AudioengineBrett and Brady and Morgan were all on hand, showing off the upcoming Audioengine B1, a Bluetooth DAC that supports the latest AptX codecs for what seemed -- to my ears at least -- to be dramatically improved wireless playback. And by "dramatically improved", I mean surprisingly good. I mean, we've all been told that wireless audio must suck, right? Wrong. Brian Hunter at AudioHead has some more details.
Bob Sattin of Bob’s Devices was showing off a new SUT, called Sky. Sky is a Cinemag Blue series, much like it’s famed 1131 SUT, with the same provenance. There are two versions; the SKY 30 is switchable for 1:15 (24 dB gain) or 1:30 (30 dB gain) and the SKY 20 is switchable for 1:10 (20dB) or 1:20 (26dB).
I’m a big fan of Bob’s work, and of SUT’s generally — they just sound more natural than the straight-gain approaches I’ve heard. But gain isn’t everything, and with an SUT, it’s not even half the story. The other half, impedance matching, Bob will need to check for you — plan on a call. It’s worth the extra step, trust me. There have been far too many half-assed SUT reviews, even from pros, where the ratios (gain) are right, but the impedance is off … and the resulting review is not only not glowing but outright misleading. Nail both, and you’re in for a treat.
And if you’re a VPI owner, check out the Integrated 1131 for VPI. It actually sits right there on the tonearm — no extra wires necessary.
Down on the electric-grid-challenged first floor, The Source A/V Design Group had a set of adjoining ballrooms set up with some truly top-shelf brands and gear. Focal, Boulder, McIntosh Labs, D’Agostino. The prices on the gear in these rooms made my pulse race and blood to rush to my head.
You want to know what “big speakers” sound like? Here was a master-class.
The “Little Raidho Room” was fronted by a pair of the newest “affordable” ceramic + ribbon stand mounts called X1 ($6,400/pair). Like most Raidhos, the X1 produces an absurd amount of bass. Here driven by a magical pairing from Hegel electronics, there was plenty of finesse and detail on tap for me to rejuvenate my appreciation for the synergy that these two brands have.
Personally, I think either some room treatments or a bit more space off the side walls could have tamed the bass a bit, but Raidho speakers don’t tend to get shown with anything less than 100% toe-in, which in the narrow hotel room, limited placement.
MBL North America was showing off their Reference Line configuration, called “Combination F”, which retails for $558,200. That includes a pair of the MBL 101 X-Treme Radialstrahlers and bass cabinets, a 1621A CD transport, a 1611F DAC, a 6010 D preamplifier, and four 9011 mono amps.
The setup was long-wall, with seats crushed up against the opposing wall. Sound was remarkably stereo even wickedly off-center. Which was lucky, because prying the front-and-center folks out of their chairs was not happening.
Jeremy Bryan had some interesting stuff to say about their wiring:
In the 2 channel X-treme room we pulled our own ground (not on the amps) with the Shun Mook grounding system using vintage Western Electric wire. Since we were on the ground level, we had access to the side entrance and we put a copper tube in the flower bed (and watered it a few times a day). Amazing. With 4 x 9011 amps you could turn the preamp to full gain and there was NO trace of sound at the drivers. Quiet as if not connected.
Perfect8 and BAlabo were showing off next to the Focal demos. Glass-enclosed loudspeakers always make me a bit nervous, but they made a fair showing in the big room. I snuck in during one of the demos to take pictures, but was not able to hang out for the full run. Too many other rooms to visit.
I think the Planter Speakers folks are hilarious. How ballsy to show up to a hi-fi show with speakers snuck into a plant stand? Architectural speakers are nothing new, but the sound out of these … functional designs … is. There’s a front-firing driver set hidden behind the grill, and a big down-firing driver mounted underneath.
The cabinets are plastic, so nothing to write home about there, but these speakers are designed to sit outside, completely exposed regardless of weather (whether or not your amp is). “Lifestyle” speakers just took a step toward interesting, if you ask me. And feel free to, because a pair of these just showed up at chez moi.
I first saw these at AXPONA, so check there for more details.
Robb Niemann of importer Rutherford Audio waved me over for a quick demo on the Oxygene integrated from Roksan. The amp is the same that we heard at RMAF last year, and it’s really quite something. It’s a dual-mono Class D Hypex, with 75wpc into 8Ω. Where things got interesting, to me at least, was with the Bluetooth implementation. Robb suggested I pair my iPhone with the Oxygene (which caused it to flash my name up on the display) and play back a tune of my choice. I did. It was “meh”. Robb grinned, and handed me his AptX Bluetooth-enabled Galaxy. We played the same track. Guess what? Not “meh”. Not at all. Is Bluetooth ready to rip the wires out of your rack? Maybe not, but gotta say, that was a very convincing way to get good sound. I’m gonna have to explore that a bit more.
Vivid and Mola Mola
On A Higher Note’s ever-dapper Mr O’Hanlon was not in evidence when I strolled through the wonderfully-lit Vivid Audio demo, but that didn’t stop me from taking in the sights and sounds.
Shown here with Mola Mola amplifiers, the “little” B1 loudspeaker was exceedingly fast and detailed and grain-free, but very definitely a hi-fi kind of sound that the warm Luxman front-end electronics did little to hide. Tape, digital and vinyl selections promised a lot of options, but vinyl was ruling the roost on my trip through.