Newport 2012: Chapman, Cary, Light Harmonic, MIT

What do I know? Not much, apparently. For example, I’ve never heard of Chapman speakers. Which is my oversight, obviously, since they’ve been building speakers since 1965! This is exactly why I love audio shows. I just never know what I’m going to run across.

Take for a handy example, the $9,995 T-8 MkII that Chapman was showing on Saturday and Sunday at Newport. This is a hand-built, USA-made speaker that is 4ohms (nominal), 89dB sensitivity, and has a F2 of 28Hz. They’re robust — they’re 4′ tall, and each one weighs 100lbs. Solid? Um, yeah. The look is old-school, with a sock covering all the drivers — very reminiscent of a Vandersteen, actually (or vice versa, given that Chapman has been building these speakers for 10 years longer). Did I mention that the new T-8 is time-aligned? Interestingly, the speakers are “compression line” (a clever cross between transmission line and acoustical suspension), an approach which gives exceptionally good back pressure — this adds significantly greater woofer control and extension, both mechanically and electrically, and makes the speakers very easy to drive loud, with great finesse and musicality.

The speakers were run by a whole suite of Cary Audio electronics, including a monster pair of $20,000 CAD 211 Founder’s Edition amplifiers. These amps have a pretty unusual tube complement:

  • 1 ea – 6CA7 Current Source Tube
  • 1 ea – 6SL7 Input Tube
  • 2 ea – 300B Driver Stage Tubes
  • 2 ea – 845 Output Tubes

They’re rated between 70wpc and 150wpc (moving from Class A to Class B).

In front of these is an $8,000 SLP-05 preamplifier. It’s class A output design, with a cinema bypass input, a tape monitor loop, a balanced stereo input, three RCA stereo inputs, and one balanced and two pairs of RCA preamplifier outputs.

Music came courtesy of the $20,000 DaVinci DAC from Light Harmonic. I’ve written a bit about this DAC at prior shows, and it’s really quite a techno tour-de-force. In case you missed it, this is a non-oversampling, non-upsampling, non-noise shaping, zero negative feedback, 32bit/384kHz asynchronous USB 2.0-compliant, triple-clocked digital-to-analog converter that bears more than a little resemblance to the offspring of Darth Vader and a Cylon. Apologies for the geek-foul of mixing my sci-fi universes, but if you ever lay your retinas on one of these bad-boys, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re a sci-fi geek. If not, well, you’ve probably already stopped reading by now anyway, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Cables came courtesy of MIT, including Matrix-120 Super Hi Def speaker cables and Oracle MA Rev II interconnects.

The sound in this room was elegant and extended and I very impressed with the bass performance — deep, defined and punchy. A mid-range “roundness” played with appreciable sparkle and detail. I remember taking notes on the music we were playing in this room — sadly, lost — but what I can remember was grinning a lot. A lovely sounding room.