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2010 CAS Exhibits: Real Gems

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There were sublime moments, as when listening to live recording sessions of Blue Coast Records conducted at the show in one of the two, large lobby-level exhibits. Sitting in the front row, the distinction between the actual instrument in this exhibit and the equipment on the other floors reproducing music was stark. Not a single system in the building could produce the event with perfect sonic precision. Yet, we still try, because we can’t get live performers into most of our homes and businesses. Truly, the music lover must accept that performances and reproduction are a wide gulf apart, but that one can love the experience of both deeply.

 Ian Grant with Grant Fidelity RBS-1 Morel Reference Bookshelf Speaker (MSRP $2,200) and W30GT integrated tube amp with tube phono (MSRP $2,500)

Ian Grant with Grant Fidelity RBS-1 Morel Reference Bookshelf Speaker (MSRP $2,200) and W30GT integrated tube amp with tube phono (MSRP $2,500)

There were a few gems, systems which though they were not as profound as the largest and most costly, did well enough to gain my appreciation. Ian Grant of Grant Fidelity has somewhat of a barnstorming bargain baron attitude in that he demonstrated several systems ranging from a total of $2,000 to $6000. Whereas many demonstrate components of many times that price range, he was proudly displaying low brow High-End. I saw several rooms at the show which were catering to budget-minded audiophiles. This may account for the consistently positive response I obtained from exhibitors; there truly was something for the audiophile of modest means at this show. One guy was raving about getting a JIB HDMI cable from that room for $20. No one had to leave the show without hearing something affordable.

Mitch and Jimmy Ko of INEX Innovation

Mitch and Jimmy Ko of INEX Innovation

 Inex Innovation Amplicables - Audio Physic Scorpio II

Inex Innovation Amplicables – Audio Physic Scorpio II

In the martial arts movies when the Asian brothers team up, they tend to kick everyone else’s butts. For the size of the rig, the Ko brothers at INEX Innovation fairly did that very thing. This was my favorite smaller rig, one that if I were space limited I’d pursue. It did virtually everything right for my ears. It was among the best single-brand systems I’ve heard at shows. This is a company to watch, as they seem to have perfected the use of light in interconnects; the sound was phenomenally clean and convincing to the mind.

The system consisted of: INCD-1 CD Transport ($5,000); Photon Digital Cable ($2,000 each); INDA-1 DAC ($3,000); Photon Link interconnect ($2,000/pair); Photon Pre-A200 Preamp ($12,500); APRE-RCA-0050 Amplicables ($12,500 each); I Pure CD Power Supply (three used; $600 each); Audio Physic Scorpio II ($8,000).

It should be noted that the extreme price of the Amplicables is due to their being both cabling and amplification in one device. This is a rather stunning, revolutionary development, one worth watching! Usually I get strong feelings about a particular element of a system. In this case I received very strong positive feelings about every element of the system. I could easily see pursuing any of these components as worthy of further exploration. If this system had larger speakers it may have taken best sound of show honors, or at least among the two or three best.

Jim Salk with Song Tower and Soundscape

Jim Salk with Song Tower (Left; $1,899 black satin or veneer; custom wood additional) and Soundscape

Jim Salk of Salk Signature Sound pulled together a sensible system for all those who insist that one need not be excessive to achieve high-end sound. A network server fed redbook FLAC files to a stock Logitech Squeezebox ($199). The digital out was delivered to an Audio by Van Alstine (AVA) Vision DAC (base $1099 plus ship); I had written up the competent AVA Ultra DAC in 2008 for Dagogo.

Following was an AVA Avastar Preamp ($1,799) and AVA FetValve 55 Hybrid Amplifier with the “double die” option (twice the output transistors) totaling 330wpc ($2,399; double die option +$264). A stock Denon CD player was used for redbook leading to the Van Alstine DAC. I had heard the Soundscape speaker system (introductory pricing with 10” bass $9,999; with 12” bass $13,999). Cables were custom made by Carl Smith, which included the HP-4, a “high performance, low distortion” interconnect with silver conductors.

I admired the sound of this room; the entire system ahead of the speakers was affordable. Anyone who would want to backload the system with a fine set of speakers obtained confirmation of that methodology from the Salk setup. I found it engaging in breadth, and while not the last word in detail, had enough precision to keep from sounding messy. My first listen to the Soundscape speakers was positive, reminding me of the Pass Labs SR1 ($25,000) I heard at CES.

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