I’ve been an enthusiastic user of the KLAudio KD-CLN-LP200 ultrasonic record cleaner for many years. Running an LP through the KLAudio resulted in lower surface noise, fewer ticks, a blacker background, and improved resolution of low-level detail. Alas, KLAudio has exited the ultrasonic LP cleaner business; however, there’s a worthy—and less expensive—replacement called the Degritter.
About the size of a breadbox, the Degritter’s curved front panel gives it an art deco vibe. Even the front-panel logo is set in a script reminiscent of a 1950s Chevy Bel Air nameplate. Two front-panel knobs control operation, with a round display keeping you apprised of the machine’s settings and the status of the cleaning cycle. You start by filling the removable water tank with 1.6L (0.35 gallon) of distilled water. The company supplies a bottle of concentrated cleaning fluid that the manual says is optional rather than required (to be properly removed, some impurities require a detergent). The water should be replaced once a week or after every 30 records, and the water filter must be cleaned after every 50 LPs. Just drop an LP through the slot in the top panel, select the wash and dry cycle times, and the Degritter does the rest. Although you can adjust the wash and dry times independently, it’s easiest to select one of three pre-programmed settings for light, medium, and heavy cleaning. You can even select the drying fan speed; the slower speed takes longer, but is mercifully quiet compared with the KLaudio. (That cleaner sounds like a 747 taking off. I can’t be within 20 feet of the KLaudio when it is cleaning and drying a record.)
The water tank is removable, which makes emptying and refilling it easier than carrying the entire machine to a sink (a la KLaudio and Audio Desk). I also liked that the water is constantly filtered to keep the dirt that has been removed from a record from contaminating the next LP. The open-cell foam filter can easily be removed and cleaned. There’s quite a bit of software in the machine; in addition to offering control over every conceivable cleaning parameter, the Degritter monitors the water temperature, water level, sensor malfunction, and other operating conditions. The software can be updated via an SD card.
A lot of thought went into this design. The 300W ultrasonic amplifier drives four transducers, two on each LP side. The ultrasonic frequency is nominally 120kHz, with a frequency-sweep feature that presumably improves the cleaning function. The comprehensive owner’s manual is a model of clarity and presentation.
In practice, the Degritter delivers all the incontrovertible benefits of ultrasonic cleaning. I pulled out a copy of Joni Mitchell’s classic Court and Spark that I bought more than 40 years ago (and have since replaced with a remastered version), and listened to it before and after cleaning. I also compared the sound before and after cleaning with another record I’ve had for decades, Bill Evans’ You Must Believe in Spring. I also tried a couple of recent used acquisitions, Linda Ronstadt’s For Sentimental Reasons (a spectacular recording, by the way), and Dexter Gordon’s The Monmartre Collection, Volume Two (that was sent to me in a Montmarte Collection Volume One jacket). This record, not available in any digital format, captures Gordon in his prime (1967) with a terrific band. With all these LPs, a cycle through the Degritter didn’t just reduce surface noise, as you’d expect; it also presented a startlingly blacker background that made the music seem to exist independently of the physical medium. The effect is a more believable presentation and a heightened sense of contemporaneous music-making. I really heard this on the Dexter Gordon record; the feeling of hearing a four-piece group play in a jazz club was more pronounced after cleaning. Ultrasonic cleaning also seems to make it easier to hear individual instruments, as though each exists as its own entity rather than being fused into a single fabric.
The Degritter was easy to use, has many sophisticated features, appears well built, and delivered on all the promises of ultrasonic LP cleaning. It’s also priced about a thousand dollars below the competition, making it a solid recommendation.
In the deep pantheon of classic Texan singer/songwriters, a tradition that includes such titans as Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, and Steve Earle, raw talent and rootsy integrity have always been essential. Those qualities also describe singer/songwriter James McMurtry. On The Horses and the Hounds, his first album in seven years and his debut on New West Records, McMurtry mines what has become, for him, familiar thematic territory: a workingman’s hard-won truths sketched out in evocative song-stories that rail against some of America’s most sacred cows.
As the son of Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Larry McMurtry, James has storytelling in his blood, and it’s easy to picture James’ imagery-rich stories set to prose instead of song. Compressed character sketches abound, with resonant tales of truckers, hunters, cowboy vaqueros, and barroom musicians. Like fiction writers, he gives breath to each imagined life with empathy, heart, and detailed precision. But, as James explained during a recent phone interview where he spoke from his home in Lockhart, Texas, he’s a songwriter at heart.
“Writing prose is a chore for me,” he said. “I don’t enjoy it. I wanted to go into songwriting. Kris Kristofferson was the first artist I identified with as a songwriter. I hadn’t given any thought to where songs came from before that. I wanted to be Johnny Cash when I grew up.
“The second live gig I saw was Kristofferson, and the band seemed to be having such a good time up there, I thought, I want to do that. He wasn’t country. Kris was something else. He was his own category, and so was Willie Nelson. They put them in the country section because you got to sell stuff, but they don’t really fit. Neither do I.”
Kristofferson’s own Texan roots and poetic songwriting foretold McMurtry’s, as does the uneasy genre classification. McMurtry resists the “alt-country” label.
“I found out early on it’s dangerous to wear a hat of any kind or they’ll stick you in the country section,” he said. “Instead, Americana should be called what it is—skinny, scruffy white guys with guitars.”
This was the year that the Capital Audio Fest became more festive than ever. The show may have taken place in Rockville, Maryland, but the old Virginia Slims slogan applied to it: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Indeed, good vibrations could be discerned not only in the listening rooms, but in the friendliness of the attendees, all of whom seemed to be on their best behavior, as no one, as near as I could tell, balked at wearing a mask. N ow, if earplugs had been prescribed, it might have been a different story!
Two years of COVID-19 translated into a lot of pent-up demand, as everything from demo rooms to the vinyl booths in the atrium were pullulating with audiophiles. There was a lot to see and procure. Yours truly picked up some nifty Blue Note Liberty label pressings from dealer Chris Armbruster of Cashformusic.com, mingled with show attendees and dealers, and greeted old friends, which is another way of saying that I had a whale of a good time.
What stuck out? Well, there was the redoubtable Charles Kirmuss, decked out in his white lab coat, in the atrium ministering to vinyl records with his intensive, to say the least, cleaning process, based on ultrasonic restoration. Next to him was the affably intense J.R. Boisclair, who has taken over the design and production of Wally Tools. Boisclair, who flew in from Northern California for the show, happily explained to curious vinylphiles the ins and outs of cartridge setup, explaining that his multifarious devices can make what sometimes seems like a dark art pretty clear, once you grasp the scientific principles behind azimuth, zenith, stylus rake angle, and so on. Boisclair, incidentally, has developed some very illuminating 1000:1 scale models to show the effects of misalignment for zenith and azimuth as the cartridge travels through the record grooves. Indeed, as I type, one is sitting on my desk, looking like a mini-version of the Washington Monument. If you have trouble envisioning zenith and azimuth error, his product makes it easy to comprehend the deleterious consequences of the cartridge riding up and down the sidewalls rather than in the trough.
So much for the hard work needed to get the venerable LP spinning properly. The heart of the show, of course, was the equipment being demoed. I promptly went to hear what Dr. Vinyl (aka Jose Ramirez), who was not wearing a lab coat, had on offer. What he was offering can only be described as iridescent—a $21,750 Reed 3C turntable with a $5600 Tru Glider Pendulum tonearm that looks like it could pretty much be mounted anywhere on the surface of a turntable. The always effervescent Dr. Vinyl, who prides himself on his set-up skills, explained that it doesn’t even need anti-skate, as it has a kind of spring suspension system mounted behind the cartridge that always compensates for any skating forces as the tonearm navigates across the LP. I’m not qualified to weigh in on the merits of this approach. But I will say that the sound that this critter delivered was nothing to sneeze at. It seemed uncannily resolute and smooth. Like not a few rooms, this one also employed the CAD grounding system, which has been making waves in the audio world.
To enter the MC Audio tech room with its dipole Forty-10 loudspeaker, which retails from $40,000–$60,000 depending on finishes and options, was to venture into a very different world. The white paper provided by the company indicates that it builds on the “Gold Rush” era of the 1920s and 1930s. Designer Paul Paddock explains that it might be designated a “predictable flexible membrane” transducer. He employs a twin cylindrical diaphragm that is driven at its junction by a vertical wire loop located between a twin-magnetic-gap voice-coil system. With a VPI Reference table and Alpha 2 Music server (retailing at $9895), the sound was quite transparent, holographic, and seamless. I don’t know that you would get a ton of bass from this system in a larger room, but it sure was a captivating looking loudspeaker. Another audacious loudspeaker was the $29,000 Semrad, which weighs over 240 pounds. It’s situated fairly close to the floor. John Semrad explained that the cost of the field-coil drivers alone is $7500 a pair. The build-quality looks beautiful.
It was truly back to the future in United Home Audio and High End by Oz’s demo. There was the UHA Super Deck, which retails for a mere $89,998 plus $4900 for the spiffy stand that accompanies it. Recently reviewed by JV, it definitely is the powerhouse he described in such luminous detail. Coupled to this mighty beast was the $214,500 Børresen 05 Silver Supreme Speaker and $34,500 Thrax Audio Teres II Mono amplifiers and $23,000 Thrax Audio Dionsysos preamplifier. The sound, as you might expect, was spacious, clear, and dynamic. Greg Beron, the head honcho of United Home Audio, remarked to me, “I know it’s not your genre, but I have a tape of Thriller.” Oh, ye of little faith. I had to reprove Greg, as “Billie Jean” has actually been in frequent rotation in my own system. After he cranked it up to satisfactory volume levels, I got the drift. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Michael Jackson’s voice sound quite that relaxed and sonorous.
For his Blue Note debut as a leader, guitarist Julian Lage reflected on what the storied label meant to him while he was growing up. “All these records that I love so much also have such great songs,” he wrote. “I felt like this was an opportunity to present new music born out of the Blue Note tradition as I’ve interpreted it.” Assembling his current trio-mates, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave Kin, Lage penned nine out of the album’s eleven pieces, setting the mood with the introspective opening solo, “Etude,” which reflects Lage’s desire to create something beautiful and positive for our pandemic-stressed times. His comfort with jazz standards as well as blues and the current rock scene—he’s married to the singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy, and has worked informally with Jeff Tweedy—is evident in the rollicking “Boo’s Blues,” the rapid-fire string-bending title track, and the quiet intensity of “Day & Age.” Sonics are wonderfully balanced, upfront, and crystalline in clarity while capturing excellent instrumental tones and textures; dynamically energetic, the recording also conveys the intimacy of a trio setting, all with terrific detail and a sort of natural ease. A superb and highly recommended Blue Note debut.
In his introduction, Alan provided some rough metrics regarding the number of attendees and exhibitors at the show, as well as how much “business” was happening. I recorded one parameter that, for me, quantified the degree to which audio shows, and audiophiles, are back. It’s a standardized unit of measurement, long utilized in high-end circles, known as the TTFBIAS. For those of you who may not be technically oriented, that’s Time To First Brothers In Arms Song. At CAF 2021, the result was an extraordinary 5 hours and 45 minutes—I didn’t hear a Dire Straits cut until close to 4 PM on Friday afternoon. An hour or so is more typical. I guess all of us are a little rusty; I’m sure showgoers and demonstrators alike will be back to form by AXPONA.
I heard a lot of thoughtfully designed, musically fulfilling products, many of them new.
What’s the conventional wisdom regarding the percentage of your audio budget that should be spent on the loudspeakers? 50%? 30%? How about 10%? One of the most engaging systems at CAF 2021 was the joint effort of Infigo Audio and Alta Audio in Room 321. The former provided world-class electronics in its Method 3 monoblock amplifiers ($50,000/pair), Method 4 DAC ($35,000), and Fluvius streamer ($17,500), with connections via Infigo’s Sparkle Series cables throughout. These no-compromise electronics drove a pair of AltaAlec loudspeakers ($10,000), an unassuming two-way with a 5¾” ribbon tweeter active out to 47kHz and an 8¾” mid/woof in a transmission-line configuration that produces bass into the low 30s. Familiar tracks from Cantate Domino and the Fairfield Four were well served by this top-drawer system.
Philadelphia-area dealer Doug White of The Voice That Is brought a system that was perfectly scaled to the moderate-sized conference room it inhabited. TIDAL Audio Contriva loudspeakers ($72,000) were driven effectively by TIDAL’s new Intra stereo amplifier ($30,000), run in its dual-stereo mode to deliver 330 very high quality watts into 8 ohms, or 670 watts into four. Upstream of the Intra was TIDAL’s Prisma preamp ($40,000) and Ideon Audio’s new assault-on-the-art Absolute Epsilon DAC ($44,000), used with Ideon’s Absolute Time reclocker ($8900) and Absolute Stream streamer ($19,900). I own the Episilon’s predecessor, and the progress the Greek converter has made towards an ideal of analog ease and naturalness isn’t subtle. A new generation of Siltech cables completed White’s masterpiece.
Valerio Cora, capo of Acora Acoustics, proudly had no new products to show off at CAF 2021—he had the same three speakers, fabricated from Black African granite, that he had when I saw him last at the Florida show in early 2020—but let it be known that he’s developing a larger speaker that won’t put consumers off. (“I don’t want it to weight 600 pounds.”) In 2022, Acora will be releasing equipment racks plus speaker and amplifier stands, all made from granite. Acora’s SRC-2 loudspeakers ($37,000) were powered by a pair of Audio Research 750E amplifiers ($75,000.) The analog front end included a Transrotor Massimo $16800) with a Transrotor SME tonearm ($4300) and a Dynavector DRT XV-1t cartridge ($9450), played through an Audio Research Ref PH10 phonostage ($33,000). Digital was courtesy of an Esoteric Grandioso K1X CD player/DAC ($37,000) and an Aurender N30SA server/streamer. Imaging with a string quartet recording was rock-solid (sorry), and the system was unfazed by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, played back from a 45rpm LP.
Overture Ultimate Home Electronics sought to give consumers a sense of the range of the products it carries, with close to 30 brands in evidence. Most were on silent display, but the two operational listening rooms focused on two manufacturers. The new edition of the classic Bowers & Wilkins 801, the D4 ($35000) was making its presence known. I know from experience that this speaker can be a bear to drive with authority; Overture had just the amplifiers to make them sing, a pair of McIntosh MC901s ($35,000) that have solid-state and tube sections for each channel, allowing for an optimized bi-amp setup without the need for an external crossover. Orchestral music was commanding and jazz acoustic bass had satisfying body and definition. Two affordable components from Rogue Audio were making their first appearances at CAF 2021, the Stereo 100 Dark amplifier ($4695) and the Ares Magnum II phonostage ($2995.)
“Nothing succeeds like excess,” wrote Oscar Wilde. Partnering with the Marietta, Georgia, dealership The Audio Company, Damon von Schweikert and Leif Swanson brought a no-holds-barred mega-system that featured the world debut of VAC Master 300 stereo/mono power amplifiers (price TBA)—four of them—driving Von Schweikert’s seven-foot tall Ultra 11 loudspeakers ($325,000) complemented with two Shockwave 12 subwoofers. A VAC Statement preamp and phonostage provided control. An Esoteric digital “stack” (total cost $123,000) and an Aurender W20SE ($25,000) handled the digits; the analog front end was a Kronos Pro turntable ($51,000) fitted with an Airtight Opus 1 cartridge ($16,000). Cabling was MasterBuilt throughout. Von Schweikert/VAC systems always impress with their ability to reproduce scale and even though the sound didn’t gel quite as magically as it has on other occasions, this iteration was as monumental as ever.
Spatial Audio introduced two new open-baffle loudspeakers, the X4 Passive ($7000/pr.) and the M4 Sapphire ($4250/pr.). The M4 is a smaller version of Spatial’s popular M3 with a Type M100 Uniwave device (a crossoverless dome midrange/treble driver) positioned above a pair of 12″ dipole woofers. The X4 is a full-range dipole with an AMT tweeter and, again, twin 12″ woofers. In turn, both were effectively powered by a Linear Tube Audio 240+ integrated amplifier ($7650), getting signal from a Holo Audio May KTE DAC; it was all connected up with Anticable interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords.
Time spent in a Salk Sound room rarely disappoints. Jim and Mary Salk were playing a two-and-a-half way floorstander, priced at $6000, that’s so new that it doesn’t actually have an official model designation. (Salk was leaning towards BePure2—because the speaker has a beryllium tweeter and utilizes two 6″ woofers sourced from Purifi in Denmark.) Amplification was provided by a McGary Audio SA2 ($7985), a Class AB Ultralinear output-stage stereo tube amplifier that puts out an honest 40Wpc into an 8-ohm load, when KT88 tubes are used. The DAC was an Exogal Comet ($2500). As always, the caliber of the woodworking and finish was second to none. Natalie Merchant’s rendition of “The Peppery Man” with a gospel quartet was completely absorbing.
The Syracuse, NY dealer Tenacious Sound—love that name!—was playing Canton Reference 7K speakers ($6995). The associated electronics were to have been from the German manufacturer AVM Audio but an “emergency substitution” was needed and the Audio Hungary Qualiton X200 integrated ($8000) stepped into the breach. All went well with the unfamiliar (to me) Hungarian component pinch-hitting. A closely mic’d piano recording had plenty of headroom, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (for once not the ubiquitous Minnesota recording on Reference but, instead, a recent DG release from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra) manifested excellent dynamics, timbral accuracy, and detail.
I spent a very enjoyable stretch in the room sponsored by Audio Intellect, a largely on-line retailer run by industry veteran Dave Lalin. Right up against the wall, where they belonged, was a pair of Larsen 9 loudspeakers ($14,995). They performed well, but of greater interest to me was the 432 Evo line of music servers. This Belgian manufacturer makes three models, the first two of which are fully upgradable—The High End ($5500), The Aeon ($7500), and The Master ($16,000). I heard the High End and Aeon playing classical selections that were quite convincing in their timbral representation of solo instruments. Also holding forth in Room 307 was Bruce Schuettinger, the designer and builder of MosArt furniture. Schuettinger utilizes a material known as Black Diamond that’s made from resin-infused paper. In addition to its strength and durability, Black Diamond’s mechanical properties are ideal for audio applications. The custom-built amp stands and equipment rack in the room were also quite attractive.
Volti Audio makes high-sensitivity horn speakers and brought two models to CAF, the Razz ($5900 to $6900, depending on finish) and the New Rival ($11,500 to $15,000) that is, indeed, a new product. Designer Greg Roberts now has the boards for the cabinets cut with a CNC machine instead of doing it himself by hand. I got to hear the latter, which sports a 100dB-sensitivity specification; these loudspeakers are clearly aimed at audiophiles partial to low-powered amplifiers. Volti cohabited Room 316 with Border Patrol, presenting both their 20Wpc push/pull P21EXD power amplifier ($13,375 and up, depending on the 300B output tubes selected) and the 8Wpc SE300B SET ($13,150 and up.) Border Patrol’s DAC S/SE-I are also sold in a range of versions ($1075 to $1950.)
Wells Audio, of Campbell California, has offered its electronics only by direct-to-consumer sales since the beginning of 2021. The company builds products at a number of different “levels,” with the base model always upgradable. New at CAF were the Cipher tube DACs, priced at $5000 for the base model and $13,000 for the Level II version. In a system employing an Innuos ZENith Mk3 server ($4699 to $7949, depending on the amount of SSD storage) plus Wells’s Innamorata II Level II dual mono amplifier ($15000) and a Commander Level III tube linestage ($18,000), a pair of Andrew Jones-vintage TAD Evolution One loudspeakers delivered realistic and involving sound with an old RCA Heifetz recording.
Nola had two new products to introduce, the CHAMP 3 ($9500), a five-driver, three-and-a-half-way open-baffle design, and the Metro Grand Gold Series 3 ($60,000) that CEO Carl Marchisotto referred to as “the best we can do at this size”—that is, a 95 lb. floorstander that’s 45 inches tall and appropriates only about a square foot of floor space. The latter was demonstrated with a VAC Sigma 170i integrated amplifier, a long-in-the-tooth Audio Research Reference CD 8, and Nordost cabling and, in a room that was probably too large to show off Marchisotto’s design to its best advantage, the speaker held its own with music characterized by challenging dynamics and bass content.
Philharmonic Audio is a DC-area company but definitely not one of the “tinkerers” that Alan referred to above. The brand doesn’t have a dealer network but has a worldwide constituency for its speakers. The new BMR Tower ($3700) is a transmission-line design employing a Revelator woofer to produce a reported in-room response down to 25Hz. In a system including a Topping DAC and preamp and a Hypex SMPS1200A400 power amplifier, the speakers fared extremely well on both large-scale orchestral and chamber music. On the basis of sonics alone, the speakers are a bargain; add in the exquisite carpentry and finish and they become an incredible bargain.
Aaron and Jessica Sherrick brought enough gear from Now Listen Here, their dealership in Harrisburg, PA, to keep three rooms hopping. I heard two. Fyne Audio’s F1-10 loudspeakers ($31,995) fronted a system that also featured Chord electronics—the Ultima 5 amplifier ($13,195), Chord Ultima Pre 2 preamplifier ($17,995), DAVE DAC ($12,595), and the Symphonic phonostage ($4495)—a VPI Prime Signature 21 turntable ($8250), and Transparent Ultra Gen V cables. John Campbell’s “Down in the Hole” was devastating. In a good way.
In the next room over, the main attraction was the latest version of Joseph Audio’s standmount, the Pulsar 2 graphene ($8999), a speaker that produces room-filling sound that belies its modest dimensions. The supporting cast included a BelCanto e1X integrated, a VPI Prime 21 turntable ($5000), Transparent Super cables, and a Transparent PowerWave power conditioner ($1995).
Daedalus Audio had loudspeakers playing in a couple of rooms, but I was especially taken with the Muse Studio floorstanders ($11,850), described by the manufacturer as a “near/midfield” speaker. They shone in a system that included Linear Tube Audio electronics—the LTA Micro ZOTL Level 2 preamp ($5750), LTA Ultralinear plus power amplifier ($6800), Lampizator digital components—the Super Komputer music server ($8000) and Baltic 3 DAC ($6450—and WyWires for cabling. Two show attendees walked in, announced “Too loud!” and immediately left. They were wrong. Rather, the sound was tactile and satisfyingly full, demanding to be listened to with one’s full attention.
Andrew Quint’s Best Of Show
Best Sound of CAF 2021 The Voice that Is: Ideon/TIDAL/Siltech
Best New Product Salk Audio BePure 2 loudspeaker
Best Value “Actually Fairly Inexpensive” division: Philharmonic Audio BMR Tower loudspeaker ($3700/pair). “It’s All Relative” division: Alta Audio Alec loudspeaker ($10,000/pair)
Best Seminar “Presenting the Theremin, with Arthur Harrison of Harrison Instruments, Inc.” The guy builds and sells theremins—think of the films Spellbound and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The technical explanations he provided and the stories he told were extremely informative, and Sullivan played the theremin he assembled while speaking quite capably. He needed to be kept on point by the audience (a total of five people) but it was well worth it.
Best Demo Acora Acoustics The Canadian singer Anne Bisson sang live and unamplified accompanied by the audio system described above. The demonstration showed how far high-fidelity audio reproduction has come—and how far there is to go.
The following is a press release issued by McIntosh.
Binghamton, NY | November 18, 2021 – McIntosh is proud to announce the C12000 Preamplifier, a unique two-chassis design that isolates the audio section from the control and power sections, resulting in the purest sound reproduction possible.
The C12000 is comprised of the C12000 Controller Module and the C12000 Preamplifier Module which work together seamlessly when connected. All power control, data ports, and external control connections are located within the C12000 Controller, where dual isolated power supplies drive the left and right channels, while a dual microprocessor gives robustness to the control system. The C12000 Preamplifier Module houses the audio connections and circuitry – inside, the left and right channels are electrically and mechanically isolated to allow true dual mono operation, resulting in the ultimate stereo separation and sonic purity. The controller and preamplifier units are connected via high performance umbilical cables that are specifically designed to prevent outside noise from leaking into the audio signal.
C12000 PREAMPLIFIER FEATURES INCLUDE:
(12) analog inputs including (6) balanced, (4) unbalanced, and (2) phono inputs
Offers both vacuum tube and solid-state output for maximum flexibility of listening options
Programmable phono inputs with adjustable capacitance and resistance loading for greater compatibility with a variety of turntables
Phono stage utilizes (4) 12AX7A vacuum tubes, with (2) tubes per channel in a fully balanced configuration that incorporates RIAA equalization
Increased user adjustment options reflecting a new level of user customization in McIntosh preamp design
Includes high output, high drive headphone jack with user selectable Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD®)
The C12000 can be paired with a variety of amplifiers, speakers, room correction devices, CD players, turntables, tuners, and other source components to complete a home audio system. It can seamlessly be integrated within existing multi-channel home theater system via the Home Theater Pass Through feature. The C12000 employs fully balanced circuitry to match the level of performance achieved in any of McIntosh’s Quad Balanced amplifiers.
The C12000 is a visual statement in addition to its audio prowess, complete with McIntosh’s classic features including black glass front panels, iconic blue meters, and custom machined-brushed aluminum handles. Both units feature a chassis made of stainless steel, polished to a mirror finish, plus hairline brushed black titanium stainless steel, offering an enhanced degree of richness and refinement.
Pricing and Availability Orders for the C12000 can now be placed with Authorized McIntosh Dealers with shipping expected to begin in December 2021 to the United States and Canada, and to the rest of the world shortly thereafter. Suggested retail price (VAT, shipping and any customs duties related to current standards of individual countries are excluded): $8,000 per module, totaling $16,000 for the complete preamplifier.
Let me get this out of the way first: Trade shows are back, baby! The long famine is over! Woohoo!
Whew. OK, on to the Capital Audio Fest. For many years, the Capital Audio Fest, held in a Maryland suburb just outside Washington, DC, was something of an audiophile Wild West. Exhibitors consisted of every tinkerer in the vicinity, with only a handful of name brands, while attendees were a smattering of tube-rollers and the just plain curious. The result, to quote founder and organizer Gary Gill, was “a flea market of used gear and DIY brands.”
Gill knew he needed a different formula if the show was to: a) grow; and b) be taken seriously by the industry. In 2018 he began the process of eradicating the DIYers and reaching out to major exhibitors. That transition attained its apotheosis at the 2019 CAF, where dealers and well-known brands populated over eighty rooms, crowds swelled, and exhibitors were overjoyed. In short, 2019 marked the year CAF became an audio show of consequence.
This year, after a COVID-compelled hiatus in 2020, two opposing forces were clearly at play. On the one hand, the industry is still recuperating from the pandemic. Sales are returning, but coffers—and the commensurate ability to fund trade shows—haven’t returned to previous levels. Unsurprisingly, then, the 2021 CAF had fewer rooms, about fifty, than its predecessor.
On the other hand, the unprecedented pent-up demand for a good audio show—after all, there hasn’t been a major one in the U.S. for two years—fueled attendance. Many of the 200-plus exhibitors, some from as far off as Chicago, marveled over how full their rooms were on the first day—a weekday. “The best Friday I’ve had at any show,” said one. On Saturday morning crowds were so plentiful the organizers ran out of printed programs. I asked Gary Gill if he was happy. “I’m dizzyingly happy,” he enthused.
So were exhibitors, and not just because of the throng. Many attendees, it turns out, were in the mood to buy. In one VPI rooms—manned by father and son Weisfelds, no less—the entire turntable lineup was on display and available at attractive, show-only prices. The bargains proved so enticing that, during my visit, the selection literally dwindled every time I blinked. Meanwhile, Kirmuss Audio, which was giving live demos of its $1000-plus record-cleaning machine, sold over a dozen units on the first day alone. Software purveyors were equally pleased, with constant crowds meticulously perusing their bins.
Sound-wise, rooms varied widely, from dead to echo chamber and everything in between. The determining factor seemed to be how much effort the exhibitor had put into acoustic treatment. Ultimately, though, attendees could easily find excellent sound. They could also see some of the industry’s most bespoke gear (e.g., those imposing Wadax DACs), meet TAS Hall of Famers, hear live music, or stay up until midnight listening to their favorite tracks in their favorite room. Indeed, despite its transition to the big leagues, one thing CAF didn’t expunge was its festive mood. Gary Gill aptly captured the event’s spirit when he told me, “It’s like a family reunion.”
Given that most of the rooms and systems were put together by dealers rather than manufacturers, and considering that there were few new product introductions, Jacob, Andy and I decided to simply divide the rooms between us. Here’s what we saw and heard.
Join me, if you please, for a walk through the halls of the Twinbrook Hilton. Our very first room is a doozy—and an unexpected one at that. Refined Audio, a Chicago-based dealer and importer, has stacked the single-driver Cube Audio Nenuphar speakers atop a pair of matching Cube Sub 12s to form the Nenuphar BASiS ($26,900/pair) and is driving them with Pass electronics and a Lampizator tubed DAC. I’m not familiar with the Cubes, but here they’re making a big impression on me precisely because they’re disappearing so thoroughly. The sound of this $76k system (including the Silversmith cables) is so sweet and natural. Also, let’s give props to Refined Audio for playing notoriously difficult choral music, which the system reproduced with aplomb.
Next up is the Bending Wave room, featuring Goebel’s newest and (by a hair) least monolithic speakers, the Divin Marquis ($80k). Like several products introduced at this show, this one was originally meant to bow at the 2019 Axpona. Then RMAF. Then the 2020 Axpona. Then RMAF. At last, the speakers make their U.S. entrance at CAF. They certainly have the build and stature of a premium product, and they’re complemented by top-shelf gear like the Wadax DAC, a CH Precision linestage and the JC-1+ monoblocks from Parasound. Unfortunately, the room has nodes and slap echo galore, so it’s hard to take the full measure of the system. But the new Goebels are a serious design and show considerable promise.
In the adjoining room, local dealer 20/20 Evolution has put together a superb system anchored by the PoTY-winning KharmaMidi Equisite speakers ($85k). Evolution is driving them with a phalanx of flagship Conrad-Johnson tubed electronics. (I must say it’s nice to see C-J back in the game after having a lower profile of late.) The combination is phenomenal. Of course, I expect the Kharmas to strut their stuff; but the C-J gear prove equally tight, dynamic and resolute. Yet the system is unfailing musical no matter what I throw at it. A best of show candidate, to be sure.
In the Essential Sound Products room, Magico’sS5 II is teaming up with CAT electronics. Between the tubes and the tall Magico’s, this system is delivering some of the most expansive and encompassing soundstages of the show. There’s another familiar speaker down the hall in the House of Stereo room, where the always-beguiling TADCompact Reference One speaker is playing with upper-echelon T+A gear. These TADs never sound bad, and CAF is no exception.
A dealer named Now Listen Here has come all the way from Harrisburg, PA, to showcase the Joseph AudioPearl 3 Graphene, and its driving them with humongous $85k EMM Labs monoblocks, which are in turn fronted by an EMM PRE preamp ($25k), DA2 DAC ($30k), NS1 steamer ($4500) and an InnuosZen server ($3k). Cables are all Transparent Reference Gen 6, adding over $20k to the total. At first the estimable Pearls seem a bit bright, but designer Jeff Joseph is on hand to make an on-the-fly toe-in adjustment. Voila! All is well. Plus, the bass is spectacularly deep and solid.
Look! There’s Gayle Sanders of Martin Logan fame. He’s now heading up Eikon Audio, and here he’s showing not one but two new systems. I say systems because that’s all Eikon sells—complete systems (other than the source) that include a DAC/linestage/DSP processor-based control unit, speakers, and even cabling. The DSP module handles myriad chores, such as active crossover, time alignment, and room correction. The original Eikon Image 1, which goes for $25k, made an impressive debut at the Florida Audio Expo, just before COVID struck.
That unfortunate timing dampened initial sales, but Sanders has since done well enough to fund a product line expansion. At $12k, both new systems cost less than half of the original. The Eikon FRS, Sanders explains, is meant to be a lower-cost but aesthetically similar version of the Image 1. Indeed, the two models are identical in most respects: same driver complement (one AMT tweeter, one 5″ midrange and two opposite 8″ woofers), same controller. The difference is in the speaker cabinet construction, with the Image 1 using more exotic materials for greater stability.
There’s no Image 1 available for comparison, but the FRS is delivering fantastic sound for the money. The DSP-aided bass, rated down to 18Hz, is tremendous. All in all, this is a thrilling debut. Yet the equally new and identically priced Image .5 may be even more impressive.
The idea of the .5, according to Sanders, is to retain all the attributes of the Image 1—with the sole exception of bass extension. To that end, the .5 uses the exact same materials as the 1, but the speakers are smaller and stand-mounted. Even so, DSP enables them to hit 30Hz. Here at CAF, they’re doing what I remember the Image 1 doing in Florida, boasting better image stability and midrange resolution than the FRS. Bass may not match that of the FRS, but it’s absolutely shocking for a speaker this size. Well done, Gayle.
Strolling now to the AGD/Ocean Way room, we hear two lesser-known companies that have nonetheless impressed me mightily at past shows. Looking at pics of the AGD equipment, you’d think it’s tube gear. Psych! The tubes actually house solid-state MOSFET circuitry. Through the Ocean Way Sausalito speakers, the sound is warm and tube-like, easy going but never dull.
DR Audio Works has put together a very affordable and eclectic system. The Model 1 speakers have separate bass and MTM (mid-treble-mid) cabinets, and there’s an external active crossover. The mish-mash of electronics herald from brands like Crown, Halo, and Mirror Image. Still, it’s all playing together beautifully, especially considering the $15k price tag.
Well, here’s a look you don’t see every day. With their ultra-wide solid-wood baffles and open-air backs, Treehaus Audiolab speakers are well named. They’re also not cheap, but I suspect a lot of workmanship goes into building them. The Phantom of Luxury debuting here run $24k/pair. Also new, the company’s preamplifier ($16,000) power amplifier ($16,000). If you appreciate a laid-back sound, this could be your answer.
In the Fern & Roby room we find another single-driver speaker, the Raven III ($8500/pair). The rest of the system, including a ’table and cart, are also Fern & Roby, save for the Modwright Instruments integrated amp ($8500). As you’d expect from single-driver speakers, the Ravens are smooth and coherent. Unfortunately, the system is ragged and has a serious midrange peak. Show conditions strike again.
Our next-to-last room doesn’t do much better, despite some gorgeous AudionecEvo 2 AS speakers ($49,500), the Lampizator Baltic 3 DAC ($6,500), Taiko server ($31,050) a Linear Tube Audio Ultralinear Plus amp ($6800) and a VAC Master preamp ($28k). Bespoke gear, all, but sounding thin in this room.
Finally, let’s hit Daedalus Audio. They have a couple of rooms here, and the one I’m assigned to has the towering Zeus v.3. Surprisingly, given its proportions, the speaker costs just $39k. That’s not peanuts, but it’s remarkable for a speaker of this size and build-quality. Comparables are all in the six figures. Driven by a VAC Statement 450i iQ integrated amp ($150k), LampizatorDAC ($26k) and a Taiko Audio server ($28k), the Daedalus is refreshingly free of any “in your face” qualities. Yet it delivers the orchestral scale that only a speaker this size can pull off. This rig would be a best of show contender except that the room wasn’t large enough to let bass fully develop.
Alan Taffel’s Best of Show
Best Sound (cost no object): As always, excellent sound could be had in the Acora room. But the winner this time is Evolution 20/20’s Kharma/Conrad-Johnson system. A perfect match between electronics and speakers, and between speakers and room, the system was consistently truthful and engaging.
Best Sound (for the money): The new Eikon Image .5. Figure $15k once you add in a source, and you’ve got a system that will blow you away with its power and finesse.
Most Significant New Product: See Eikon Image .5 above.
Best Demo: Acora took the old AR live vs. stereo demo one step further by staging an even more daring live with stereo demo. Remarkably, the main difference I heard between the singer and the backup musicians had to do with space—the demo room was dead, but the recording was lively. Other than that giveaway, tonality, dynamics, imaging, and other factors were impressively on par.
If you attend an orchestral concert, chambermusic performance, or solo recital in the United States and a flutist is involved, chances are that you’re hearing a player whose educational pedigree connects him or her to William Morris Kincaid. Kincaid held the principal flute position with the Philadelphia Orchestra for four decades, substantial chunks of both the Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy eras. He made an important contribution to the sumptuous, shimmering “Philadelphia Sound” but just as important was his legacy as the “Father of the American Flute School.” A survey conducted in 2003 found that 87% of American professional flutists could claim a lineage to William Kincaid through one or more of their teachers.
Lois Bliss Herbine is among them. Herbine, based outside of Philadelphia, where she grew up, is a busy freelance musician and pedagogue, especially well known for her skill on piccolo. She performs with several Delaware Valley orchestras, has a large number of students with different levels of experience, and travels widely to give seminars and demonstrations on behalf of Powell Flutes, the most elite manufacturer of professional-quality instruments. Herbine never heard William Kincaid play live (her flute-playing sister, 16 years her senior, once chatted him up at the Academy of Music’s stage door following a Friday afternoon performance) but did study with a series of Kincaid students and “grand-students,” most notably John C. Krell. Joining his mentor in the Philadelphia Orchestra flute section in 1952, Krell served as the ensemble’s piccoloist until 1981. Krell had taken careful lesson notes when he studied with Kincaid at the Curtis Institute. Complemented by additional insights gleaned by sitting a few feet away from his former teacher onstage at the Academy for eight years, Krell published Kincaidiana,a slim volume that, in its second edition, remains available through the National Flute Association website.
What did Lois Herbine learn from William Kincaid that continues to inform her playing today?
Most flutists, 80% in one study, will tell you that the tone, or timbre, they produce is the most important aspect of their playing. There are two components that determine timbre, the attack—the short burst of energy that initiates the sound—and the steady-state phase that follows. For many, it’s the harmonic structure of the latter that’s of primary importance. No instrument produces a “pure” sound of just a single frequency but rather a blend of the “fundamental” (or H1) and the overtones that derive from that pitch. Overtones occur an octave above the fundamental (H2), a fifth above that (H3), at the next octave (H4), two octaves plus a third above the fundamental (H5), two octaves plus a fifth above the fundamental (H6), two octaves plus a minor seventh above the fundamental (H7), and beyond. It’s the precise mixture of these overtones, also called “partials,” that distinguish a clarinet from a trumpet playing the same pitch at the same volume. Or, more subtly, one flute player from another. The specific instrument that’s played—flutes can be made from wood as well as silver, gold, or platinum alloys—matters less than you’d think. Verne Q. Powell, the founder of the illustrious brand, was quoted as saying: “As far as tone is concerned, I contend that 90% of it is the man behind the flute.”
Or the woman. When Lois was a young teenager and taking her first lessons with a Kincaid scion, her engineer father analyzed her sonority with scientific test gear. “My Dad came home from work at Leeds and Northrup with a Tektronix 555 oscilloscope,” Herbine told me. “He hooked it up to the iconic Shure 55S microphone from the 1950s (better known as the ‘Elvis Mic’) and created a space for me to test my ability to add overtones to my sound with this visual support. Dad developed test equipment for work and was an inventor on the side, as well. I now believe the use of the oscilloscope to see sound production was a prototype but, for me, it was what you did at home on a Sunday when Mom wouldn’t let you watch TV. As my Dad was also a professional jazz clarinetist and saxophonist—and an amateur flutist—he had an idea of how to explain what to do with my embouchure to create the overtone series in my sound. I recall having a difficult time producing the third harmonic. But when I got it, I learned what that sounded and felt like.”
Mr. Bliss may not have been the first, but he was definitely ahead of his time. “Spectral analysis” graphs of a flute player trying out different techniques of tone production were published as far back as 1967, the year William Kincaid died. The objective investigation of instrumental or vocal tone quality took a big leap forward with the implementation of Fourier analysis. When a Fourier transform (FT) algorithm is applied to a musical signal, the graphic representation is mathematically converted from the time domain to the frequency domain and the harmonic makeup of the sound under study is clearly demonstrated. For a 2014 Master’s thesis at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obisbo, Ron Yorita recorded long tones produced by 31 flutists of various ability levels, from high school students to professionals. A selection of samples was then presented to a group of 41 “skilled flutists” who were asked to describe the sound they heard. These descriptors were then ranked as either favorable (“full,” “rich,” “colorful,” “resonant”) or unfavorable (“unfocused,” “weak,” “thin,” “unsupported.”)
The following is a press release issued by Sonus faber.
VICENZA, ITALY | November 15th, 2021 – Sonus faber is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the De Santi woodworking factory in San Martino di Lupari (PD), establishing the facility as the official woodworking department within the company. Sonus faber began working with Luciano De Santi and his factory in 1986, bonded by a shared passion for Italian heritage and craftsmanship. The two companies have been partners and collaborators for nearly four decades, building loudspeakers known around the world for their quality and performance.
To keep up with increased global demand, Sonus faber has made a commitment to invest in the expansion of the woodworking department, employing new computer numerical control (CNC) machines and painting capabilities with an extended factory footprint. In welcoming the De Santi team, Sonus faber will close the gap in collaboration between the design, engineering, and woodworking teams to enable more innovative designs and unique customization opportunities with decreased production lead-time and increased output.
“I am thrilled to welcome Stefano De Santi and the entire De Santi team to Sonus faber,” said Sonus faber CEO Jeff Poggi. “The quality construction of our wooden cabinet is a strong differentiator for Sonus faber and an integral part of our brand’s identity and resulting natural sound. This acquisition is a natural progression of our 35 years of collaboration, and I look forward to the amazing innovations that we will develop together as one family of artisans.”
Expressing his satisfaction for the acquisition, De Santi Srl owner, Stefano, said, “I’ve always loved the Sonus faber product philosophy, we grew together over the last 35 years. The De Santi team and I are very happy to become part of the Sonus faber family, finally able to dedicate our work exclusively in building these pieces of acoustic art”.
The acquisition of De Santi will be effective immediately, allowing Sonus faber to continue its growth, delivering high-end, handcrafted audio equipment around the world. Following the acquisition, Stefano De Santi will be named Sonus faber’s Head of Woodworking, overseeing the department, including the current De Santi staff who will remain in their present roles, with new staff to be added to expand capacity in the coming months.
Considering how many lives he’s led and all the obstacles he’s overcome, David Crosby must have been born in the Year of the Cat, right? Actually, Croz was born in the Year of the Snake (1941), which might serve to inform how he’s instinctively slithered through any storm crossing his path. For Free, his seventh solo album, is further proof Crosby remains an artist unbowed. Though his deliberately soothing, contemplative vocal tone may be the literal definition of adult contemporary, there’s nothing lax in the way Croz emotes every blessed syllable to intended effect (see the empathic narrative firing lines of “Shot at Me”). The funky-tunk groove of “Rodriguez for a Night,” ever-so-sleekly buttressed by Steve Tavaglione’s tenor sax and Walt Fowler’s flugelhorn and trumpet lines, comports itself like a long-lost Steely Dan track—no surprise, really, given Donald Fagen’s co-writing credit—while the vocal blends on the skyward-looking “The Other Side of Midnight” and cascading harmonizing with Michael McDonald all throughout “River Rise” are the very embodiment of sonic bliss. For Free is worth every damn penny you’ll pony up for the privilege of hearing Crosby carry the torch for creative perseverance.
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In the near future, both SpaceX and Blue Originareexpected to introduce the world to space tourism. The plan is to start by auctioning seats on their spaceships to essentially go straight up, and then straight back down again. The big deal is that magical 62-mile altitude, known at NASA as the Kármán Line. Designated by international agreement, 62 miles vertical altitude is accepted as the starting point of space (you know, the Final Frontier). Fewer than 575 humans have ever crossed that line. (As a fascinating aside, only 21 humans have ever descended to Challenger Deep, the deepest portion of the Mariana Trench in Micronesia—a depth of 35,761 feet or 6.8 miles under the ocean’s surface. But I digress.)
If Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos chose to equip their cutting-edge rocket ships with speaker systems, I have no doubt in my mind that they would both agree (likely for the first time ever) that Alon Wolf, owner and Grand Jedi Master engineer of Magico, is the man for the job. Alon embraces state-of-the-art materials and engineering solutions, and approaches those solutions with advanced computer-driven mathematics. His speakers sound and look beautiful because beautiful engineering results in beautiful aesthetics and performance. Magico incorporates space-age materials, utilizes cutting-edge technology, and implements NASA-level tolerances. Alon takes the old adage “measure twice, cut once” to a whole other level.
The A5 is Magico’s new A Series flagship. It is industrial art—simple, compact, efficient, and elegant in a Washington Monument kinda way. I will openly state I really like its looks. It is a three-way, 5-driver system in a sealed, 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum enclosure, anodized and finished brushed black. The A5s utilize internal bracing and cabinet materials previously implemented in Magico’s top-tier Q Series speakers, which result in detail and dynamics unexpected in a speaker at the price of $24,800 per pair. Did I mention the A5s weigh 180 pounds each?
Three 9″ woofers, utilizing Magico’s Graphene Nano-Tech diaphragms newly modified to even stiffer and lighter levels, provide the bass. I will leave you to read over Magico’s website to get more specifics regarding the woofer innovations.
Speaking of innovations, the Magico A5 uses Mundorf’s new M-Resist Ultra foil resistors, delivering “greater power handling, transparency, and liquidity.” The tweeter is a 28mm pure beryllium diaphragm implementing the same technological design principles as the tweeters in the S and M Series speakers, with a specially engineered back chamber for super-linearity, low distortion, and superior dynamics. The A5’s tweeter lacks the diamond coating that the higher-end S and M Series models employ.
What is most exciting about the A5, to me, is the premier of Magico’s newest Gen 8 Nano-Tec aluminum honeycomb cone design (the same technology implemented in Magico’s mighty M9 cabinet)—an ultra-thin aluminum honeycomb matrix with an overlying layer of carbon fiber. In its driver configuration, it is as close to perfectly pistonic as is currently possible, according to Alon. In cabinet form, as implemented in the M9, it offers the perfect combination of light weight, stiffness, and rigidity.