My 2014 California Audio Show impressions...
I happened to be in the Bay Area the weekend of the 2014 CAS and got to spend about 3 hours at the Show over the weekend. Here are some rough impressions, and I'd be glad to hear from others who also attended.
The crowd: the show on Saturday afternoon felt lively and busy. Lots of people signing in on the first floor and wandering in and out of the exhibits. Congrats to Constantine Soo and the other organizers.
Volume: I was driven out of some rooms by their insistence at playing everything at eardrum liquifying levels. Since when is "louder" equivalent to "better?" The physically gorgeous, single-driver Teresonic speakers, for example, sounded peaky and over-driven to me... so much so that I couldn’t bear to be in the room more than about a minute.
Cans: Lots of action in the headphone rooms on the first floor, sponsored by HeadMasters. Audionerd.com was showing all kinds of interesting bits, including a line of headphone amps and DACS from New Zealand and another line of diminutive little, tube-festooned, orange-tone metallic amps and DACS from Italy that go by the name "Carot." There was vinyl aplenty for sale and a nice booth from the venerable Reference Recordings, who got me to part with some cash in exchange for a couple of anthology CD's. There was also a company called Olive Media, new to me, selling a circular, touch screen digital audio streamer with all kinds of connectivity for only $499 with no hard drive; apparently you can easily install your own 2.5" drive of up to 2 TB. Very interesting looking product.
Favorite rooms: to my ears, a lot of what I heard sounded very "hi fi spectacular" and not particularly emotionally satisfying or musical, but here are a few exceptions.
I thought the Zu Audio room sounded very good, even though I couldn't get a seat to do serious listening.
The big-daddy Acoustic Zen speakers sounded luscious and crazily holographic. One attendee was schlepping around some very middle-eastern-sounding track from Dead Can Dance that really took your breath away on that system.
The MIT cable room was making wonderful music over a pair of Magico floor standers. The bluesy Boz Scaggs track they were playing had an appropriately heart-rending quality and musical purity to it that was great to hear. Very impressive.
Fritz Heiler was all smiles (what a nice guy!) in a very packed room on the third floor. He was showing off his new Carrera and Illuminator 7 BE models, the former with a ScanSpeak Illuminator AirCirc Ring Radiator tweeter (I know all this because I remembered to grab some product literature before I left) and the latter sporting a Beryllium tweeter. I have a soft spot for all the things that stand-mount speakers do best and this room sounded great. I was especially taken with the low-end grunt of these speakers - a recording of a guitar ensemble playing Beethoven's 5th sounded terrific.
Wish I could have stayed longer but there you have it.