California Audio Show 2012

It was just serendipity that we happened to be on a family visit to Northern California the same weekend as the start of the 2012 California Audio Show in
Burlingame, California. I literally had only about 90 minutes to poke around today on the opening day of the show, so take my impressions with a very large grain of salt... but I wanted to get a thread started for others who may have their own impressions to post.

Sweetest sound in my whirlwind tour of the show was in the Audio Note UK room. Amplification was some $20K+ 8 watt tube amp. Speakers were large stand mounts... didn't get the model number. Sound was extraordinarily musical... mesmerizing, really, so much so that I had to get back to that room one more time for a second listen before I had to leave. The AN rep was playing some "audiophile" discs I'd never heard before. Would've loved to have heard some familiar tunes on that setup. But wow, that system was very sweet, indeed.

YG Acoustics room.... sounded rather "hi-fi" to me, but again, I spent very little time there.

Magico rooms -- the big Magico's sounded terrific playing orchestral music. The small monitors $27K, yikes!) sounded good too, if a little tipped up in the high end.

Biggest disappointment in my brief time there was the room playing the new Gallo CL-4's. They sounded congested and muffled. I have to believe there was a set up problem of some sort... a company of Gallo's reputation wouldn't unleash anything sounding that mediocre!

Anybody else get to the show with impressions to share?
Agree with you about Audio Note. Their rooms pretty much always sound the way this one does -- unfailing in communicating the music and connecting you with it, and without much regard to genre or even recording quality.

Also agree about the Gallos and must add that the dealer whose room that was had three others. Only one of the four rooms had anything approaching decent sound (Margules + Dynaudio) despite all sorts of fancy cables and isolation devices and room treatments adorning all of them.

Some other notables for me: Eficion, Voce (check out the vintage Luxman TT in that room in addition to their new speakers), Sonist, and Music First. The Music First room was manned by Jonathan Billington himself (lovely man) and featured their Reference preamp fed by an old Revox R2R and feeding a Bel Canto ICE amp and a pair of Rogers LS3/5a's he picked up in a thrift shop. Hardware store speaker cables. Wonderful sound, I thought.
Audio Note room was very good as always but I was blown away by the Tannoy Westminster Royal speakers in the Blue Moon Audio room.

Also the vintage audio fair nearby had Tannoy 15" silver speakers that also sounded awesome.

Also liked the vintage Rogers LS3/5as, the Sonists in the Dared room, Franco Serblin's compact monitor the Accordo in the Tone of Music Audio room and the DIY speakers with Audio Nirvana 15" Neo's in the BAAS room.
Thanks for mentioning those little monitors by Franco Serblin. I liked them, too, very holographic. They were, what, something like $20K?

Wanted to hear the Tannoy's in the Blue Room but couldn't find them... drat!
The Gallos sounded much better on Saturday. I also spent more time with the Dynaudio Focus 340's and Margules yesterday. Excellent. And as Audioquest was part of that room, the digital source was a Macbook Pro with the Dragonfly USB DAC (which looks like and is deployed like a USB thumb drive). Very impressive.

Agree about the Tone of Music room -- lovely sound. And that Simon Yorke TT is a work of art. There sure are a lot of small monitors these days at you-could-buy-a-nice-car-for-this prices.

Another shout out for the Voce Audio speakers on the third floor. The way they are put together is very interesting and sonically they ticked a great many boxes for me.

I thought the show was great overall and I hope it was a success for the exhibitors and Constantine. Small, but plenty of good and interesting rooms. And because it wasn't too large or crowded, I felt very comfortable spending a decent amount time in rooms that interested me, or going back a second time. Had a lot of good conversations with exhibitors. I made two extended visits to the Zu Audio room, which, as always, had the most interesting music. Sean Casey is The Man as far as I'm concerned.
Thank you Mortsnets and Drubin for you kind words about sound of the Tone of Music Audio room with the Franco Serblin Accordos, they are $13K.

by the way, Franco also makes a larger model named the Ktema which I also have on demo and plan to show at next CAS,

thank you again for taking time to check out my system.
Tone of Music had the best sound at the show but it was a snoozer overall.
I find myself growing extremely skeptical of megabuck small monitor speakers. Once cost goes beyond that of say a Totem Mani or Dynaudio C1, is there really anything more accomplished to justify other than uber-build quality and aesthetic appeal perhaps? I have heard a number of these designs and seriously wonder.
I think we're seeing an arms race in several areas: cabinet materials, cabinet construction methods, driver materials, and crossover components. (Just going with top of the line Mundorf caps can send parts costs into the stratosphere.) Whether or not these yield meaningful sonic improvements is another matter, of course.
I tend not to pay a lot of attention to any monitors over $5000, but that just reflects my budget and life obligations. Those Franco Serblin Accordos were very pretty and sounded quite good for the few minutes I had to spend in that room, but I'll agree that $13,000 for a pair of quite small monitors is a lot of dough. :-)
By the way just did a little research and found that those Franco Serblin Accordos are designed by the former Sonus Faber designer. Hmm...
MBL room blew me away. For me, best room by a country mile. I had never heard MBL's so a serious treat for me. Never have I heard "stereo" sound so dimensional, real, dynamic and alive. I had read that omni speakers can have a tendency not to image very well, but I did not find the case with either of the 2 set ups in that room.

I also loved that they were not playing all the usual 'audiophile approved' material -- shoot me how boring. They were playing a really nice mix of music, including the Doors, Rush and (toward the end of Saturday) even a little.... Bon Jovi??!! It all sounded fantastic.
I was actually not impressed at all with the Tannoy room. What I was hearing sounded compressed, extension limited and non-involving. Like they still needed some serious break in.
Thank you Magnumpi205 for your kind complement,

Rebbi , Mr.Serblin was the owner and designer, he sold the company a few years back and launched his new company under his namesake in 2010.
Second Tholt's opinion.
I was very impressed by the Acoustic Zen/TRI triode electronics 845 setup.
Never heard ribbon speakers play strings that nicely.
The only room that had the magic for me was the Audio Note UK.
There were quite a few rooms I enjoyed - the Magico room was very nice - wonderful on "Moondance" on the Kronos turntable; the little Magicos with Constellation electronics surprised and thrilled; the narrow Brodmann speakers with Electrocompaniet gear had some magic; the Tone of Music room with the Simon Yorke 'table, CAT pre, Luxman power amp and Franco Serbelin speakers; the Musical Surroundings room with Aesthetix gear and Vivid Giya G2s (a lot of thumping from the Legacy next door was annoying); the huge Wilsons in a ballroom-sized space on some of Peter McGrath's recordings.

But for me, the two rooms I enjoyed the most were the Tape Project room and the Loggie room.

In the Bob Hodas/Tape Project room, we heard the magnificent Focal Scala Utopia mounted quite high on custom Sound Anchor stands. Amplification was Luke Manley's VTL preamp and two MB 450 Series III power amps, with massive Tara Labs speaker cables to the Utopias. The tape recorder was an Otari with Bottlehead custom electronics. We were in a small room but the sound was magnificent especially on the Rimsky-Korsakov.

But what really knocked me out was the Patricia Barber "You and the Night and the Music" cut that had superb vocal presence, wonderful bass lines, precise placement of the wood blocks and other percussion, and the "distorted" guitar solo at the end was just fabulous. Each instrument had its full dynamics preserved and analogue tape combined the ease of LP but with the low noise floor of digital. Just stunning.

The Loggie room was just a knockout for me. When I first joined the room they were playing the YG Carmels connected to the Ypsilon pre and power withe the Esoteris P2/D2 combination. We listened to "Duke's Place" by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington from a Redbook rip and it was open, thrilling and the imaging was delightful.

I must have come at the right time because they decided to switch to the YG Anats (without the big subwoofer module) which took a few minutes, and then listened to the same cut.

What did not impress me was the extra bass from these much bigger (and much more expensive) speakers, although that was surely there, but an extra dimension to the music, more depth to the vocals, a wider soundstage, and a more enveloping and realistic presentation. It was simply fabulous.

Then I heard two cuts that are well-known at hifi shows and I must have heard these 50 times each over the years - "Keith Don't Go" from the Nils Lofgren live album, and "Tin Pan Alley" by SRV. These were just stunning in the dynamics and precise image placement - really just a couple of mind blowers, in particular the guitar on "Keith ..".

The YG guy asked if we had anything to play (thank you), so I gave them my SHM-SACD of "Black and Blue" to listen to the Rolling Stones doing "Memory Hotel". Oh my - this was out of this world, with huge presence and delineation - actually a very nice recording.

I've heard the YGs a few times, but I've never had a demo like this. Very hard to fault in any way - except price.

Unlike Rebbi: "YG Acoustics room.... sounded rather "hi-fi" to me, but again, I spent very little time there." I spent quite some time with the big YGs. They are the real deal.

Yes, as I said, I was very rushed and got mostly fleeting impressions. I'm glad the YG's sounded better to you. I'd have liked to have the time to hear that system playing some music I was more familiar with.
I heard Yg Anat two years ago at Capital Audiofest 2010 in a YG sponsored shootout demo versus Magico. Both sounded very good, very high end with your typical small ensemble female jazz vocal audio show demo tracks. Both also VERY EXPENSIVE! So my interest was mostly can I do as well or better for less. I think one can but would need more shootout time with more music variety to say for sure. of course personal preference is probably almost always the biggest determining factor to what sounds BEST, regardless of price.
I was playing Chess and forgot.