Several major new products had their U.S. premieres at the California Audio Show (CAS) this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of these new entries were sonically stunning, despite the “challenging” room acoustics at the show. I didn’t get to all the rooms, so my apologies to those manufacturers whom I might have missed.
Notes: Given the response to my recent blog about “The Best Studio System I’ve Ever Heard,” I will try to avoid the word “best” although several of these new products were certainly deserving of that moniker relative to this show. I also hope to cover some other terrific products in a companion CAS Show Report.
Important note: this is Part 2 of a two-part blog. Part 1 covers CAS U.S. Product Premieres from Magico, MBL, and Audio Research. Click here to read Part 1.
Graham Phantom II Supreme tonearm ($5750, 10" version)
The Graham Phantom II Supreme, along with a Clearaudio Innovation Wood ($11,000) mounted on a Clearaudio Everest stand ($12,000) with the Benz Micro LP S-MR cartridge ($5000) produced the most seductive front-end I heard at the CAS, with an enormous soundstage coupled with jet-black backgrounds and an incredibly low noise floor. This combo also sailed through thunderous dynamic peaks with complete control.
The Graham Phantom II Supreme arm is the latest evolution of the Phantom Series tonearms and offers several improvements over its predecessor: a new bearing housing incorporating Tungsten inserts for better mass coupling and improved dynamic range; new counterweight features for wider compatibility; and a new cartridge alignment gauge.
The Clearaudio/Graham/Benz rig was part of the system setup in the large, wide Music Lover’s/Musical Surroundings ballroom which also included the Aesthetix IO Eclipse all-tube phonostage with volume controls and dual-mono all-tube power supplies ($23,000), Spectral amplifiers, Wilson Audio MAXX Series 3 loudspeakers, and MIT cables.
The MAXX loudspeakers were spread as far apart as I’ve seen, but they produced precise focus in the sweet spot on Day 1, stunning dynamics, and a spacious, crisp, clean sound. On Day 2, the focus seemed to pull to the left on massed strings, until I stood against the back wall and everything gelled back into place. I have no idea how these guys were able to get such terrific sound in such a cavernous space.
Luxman LP-171 turntable with arm ($6200)
When Luxman introduces a turntable after 28 years, it’s big news! This belt-drive ’table weighs in at over 50 pounds, and uses a 32-bit speed controller, as well as a massive power supply from a Luxman amplifier.
When mated with Vivid B1 speakers ($15,000), Luxman electronics, and a Brinkman π cartridge, the sound emerged from a quiet, black background with very good focus and soundstaging. A real treat was listening to the 12" single of Lou Reed singing, “Take A Walk On The Wild Side.” I’ve never heard that piece sound so good.
Clearaudio Ovation Wood turntable/Clarify tonearm package ($5500)
This new entry from Clearaudio looks like the offspring of a mating between the Clearaudio Innovation Wood and the Concept. Like the Innovation Wood it features a Panzerholz wood/aluminum sandwich plinth to help control resonances; adjustable leveling and locking feet; Clearaudio’s inverted Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB); and a decoupled 3-speed DC motor with Optical Speed Control. It also features a mass-loaded and internally damped plinth with stainless-steel shot damping tiles, a 40mm thick Delrin platter with weighted rim, a machined aluminum subplatter, and a Clarify tonearm. The Ovation Wood sported a Talismann v2 Gold Cartridge ($1750).
Unfortunately, it wasn’t spinning when I stopped in, so I can’t comment on its sonics, but since I loved the Innovation Wood and was impressed by the performance of the Concept, this could be quite a turntable system.
Gallo Classico CL2 loudspeakers ($1295/pair)
One of the prominent themes of the CAS was just how good many mini-monitors sounded. In the small rooms at the Crowne Plaza, they fared much better than many of the floorstanders with a few notable exceptions (the Wilson Sasha coupled with the dCS Debussy DAC/D’Agostino Momentum; the Sony SS-AR1 driven by the Pass Labs 600.5 amps and XP-20 preamp with an EMM Labs SACD player; Salk Soundscape 10 speakers with Audio by Van Alstine electronics, including the new 600R hybrid amplifier). Audio Vision San Francisco cleverly used small, stand-mounted speakers in all five of its rooms. My personal favorite was the room sporting the wonderful Nola Micro Grand References, Naim electronics, and a Clearaudio Performance SEP with Verify carbon-fiber tonearm ($2800 for table/arm), Clearaudio Talisman v2 Gold cartridge ($1750).
The Gallo Classico CL2 mini-monitors sounded remarkably good and when you consider their modest price, could become highly sought after they get into production in mid/late October. Here’s a speaker that uses a lot of Gallo’s technology from its spherical speakers (CDT-4 tweeter, BLAST for bass loading, and OPT) in a more conventional mini-monitor package.
Gallo’s Bill Fried said the Classico CL2 goes down to 39Hz and has a sensitivity of 90dB. As with several mini-monitors at the CAS, these babies were coherent and spacious. Electric bass was surprisingly good.