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CAS 2014: Ayre and Marantz join 9′ of Sound Lab

DSC_1820 Dyn_CAS-logo-2I may have mentioned that Friday was a bit of a slog at this show. Equipment was cold, rooms were amusical, and sound was, in general, something less than fulfilling. The large room presented by Ultimate Audio may have been the best example of the worst. Sound Lab's Majestic 945PX electrostatic speakers ($40,570 per pair), standing almost nine feet tall, more than three feet wide, and weighing in at over two hundred pounds per channel, fronted the room. The source was the overachieving Marantz SA-11S2 ($3,500). Amplification came from Colorado in the form of an Ayre KXR Twenty ($18,000) and Ayre MXR monoblocks ($18,500 per pair). Everything was plugged in to the wall with close to twenty grand worth of Shunyata power conditioning and cables, and TEO provided nearly thirty large worth of interconnects and speaker cabling. This was, in other words, a real stunt system.

And, on Friday morning, it sounded like frozen garbage. It was shrill, bright, undynamic, tonally weird, and generally a waste of space. Anyone who walked in to the room might have questioned why audiophiles even bother.

The problem, of course, is that gear takes a while to warm up. Big stats are just godawful that way. They need some serious charging time to really start coming into their own. Listening to a system like this after it’s been plugged in for less than a full day is little more than an exercise in futility. You won’t get more than a glimmer of what’s possible.

On Saturday, of course, things were very different indeed.

We walked in during a visitor’s audition of some ridiculously lifelike Cannonball Adderly, and asked the nice folks to queue up “Two Fifty to Vigo” from Shooglenifty’s lovingly recorded 1996 release Live at Selwyn Hall. Right out of the gate, the big monsters showed their ability to throw an expansive sound field. The bigger-than-big soundstage doesn’t just offer a hint of the enveloping quality of the live show, but pretty well loads it on a truck and drops it in your lap. Extended treble offered plenty of that audiophile air, while the perfectly integrated bass managed the hardest stunt of all, turning a crap room with an air wall into a functioning stand-in for a live venue.

If there was a real problem here, it’s that the system was almost too good at what it did. Show conditions aren’t the best companion for a revealing system. At the same time you’d be enjoying the texture of the drums, you’d also be stuck noting that there was an unfortunately mechanical signature creeping in on the treble. It could have been an unsympathetic equipment match, it could have been a result of funky hotel power, or it could just have been that the system just needed more time to warm itself up.

Even with that little niggle, I was more than happy to have a few minutes to get reacquainted with the sound of Sound Lab. I’ve rarely heard them sound better than they did here. I only regret that I didn’t bring a whole lot more music with me.

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1 Comment on CAS 2014: Ayre and Marantz join 9′ of Sound Lab

  1. Would’ve like to have known which piece of music from Canonball Adderly was playing? Live Canonball on the Soundlabs! …. whew! Having heard a 7 foot pair in Charlotte, NC 3 yrs ago, was mind blowing experience!

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