In the Audio Physic room, I heard the latest version of AP’s Avantera multiway floorstander driven by Aesthetix electronics and an AMG ’table. Here Mr. Mo’ sounded considerably more like himself, with good sock and presence on guitar transients, though I was bothered by some low-pitched thumping (which wasn’t coming from another room). Alas…on my (much larger-scale) Ravel cut, the system suddenly turned grainy and piercing, with audible breakup on crescendos. Something wasn’t right because I’ve heard these same speakers, electronics, and source sound fabulous at other shows.
Germany’s Tidal was showing its gorgeous €100k+ Agoria SE mulitway floorstander with black ceramic drivers and diamond tweeter, as well as debuting its own Tidal electronics alongside a Hartvig table. Though strings and winds were sugar-sweet at moderate levels on Tacet’s great recording of Ravel’s La valse, when the SPLs went up (and they do go up on this LP), the sound became a bit piercing. Also, bass was not as deep as it should have been on this spectacular disc. Seeing that I just heard a much more demure Tidal speaker sound fabulous in Chicago, I concluded that something was wrong and decided to return later in the show. I’m glad I did, because some days later I found the speakers sounding very lithe and lively on vinyl—superb on Keb Mo’s voice with phenomenal guitar transients and color. The Agoria also now managed perhaps the best reproduction I heard of Rapsodie espagnole from The Reiner Sound, reproducing all its sweetness as well as its power and phenomenal inner detail. So…late in the day a loser became a winner—and a Best of Show contender.
On Day One I heard many of the same problems with Kharma’s multiway $375k D’Appolito-array Grand Exquisites—now equipped with carbon-fiber (rather than ceramic) drivers and diamond tweeters—that I heard with the Tidals. Driven by Kharma’s own Class D electronics, the system sounded dull and dynamically strained on La valse, plus the bass (supplied by a pair of Kharma subs) lacked definition. This said, as initially was the case with the Tidals, at moderate levels the presentation was very beautiful in the mids and treble.
The €60k Leonardo Model 8 planar-ribbon driven by Grandinote electronics produced a dark, liquid, mellifluous sound on Shelby Lynne’s Dusty tribute album. The presentation may not have been realistic (and despite the reverb this disc can sound realistic on certain cuts), but it was quite beautiful.
Constellation was using the TAD Reference One multiway, coincident-beryllium-driver floorstander with its fabulous Centaur mono amps and new Cygnus server. This should have been a BOS room, but for whatever reason on Day One the presentation seemed (at once) a little dark and bright on a Leonard Cohen cut. Oh, the system was quite powerful and robust, but it was not as lifelike as I know both these speakers and these reference-quality electronics are capable of sounding. On Day Two I returned to the Constellation room and found that everything had greatly improved. The system was now far more delicate, with much less of the beryllium bite that bothered me on the Cohen cut and no loss of power in the bass. Simply superb on percussion and strings, the Constellation/TAD room had a considerably more neutral palette than TAD’s own darker, hotter room (for which, see below).
Ayon Audio, the Austrian electronics manufacturer, introduced its €50k Black Arrow three-way with AMT tweeter, cone midrange, and two 13-inch woofers in what Ayon calls an “airflow damping” cabinet. Naturally, the Black Arrows were driven by Ayon electronics. The sound was very dynamic, fast, and just a bit dark in balance on a recording of the Carmen suite for percussion instruments. To my ear, the Arrows sounded a little like a hard-hitting Wilson speaker, right down to the somewhat brightish tweet.
Crystal Cable showed its mono-crystal-wired $100k Absolute Arabesque glass-enclosed loudspeaker, driven by Siltech’s marvelous SAGA System electronics with a dCS digital source. At that point on Day One, this was, by far, the most neutral and realistic system I heard—an impressive demo in a show that had been anything but impressive up till then. Although the Absolute Arabesque was a little light in the bass (despite being coupled, on and off, to an experimental subwoofer), it was so much more natural than anything else it immediately became my first Day One Best of Show contender. Nor did it disappoint later in the show. When I returned on Saturday, the Arabesque/SAGA remained a superb combo with a three-dimensionality that was missing from many other rooms—a sense of air around and behind instrumentalists combined with a shot-silk delicacy of texture.
On my first of several visits to its room, Danish speaker manufacturer Raidho was showing it $48k D2 two-and-a-halfway floorstander with two diamond mid/woofs and Raidho’s fabulous ribbon tweeter. The system was driven by Rowland and dCS. The D2s had terrific soundstaging and low end with fabulous transient speed and near-seamless driver blending. This was another Day One BOS contender, for sure—smooth, silken, expansive, gorgeous. However, later in the day Raidho showed its C4.1 mulitway, D’Appolito floorstander (my current references), and I don’t know what went wrong but the sound was simply dreadful, with way too much bass in the right channel (and disconnected and boomy bass, to boot)—a huge disappointment from a speaker that I know is world-class. The two-way, ribbon-diamond-cone, stand-mounted $28k D1s, however, which I heard on Saturday, were anything but disappointing. Though their bass was a little too big and ill-defined (I blamed the room and I wasn’t crazy about the amplification either, plus the turntable was generating wow and flutter to an extent that I haven't heard in years, undoubtedly contributing to the shocking demise of the C 4.1s), the D1s were simply remarkable on smaller-scale music, reproducing voice, guitar, and strings with a realism that was only rivaled by a handful of other BOS contenders.