Held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Burlingame in the San Francisco Bay Area from August 3-5, this year’s California Audio Show (CAS) was quite memorable. CAS-organizer Constantine Soo and his team should be congratulated for putting on another fine audiofest, which included a number of U.S. premieres. As with all audio shows, the hotel-room sonics typically (though not always) fell short of what you might hear in your own home or in some of the best dealer listening rooms. However, consumer shows like this one offer audiophiles and enthusiasts an opportunity to hear a lot of different systems on a relatively equal footing and to get a better idea of what's new and intriguing. For me, these gatherings also have a lot of fantasy value, as I find myself daydreaming about a few of the outstanding products I’ve heard long after the show is over.
In a previous blog I highlighted several U.S. product premieres, several of which sounded very good despite the difficult rooms. Without covering the same ground again, the (show) debut of the Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF loudspeaker ($199,500) with a Thor's Hammer subwoofer ($21,500), driven by the latest VTL electronics (TL 7.5 Series III linestage, TP6.5 Signature phonostage, and three Siegfried Series II Reference monoblocks!), and wired with Transparent Audio Opus cables and power conditioning, produced a thrilling sound with tremendous impact, a total lack of compression, and almost holographic imaging. A top-end dCS Scarlatti digital playback system ($80,000) fed by Peter McGrath's stunning master recordings reproduced digital as realistically as I’ve heard at any show. Analog playback chores were wonderfully handled by the exquisite AMG Viella W turntable with 12J2 tonearm ($16,500) and a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge ($15,000).
One U.S. premiere that really had me daydreaming featured the Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable ($27,500), with a Clearaudio Universal 9-inch all-carbon-fiber tonearm and a Benz Ruby Z cartridge on a Clearaudio Everest turntable stand. Since seeing and hearing it, my mind has been spinning: If I bought the Clearaudio Innovation Wood that I lived with so joyfully, I could ultimately add magnetic drive and other innovations migrated from Clearaudio's Statement turntable. That's extremely enticing! This front end, along with the Aesthetix IO phonostage, Chord electronics, and Kubala-Sosna cables, helped the marvelous KEF Blade sound better than I’ve heard it at any show, yielding terrific soundstaging, natural music timbre, remarkable coherence (for a multi-driver system), and well-controlled deep bass.
Three other U.S. premieres that I described in my previous blog also captured my imagination. I found myself thinking that the drop-dead gorgeous Ayon Triton III stereo tube integrated amplifier ($12,500) would really look great on my equipment rack, and I could see myself living with the new DALI Epicon 6 Reference loudspeaker ($15,000/pair), with its unique Linear Drive Magnet system. I also thought, "Wouldn't my wife just love the small KEF LS50s ($1500/pair) as the basis for her system in another room of the house?" (Heretofore, previous attempts to give my wife audio components as gifts have not been well received)
Several rooms that did not offer any U.S. product premieres produced compelling sound despite challenging conditions. One of the most outstanding was a small room upstairs that shouldn't have worked as well as it did. Master acoustician Bob Hodas did his magic here, installing his custom isolation-wall, RPG Harmonix K diffusers, and Ikea rugs hung on coat racks (to control early-arrival reflections). As a result, the relatively large Focal Scala Utopias ($32,500), mounted on 10" Sound Anchor stands ($1200), sounded incredibly lifelike and natural with beautiful timbres, extended highs, powerful dynamics, and low coloration. The sound was so good that I preferred it to that of Hodas' fine room last year, in spite of the fact that Hodas was using smaller Focal speakers (Diablo Utopias) in 2011, which, I would have guessed, should have worked better in a room this size. The front-end was an Otari 1/2" reel-to-reel tape deck along with some terrific Tape Project tapes, VTL’s 6.5 Signature linestage ($11,500) and 450 Signature Series III amplifiers ($18,000/pair), Tara Labs’ Onyx cables, and a Ground 1 Torus power conditioner. An Electrocompaniet DVD player handled digital playback chores.