CAS 2014: MIT Cables with Magico, Constellation, and Berkeley

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2Since MIT (Music Interface Technologies) Cables put this room together, it only seems fair to talk about the cables first, for once. MIT was demoing their new SL-Matrix 50 interconnects ($4,999) and SL-Matrix 90 speaker cables ($9,999). These are available in both balanced and single-ended versions. Reputedly, these have been designed to optimize the mid-range of a system, and they feature adjustable impedance switching. They represent a smaller and sleeker adaptation of MIT’s classic technology, at a lower price. The SL-Matrix USB cable ($499) was also in use.

All this cable strung together a pretty fine system: Magico S5 Speakers ($32,500 in brilliant M-Coat orange) took pride of place, with Constellation Audio‘s Inspiration Preamp 1.0 ($9,000) and stereo amp ($10,000) providing the oomph. The new Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha DAC Reference Series ($14,000) was in use, in conjunction with the Alpha USB ($1,895). The Aurender W20 music server ($17,200) provided the tuneage. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Keeping It Simple with Audio Note UK

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2David Cope, Audio Note‘s US frontman, gets a lot of abuse from us. He probably doesn’t deserve most of it. Whoever handles his shipping heaps more than enough on him. You can usually count on at least one component being broken outright at any show, and at least one campfire story about a horrible shipping mishap. This time, though, David had apparently appeased the shipping gods; the entire system was intact and functional.

Very, very functional. Continue reading

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Audio Vision San Francisco brings out new KEF Reference

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On Saturday, August 16th, Audio Vision San Francisco celebrated the grand opening of its new location with the North American debut of KEF‘s Reference 5 speakers. If the attendees and the proprietors seemed a bit giddy, it wasn’t just the wine; this party constituted a true community celebration, as well as an opportunity to hear some great new gear.

Late last year, store owners Randy Johnson and Antonio Long received some unpleasant news from their former landlord: they would not be able to renew the lease on their Pine Street location. Faced with renovating a shell a block and a half away and relocating the entirety of their gear, the folks at AVSF turned to the community of audiophiles who had supported them for fifteen years, asking for assistance via an Indiegogo campaign. The audio family responded by collectively contributing more than $24,000 to ensure that brick and mortar hi-fi stayed in San Francisco. It’s no wonder, then, that the atmosphere was electric. Continue reading

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CAS 2014: Wilson Audio’s Sasha II, smooth as silk

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By John Stancavage

Dyn_CAS-logo-2Two visitors to the large Music Lovers Audio room at the California Audio Show slowly approached a Wilson Sasha II W/P speaker.

“That’s the new tweeter,” one said in hushed tones. “Wow,” said the other, suddenly unable to form even a sentence in the presence the gleaming black transducers.

“See,” said Peter McGrath, Wilson Audio Specialties’ sales director, standing with me a few feet away. “Everybody notices the new tweeter. What they are not talking about is this.”

He rapped his knuckles on the side of the lower woofer module. There was barely a thud.

“Dave Wilson invested in a device called a vibrometer. It uses a laser to detect all the resonant modes in the cabinet. We used it in the development of the Sasha II.” Continue reading

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Peachtree Audio deepblue2 in the final 48 hours

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48 hours to go on the deepblue2 campaign currently underway over at Indiegogo, so any plans you have to jump in and snatch up some early-bird pricing are pretty much over.

Funding currently stands north of 470% of the goal [snort], so I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing these in short order. As of this writing, there are only a few units available at the 40% off mark, so snooze-and-lose rules are in full effect.

For those keeping score, the deepblue2 is an update on the very cool deepblue I heard last year — this one promise “moar power” and deeper bass. More details are available at Peachtree Audio.

Me? I ordered two. Yes, really. I’m thinking about a couple of very interesting places I can use a monster speaker. How about you?

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CAF 2014: Show Wrap

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Mat Weisfeld and Jane Cai join me, bearing gifts — a new Nomad!

During a recent seminar, Michael Fremer remarked that there are three big trends in audio’s high-end today: vinyl, high-resolution audio, and headphones. He’s spot on. But there is another major trend overlooked in that count. A social one. One I think that’s as important, and for many reasons, to the other three: the audio show.

I’m not sure a lot of my peers in the audio press would be happy to agree with that assessment, but that’s okay, they’re wrong a lot. In fact, I know a lot of them have griped about how many audio shows there are, about how much work it is to cover them, and how the same folks keep cropping up over and over again. I can see their point and feel their pain, even as I get a little chuckle out of that last bit. But the point is, they’re missing something. Something the sheer fact of the audio show “circuit” ought to make plain, but gets lost behind the typical product-focused navel-gazing audiophiles are so rightly accused of obsessing about. It’s simple, really. It’s the community.

In many ways, this is something that personal audio folks get really right. The Head-Fi meets and meet ups are, and have been, an integral part of the personal audio experience, especially as that part of the audio market finds its feet. I think it’s rather ironic, actually, that headphone-based audio enthusiasts are so much better at getting together than audiophiles are — I mean, headphones are almost by definition not inclusive. Hi-Fi, on the other hand, takes place in spaces meant to be shared. Hmm.

Anyway, it’s the audio show that brings these things back together. Not music. Not love of music. But shared passions. That’s what binds us. And audio shows are what’s helping drive, expand and shape “the industry” today. Continue reading

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CanMania 2014: Cavalli is on fire

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CanManiaAt this point, I’m not sure how you could have wandered through the head-fi high-end without stumbling across Cavalli Audio at some point. In short, Cavalli makes some of the best headphone amplifiers on the market. The amps are high-power and high-fidelity class-killers, and can drive any headphone on the market. The fact that they look the part I’m sure doesn’t hurt.

Here at CanMania, attendees could pick their poison and follow the solid-state linear stylings of the Liquid Gold ($3,950), a headphone amplifier rated to up to 9 watts into 50Ω, or following their tube-rolling heart with the Liquid Glass ($2,950). Either way, you’re pretty much done — it’s just a matter of headphones. The only problem, as I see it, is choosing. Continue reading

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CanMania 2014: Cypher Labs, Coffman Labs, definitely not meek

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CanManiaCypher Labs has teamed up with Coffman Labs to create an amazing looking and sounding headphone amplifier, called Prautes ($3,900). This thing has tubes and knobs and textured sides and I get all quivery just looking at it.

Some things to note. One, it’s not tiny — expect it to take up some space. Two, it’s a tube amplifier, using a 12AU7 tube gain stage to drive a pair of 50L6 tubes in push-pull mode. Plan on a total of 1 watt (load-dependent) available for your headphones, and the attendant amount of heat.

But the device has some serious flexibility to go along with its good looks. There are four single-ended/RCA inputs and terminals for speakers if you want to use it as an integrated amp (for ~2wpc of output) with your high-sensitivity speakers. On the front faceplate, there are ⅛” and ¼” jacks on the front, as well as two 3-pin XLR outputs (left and right).

Turning to the chunky knobs, there is a lot you can do besides just turn it up. Opposite the input selector is the impedance selector, with 5 settings to choose from (300Ω, 100Ω, 32Ω, 8Ω and “IEM”) to tailor the outputs accordingly. Like bass? Have a troubling source? Or a headphone you want tweaked? Well, there’s an adjustable bass-boost knob (3dB at 31, 36, 41, or 47Hz) that allows you to customize to taste. Oh, and around back there’s a ground lift switch lets you deal with pesky mains issues. This sucker has a lot of features. Wish I’d been able to fiddle with it some more, but what I heard was pretty sweet.

Continue reading

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CanMania 2014: HiFiMAN showing some hot new cans

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CanManiaHiFiMAN has a large catalog of personal audio products, including digital audio players, headphones, amplifiers and everything you’d need to connect them.

Where I’ve seen them, repeatedly, is on the headphone front with the sonically awesome but notoriously difficult to drive HE-6 headphones ($1,300). I know reviewers that have these headphones just to abuse headphone amplifiers as a kind of torture test! But when well-driven, as by the HiFiMAN EF-6 headphone amplifier ($1,600), with its 5 watts of output power, the HE-6 can provide one of the most musically engaging personal audio experiences currently available on the market (the set is available for $2,300). Deep bass, tonal richness and oodles of detail and air make for a very compelling package. And that’s just the start. Continue reading

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CanMania 2014: iFi and the stack of portable awesome

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CanManiaiFi Audio is a fascinating brand, focusing (almost) exclusively on portable personal audio. Audio-Head‘s Brian Hunter took a look at some of their earliest offerings for Part-Time Audiophile last year and has another stack of their components in for review right now. They are, in short, really nifty.

The hottest thing off the iFi press are the new DSD components. There’s the Nano iDSD, a palm-sized battery-powered DSD256-capable device. And there’s the even-newer Micro iDSD, about 2x the size of the Nano, that can be driven via USB and can natively decode up to DSD512. I’m pretty sure that the latter just set some kind of record. Continue reading

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