookshelf speakers. They utilized a 5” aramid woven woofers, 1” Poly dome tweeter and a part air-core and mylar cross-over network. These speakers imaged as good as anything I had heard so far, and actually better than some. Shirley Horn’s “You won’t forget me” sounded very focused, good depth of stage, smooth and detailed. Followed by Count Bassie’s “J Bailey Street” continued to impress. It was effortless with excellent attack and decay. Bass was acceptable for the size and appropriate for the room size.
The thing that blew me away was the projected retail price of a mere $225 per pair. I would put them up against dozens of speakers that sell for $1,000 to $2,000 a pair. Don’t expect a fancy cabinet, or high-end finishes, this speaker was designed to sell en masse.
Andrew then showed us the new 10” subwoofer, with down firing 10” passive. Utilizing a 200W amp, the thing that sets this little jewel apart is it has room EQ technology. You actually use your cell phone with their free app to set it up. A simple and effective setup. Again the best part is the price, projected to be $400. Andrew and I stepped outside the room to chat, where he discussed their marketing approach.
I briefly visited the VOSS Audio/Music First Audio/TriangleArt Exhibit. Voss Audio was showing its 170W/ch power amp with Music First Audio preamplifier and Audio Note AN/E copper speakers, which are excellent. I asked John Dormandy (Voss owner and designer) about the amp topography. It is unquestionably well engineered. The projected retail is $30,000. He has put forward a design without compromise with a focus on pure performance. This is an example of a brilliant engineer building gear without fear of criticism for compromise, because he simply didn’t make any.
The next room for me was Syncopation/Profundo. I was impressed with the Viva amplifier’s build quality, and I have to admit they seem to emphasize 845 based SET amp designs, which happens to be one of my personal favorites. On display was the Viva Audio Numerico DAC/Transport ($12,800), Basis Audio 2200 Table with SA9 Superarm (no price given), Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6,000), Viva Audio Fono phono preamplifier ($17,000), Cardas Clear Cabling, the new Genesis Power cable ($2200) and the Trenner & Friedl Pharoah 2-way loudspeaker ($13K).
Napa Acoustic was showing two systems at so cheap even I had to do a double take. This is an example of what China is best at. Producing a surprisingly good sounding system with modern features the average consumer is looking for.
System 1 included Napa Acoustic’s NA-208A Tube-hybrid integrated amp with features like Tube Pre-Amp, Solid State Class AB Power-Amp, featuring 25 Watt x 2 @ 6 ohm, 3 Input Sources: CD, AUX and built-in high quality lossless aptX Bluetooth receiver, plus a pair of their NA-208S 4” 2 way mini monitors. The plus to this system is price, price, price. Retail is a budget $599 for the three pieces. The imaging was superb. Good detail and surprisingly good sound stage, that seemed to expand well beyond it’s modest size. The down side is a lack of subwoofer output, which is sorely needed. I would recommend a subwoofer with speaker level in/outputs to fill in the bottom end.
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