My first stop was Tyler Acoustics room. I have known Ty Lashbrook for a number of years now and always look forward to seeing him at shows. Ty builds speakers and sells them direct to the consumer. No middlemen, dealers, distributors just straight on through to the end user. Consequently, he sells his wares for one half to one third what you would normally pay for speakers of the quality he builds. He is also one of the most genuine, down to earth, good old Kentucky boys you could ever meet. No ego, no front just a sincere audio nut who wants to make great speakers affordable to the masses. That is something he does quite well. He operates his shop in Owensboro, KY. He has a few helpers but does most of the work himself. You are getting a real handmade product when you buy a Tyler Acoustics speaker.
Ty brought a new flagship, of sorts, with him to this show. Not long ago Ty introduced a new line called the Decade line. Complex enclosure design, spec made drivers and great sound. He brought the new top-of-the-line D10 ($13,000/pair) speaker to premiere at the AKFEST (look for a review in the coming months). This beast is 74 inches tall by approximately 20 inches deep and about 14 inches wide and houses four, yes count them, four 10-inch woofers, two 6-inch midranges and a tweeter in a MTM arrangement, ala D’Appolito. Can you say bass? One of the more amazing things about this speaker was the incredible coherence of the drivers. They also imaged like a monitor! Quite a little feat of magic in a box this size with this many drivers!
Ty was using McIntosh MA6600 integrated amp and MPV 051 CD/DVD player, along with a new VPI Scoutmaster Two with a new aluminum platter to drive the speakers. Both the digital and the analogue sounds were just great. Of course I preferred the vinyl but I did not hear a bad demo while I was there. At one point I measured the SPL in the room to be around 112dB. At one meter from the speaker it got painful. What was really amazing was that when not trying to destroy the building, playing at low to moderate levels, this massive speaker never overpowered the room and was able to disappear in the music. While this room was at the top of my list of favorites at the show, I was not alone. I heard more people talk about the sound that was coming from the D10s than almost any other item at the show. It was great to see David Goldstein, AKFEST organizer and Audio Karma founder, bring a big slingshot to slay the audio industry giants. Cool stuff to be sure.
Another room that I found infinitely eye-opening was that of speaker designer Jim Salk and electronics guru Frank Van Alstine: The Salk Sound/ Audio By Van Alstine Room. They had three separate systems running and the top system was pushing a new flagship from Salk (unnamed, $15k -20k depending on finish). Being driven by the Audio by Van Alstine Insight Ultra Double 550 Hybrid Tube monoblock amps ($2399.00 and up, a Van Alstine Ultra Hybrid SL Preamp ($1599.00) with a Insight DAC ($999.00) coupled with the Insight Phase Inverter ($849.00), the system sounded magical to me while I was in the room. While I heard some mixed reviews from some folks exiting the room, I can only say that during my audition I was really mesmerized by the sound. The fit, finish and general construction of the speakers was outstanding. They were made of 32 layers of bamboo in a two-cabinet configuration, with the tweeter and mid in the top cabinet and the woofer housed in a separate cabinet. The tweeter has an adjustable switch to fine tune the tweeter output dependent on the room acoustics. The new prototype is a very interesting speaker to watch for. Also check out the great electronics by AVA, at really great prices. In this economy you have got to love that.
I crossed paths with Constantine, who was deep into his listening experience and feverishly taking notes, in this Wadia/Octave/Dynaudio/XLO Room. I have always liked Dynaudio speakers and their monitors in particular. Playing in the room were the Confidence C1 monitors, driven by Octave Electronics MRE 130Monoblocks ($16,000.00), the HP 500 SE preamp ($10,000.00) and Black Box Power supplies ($1200.00) all being driven by a Wadia CD player and the Wadia iTransport. Stringing it all together was XLOs Signature 3 cables and power cords, the same set that I have been living with for the past 4 months (review coming soon).
Wow!! This was some great sound. Queen’s “Dragon Attack” was punishing the room. The dynamics were superb and there was plenty of grunt. The interplay between the subtleties of Freddy Mercury’s vocals and Brain May’s searing guitar were really quite good as well as the imaging and separation. On another note, suffice it to say I was quite surprised to find out that the cut was provided by our fearless leader! I was not aware that Constantine, the consummate classical music buff, had a taste for the wild side! See what you learn when you hang out with people in the right setting. We even plugged in my iPhone into the Wadia iTransport and played Nils Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” from the acoustic live album and everyone was impressed with the sound. If you have an iPod you gotta get one of the Wadia iTransports! The Octave electronics were not only great sounding but meticulously built in the German tradition. Great stuff!
I waltzed into the Marantz/Snell room only to run into Dr. Joseph D’Appolito, who is now working with Snell on speaker designs. It was great to see him and chat. He voiced a pair of my speakers a few years back and is always gracious and accommodating, even if half of what he says flies over my head at the speed of light! He talks of electronic engineering and quantum physics as if we were discussing how to wash a car with a bucket of soapy water and a garden hose.
▲Marantz MA-9S2 monoblock amplifiers
At any rate a pair of Snell LCR 7 Signature Series ($3000) were being driven by a lovely pair of Marantz MA-9S2 mono amps and a Marantz SC-7S2 preamp coupled to a Marantz-SA-7S1 SACD player. The sound was really smooth and laid back. The real treat, however, was next door where they were demonstrating the new Snell Phantom ($20,000/pair). These lovely speakers were being driven by a McIntosh MA7000 Integrated amp ($4000) and MS750 Music Server ($TBD). The speakers were in final prototype format but the fit and finish was first rate, largely production ready. The sound was cohesive, quick and provided really tuneful bass. The highs lacked any grain or edge and the speakers featured a rear-firing tweeter that also featured a defeat switch to fine tune the speaker, dependent on the room (a reoccurring theme at the show). You could really tell that Dr. D’Appolito was really proud of these speakers. He absolutely beamed when talking about them. Look for them sometime this summer.
McIntosh electronics were everywhere at this show. They were partnered with more rooms than any other manufacturer. In the company’s own room, McIntosh was featuring the 60th Anniversary MC75 tube power amps and the matching C22 preamp ($15,000 for the ensemble’). This is the stuff of audio legends and they did not disappoint. There is something truly magical about these amps in particular and many people feel that they are the best product that McIntosh has ever created. They were driving the new X200R speakers ($8000 each) and being fed by a MCD500-CD player ($6500). The speakers feature a very interesting array of midrange drivers and tweeters along with an upward firing port with a diffuser a few inches above the throat of the port. The speakers require a dissertation of their own to understand all the design features. The sound was very good. The room configuration did them no favors though. I believe in the proper room this system would have sounded much better. Also on static display was the new MT10 Turntable ($9500), the new MX60A audio system ($8000) and the original model 50W-1 amps. Boy, things have come a long way, aesthetically speaking, since 1949.
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