After a week of travel, I arrived at the show early Sunday morning. Last day – maybe everything is tuned and locked in. For the most part, it was.
Given lack of time and energy, I decided to dispense with my normal “play these 3 tracks so I can evaluate” rigor, and just listen and enjoy.
Here’s what I encountered:
- The new venue is much improved. Bigger rooms, more luxury, and I heard no complaints about power or noise. Well done.
- The star of the show for me was the Enigma “Sopranino” supertweeter (link). Wow. I didn’t need test tracks to hear the remarkable sonic improvement that it afforded the Magico host. And not just air on top. Richer harmonic structure, more dynamic contrast, and greater integration of the soundstage. I could have sworn that a better DAC was inserted! $3600. I must try these with my Quad’s.
- Piraeus Audio’s (link) Athena active loudspeakers rocked, both literally (his music collection was 98% rock) and figuratively. I could find little to fault in the sound and I love the concept – digital-in to the speaker. Of course, this architecture renders the system niche (except maybe in a studio), and the 24/96 limitation doesn’t help either. $18K I think.
- At the low(er) end, the LRE Audio (link) Fourier speakers demonstrated quite credible sound for less than $2K/pair. Unique enclosure design can be wall-loaded. Oddly, they are meant to be driven by an AV receiver. Probably also niche, esp given the industrial (at best) standard finish. Still, I admire the innovation and low price point.
- I really enjoyed the time that I spent with Steven Lester, a local AV consultant (link) who specializes in 2-channel plus video. Steven’s absolute passion for this listening mode was only exceeded by the tremendous wealth of audio-related video content that he has on his 30 TB of hard drives. I literally had tingles while watching the vid that he had chronicling the recording of a Bernstein show tune from West Side Story. (Leonard B ended up in tears too describing it.) Magical.
So this was for me a show whose stars were at the fringes of our hobby. This made it exciting instead of merely enjoyable. The improved environment didn’t hurt either.
I also saw a fair number of younger listeners, perhaps drawn by the headphone exhibits.
A very enjoyable Sunday.
Edit: The reason for the Yamaha receiver was that the LRE speakers require EQ (“room correction”). No wonder Jason and I thought that their frequency response was so well-balanced.
Over 50 BAAS members braved a rare San Francisco heat wave and Elite’s store renovations yesterday to hear some of the best that vinyl and tubes have to offer.
Thanks largely to the efforts of Michael Woods (our host) and Peter Truce (or Analog Czar and organizer), the event was a great success. Thanks also to Allen Perkins (Spiral) and George and Carolyn Counnas (Zesto) for sharing their knowledge and expertise. (As a special treat, Zesto played the prototype of their much-anticipated tube power amp.)
…and DSD recording session.
BAAS members climbed into the Belmont hills yesterday to observe a live DSD-based recording session and to sample and audition four representatives from the current generation of DSD-capable DACs. The devices were:
- Playback Designs MPD-5 (link)
- Benchmark DAC2 HGC (link)
- Mytek Stereo 192 DSD DAC (link)
- TEAC UD-501 (link)
Musical selections – some of which were free downloads and available in both DSD and hires PCM – included:
- “Lush Life” and “Freddie” from AJP3 (link)
- Selkye:”Slow Day” from BCR (link)
- Mahler 2/1 from Channel Classics (link)
- Mahler 1/4 from DLN (link)
- Iyer:”Human Nature” from DLN (link)
- Recording from the live session
As to the results of the listening tests, I’ll leave the details to JVS and his report on Audiostream.com. I will say that the most prominent trend was once again sound quality mirroring price. But opinions varied, especially in the second session.
Also, late in the day and at a member’s request, we conducted a brief single-blind listening test. The setup was simple: two 30-sec level-matched excerpts were played on the MPD-5, one hires PCM and one DSD. Pick the DSD track. Consensus a priori was that this task was “easy” and a “waste of time.” The test results suggested otherwise.
Many thanks to Cookie Marenco, Patrick and the Blue Coast team, and Jason McGuire (master of Flamenco guitar). Great job in making this happen.
Last Saturday, about 40 BAAS members converged on Jason’s house in Oakland for another DAC shootout. (The then-new Berkeley Alpha DAC was the star of the last such event.)
- Audioquest Dragonfly ($250) (link)
- iFi iDAC ($300) with iUSB ($200) power supply (link , designed by AMR)
- Schiit Bifrost ($450 with USB) (link)
- Halide DAC HD ($495) (link)
- USB has emerged as a mature, great-sounding standard
- There are some seriously-good fidelity to be had in the $250-500 price bracket; and
- The Halide DAC deserves its Class A Stereophile rating. It is special
Given this last point, many members were delighted to hear that Jason has secured a BAAS “Group Buy” discount on the Halide.
“Vinylmania” is coming to San Fran – details here.
Also, you may want to check out this charity record sale on Nov 10th (same day as the movie), proceeds to Palo Alto Library.
BAAS members enjoyed a pleasant Saturday at the Oakland HQ of Linn Audio.
David Linn, founder and CEO, played host to an enthusiastic crowd of listeners. Thanks, David!
Comments were heard throughout the day about how dynamic the speakers were and the “honesty” of their tone. They were also capable of sound levels that would fill a stadium.
When asked about the name of the firm and possible confusion with the Scots, Dr. Linn replied that “…Linn is my last name, not theirs….”
BAAS members were treated to a great program at last Saturday’s listen & learn session at Century Stereo in San Jose.
Multiple well-appointed rooms were in play, staffed by knowledgeable experts from the vendors. Highlights included:
- All about room treatments (PMI). Why passive treatments still matter, even when EQ/signal processing are used.
- Power conditioning intro (Furman). Is there a difference? Is the conditioned sound truly better? At what price?
- McIntosh Line Array Loudspeakers and Lyngdorf technology. Ever heard a line array? Ever heard these? 110 drivers! Also, how digital signal processing (DSP) can auto-EQ and adjust/widen the “sweet spot.”
- Audio cable technology update from China (Tributaries/Clarus). Video conference with cable pioneer Jay Victor. Why geometry matters, and where Chinese (and Japanese) manufacturing fits in.
- High Resolution Video/Audio by Kaleidescape. What Bluray brings to digital audio, and how the Kaleidescape technology can make powerful video/music servers easy. amazing system.
A ton of great learning, pleasurable listening, and audiophile camaraderie.
Thanks to Melinda and Century Stereo (link at right)!
BAAS just completed a well-attended (over 50 members) gig featuring the rich product line of Everything But The Box (EBTB) Loudspeakers.
Held at the impressive 1340 Mission building – home of Michael Romanowski Mastering, Coast Recorders, and the Tape Project – the event featured 3 demo systems, a nice lobby for extended member discussions, an open bar, great snacks (loved those brownies!), and an expresso bar. But for me, the highlight of the facility was the acoustic qualities of the main studio. It’s hard to find such a neutral sonic environment.
In addition to the facility itself, we were blessed by the participation of several audio experts, most notably Bob Hodas, Michael Romanowski, and Piper Payne. Holding it all together was our sponsor, Konnie May – North American rep for EBTB. And we all thank Parasound, MIT Cables, and VTL for their support via equipment loans.
The sounds were great, the atmosphere light and collegial, and our hosts gracious. A beautiful thing.
Here are some pics, courtesy member Kevin O, to document things….
This year’s CAS may have been moderate in size (three floors of rooms), but it was big on quality. The rooms generally sounded good, and the crowds were decent and enthusiastic. In fact, the enthusiasm was so great that BAAS increased in size by 17% in two days, and took in proceeds enough to sponsor a major event. Cool!
The BAAS Room. Many thanks to Constantine/Dagogo for providing space to BAAS for a hospitality suite. Our seemingly-conflicting plan was to provide: (1) a good listening experience on equipment that most audiophiles can afford (2) facilitate non-commercial conversation among enthusiasts; and (3) the means for BAAS to advance the cause by showing the flag and signing new members. I think that we did reasonably well on these.
The system in play for most of the show included:
- Custom speakers featuring the 15″ Audio Nirvana Neo drivers. I installed the 15″ full-range Neos in cabinets that I bought used, and tuned the boxes for the new drivers. The AN drivers are available on the web for $1000.
- Oppo Universal Player model BDP-83SE “Audiophile Edition.” Capable (and discontinued) player, sometimes available for about $500 used.
- Denon Integrated Amp Model PMA-A100 “Anniversity Edition.” A real gem. Research the Denon POA-4400 mono-blocks. The circuit in these is similar in design. Discontinued. Available used on eBay for $1400-$1700.
- ASC tube traps. Four of them. Thanks, ASC!
- Various DIY cables, $100 medical power conditioner, DIY room treatments (703 rigid fiberglass), etc.
Other delights. I quite frankly had my hands full in the BAAS room, and didn’t spend much time in the others. I therefore think it’d be a diservice to readers to comment on room specifics. I can generalize and say that maybe 25% of rooms had great sound, 20% had obviously-flawed sonics, and the rest sounded OK. I think that this quality mix is above-average. As always, Cookie and the Blue Coast room were a boon. The show organization and hotel staff were great, the elevators worked, AC power was fine, and food (I had burgers) was tasty (if very slooooow in coming).
Our volunteers. I can’t say enough about the great job that our volunteers did in our room. Bravo! Our folks embraced their jobs with tremendous enthusiasm and energy. It was catchy. And I was astounded when some of our most laid-back members started pitching BAAS membership to prospects. Wow. No wonder we gained so many new members. To hone their games, I started espousing the “Always Be Closing (ABC)” method that I used to teach software salespeople! LOL.
The California Audio Show (CAS) is running a promotion wherein BAAS members get a $10 discount on their 3-day tickets.
Since the membership fee for BAAS is only $20, new members can essentially join BAAS for free!
Just follow the link above to join, and I’ll send you the link for the $10 discount to CAS.
Great deal for Bay Area audiophiles….
On 9/26/95, the notice below was posted on the rec.audio.high-end newsgroup by one of Dennis Davis’ officers. (Dennis was president.)
This current incarnation of BAAS was a restart of the earlier “Northern California Audiophile Society.” This, in turn, sent the “other BAAS” into a bit of a tail-slide.
Much more recently, BASS was used as the inspiration and template for the Shanghai Aidiophile Society.
Don Naples of Wood Artistry called me last Wednesday and said that he had the gear from the Axpona show back and asked whether BAAS would like to use it. Initially I demurred…until I heard that the system included the superb MSB Signature line – optical player, DAC, clock, and volume control unit. A long-time MSB fan, I bit and we put together a quick event in record time.
I must say that the ~$30K MSB units looked great and sounded better. Complementing the MSB stack were six channels of PASS Labs amplification and the excellent Linkwitz-designed “Orion” open-baffle speakers.
The system came more and more alive as the 4-hour gig proceeded, thanks to both the normal warmup dynamics and some judicious room tuning. By day’s end, I dare say that we had reference-quality sound.
Many thanks, Don (and MSB)!
I don’t think Hofstadter’s “golden eternal braid” book needs much intro – it’s simply one of the most well-read tomes ever on the correspondence between math, science, and art. It practically started a movement.
It’s also the first thing that I thought of when I saw the video below.
Last Saturday, BAAS members were treated to a private sitting with the trend-setting DaVinci DAC.
Impressive in both design and specs, members noted in particular the impressive soundstage that the unit projected.
The music played, all hi-res except for the Montserrat Figueras tribute, was either classical or jazz: excerpts of Haydn and Beethoven string quartets, Mozart, Ole Bull’s very romantic violin, Paul Motian and Vince Guaraldi’s jazz, Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall’s period instrument Monteverdi, and, in the second session, Kumiko’s Steve Reich on marimba. A fine tribute to a pair of fallen artists.
Thanks again to Jason Victor Serinus for hosting. His fine room, system, and expert musical selections make auditions a treat.
And, of course, special thanks to Larry Ho and Light Harmonic for supplying this elegant piece of reproduction equipment. You can learn more here.
This weekend offered something new few BAAS members, who were introduced to one of the first net-new technologies to hit the high-end scene in years. Of course, I’m talking about the Qol (think “coal” re pronunciation) algorithm from BSG Technologies.
Each of the three sessions began with a thorough briefing from BSG CEO Larry Kay. We then tested the transparency of the analog circuits in the Qol device. With Qol in a tape loop of the Wavelength preamp, we switched the unit in and out while playing the Mahler 2 from Classic. Not a single member could hear a difference. Nada. This in itself can be considered a fine accomplishment IMO. In fact, add an attenuator and a little gain to the Qol and a great preamp would emerge,
We spent much of the rest of the time switching the actual Qol processing in and out. This test was a bit tougher to interpret, as the nature of the Qol – adding (“restoring”) phase and harmonic information to the signal – results in a 0.5dB-2dB rise in acoustic power. So everybody heard a big and positive difference when the Qol was switched in. The question was how much of this goodness was due to the effect and how much do to the gain.
It’s not my role here to render a judgement. But I will say two things. First, BAAS members were unanimous that the Qol processing did no harm, i.e., the processed signal sounded at least as good as the raw signal. Second, one minute into the demo, an experienced BAAS listener sitting in the room’s sweet spot pronounced “I’m sure it’s doing more than a gain change!” Beyond that, I’d urge interested listeners to spend time with the unit themselves. (As I understand it, BSG has a reasonable home audition policy, at least in the Bay Area.)
All of our testing was supported by the new Triode loudspeakers from Jim Jordan of Vaughn. Jim also brought a stack of Wavelength electronics, which featured NOS Western Electric 300B tubes. The source was my highly-modified Pioneer Elite universal player.
Many thanks to Larry, Jim, and Shawn Herrara (local Qol dealer) for making the event a success.
Edit: The new issue of The Absolute Sound (#220) contains a seven-page rage of the Qol device by Robert Harley.
Here’s my “best in show” award for Burning Amp 2011 (the audio track actually captures the speaker’s audio signature pretty well):
Zenwood Audio speakers – check out Zenwood’s other videos! (They are located in San Francisco.)
Front-and-center in the performance were the small-but-mighty BL-10 monitors (pictured). They not only sounded great, but also measured well using the Goldline MP-30 Real-Time Analyzer that was on hand.
Later in the day, newly-minted BAAS member Baron Lum was informed that he won the event’s house prize – a new $990-list Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192. (Unbiased post-event drawing shown.) Talk about “membership has its privileges”!
Many thanks to Jonathan and One World Audio….
One of the true audiophile highlights of the year will be held on October 1st at Fort Mason in SF – Burning Amp.
Virtually mandatory for do-it-yourself (DIY) folks, I also recommend it for “general” audiophiles.
This year will feature a veritable “DIY God” – Douglas Self. I’m sure that I’m far from the only builder who got major acceleration from Mr. Self’s teachings.
Edit: The BA organizers are looking for help, especially in providing high-end digital and/or analog sources for the event. Contact info is on their site.
See you there,
I’ll leave it to Dagogo to publish the full results, correlated with other inputs.
But I will say that the majority of BAAS thought that the best sound they heard came from the Magico/Acoustic Research system. As I’ve stated earlier, ’twas reference quality sound – helped by one of the few rooms that let the system breathe.
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