The LA Audio Show was a good show, with a pleasant venue at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, easy parking, crowds large enough to make it worthwhile for exhibitors but not so large that listening was made difficult—altogether a pleasure. I did not attempt comprehensive coverage. But I did form some positive impressions that will be of interest, I hope. (Apologies to those whose demos featured anything wonderful I didn’t hear—I did not get to see everything. Exclusion from this report likely means I just missed the item.)
Much sound I found good came from old reliables. Sanders electrostatics were producing their usual impeccable results—these speakers are not only superb but also are by design exceptional at differentiating against the kind of adverse effects that hotel rooms (and home listening rooms, too) are inclined to induce. Harbeths in two rooms were sounding like Harbeths, i.e., pleasingly musical. Emerald Physics, which always has something good on tap, was producing some extraordinarily civilized sound with its new, non-DSP, half-dipole speaker, the EP 2.8 ($9995/pr.). I found it hard to tear myself away from Delius’ Appalachia on Naxos, Michael Bishop recorded. (I was grateful that CDs could be played in this room, as many exhibits offered only file playback.)
Turning to less familiar lines, the Dragonfire speakers, designed by Dragoslav Colich, “Dr. C” of Audeze fame, were making remarkable sound from an as yet unreleased recording by Kavi Alexander of Mahler’s 8th Symphony, the “Symphony of a Thousand,” surely an ultimate test for Blumlein stereo but a test passed superbly, with the Dragonfires showing the resolution of the recording excellently and handling its enormous dynamic range with aplomb. (The Dragonfires use wave-guided planar-magnetic drivers from 500Hz up, with membrane technology along the lines of Audeze headphones.) The Dragonfires are a most promising debut though the estimated retail ($49,000 for the whole system) makes it inaccessible for most of us.
Jeff Candy’s Pietra, of the stone enclosures and wide baffles, whose Model 3A impressed me well previously, was back with a somewhat more domestically compatible (and less expensive) speaker, the Model 3.10 ($17,500/pr.), which retains the former’s virtues of natural timbre, excellent radiation pattern, and unusually convincing bass performance, as well as broad dynamic range. This was impressive sound, though the room was too small, I thought, to show the speakers at their best. This speaker has deep theoretical analysis behind it, with an exceptionally detailed study of radiation pattern and bass-signal timing.
Clayton Shaw presented a new (to me) speaker dubbed the Spatial Audio X1 Uniwave. This is a dipole bass plus wave-guided compression driver operating from 300Hz up, bi-amped (the compression driver’s sensitivity is so much higher than the dipole bass’ that only bi-amping makes sense). Driven by Vinnie Rossi’s electronics, the speaker gave a depiction of orchestral sound of truly remarkable realism. I cannot recall any show demo ever that sounded more like an orchestra than this, and there have been few that were its equal. In a moderately large room—the exhibit was in a suite-sized room—this system was producing both truthful timbres and a stunning sense of the recording venue’s actual space on one of my perennial test CDs, Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, Dallas, Mata conducting on ProArte (not the dry-as-dust Johanos-conducted Dallas recording). I have heard this recording many, many times on many systems. This was one of the best, with a really surprising sense of the spatial and sonic scale of an orchestra—what I personally think of as the “Wednesday night” experience (Wednesday nights being when the orchestra I play in rehearses). And, as mentioned, one really felt transported to the acoustics of the recording venue. The speakers sounded natural and convincing on smaller-scale music as well. Harnoy/Dussek’s Schubert Arpeggione Sonata (cello and piano, on RCA) was bewitching in its tonal naturalness and spatial realism as well. At $14,000 a pair ($17,500 in wood finish), these X1 Uniwaves offer so much that one has to consider them a real bargain as well as masterpieces on their own, independent of price, if I can go by my vivid first impressions. (I was fascinated and went back several times.) This system may be a bit difficult to find for audition at first, until it becomes as established as it deserves to be. But meanwhile, as the Michelin travel guides say of their top-rated things to see (or in this case, to hear), it is “worth a journey.” (Pending editorial approval you can expect a review.)