On a Higher Note
Philip O’Hanlon’s room is always one of my first destinations. The man knows how to make his systems sound tempting even in a hotel ballroom. If you’ve been to a show recently — or even if you’ve just read reports — you know that his Luxman and Vivid pairings are crowd favorites. So why mess with success?
Well… they messed with success.
Luxman’s pride of place in the system was taken over by Bruno Putzey’s incredibly sleek Mola Mola Kaluga preamp ($10,000) and Makua monoblocks ($15,000 per pair). These things grabbed a hold of the Vivid G3 speakers ($40k) and shook them. Bass authority and speed were superb. The Mola Mola pair seemed to produce a less vivid tonal palette than the the usual Luxman fare, offering a more clinical dissection of Mr. O’Hanlon’s musical picks. It was a more cerebral experience than I was expecting, but not entirely unpleasant.
Sources included a Brinkmann Bardo ($9500), a Luxman DA-06 DAC ($6000) and a Sonorus ATR10 reel-to-reel ($13k-ish). Yes, the room made music.
Kirsten touched more firmly on the Concert Fidelity / TAD system in her notes. What impressed me most about this system, though, was its precision. Details and nuance were almost dutifully presented for inspection, but the sound was almost modest. No aspect of the music (except what came from the TAD Evolution tweeter) really drew any kind of inordinate attention to itself. If there was a sense of sterility in the room, I suspect it might be more fair to blame the decor.
I think we can all agree that these things are glorious looking pieces of audio art. Unfortunately, this table was in a ballroom shared with many other systems. I didn’t manage to catch it playing on any of six different visits — which I think may set a new low water mark for “room sound” at a show.
Venture Audio‘s show systems often seem determined to make a preemptive grab for the title of Bombast King. They usually have large speakers, terrifyingly expensive electronics, and a cavernous room. It must be frighteningly tempting to try to tear that kind of environment apart, so I understand why my previous show exposure to Venture led me, emotionally, to consider them systems for thugs with too much cash on hand.
Imagine my delight when I walked into a room that was adequately and realistically filled with music! Yes, it was a little bright at some points, and a little dull at others, but the solid state system surprised me by offering a soundstage with real depth, and a osund that embraced delicacy over bombast.
Venture V200a+ monblocks ($120k per pair), Venture Ultimate speakers (less than $100k), and, when I was visiting, a Phasure DAC made for a surprisingly sweet six figures of first-day sound.
In a ballroom shared with DC10, Lamm, and a cast of thousands, AVM‘s system was the one playing on each of my visits. A United Home Audio Phase 11 tape deck fed an AVM PA5.2 preamp and SA8 stereo amp. A pair of Gauder Akustik Berlina RC7 ($35,000/pair) fronted the system.
Ray Kimber’s Isomike Roadshow was present again with its now-traditional Sony speakers and Pass amplification for a wholly convincing demonstration on the merits of properly recorded quadrophonic surround. While this demo wasn’t quite as immersive as previous outings — ah, show conditions! — it sounded nothing like the usual speakers in a ballroom. It was, in that respect, a success.
— Mal Kenney