The California Audio Show–annually hosted by dagogo.com publisher Constantine Soo–once again took up residence at the Westin Hotel over the weekend of August 15-17 (adjacent to the San Francisco airport). Like last year’s installment it remains a modest but nicely run affair, cleanly laid out on the lobby level and 2nd and 3rd floors. What makes this show especially appealing is that it’s a “doable” show. By that I mean, coverable as a writer-I don’t have to march double-time, fevered and sweaty-palmed from room to room with barely enough time to express my hellos, have a quick listen, scrawl a couple notes and scramble off to visit the next exhibitor. Not CAS-just the opposite. I had some great chats with terrific people and gained some insights and information that I otherwise might’ve missed at the bigger shows. Also at the larger shows it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller industry players-but this more intimate venue gave them a chance to shine as well.
Still CAS does have its challenges. This year the exhibiter list was reduced over 2013 although energetic attendance seemed to more than make up for the loss. And I got good reports about attendee traffic from exhibitors throughout. The issue for regional shows comes down to calendar space. There’s Newport in June, the Capital Audio fest in late July, New York in September, Rocky Mountain in Denver a couple weeks later. What’s an audio show to do?? Certainly a question that is likely to keep CAS promoters up nights. Here is Part One of my show shapshots:
Year in and year out tiny Fritz Loudspeakers (above) makes a strong impression with its reasonably priced high quality wares. This year it was the Carrera $3500 a classic no-nonsense box, two way with an uncanny and rangy musicality. Specifically a terrific dynamic range (often the Achilles heel of smaller monitors) that produces an open unconstricted sound. These performed well in the company of Electra Fidelity amplification, driven by a Resolution Audio Cantata Music center and Triode Wire labs cabling.
CAS also gave me my first opportunity to hear Sony’s flagship loudspeaker the SS-AR1 ($27k) driven by the Nelson Pass designed 40th Anniversary Commemorative VFET monoblocks (below), Pass' XP-20 pre, all Kimber cabling and Sony HAP-S1 Audio Player. As Sony tells it these VFET devices, also known as Static Induction Transistors (SIT), were smaller, less costly and much more efficient than conventional vacuum tube designs and known for a Triode-like signature. They also enabled Sony to introduce the first high-powered Class D audio amplifier back in 1976. In storage for nearly 40 years, Pass employed complementary matched pairs (2SK82 and 2SJ28) of these Sony VFETs. The result are a pair of monoblocks that operate in Class A mode, with a balanced circuit from input to output and no feedback required. The amplifier also includes a highly regulated stable power supply, which enables it to achieve 250 watts peak power into a 4 ohm load, with relatively low distortion (less than 2%). The sound was fast, slightly romantic and seductive and quite firmly not for sale. Is this truly a one off or does it auger a glimpse of an entirely new alignment between Sony and a bespoke brand like Pass Labs. For now the answer would seem to be an emphatic no. But like they say never say never.
A quick cautionary tale; I stepped into the large ballroom of exhibitor Loggie Audio that housed the YG Hailey ($42,800, below) midday on Friday and to my surprise and concern the sound was not as I'd come to expect this speaker to perform. The associated components were more than pre-qualified-It was being driven by Bryston monoblocks, an Esoteric front end and A.R.T. cabling. It sounded tight, constricted and well, kinda dull, The polar opposite of what I associate with my current favorite YG offering. By Sunday however, its performance had regained the balance and sweetness and transparency that I'd expected. I nodded to the YG rep who agreed with my analysis rather admitting that the Hailey had spent a sometime crated and required more than a few hours of playtime to reassert it's lovely personality. It’s a conundrum for all exhibitors-systems mostly begin sounding their best in the final few hours of a show, a time when attendee traffic has tapered off. (And I had to admit that I'd probably need at least a few hours had I been crated for a couple weeks.) The moral of the story is if an exhibit disappoints early in a show circle back if you can-you might be pleasantly rewarded.
Finally I was grateful to have my first listen to the new ATC SCM40 ($6995 below). This is a floor standing three-way sibling to the new SCM 19 that I reviewed in Issue 245. However replacing the 6** super linear mid bass unit is ATC fabled 3** soft dome midrange and a dedicated 6** woofer. The sensitive richly defined and dynamic midrange character, a trademark of ATC designs made an encouraging impression. Clean and defined without veering toward the clinical. Driven by all ATC gear including the CDA-2 CD/preamp and a P1 150Wpc amplifier.