After the Crystals and the Raidho D2s, I visited the Nola room where Carl Marchisotta was showing his new $72k Baby Grand Gold ribbon/cone floorstanders. The Grand Golds were very open and expansive sounding (as all Nolas are) but with better integrated bass than previous Babies. This was a very lively sound, albeit a bit dark in balance.
Next I visited Estelon where Alfred Vassilkov’s extraordinary, $60k, hour-glass-shaped, ceramic/diamond-coned X Diamonds were being driven by Vitus electronics. This should have been another BOS room, and while the presentation was very fast and clean on Keb Mo’s guitars, it did not have quite the resolution I’m used to (and that this combo should have had) on voice, plus on larger-scaled cuts the system lacked dynamic range and low-end impact. I don’t know what the problem was, but the Estelon X's were a bit of a disappointment given how good I know they are.
Marten showed its €59.9k Coltrane Tenor ceramic-and-diamond-driver three-ways, driven by Nagra electronics. The soundfield on Keb Mo’ and other cuts was huge, very dimensional, boxlessly open, and very fast on transients. The system may have lacked a little image focus but overall it was quite good.
The extraordinary Swiss electronics company Soulution, whose more affordable 500 Series electronics have so impressed me, introduced its new 700 Series €110k 701 monoblock amp and €32.5k 720 preamp paired with Focal’s giant $100k multiway floorstanding Stella Utopia, a personal favorite with what I consider to be the best implementation of a beryllium tweeter. The 700 Series electronics now incorporate an even larger version of the switching power supply that makes the 500 Series so killer-good. The result? Everything from Keb Mo’ to Ravel sounded fabulous. Incredible neutrality, transparency, speed, resolution, and (above all else) realism. A slam-dunk BOS contender at this (or any other show I’ve attended), and some of the most realistic (and powerful) electronics on the market.
Rockport showed its $100k Altair II driven by the Absolare electronics that Robert recently reviewed. The sound was very dynamic, fast, and hard-hitting (surprisingly hard-hitting given that these Absolare amps are SETs). But it was also bright in the mid-treble, dark in the mids and bsss, and borderline ferocious overall. For example, on my Keb Mo’ LP Keb’s voice was way too dark and chesty and poorly imaged. Alas, I didn’t get back to this room later in the show, which was unfortunate as I’m told reliably that the sound improved to BOS levels. Nonetheless, on the day I heard it it wasn’t very good.
We come now to the $30k Magico S5 three-way, with aluminum cabinet and carbon-fiber-and-beryllium drivers. In Munich the S5s were being driven by Spectral electronics, including Spectral’s new DMA-400 monoblock amplifiers, and the sound was…fabulous. Superb dynamics, inner detail, staging, and bass. Timbres may have been a little dark and the treble a touch bright on certain cuts, but alongside the Raidho D2s (and later the D1s) and the Focal Stella Utopias driven by Soulution’s new 700 Series electronics, this was a Best of Show contender of the highest caliber.I've liked the S5 since it was introduced (at last year's Munich show). This year I loved it.
Wilson Audio showed its new multiway Alexia floorstander driven by Pass and EMM Labs. The sound was a touch more relaxed than that of the incredibly dynamic Magico/Spectral room, with a very natural midrange. There was just a touch of strain on fortes and the bass was not as tight, defined, powerful, and deep-reaching as the Magico. Nonetheless, this was a very good showing for Wilson, just missing out on the top tier.
Horn-speaker specialist Cessaro showed its €100k Liszt with a new dual-layer, damped carbon-fiber spherical horn. The Liszts were driven by Tron electronics and a TW Acustic ’table. The sound was surprisingly civilized for a horn system, with a good blend of drivers, though the bass was a little recessed and soft in comparison to the mids and treble. Speaking of which, the midrange and top end of the Cessaro were superb—just wonderful on sax and very natural on Keb Mo’s voice. A very fine showing for a superb horn speaker.