A few more of the smaller rooms were particularly noteworthy. Last year I found myself enthralled by the Magico Q1 loudspeakers ($26,500), and I was somewhat hesitant to audition them again at CAS since it took me the better part of 2012 to stop thinking about them. The good news (or perhaps bad news for me) is that they sounded even better this year in an even smaller, more acoustically challenging room! The Q1s seemed to lock in with the Constellation Virgo preamplifier ($19,000) and Centaur amplifier ($24,000), Auraliti's L1000 Media Server ($4000) and DAC ($TBD), and MIT's outstanding Oracle MA-X cables and interconnects. The end result was that the Q1 sounded even more transparent, dynamic, and focused with an astonishingly low noise floor and deeper and more controlled bass. I've been daydreaming about them again since the show.
I would have guessed that the YG Acoustics Anat III Studio Signature loudspeakers ($82,000) would have overdriven the relatively small Loggie Audio room, but they did not. These speakers have transient speed to burn, which gives music a lot of impact and makes the percussion section sound thrilling. They have very quick bass and a lovely, natural timbre on brass instruments. Other components in the system included the Bryston BDP-1 music player ($2195), which I spotted in several rooms, the Esoteric P-02 digital transport ($23,500) and D-02 DAC ($23,500), and the Ypsilon Electronics PST-100 MkII and Aleius Hybrid amps, which seem to be the perfect match for the larger YGs. Unfortunately, I did not get to hear the smaller, more affordable Carmel in the same room.
As in Newport, the TAD CR1 speakers ($42,000) were driven by a Zesto Audio Leto preamplifier and a GamuT D200 power amp, connected with Wywires speaker cables, power products, and interconnects. A Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable, Tri-Planar U II tonearm, Dynavector XX2 MkII cartridge, and Zesto Audio Andros PS 1 phonostage ($3900) comprised the analog front-end, and the system was one of the most musically engaging I heard (at either show). Voices were lifelike and palpable, massed strings were silky and detailed, and overtones were extended and clear, so instruments sounded very natural.
The Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeakers and Triode Company of Japan electronics combined to produce some of the most musically engaging sound at the show. Admittedly, the Crescendo speakers ($16,000) were able to bloom more in a larger room in Newport, but they gave quite a good accounting of themselves in one of the smaller hotel rooms upstairs in Burlingame when coupled with a Triode TRV-CD5E tube CD player ($2500), TRX-1 tube preamplifier ($3200), TRX-M845SE monoblocks ($22,500), and Acoustic Zen cables and interconnects. This system sounded so harmonically "right" with such immediacy and transparency that I could have listened far longer. In the scheme of things, it really delivered the goods at a relatively modest price.
No matter where in the world I seem to hear them, MBL loudspeakers have an uncanny ability to reproduce fine detail, the leading edge of transients, and a wide and deep soundstage as well as any speaker. At the Munich Hi-Fi Show, MBL had the audacity to switch between a live performer playing a harpsichord and an all-MBL audio system, and the differences were much smaller than I thought they would be. In Burlingame, the lovely harpsichord instrument was not available for comparisons, but the mbl 101 E MkII loudspeakers ($70,500/pair) coupled with an mbl 1621 A CD transport ($28,000), mbl 1611 F D/A converter ($28,700), mbl 6010 D preamplifier ($26,500) and mbl 9011 power amplifier ($53,000), reproduced Carmina Burana with spooky 3-D imaging, delicacy in the massed strings, incredible transient speed and dynamic range, and some of the best highs I heard in one of those large rooms. I can see why one of my audio buddies covets these speakers so much.
The Magico S-5 ($28,600), a new three-way with two 10" Nano-Tec woofers, a 6" midrange, and 1" Beryllium tweeter, has a lot of sonic similarities to its amazing Q5 sibling but uses a cabinet with ½"-thick extruded aluminum walls (among other differences). This "cost-reduced Q5" mimics that reference speaker's low noise floor, wonderful coherency and natural detail, full-range extension, and transient quickness. Admittedly I preferred the S-5 in Newport, in a more manageable room which allowed its high-end to soar, but in one of the Crowne Plaza's large ballrooms, the S-5 was able to reproduce the orchestra's massed strings with striking realism. The majestic VAC Statement 450 monoblocks ($78,000) supplied plenty of power and were coupled with a VAC Mk2a preamp ($19,500), Audio Research Reference Phono 2 SE ($12,995), Kronos ’table ($28,000) with Graham Phantom Supreme 12" arm ($6000) and Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge ($15,000), Accuphase DP-700 SACD/CD player ($27,000), MIT Oracle Matrix SHD cabling, and more.