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2023 California Audio Show – Constantine Soo reports

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CAS10 (2023) Show Report

Hilton Garden Inn,  Emeryville, CA

September 22nd through the 24th, 2023

Produced by Dagogo


Exhibitors at this year’s California Audio Show, held from September 22 through 24 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Emeryville, CA, showcased extraordinary electronics and speakers to the San Francisco Bay Area audiophiles. Hundreds of attendees came to the show, resulting in rooms constantly filled. Belmont-based Blue Coast Music president Cookie Marenco held a large booth with Australian pianist/singer Fiona Joy Hawkins and singer/violinst Rebecca Daniel, giving away promotional copies of audiophile LP and SACD by the musicians. This report begins with two bookshelf speakers costing $4,000 and $5,000 each pair, namely the Audio Note UK AX Two/II and the Rogers LS 3/5a Classic 15 Ohms.

Industry veteran Leonard Norwitz was co-hosting the Audio Note UK 1223 Room, presented by Nick Gowan and Lee Chen of Campbell, CA-based dealership True Sound, playing beautiful classical music. He joked that it would’ve been the room rattling German heavy-metal music had Audio Note UK owner Peter Qvortrup been present. Some may say it’s blessing in disguise, but for myself, I would love to have witnessed how a pair of the $4,000, entry-level Audio Note UK AX Two/II midget bookshelf would rock the room, for they sounded big and composed.

News also from the room was that an AX Three with a larger footprint is due to hit the market. I just thought the company should promote the heck out of the AX Two/II, because they are some of the mightiest bookshelves I’ve heard, and for a comparative pittance. Featuring a 0.75-inch dome silk/polyamide tweeter and a 6-inch paper woofer, the speaker is rated at 89 dB/6 Ohms. Though not the 95 dB+ type like its bigger brothers, the AX Two/II is nonetheless rated as requiring only 7 watts per channel, accepting up to 100 watts. If I had a medium to small listening space, I would get these first, save the money for TubeTraps and amplifiers, posit them in an equilateral triangle arrangement, toe the speakers in completely to get the full on-axis presentation with minimized side-wall reflections.

The room also featured the $4,300 TT Two Deluxe turntable with two opposing internal motors! In addition to the swashbuckling deal of a tonearm in the $2,500 Arm Three/II that I reviewed, the $1,300 IQ3 moving-magnet cartridge was also featured. Outputting at over 6mV, this cartridge warrants further investigation. But the star of this room is arguably an Audio Note UK integrated amplifier that is equipped with an in-house designed custom double C-core output transformers, producing 28 watts per channel via four EL34 tubes, with two 6AU6 input tubes and two 5670 for rectification. Introducing the Audio Note UK Cobra, and it also comes with an internal DAC with a remote and retails for only $5,500! An ANUK integrated with all that for less than $10,000? I walked by at around 2pm on Saturday and it was all standing room by the door. Lee of True Sound, herself also standing by the door, showed me her iPhone with a visitor count of 85 since morning!


Down the hall was the Technics Room in 1215 with a pair of the $5,000 Rogers LS 3/5a Classic 15 Ohms bookshelf speakers on custom Skylan stands, driven by the $10,000 Technics SU-R1000 integrated amplifier, with companion SL-G700M2 Network SACD player and the regularly horded and locked away $4,300 Reference class SL-1200G-S turntable, with Clearaudio Virtuoso V2 moving-magnet cartridge. Per Bill Voss of Technics USA, “1200GR /1200GR2/1200G/GAE are all Grand Class but the 1200G is the flagship and was our 1st coreless re-introduction in 2016.” Cabling was via the Nordost Heimdall2. Antonio Long of dealership AudioVision San Francisco hosted the room personally. Costing $1,000 more than the Audio Note UK AX Two/II up the hall, the Rogers nonetheless sounded very truthful in instrument timbre recreation while not as insane in dynamic renditioning. The Technics system obviously played a crucial role in feeding the Rogers with high-quality source materials and amplification, and the SU-R1000 integrated amplifier with its “hairline surface finish” metallic body and white-lite large twin meters display render it one of the classiest looking equipment in existence. Stay tuned for a review of it in these pages. System isolation was via Quadrapsire Sunoko Vent Shelf/Isolation and Harmonic Resolution System Isolation. Several attendees related their preference for this room to me, including Blue Coast Music artist Fiona Joy Hawkins.

After these two rooms were four other exhibits, each respectively featuring pairs of $54,000, $55,000, $60,000 and $65,000 speaker systems.

For instance, Aaudio Imports of Dana Point, California held the foremost exhibit in the entire hotel, in the Lobby Pavilion, and company proprietor Brian Ackerman brought the British-made $54,000 Wilson Benesch A.C.T. 3zero speakers, accompanied by the $33,000 IGx infrasonic generator subwoofer system. Electronics were via the Greek-made, $52,000 Ypsilon DAC 1000 SE, the $54,000 Phaethon SE integrated amplifier, and a Pink Faun 2.16 Ultra Music Server Streamer. With two stacked pairs of ASC Isothermal TubeTraps adoring the corners of the front wall behind the speakers controlling standing waves, the Wilson Benesch were arguably the speakers producing the most visceral dynamic impacts of the entire show, via its new one-inch Fibonacci  hybrid silk-carbon Tweeter, crossing over at 5,000 Hz to the directly amplifier-coupled, top 7-inch Tactic 3.0 driver unit for midrange, and get this, another of the same 7-inch Tactic 3.0 unit for woofer below the tweeter and two more in “Clamshell Formation” in an Isobaric arrangement inside the cabinet! Attendees described wonders of the sound of the amplifier-coupled 7-inch midrange, and you must hear it to experience the first direct-to-driver unit outside of the likes of the Lowthers. A bona fide sensational sound!

Because the 7-inch woofer on the front baffle and the internal twin woofers are all wired in first-order crossover slope, the midrange to bass integration was simply sublime. And it was more than brilliant for the WB engineers to cap the twin, Isobaric woofers to cross at 500Hz, internally.

Manufactured using bio-composite materials from entirely renewable sources, the composite monocoque cabinet of the A.C.T. 3Zero is the largest in the company’s Fibonacci line.

The similarly priced Ypsilon Phaethon SE integrated amplifier uses transformer attenuation, meaning the signal goes through not transistors but a hand-wound transformer. I’ve listened to the company amplifications throughout the years and I am impressed by them increasingly each time.

A full line of American-made Stage III Concepts cable system adorned the room, including a $36,000 pair of the Cerberus speaker cables, the $25,000 Poseidon AC Power for the $21,500 HB Design (Germany) PowerSlave Marble MkII Power Distributor, the $13,400 Proteus AC Power for the Phaethon integrated amplifier and two, $10,000 Kraken AC Power, one for the Ypsilon DAC 1000, and the other for the Pink Faun. Interconnects were the Stage III Ckahron XLR for $16,500 the pair, two sets of which I use as my reference.

Brian also showcased stray magnetic field treatment products of Audio Realignment Technologies of the central California coastal town of Morro Bay, whose $7,000 22X and $4,500 6Xs Brian stands firmly behind. Dennis Barish of Audio Realignment Technologies was on-hand to answer questions.

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