I was impressed with two speakers at the extreme ends of the price range. At $500 for a very small bookshelf (or large desktop) speaker, the Vanatoos sounded quite good. For this price, the buy gets a built-in amplifier and DAC; just plug it into your computer. It may not be the last word in bass response and detail retrieval, but, it was fundamentally musical sounding.
At the other extreme, pricewise ($80k was the quoted price), I was impressed with the Surreal Sound system. They were displaying in a very large conference room, with 35 watt Atmasphere amps for power (the woofers are powered by an active amplifier). The midrange/treble (133 hz and upward) was provided by a single driver--a Lowther driver modified by Dave Slagle with a fieldcoil electromagnet instead of conventional magnet structure. I have heard this Lowther driver before and found it, like its regular Lowther brethren, to be too "peaky" and uneven in the uppermidrange and treble. In this particular Surreal Sound implementation (very thick wooden enclosure with a rounded interior chamber) and particular tuning of the system, the peakiness has been substantially tamed. The astonishing speed, liveliness and clarity of this driver was retained while most of its objectionable qualities (to me) were substantially ameliorated. I was equally impressed with the Surreal Sound's bass response. An earlier iteration of this speaker had a BIG and impactful bass response, but, this version is substantially improved in that the bass is better integrated and more naturally "tunefull" rather than just impressing the listener with gross impact. The whole sonic picture from top to bottom is much more complete and natural. While a version of this system without the extra subwoofers used at the show would be quite compact and reasonably nice looking, the price quoted ($60,000 without the extra subwoofers) seems a bit high for a company without a major reputation (to be clear, soundwise, it impressed me much more than other ultra expensive systems in terms of sonics). As I stated above, Surreal Sound has substantially tamed the peaky Lowther driver, but, to my ears, there is still some peaky quality to the sound. I understand that the system has a LOT of tuning capability--changes in subwoofer settings and changes in voltage to the fieldcoil electromagnets--so I plan to hear it in a none show setting where these controls can be manipulated.
I also enjoyed the sound from Deja Vu Audio's "vintage" system. This system employed a big bass reflex box housing an 18" JBL woofers and a small dome tweeter. Sitting on top was a Western Electric 713b midrange driver. This was an extremely musical sounding system--warm, harmonically full, and extremely good at dynamics at lower levels. This is, to me, the kind of system "mature" listeners will fall in love with--by that I mean listeners who have grown tired of "impressive" speakers that deliver wholluping bass and extreme detail--and are looking for something that is musically communicative. My only issue with this, and many other vintage systems, has to do with bass response which is a bit too inarticulate and a bit "phasey" sounding for my taste. Still, a terrific sounding system. (Sort of as a disclaimer, I own a system with a Western Electric 713b midrange bought from Deja Vu and whole lot of other gear bought from them).
I too was impressed with the Surreal Sound speakers and the output in such a large space. Not hard on the eyes either.
The Tron preamps and Ortofon Windfel cartridge was probably my favorite setup. They had some vintage first pressings and some great mono selections also. Being an analog fan I thought they had some of the best sound at the show.
Although, not a huge fan of MBL it was a treat hearing Led Zeppelin on tape at concert levels.
At home I listen primarily to digitally sourced material from a music server. I listen to my vinyl rig only where I don't have something on my server (chalk it up to extreme laziness). But, I was struck at this show at how much better vinyl sourced material sounded, particularly where a sort of comparison could be made because the setup included both analogue and digital source components. Good rooms sounded good with both types of sources, but, there was a bit more "life" with records, compared to digital sources. In the Surreal Sound setup, you could easily hear the difference, with vinyl sounding particularly good, some hi-rez digital also sounding very good, and CD or CD resolution material sounding good but "missing" something in direct comparison.
I also liked the Tron gear and vinyl only setup in the Highwater room. The sound was quite musical and engaging. I should have mentioned the Horning speakers in that setup as being among the better speakers. The system had the kind of dynamics and "speed" that I like, although it was a bit more strident and peaky in the upper treble than the Surreal Sound speakers (smaller room with speakers closer to the listener might account for this). Still, this was an enjoyable system.
I have heard the MBL speakers sound very good at times, and they were pretty good at the show. Their strong suit is imaging (very expansive soundstage without sacrificing specificity of placement of instruments), incredible stability of imaging and consistency of tonal balance over a WIDE listeing area (good imaging even sitting outside of the right or left speaker), and ability to play at high volume. Bass in the MBL room was a touch one-note boomy (I have noticed that this speaker is hard to get the bass to sound right, but, I know it is possible because I've heard it sound better). For my particular taste and requirements (particularly the ability to maintain "liveliness" at low volume levels) the Surreal Sound and Deja Vu vintage system is more to my taste but I can easily see someone with different priorities thinking this was the best system at the show.
Wow do opinions vary. I was totally unimpressed by the Tidals. Jimmy Hendrix would sound smooth and mellow through them. I'd rather buy a new house with the money.
On the first floor, I really liked the Daedalus speakers in the Modwright room. Although without the grills they are a bit homely.
I do agree with Larry that that Altec horns were impressive. I might call these the homliest speakers at the show but also tremendous sounding.
Many of the rooms suffered from size issues. An example is using unbelievably restored Apogees for near-field listening. Great sound stuffed into a closet sized room.
For a reality check, there was a room upstairs running Harbeth 30.1's that I could easily picture in my home.
I'm with you Elevick regarding the Tidals, just too smooth and hifi sounding to me. I am starting to wonder if big speakers do it for me. The monitors in several rooms were very impressive.
Larryi agreed, I thought all the vinyl setups sounded great and IMHO outperformed digital. I can spot digital a mile away! I also heard the same thing in the MBL room with regards to bass. He had Led Zepp II cranked! It was so impressive for a song or 2 and then the shortcomings appeared, no range in the bass but Jimmy Page in particular sounded like he was playing live in a jazz club - impressive.
Probably the best learning for me at the show was mono vinyl in the Highwater room. I never listen to mono and do not own a mono cartridge or phono preamp. But it sure sounds different than stereo, more realistic tone and at least with what I heard.
I thought the Soundsmith room was excellent also, he also had monitors that sounded great and put some major tone out! Can't remember the brand????
One thing maybe someone can help me understand. Some of the vinyl for sale was really expensive, like $50 and up.
Make me 3 or 4 for Tidal Audio Agoria speakers "not floating my boat". The Jazzy stuff was fairly impressive. But once Doug put on Classical [Symphonic].....wow!.....did the soundstage collapse, imaging went to god knows where....it was not pretty. The Contrivas were much more convincing. Actually it sounded a lot like the Wilson MAXX speakers. Different implementation of entirely different set of drivers I know, but I like Pops description: "smooth and "hifi""..... Gorgeous looking speakers, however for the same price [ I guess with the electronics] of $180,000.00, you could have a Porsche Panamera GTS with the Burmester audio system. 180 MPH AND 120 dB.....;-)). BTW.....I had the most fun talking with the vinyl dealers. Hey $50.00 is not bad for some vinyl albums but if you want excess in vinyl.....the Keggs 45 rpm is going for $20,000 and up. Go to G45Central for the rare-est 500 45 rpms. With interesting forums.
For my money, the rooms with the most natural sound were the Deja Vu rooms (both the vintage speaker described by LarryI and the room with Harbeth Monitor 30.1 speakers) and the room with Quad 57's driven by Miyajima electronics. (Not coincidentally, the music in these rooms sounded most similar to what I hear at home where I use a 2-way based on the Western Electric 753 and, less often, Spendor SP-100s.)
Too many of the other rooms (like the one with Tidal speakers) were of the hifi spectacular school.
I have really tried to like Daedalus speakers having listened to them now at a total of 4 different shows and in several rooms at most of the shows, but for whatever reason they just don't sound like music to me. Other people whose hearing I respect feel quite differently, but to me they sound too mechanical, too much like speakers.
I have also tried to hear what many people like so much in the High Water Sound room which features Horning speakers. Unfortunately, each time I have heard them they sound too thin in the midbass. Not my idea of a musical sound.
Enough negativity. The good news for me was that the very best sound I heard all day was when I returned home and turned on the stereo that I already own. That's what we all hope for, I guess, but it doesn't always work that way.
Remember that speakers alone make no music.
Same true with amps, pre-amps, wires and all the rest.
Gotta mate the right stuff together to suit one's goals. And be set up well in a suitable room accordingly.
Even then, chances are no two people will agree on what sounds best.
Lots of different sounding possibilities with exactly the same speakers. Only one or two can be heard at any particular show. It's easy to jump to conclusions based on a limited sample.
Just a reminder. I'm sure everyone knows this.
Beauty is often in the eye/ear of the beholder.
At these shows, I mostly just wonder, is making beautiful music really so complicated and really need to cost so much?
I'd second the two Deja Vu rooms. The Harbeth's sounded really coherent and - I thought - had surprisingly good bass for a speaker that's only rated to 50hz. I think this was a case of the right sized gear for the right sized room and the sound benefited from it. The other Deja Vu room was running what I think was a pair of old, modded Altec amps using a custom built pre and DAC through vintage horns. I could have packed that one right into the car if Elevick hadn't been driving. The Atmosphere Amps driving the Classic Audio speakers were also great with lots of detail and tons of slam. Unfortunately he had a shit room with the speakers arrayed on the long wall of what was essentially a box car. That it managed to sound good at all was a miracle, and it sounded really good. A lot of exhibitors had gear that was way too large for the spaces they were occupying.
...oh, there were a lot of vendors who felt the best way to present their gear was by playing it at ear-splitting volume. Why do they do that?
Good call Grimace, I thought I was at the movies a couple of times. It was almost at breakpoint!!!
+1Salectric....nice to go home and hear the best sound of the day.
I thought there was some really interesting stuff to see at my first CAF. The vintage equipment and really large horn loaded systems were really fun though I can't imagine actually owning something like that I didn't always find the sound compelling. Since I'm a Daedalus guy I tried not to spend a lot of time in Lou's rooms but his new Muse in the smaller room on the sixth floor was so compelling that I couldn't tear myself away. At the price point (and well above) and given the ease of placement and exceptional sound I would have to say one of the best speakers at the show.
Surprised no one mentioned Odyssey yet. Both their rooms sounded killer. $1800 for pre+power+speaker system was an amazing value and the reference system still around $8K was for me one of the best sound of the show.
Daedalus muse in the smaller room was nice, the Ulysses in the bigger room were expansive but not as focused sounding as I know they are capable of. I think Daedalus should demo with tube amps to change the flavor a bit.
The clue sounded very dynamic for a small speaker.
I was surprised how great the Zu setup sounded. "Take a walk on
N the wild side" sounded phenomenal. The Zu founder was extremely likable and very smart and engaging.
Maybe the Tidals sounded hifi but one of the best examples I've heard in a long time. Hearing the Mahler 6th selection was a mind (and ear) blowing example of unrestrained dynamics.
Haven't been to many audio shows but I was surprised by the lack of classical music being played. Nobody had any opera at all and there wasn't even much Dianne Krall. Way too much Steeley Dan and Fleetwood Mac tho.
Larry...come on, you can never have too much Steely Dan :-)
"The good news for me was that the very best sound I heard all day was when I returned home and turned on the stereo that I already own."
After looking at your system profile, I have no doubt the above is a true statement.
I am a Zu Def4 owner, so I am obviously biased. However, I agree with Larrybou that the Def4s that Sean was exhibiting sounded great driven by the First Watt SIT monoblocks. (He also an an interesting pro-audio pre-amp.) They were well-positioned, and the room was generous in size.
The Deja Vu room was running "new" electronics that are built around vintage parts, and in the case of the amplifier, based on vintage cicuits (the DAC was obviously NOT vintage Western Electric). The gear is based primarily on Western Electric design and parts. The 300b amp used vintage Western Electric input and output transformers. There was another room that had monobloc amps that appeared to be old Altec amps (they were green in color). I also agree that most exhibitors played gear at way too high a volume. Some do that because many modern speakers actually sound lifeless unless they play loudly. I tend to like higher efficiency speakers because of their ability to sound lively at lower volume levels; as I've made improvements in my system, I've tended to play it at lower and lower volume levels. An example of a very nice system at the show that is extremely dynamic and did not need to be played at high volume, which, unfortunately, is where it was played most of the time, was the Horning speakers in the Highwater room.
I also liked both of the big Zu systems at the show--one in the big conference room and the other in one of the tiny upstairs room. That top-of-the-line speaker delivers full range sound and great dynamics. My only big issue with that speaker is the over emphasis of the midrange that tends to make both female and male vocals stand out prominently--it sounds impressive at first, but, it is a bit unnatural. Still, I agree that this is a very good sounding speaker that appears to be suited to both large and small rooms.
At almost every show, I am impressed by Oddyssey systems for what they deliver at reasonable prices. I was not quite as impressed with their higher priced speaker as I was with last year's showing of the Lorelei, but, that was because the Lorelei really set a high bar.
Grimace-I'm driving an SUV. You could have packed almost anything into it! Imagine driving home with the Tidals on the roof rack?
My feelings on Odyssey amps: They sound good when driven hard. I just had one in my house that sounded like crap on Coincidents but sounded great with 84db speakers. Synergy or tempermental amps???
Finally, do headphones count as speakers for this post? The headphone amps at the show were more than just over the top. If felt like such a whimp with my my AKG's.
Pops, those amazing little speakers were designed by the Soundsmith (Peter Ledermann) himself and sold by them. Not cheap ($3,000/pr. for the littler ones and $4,000/pr. for the slightly larger ones), but I could have sworn there were subwoofers somewhere in that room. My favorite room of all the ones at CAF.
As a tape fanatic, I was pleased to see all the open reel decks at CAF this year.
This year's show featured many outstanding rooms. The change in venue, along with some serious attempts by the exhibitors made for significantly better sound that we've heard in past DC efforts.
Overall, traffic was quite heavy early on Saturday, but dissipated through the day. On the good side, this year's show seemed far busier than past one I attended. Though on another note, the headphone crowd on the 4th floor dwarfed the much older high-end audio folks.
Mostly, I liked a lot of what others have mentioned. Beyond those the TAD loudspeakers in the Backert Labs room impressed, Gingko Audio ClaraVu 7 surprised, nicely restored Apogee Duetta Signatures in piano black lacquer left me recalling some of the most beguiling sound of the high horsepower solid state era, and Robin Wyatt's 2 (one OTL, the other solid state) rooms of Quad ESL57 further convince me of how far the speaker craft has not progressed the past 60 years.
Salectric and Larryi,
I always look forward to comments by you two, as both of you gravitate to "natural" sounding products..Your different opinons of the Horning speaker caught my attention.This speaker interests me as it would seem the type(high efficiency, easy load) that would suit good low powered amplifiers.Given the split decision I'd be very curious to hear it with a high quality tube amplifier. It seems Highwater's Tron amps would fit that description well. Forcing too high a sound volume can mask and degrade a good system's true beauty
Dopogue, thanks for the clarification on those speakers. I too could not believe the output they were putting out! His complete system really sounded great and was one of the memorable systems of the show for me.
Salectric, about Daedalus speakers, I think the problem in the shows is not the speakers but the electronics. Nothing wrong with Modwright, they are great, but Lou at daedalus makes high sensitivity speakers, 95, 96db sensitivity and with benign impedence. They are made for tubes as far as I am concerned. Currently I am using an ARC Ref 75 power amp with my DA-RMA speakers and just lets say I have no plans to change anything this century.
Agree regarding the Daedalus. I don't understand why the frequent pairing with Mod Wright solid state amplifiers(business agreement? ). That match sounds decent but I've heard them sound noticeably better with tube amplifiers. Maybe Lou believes the more power the better. Listening proves otherwise in my opinion. That speaker(easy load) begs for quality low to moderate power tube amplifiers to let it shine.
Daedulus was top tier sound at last CAF I attended.
Do not recall the amp used, but clearly they are designed to be tube friendly and most likely to more uniquely shine with that.
I apologize for stirring up the hornet's nest of Daedalus fans. They are a vocal group! As I said, there are a number of Daedalus owners whose judgment I respect; I just haven't been able (yet) to hear what it is they like so much. Maybe that's due to the show environment or poor setup or perhaps the solid state amplification. I don't know.
Someone once gave some good advice about auditioning speakers at hifi shows: If a speaker sounds good at a show, then you know it is good. But if a speaker sounds bad, you don't really know anything except that it didn't sound good in that particular room and with that particular equipment.
In any event, I am always struck by how different people reach different conclusions about the sound quality of rooms at the same show. That just shows that we have different tastes and different priorities, and there is nothing wrong with that. The world would be much less interesting if we all had the same aesthetic tastes.
"In any event, I am always struck by how different people reach different conclusions about the sound quality of rooms at the same show. That just shows that we have different tastes and different priorities, and there is nothing wrong with that. The world would be much less interesting if we all had the same aesthetic tastes."
Yes, the evidence speaks for itself there in the variety of audio gear and options out there and doing well.
At shows, I shoot for a simple conclusion when listening to many things in a short period of time: has potential or not.
Potential is all that one can really discern with many fast auditions under a single circumstance at a show.
Potential is only the initial requirement to meet. In teh end, many factors would determine what I would actually buy, having to choose among many excellent options.
In general, the bigger, heavier and more expensive something is, the less chance I will see "potential" in it for my use. I like well designed and reliable gear that provides flexibility in general.
I love my OHM F5s, but they are quite heavy and bulky, and I would prefer it if they were not, but at least they are mounted on casters, which makes life a lot easier.
I think most of us would like "natural" sounding systems, but given the limitations of ALL gear, we differ in priorities and compromises we are willing to accept (or find intolerable). I demand systems to be very dynamic and lifelike at LOW volume levels. I am somewhat intolerant of systems that have an artificially hard initial attack to notes and truncated decay of same. This generally means low-power tube-based amplification and high efficiency speaker systems (usually horn/compression driver midrange systems). The challenge for me is finding such fast and lively horn systems which manage to reasonably avoid horn colorations and excessively sharp peaks in the upper midrange. The system I have assembled manages this balancing act reasonably well, but it still does have horn coloration and it does have a tendency to "shout" if pushed to high volume (I rarely listen at high volume, but, I know this is a "problem").
The horn driver in the Deja Vu vintage system at the show utilized the same midrange driver/horn that I use and sounded very good, to me, at the show. That system was never played at high volume and it certainly did not need to be played at excessive volume to get one's toes tapping. I think Salectric and I probably appreciated the same qualities of the midrange on this system (his profile indicates a use of very similar horn and midrange drivers).
To some extent our differences of opinion on the Horning system has to do with tolerance of the upper midrange peakiness of the system. I described it as a peak, he describes the sound as a lack of midbass; because perception of frequency response has to do with relative levels of different parts of the spectrum, we are probably talking about the same thing. I did not like the peakiness, but, I found it tolerable when the volume of the system was lowered. I also tolerated it because I really appreciated the great dynamics of the system. Like Salectric, I like my own system more so I would not consider the Horning, but, it is, to me, something worth auditioning for someone in the market. I would have liked that display at the show a lot more if the volume level were kept lower; but then again, the crowd often requested higher volume levels in rooms that I thought were already far too loud.
Larry thanks much for your further detailed impressions. Excessively loud volume at shows is a recurrent pet peeve of mine, they just end up sounding worse.
Regarding the Horning sound and using shows as a sound gauge, I've heard these at various shows, but then in a home system with a quality 845 SET. This was a game changer for me, so I bought the Aristoteles. I will be replacing my amp next. I too, don't like it too loud, and at lower volumes everything is there for me. That's the real test, and what does it for me. I was not at CAF, but recently at RMAF.