|Serenity Acoustics Super-7|
Saturday we started in the GR Research room with Danny Ritchie and Serenity Acoustics’ new Super-7. At $20K/pair they are not the price tag of the kits Danny sells but since you don’t have to build cabinets or put anything together yourself…. To me they look like a larger Super V so I don’t love how they look but they do sound great. Especially if you like the Danny Ritchie sound profile. During song one, Alison Krauss' It Doesn't Matter was so realistic, and since I have heard it live I can say it was very true to life. Second song was so clear you could hear the very air between the notes - almost like you could hear the dust in the air of the studio where they were recording the song. Dodd Audio provided their little tubed battery powered amps and PI Audio brought the Uberbus for the Subs (only thing not on battery powered) along with Electra Speaker Cables, and Supra Innerconnects. Plus, they really know room treatments - something other rooms never seem to fully understand as much as the guys.
|Dodd Audio battery Tube Amps|
|PI Audio Uberbus and Electra Cables|
|German Physiks Unlimited MkII|
Next up, one of my favorite rooms - German Physiks. They had the Unlimited MkII at $9,950/pair. These omni-directional speakers with a carbon fiber cone should do no wrong but I was getting tired listening to them. These look awful too… so disappointing the HRS120s aren’t here. I always am talking about source material and the boring stuff played at these shows and walking in this room it was exactly what I hate about these shows. But then they put on some Elvis; however the source material was a burned CD so it was not ideal. Additionally I was sitting in a rather large bass null. I had to walk around the room to find the bass! This is supposed to be omni people. Then Pink Floyd’s Money was better but by this third song I was sick of hearing these and the top end started to make my head scream in pain. What a huge disappointment for a company for the past two years I have loved. To fall so far with me fleeing the room in pain.
|TAD Compact Reference (Left) Pioneers (Right)|
The TAD room is always the most money for the least amount of speaker. Compact Reference at $45K/pair with stands is ridiculous, especially when they are not the greatest I’ve heard - or have the best finish or design. The room at least had some room treatments; including bass traps and were willing to play some music outside the elevator. Angel Mine by the Cowboy Junkies is something I would really play but it overloaded the room. These need more treatments or to be in a larger room. The Black Bird rendition showed the clarity of notes with the bass and drums but not a great way to showcase the ease of listening of this speaker. The song I didn’t know of a lady singing did show the speakers best features but if you are only going to play ladies high voices these are not for you. The $5k/pair Pioneers also present handled the room better. They have the same beryllium tweeter, along with a Magnesium mid-range, and carbon fiber woofer – all at a much better price.
|Salk Sound Scape 8|
Would you mind if I say how much I love the Sound Scape 8’s by Salk Sound in Pepperwood Burl? The amazing veneer work is so beautiful it makes me want to cry. These are works of art and what everyone should strive for if they are worried about the WAF. The Star Wars soundtrack was playing as we started our demo showing how these could easily be used for Home Theater as well as 2-channel listening. They easily fill the room, even off-axis, there is no degradation. With Dennis Murphy’s crossover design powering these monsters so well, there was not a bad spot in the room. This was all in a large room and these speakers need space so I do not recommend them for very small spaces. Starting out at $8k/pair and going up to $12k/pair for the Pepperwood burl finish plus any additional add-ons you want to get strait from Salk is money well spent IMO. These are one of my favorites of the show this year.
On to the KT Audio Imports Room (first off I hate the name cause I would never remember it and it so sterile). Neither here nor there, they did have Making Movies by Dire Straits on vinyl playing on a Triangle Art Reference turntable at $16,500 (YEA!) but it seemed to me the Nebula loudspeakers at $65,000/pair did not live up to their potential. Powered by the NAT Audio Magma Monoblock Amplifiers at $44,990 each look amazing but I mean with so much money in this room I should be writing that this is THE room of the show. First off they should have spent some money on room treatments. Romeo and Juliet began and it lay there like a bucket of dead chickens in the middle of the room; completely uninvolving. Analog should be warm but the playback was flat and the speakers were not dynamic in the least. The bass didn’t hit me in the chest. No twinge from the top end and it seems you could almost miss the speakers in the room altogether. Do these need more time or maybe some Skiing Ninja love to get better?
|NAT Audio Magma Monoblock|
|KT Audio Imports Nebula|
The Odyssey Kisnet Reference Monitors at $3500/pair plus $400 for the stands (ridiculous) made the top of my head hurt. The owner of Odyssey compared his speakers to the TAD’s so the price should be great for what you get. Unfortunately, what we have here is complete listening fatigue. My friend Chris did purchase the GIK room treatments they had in the room so gotta say props to that. Unlike Trenner & Friedl Pharoah which are aesthetically yuck and are $12,500/pair! I suppose if WAF is what you are worried about these are a small footprint but a plain box that is plain ugly.
|Odyssey Kisnet Reference Monitors|
|Trenner & Friedl Pharoah|
|MBL 101E without cage|
Another favorite of the show this year was the MBL room with their 101E’s. I know my omni-directional love is just a little overwhelming at times but in the past few years I really haven’t paid MBL a ton of attention - at least not like I did this year. Maybe because this year they played awesome music and moved away from the operatic crap/old man stuff they played in past years that I have ridiculed them for so it held my attention. They started off with a little Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana and then a choir rendition of Metalica’s Nothing Else Matters. They rounded the set with some Blacklight Syndrome. Props for good music this year people! These speakers recreate the experience of live music so well you sit back and you cannot tell it is a speaker in the room because you can move around the room and the music surrounds you always. The bass hit nicely during Blacklight Syndrome. One downside to these unlike my true omni’s of years past is they have a section on the rear that juts out making them not as easy to place in the middle of the room. However they do throw sound as though they should be able to be. There is no bad spot they look like great art creating a conversation piece in anyone’s home. I know I want a pair in mine but at $70,500/pair I won’t be getting them anytime soon.
|Angel City Audio Trinity|
Angel City Audio, makers of the Trinity series of loudspeakers and distributor of Melody electronics, love me (thanks Tim) so they play great music when I come in. This great music was being piped into the Trinity LR’s at $2799/pair without stands. The room had some treatments so that helped but these speakers really needed to be placed better in the room. I don’t think I have addressed this before. Besides just room treatments and playing better music, how you set up your system is critical and where you place your speakers in the room makes the room part of the speakers. With Fleetwood Mac and Dire Straits, the sounds changed a lot when moving off-axis. You lose the second speaker when you are anywhere near the other. The sweet spot was really the only place to listen the way these speakers were set up. Next up was Beatles USSR and the Stereoing on this recording worked really well here but the bass was lost and there was no movement in the air during the song. No intensity with a song like this; the music was flat.
Evolution Acoustic / Playback Designs did master tape vs a first recording off their equipment in an A/B which was really neat. The Reference 2-way monitors are super and with this kind of source material they really shine. So clean, they pop with every note and space. Voices are clear and clean with a large depth of field. The recording seemed to lose very little though it didn’t seem as enveloping. If I had not heard the master first as an A/B, you would not be able to tell. Bonus for this room’s use of non-conference type music played at demo, showing how one would really use in an “in home” setting. The speakers held up perfectly, something I would play in my house and a show favorite. At $2500/pair with stands not the cheapest bookshelf but tasty.
|Leonardo Ribbon Planar|
|Audio Power Labs Tube Amps|
|High End Novum’s PMR |
Next we have Von Schweikert’s VR44 at $24,995/pair being run off some Jolida tube amps and United Home Audio’s Reel to Reel. The playback from the system makes clean and clear sound with a big stage. Too bad I can’t stand how these look with the stupid big V on the front and that is a WAF issue if I ever saw one. Musically they fill the big room they were in and you too will need a big room for these monsters. These are very popular speakers however they are not exactly my cup of tea; they are harsh and grating, as well as very brash. This is all fixable so I wish they would do it or let someone else do it (shameless self promotion). I could not listen for a long time because my ears would start to bleed. Von Schweikert has made speakers I have liked, these just are not them. Try again next year guys.
|Von Schweikert’s VR44|
|Pimped United Home Audio’s Reel to Reel|
Next room was Vivid Audio K1 speakers at only $25k/pair powered by Luxman with a bunch of bells and whistles from Tweek Geek. The speakers have woofers on both baffles (front and back). These four drivers are internally coupled in pairs via screw tensioning units for reaction cancelling. In the song Time after Time, I found the speakers too soft, too loose and very sloppy with the space between notes. These are very relaxed and good for those who want a really easy listening speaker that they won’t really push. Song three was the Funky Butt Drum Club that did push the speakers and got some air moving in the room but it starts to get tinny then and the top end is irritating and the bass is too quick to overload the room. These are not meant to be pushed to limits; they are meant more to ride along nice and easy like a old Cadillac.
|Vivid Audio K1|
Bob Carvers good looking line sources of 13 ribbon tweeters in front and 11 mid-range on each side creating a quasi omni-directional effect and joining the ranks of just under $20k/pair. For speakers this size they need to be in a bigger room and it needed to have treatments on the walls, corners, everywhere. On the positive side while listening to a little Stevie Ray Vaughn it was easy to have that true to live feel the designers were going for. Like any line source you gotta keep your distance because too close creates nulls in your response and here is no exception. Take my advice boys; go for a bigger room next year.
Legacy Aeris in Copper Ostrich finish at only $16,900/pair are my last favorites of the show. I don’t even know why Legacy brought other speakers to show like the Focus SE because compared to the Aeris the rest all suck. Aside from the Salk veneer these are awesomely beautiful. They have a nice warm sound that fills the room and hits you nicely in the sweet spot and off-axis. With the right room this could be an easy household speaker to have while you move about in your space. These evoked emotion making them another show favorite. A good demo but could have been better with some room treatments to make these babies shine along with some killer source material and these would be the talk of the show.
|Copper Ostrich Finish|
To wrap up the end of show on Sunday, we visit GR Research again because rooms always change over the weekend and this room in particular I have found usually sounds its best Sunday at the end of the show. Thank you Dave for changing the music when I came in to something more lively. Song one was a Lean on Me rendition and you could hear the clarity between notes. The silence between notes was deafening. You get so much from the empty spaces as from the notes these speakers produce. Danny does such a great job on his off-axis response, you don’t notice the speakers when moving across the sound stage. Song two’s top end is easy on my head for a song with lots of horns and the bass never overloads the room. A lot of thanks to the whole gang with how well they treat the room and pull it all together.
I have to say that this year was not a rave year for me at the show. It was great to see TONE Audio have a room and celebrate their 10 years in the business and have cake with Jeff. It was nice seeing all my friends from all over the world who come in for this show but it seems it is getting smaller every year. Companies are not bringing their biggest and best, really trying to out-do each other like in the first few years of the show. I doesn’t seem like the people at the show are not enjoying themselves as much as in years past either. I’m not saying the show isn’t fun, it always is. I’m just saying that in years past I have been more impressed with systems, had great after parties, huge dinners out with friends from all over the world and did lots of business. We may blame the economy for our bad year(s) but this is a luxury industry and people will always find a way to pay for their hobbies. Those with the means still have them. If we don’t keep the industry going with new blood, new ideas, and a ignited passion of years ago I can see this show and lots like it going away in the next few years. No one seems to really want to have this hard conversation about our dying breed but one day soon it will no longer be avoidable.