Neil Gader on the California Audio Show: Part Three

Show report
Neil Gader on the California Audio Show: Part Three

On the 2nd Floor, I found a pair of exhibits that featured Wilson Audio speakers. Sponsored by Music Lovers a noted SF high end emporium, the largest of the two housed Wilson Alexia’s positioned against the long wall of a even longer banquet room (setup pictured below). Spectral electronics provided the power and control with DMA400 monoblocks  and the DMC30SS II preamplifier respectively. The analog front end was all AMG with a Clearaudio Goldfinger cart and the Aesthetix Io Eclipse phono stage. Digital honors went to the dCS Scarlatti DAC and Master Clock. Peter McGrath, Wilson’s Natl sales manager and crack recording engineer handled the DJ honors with his usual mix of grace and good humor. As Peter spun vinyl classic and some of his own stunning orchestral recordings, the sound was impressively lively, and spacious particularly in light of the fact that the Alexia’s sat against a front wall that was largely glass and flat sunshades. Soundstaging and immediacy was staggering although no doubt getting a substantial assist from the raw speed that Spectral gear have traditionally provided. It was one potent, dynamic performer, to my ears like a scaled down XLF but not nearly as particular of room size as the current Wilson flagship. However in spite of the system’s performance and the treat at hearing the Wilson’s driven by rare Spectral electronics,  the Alexia is relatively old news.

So, call me fickle, but when in hushed tones McGrath pulled me aside and whisked me into an adjacent room to have a meet and greet with Wilson’s all new Duette Series 2 I was all ears.   It turned out to be one of the highlights of the CAS. Power was supplied by Ayre electronics, the front end was an AMG ‘table and arm, a Benz-Micro Gullwing cart and an Aesthetix Rhea phono stage.  Cabling was Shunyata . With pricing slated at $19,900 ($17,500 without stands) they looked like orphans in the broad bare-bones, untreated room­–which I later concluded post listening sessions made the point Wilson was after. And that point is? Well, the Series 2 has been redesigned strictly for near boundary conditions rather than its predecessor’s dual mission that included adjustments for free standing room placement. Wilson has used the boundary as an ally not an enemy­­–a known quantity that was factored into the design, crossover and dispersion characteristics. Visually the Series 2 remains a familiar design. But there have been substantial structural changes that include the slanted front baffle , all X material construction with S material front baffle, redesigned stands that accommodate the external crossover box and the soft dome tweeter borrowed from the Alexia/XLF. Sonically the Series 2 retains much of the imposing, weight, dynamics and detail I’ve come to expect from Wilson’s but when McGrath cued up mezzo Renee Fleming the Duette truly strutted it’s stuff with remarkable imaging and dimensionality that effectively dispensed with any doubts I had about wall placement.  What wall, I asked myself?? Gone.

Elite Audio of SF had a different take on system synergy (pictured below). Its small room exhibit was defiantly refreshing in its simplicity. Perceived simplicity rather. Instead of dozens of ego-massaging components stacked along the wall, cables spouting from every panel and snaking along the carpet, Elite owner Michael Woods offered a pair of Linn components, the Linn Akurate DSM, a network music player, and fully functional preamp that includes HDMI inputs for SACD disc playback and also streams internet radio ($8500) and the Akubarik five-way, fully powered loudspeakers ($25k/pr), an isobaric design. That’s it-the entire ballgame. Set it and forget it. Music, pure and satisfying without distressing a home’s interior design.  It sure does get you thinking.

Click here to read Part 4