Next to a rain-soaked dumpster full of old Altec drivers, the Headmasters ballroom had to be the saddest place in the HiFi world. The Westin’s air walls are a perfectly uniform shade of County Jail Beige, and the battered exhibit tables skirted with the Prison Laundry’s finest linen substitute always have the sort of charm that used to be confined to a Turnpike Ramada when the baseball card traders would roll through for a weekend. There’s no avoiding it, really. It just reminds me how sorry I feel for anyone who booked their wedding in a joint like this.
Given the design chops and production effort that goes into making the products on display, the effect is more than a little incongruous. I can’t imagine too many people dropping five figures on an end-game headphone rig just to litter it all across a surplus cot in their garage, but the effect here was similar.
The room was filled with talented, witty people at the top of their game, baubles that would engage anyone’s gizmolust, and the kind of sound that would have anyone who ever had a favorite song craving their next hit. The room was also unpleasant, dreary, and, damningly for this crowded show, almost entirely empty. Those last facts are not unrelated.
There was a silver lining, though. Since no actual customers wanted to spend their weekend hanging out in a place that made the local DMV seem cozy and inviting, there was never even a line to listen to things….
Eddie Current dragged along two new products for der gefingerpoken.
The first was an unexpected venture into solid state headphone amplification. The Red Top, priced at $800, is a small, friendly box with a wallwart power supply. A quick show floor demo with a well aged pair of Senn HD 600s made it seem like the price champ of the EC line managed to retain a good portion of the sound that’s made Craig Uthus’s amps such objects of desire.
Speaking of which…
The second amp was the hotly anticipated 445, which sports an unsurprising four 45 tubes on its output stage. Priced at $4200, and seen here forcing a pair of Audeze cans to do a half credible imitation of a Stax rig’s speed, one imagines that the order queue on this is going to be filled. The ability to also work as a speaker amp, putting 3 big watts into an 8 ohm load, is an extra bonus.
Questyle set up in the hallway with a slew of great looking products including their CMA-800i integrated dac and headphone amp, their micronized Q192 dac and amp, the CAS192 dac, and a pair of mono strapped 800R headphone amps. A quick audition showed some strong promise in the CAS192, and the CMR800i powered a pair of Sennheiser 800s without any obvious treble viciousness.
Elite Audio Systems managed a full exhibit of Audeze cans and associated goodies. The entire LCD line was available to mix and match with amps and dacs from Meridian, AURALiC, and Questyle. There’s nothing new for me to report here, but this seems like a fine time to mention that an audio show is a fantastic playground. Exhibits like this are basically the adult equivalent of spending an afternoon in a bouncy castle.
AURALiC had a small presence at this show, only bringing a few of their Gemini headphone docks for playtime escapades. Playing with playing with HiFiMan planars at a table run by Audio Vision San Francisco, or an Audeze LCD-2 at the Audeze table, the gizmo demonstrated that the stylish packaging does has not compromised AURALiC’s precise and powerful house sound.
The intensely relaxed Steve Koto again donated his fun-loving time to the Head Amp exhibit. One side of the table was strewn with dynamic headphones — all of them, apparently — to play with a HeadAmp GS-X MK2 ($3000) amplifier and an Ayre DAC. The other side … well … that’s where Steve came in.
Steve brought his own front end, a Bottlehead Tube Repro ($4,000) fed Tape Project tapes by a modified Technics 1500. Amplification here was a fully loaded and eye-catchingly anodized Blue Hawaii SE ($6600) stuffed with Shuguang Treasure tubes. Both an old Stax Omega and a newer Stax SR-009 ($4450) were available for listening.
This rig easily made some of the best sound we heard during the entire show.