Overall, it was the smaller systems that really caught my attention. Bluntly put, there’s less to go wrong. From the outset, Garth Leerer, the president of Musical Surroundings, got it right with his combination of the wonderful $17,000 AMG turntable (which was outfitted with the $15,000 Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge), the $10,000 Aesthetix Janus preamp, and the $27,900 Wilson Sasha loudspeakers. There was something tight and captivating about his system, particularly on the excellent jazz cuts he was spinning. There was also a noticeable lack of bass bloat that afflicted many other rooms. The drums were simply immaculate and the power and precise soundstaging of the Sasha was showcased at its best. Another room that had excellent playback featured the Triangle Arts turntables along with some sensational NAT equipment. Meanwhile VIV lab was offering a new tonearm called the Ha, which boasts a “rigid float.”
Another small system that caught my eye (and ear) was Jonathan Tinn’s Playback Designs IPS-3—Integrated Playback System 3, which was introduced as a “World Premiere” at Newport. Advertising folderol aside, the thing rocked when playing through the $4,300 MMMicroOne loudspeakers. The IPS-3 is an all-in one unit, consisting of a 130 watt amplifier, preamp, and DAC in one box and retails for a cool $13,000. If you’re looking for an elegant and unobtrusive stereo package, this may be it. Fine sound, too.
Another fairly thrifty system came courtesy of the indefatigable Walter Liederman of Underwood HiFi, who demoed his CS2.3 Emerald Physics Mk2 loudspeaker. He was using a PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC MK2 plus DSPeaker for room correction—the whole shebang costs $12,990. It wasn’t quite as dynamic as Walter suggested it would be. Sorry, Walter! But I will tell you one thing: that system mated perfectly with a small room—a tidy sound with zero bass overhang and bloat, which counts for a lot. There is something to be said for room correction when it’s done correctly, or so this nifty system began to convince yours truly.
Another piece of gear that was rather eye-catching is B.M.C.’s new PureDac which retails for $1600. Brian Ackerman of AAudio Imports seems to have an infallible eye for discovering handsome equipment from Germany that he imports to the states. BMC, which has just hired Paul Bolin as its representative, appears to be making an aggressive move in the mid-priced market. Another sweet product is the Lynx Hilo reference D/A converter, which offers multiple analog outputs and digital options. It looks like an amazingly versatile product and includes an LCD touch screen and front panel. I also got to admire but not hear the Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC, which it says offers “widest DSD support” and up to 768 kHz sampling rate via a custom USB chip.
So what really grabbed me most at the show? Well, the biggest shocker was the KEF room, where the $1500 LS50 was delivering a real wallop from its 5.25 driver”. I suppose expectations are always lower and easier to exceed when the product isn’t too expensive. Nevertheless, I was most favorably impressed by the LS50’s performance even if it didn’t quite boast the fidelity of some of the bigger systems. What it did for the money was hands down the most shocking experience of the show. Perfect for small room and guaranteed to leave anyone who hears them slackjawed. Rule Britannia! Also quite exhilarating was MBL’s room, featuring Sergeant Pepper’s on tape, which produced a wide-open sound in the treble plus a few vocal inflections that I simply have not heard before.
But when it comes to best sound, it would have to go to Garth Leerer and the Wilson Sashas. Not the biggest soundstage. Not the loudest presentation. But there was true grit in Leerer’s room, which offered the most musical and coherent presentation I heard at Newport. The AMG ‘table is clearly a killer and the Jim White’s Atlas amps drove the snot out of the Sashas. My interest in Leerer’s setup, you could say, never waned.