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CAS7 Frank Cheng Reports

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In the Audio Federation (dealership) Exhibit of Boardroom V, the Acapella Audio Arts High Cellini (Acapella High Cellini CAS7 YouTube) driven by Acapella’s own integrated amplifier and Audio Note digital front end was just amazingly natural. Throw out all your audiophile terminologies and checklist. The sound was just so pure and natural. They really can fool you. For me, this room won the Best System Performance award, hands down.

Open Baffles also came in different sizes and shapes. The modular offerings from PureAudioProject allows you flexibility to build different configurations using various components. Seen here is the Quintet15 model with a PAP-Horn1 and 15” drivers (<$10,000), and the Trio 15 with a Voxativ driver ($6,000) in the center. With 4 of those 15-inch woofers, I was surprised they weren’t shaking down the room. I prefer the Voxativ driver over the PAP-Horn1, but they seemed to roll off at some high frequency, and the horn seemed to be more extended. I didn’t get the narrow band of sound like I heard from the Burrell & Sons’ more traditional horn speakers. On the other hand, Spatial Audio showcased their elegant industrial design in the Hologram M3 ($2,795). These sounded very airy with a solid image. The speakers just disappeared. I did hear a hint of the “amplified” effect in vocals.

The PureAudioProject Quintet 15 (PureAudioPRoject CAS7 Youtube) won my vote for the Best Industrial Design award, slightly edging out the Spatial Audio. They sounded quite good and piqued my interest.  I wouldn’t mind having these in my modern living room any day. As an architect, I know a thing or two about industrial design. (PureAudioProject Quintet 15 is the No. 5 Runner-Up to the Best Industrial Design Award, and No.2 Runner-Up to the Most Innovative Product Award. -Pub.)

Lastly, there are several variations of the traditional cone drivers. Of course, the talk of the show was  the Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 11 speaker system ($295,000/pr) (Von Schweikert Audio/Valve Amplification Company CAS7 YouTube) in the California Room. Yes, you are correct, in some states, you can buy a house or two with that kind of cash. They stood 7-ft tall. I am not sure how many of us living in the Bay Area actually has a house big enough to take these beasts in. (The Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 11 is the Winner of the The Ultimate Component Award, and The Best System Performance Award with Valve Amplification Company. -Pub.)

In the Boardroom II, Margules Group (Margules Group CAS7 YouTube) from Mexico was also making some gorgeous sound in their room with a pair of Orpheus speakers driven by all Margules electronics.

Eficion (Efficion CAS7 YouTube) brought its F250 Air-Motion Transformer floorstander ($9,950/pr) to a Standard Room. These were complimented by the Oppo UPD-205 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player ($1,299), Line Magnetic LM-502CA DAC ($1,800), Exemplar Audio eXception SE preamp ($5,495), and Plinius SA103 power amplifier ($10,150). The entire system was linked together with Eficion’s proprietary cables. The designer, Peigen Jiang, was too shy to get in front of the camera. But the system sounded very transparent, fast, and harmonically rich.

In another 2nd Floor Standard Exhibit, the LX Speaker Factory LXmini (LX Speaker Factory mini CAS7 YouTube) ($2,295 + $1,295 for a pair of subwoofers) drew a crowd the few times I walked by the room. The speaker had the midrange firing upwards and took up very little footprint. No matter where you sat, the image seemed solid in front and center. The Seigfried Linkwitz-designed speakers used the Marantz SA8004 CD as well as an DIY Raspberry Pi to stream music through an 8-channel MiniDSP ($550) to a Wyred4Sound MC7150 7-channel amplifier ($1,550). In both the MiniDSP and the MC7150 amplifier, 6 channels were used (one channel per driver). (Attendees and reviewers voted the LXmini to be the Winner of The Best Value Component Award. -Pub.)

Something of particular interest happened upon me at the show on Sunday. They were in the Genesis Advanced Technologies/Syncopation (dealership)/Profundo (Distributor) Exhibit of Boardroom I, which by all accounts, was a fine sounding room. The few times I sat in the room, the sound was great no matter which system Gary Koh of Genesis turned on. On Sunday afternoon, as the show was coming to an end, I walked into the room hoping that Gary would play me some Pet Shop Boys or the new soon-to-be-released Anne Bisson sessions. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found. These, Heed Grand Enigma, were playing in the room, driven by all Heed electronics. I was surprised how good the whole systems sounded. The couple that had been sitting in front was so mesmerized, they listened for a good ½ hour. I really wanted to get some more information on the system, but I didn’t want to disturb the couple who seemed to be really enjoying their listening experience.

One of my favorite audio company, Pass Laboratories (Pass Labs Desmond Harrington CAS7 YouTube), which happens to be local, has had a strong presence every year. Although these guys are a bit low-key and the room looked barren with a pair of Vienna Mozart speakers driven by the Pass Labs XA-25 amplifier ($4,900) and the XPA-1 headphone amp ($3,500) as the preamp, fed by an Oppo Digital UDP-205 Disc Player ($1,299) as a music server, it was fine sounding. In case you didn’t notice, Pass Labs electronics were in the background of the show powering many of the rooms, including the X350.8 driving the Sound Labs Ultimate 545, and a pair of the X600.8 driving the MartinLogan Neolith.

Another big presence was Oppo Digital. Although they were only displaying in the lobby with their various headphones and headphone amplifiers, I saw their UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Players in many of the rooms.

One of the more unusual products at the show came from another local Silicon Valley company, Napa Acoustic of Fremont, in the form of the Series 3 Wireless Planar Speakers NA-300 WPS ($995 each). They introduced these acoustic panels with custom silk art print. You can submit your own image to be printed onto the silk screen. A version with a 21.5” carbon fiber planar full-range speaker & 1” silk tweeter is also available for $395/panel for the NA-300 PS wired version. I think these have a high spousal approval factor and would look great hanging in anyone’s living room. Each speaker panel weighs about 10 lbs.

The NA-300 WPS wireless planar speaker is in the center of the photo and has two 19” carbon fiber planner full range drivers plus two 1” silk tweeters. It has a built-in 25 wpc class D stereo amplifier with built-in Bluetooth 4.0 and optional WiFi. It comes with custom silk print and frame of your choice. I think I will invest in one to hang in my study room. It would work great for those home parties. This product won my Best Value Component award, partially because of the high spousal approval factor. (The Napa Acoustic NA-300 WPS is voted as the Winner of the Most Innovative Product Award. -Pub.)

Another fine sounding room for me was put together by Nick Gowan of True Sound (dealership). I need to first point out that I’ve known Nick for a long time. He’s the guy that listens to me bawling every time one of my tube components breaks down, mostly because I got bored out of my mind and decided to do some tube rolling. Last time I rolled a power rectifier tube into my preamp, and it took out my power supply and a few capacitors with it. Nick came to the rescue and got the unit back up and running. He also tested all of the rectifier tubes for me to ensure it wouldn’t happened again. He’s been telling me about Audio Note UK (Audio Note CAS7 YouTube) products for many years, but I think now I might finally be swayed because both his room and the Acapella room sounded phenomenal and the only common denominator are the Audio Note components. I did note some similarities in sound between the two rooms. So, for The Ultimate Component award, I am casting my vote for the Audio Note UK CDT Five Transport ($48,350) and the Audio Note UK DAC Five Signature ($87,825) digital front ends. (The Audio Note UK CDT Five Transport and DAC Five Signature digital system is the No. 3 Runner-Up to The Ultimate Component Award. -Pub.)

I did not see any product at this show that showcased any technology that warrants the Most Innovative Product award, so I will abstain from voting for that category. But I will mention that the Channel D Seta L20 came close to winning my vote. (The Channel D Seta L20 is No. 9 Runner-Up to the Best Industrial Design Award. -Pub.)

Zesto Audio (Zesto Audio George Counnas CAS7 YouTube) came in full force with their Andros Tessera phonostage ($12,000), Leto 1.5 tube preamp ($7,500), Eros 300 class A monoblocks ($19,900/pr) driving a pair of Marten Django L, the entire system was connected via Fono-Acustica cables from Spain. The front end was a Merrill Williams Audio REAL 101 turntable ($7,200) with two Tri-Planar U2 tonearms ($7,200 each), one armed with a Benz Micro Gullwing SLR MC cartridge ($3,600), the other with a Ortofon Cadenza mono MC ($1,280). The system produced great sound with some punch. Fast and crisp highs, and authoritative bass. I felt the sound was right in between what I have at home, which is the Audio Research Ref 2 SE phonostage, and the two-chassis Pass Labs X-25 phonostage. (Look for my write-up of the comparison between these two on soon). I would love to pit the Zesto Audio Andros Tessera against these two heavy-weights. According to Zesto, they do not recommend their customers to tube roll in their equipment, it would void the warranty. So, no tube rolling for me if I ever get one to review.

All in all, it was a pretty good show. There was a good representation from every segment of this hobby, including the head-fi community.  A diverse range of approaches was showcased for obtaining sonic nirvana. Overall, it did not feel hectic and attendees had a good opportunity to listen to and gaze at some eye-candies. For those who attended the show, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. For those of you who didn’t attend, I hope to see you next year.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

2 Responses to CAS7 Frank Cheng Reports

  1. Good coverage Frank. Thanks.

  2. Rob Robinson says:

    Frank, I applaud your stated policy in covering your badge to eschew VIP treatment so that regular show attendees have the same priority in speaking to exhibitors. I know that press people are usually in a hurry to cover rooms, but your attitude strikes me as being very generous and a breath of fresh air. I enjoyed speaking with you when you visited our room.

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