Best in show for me (and it wasn't close) - Triangle Art + Angel City Audio. Stunning dynamics and realism, with the exception of ultimate low end control which was a bit lacking. But the bass was still better than expected coming from a tube amp and 7 inch drivers. TL speakers have got my attention now - and I thought I was perfectly happy with my speakers! On a few tracks from familiar LPs, (Gene Ammons Boss Tenor, Gerry Mulligan Meets Scott Hamilton) the sax energy was immense, cutting through me a like a knife. "You are there" - this system could transport you where ever you want to go...
I'm glad you went and got such good pictures. I went today. My fave was the Destination Audio as 'Best In Cjfrbw's Show'. Amazing what they could squeeze out of the wonderful 1.8 watts of 45 tube power per channel. Those speakers are very special, absolutely seamless for horns.
I don't know how some guys think that massive power creates 'ease' when this setup had amazing ease in it's presentation, along with the DHT triode amp's specialties of fluid, dynamically open midrange, exquisite inner detailing, soundstage size, depth and width, articulate 3d imaging, natural tonal character/color and even subtle dynamic transitions that horns seem to specialize in. I thought it was the bee's knees all round. There were Japanese ideograms (I think they were Japanese) on some of the components, so I presume that this tubes, transformer 'n horns extravaganza is from some of our Far East mavens, but I don't know for sure.
The last record was the first Dire Straits vinyl album, that I have heard a gazillion times, but this was surely the best I have ever heard it.
They had a genuine 50 tube amplifier that I would have liked to have heard, but they didn't deploy it at the times I went.
There was a cluster of second bests at the show that I also liked that were a bit harder to distinguish from another because they were all really good sounding, including the Triangle Art stuff.
I had a cluster of second bests also. Destination wasn't among them, though. It felt too laid back and I actually thought lacking in detail - though that's a common complaint from me with horns. Big dynamics, shy on detail. The Triangle Art table was just eminently more authoritative in the Triangle Art room with the TL speakers as well.
A couple other rooms I found notable: Bricasti with the Tidal speakers (diamond and ceramic drivers) sounded detailed, smooth, and not digital (particularly with a few select DSD tracks), Quicksilver with the Bernhagen Porter Model 10/12 speakers for a warm tilt that was liquid but still reasonably detailed - the type of sound that makes you melt.
A few disappointments: (1) The 2A3 4W amp driving the Pure Audio Project open baffle horns with dual 15" woofers through a passive crossover was clearly not up to the task. I'd really liked to have borrowed the XA25 from the other Pure Audio room to mate with the horns. (2) I completely missed Joe's room somehow. Drats! (3) The Mojo Audio 20B amp with the NOS DAC combo really needs better headphones. Those Mr Speakers planars were dead and he's demoing a $15k amp with a $5-6k DAC! (4) Unfortunately, I thought the Ypsilon and Wilson Benesch room just didn't deliver. The sound was just flat and unengaging. (5) And lastly I'd love to know why so many rooms are set up with the drivers toed so far off axis. FR suffers. Peripheral imaging suffers. I felt the Margules room could have sounded better, primarily for this reason.
Everybody comes away with their own impressions, of course. The Destination Audio is one of the very few stacks of massive transformers/ flea power/efficient horns that I have ever heard and I was impressed. It is audio ideology taken to the extreme, but I could hear the reason why.
I went to find a couple of demos I liked and spent most of my time there rather than hopping and missed a few, though the show is small enough to cover everything. The 800 pound gorillas of Magico, Wilson, Van Alstine etc. and their contingent electronics were mostly missing, though I am not so sure that is a terrible thing. These shows survive on making commercial return for the vendors worth the exhibit costs.
I liked the Whammerdyne 2A3 stuff again, but thought the speakers they used last year (center cone full range flanked by woofers) were much better match to the point of being my favorite sound. This photo shows those speakers, but not the Whammerdyne.
I was able to play my own music file FLAC with the other Pure Audio Project speaker with the dome and the PASS XA25 yesterday, and was impressed.
The Audio Note room was as good sounding as any Audio Note demo I have heard (never great to my mind but good), but I still have the disconnect between prices and results. I am also put off a bit by the mincing, pinky lifting snob appeal stuff they can do.
There were several quality rooms, a few OK, but overall, I thought the sound was pretty good at this show.
The Ypsilon stack with the Aelius sounded a bit micro-grainy for some reason, as did any number of Ypsilon demos I have heard in the past. The demo could have used some YG, larger Magico or larger Wilsons, but I think the best speakers I have heard at shows with Ypsilon have been YG Acoustics.
I wanted to hear the First Watt SIT3, which was on static display. I asked the Zu guy if he was ever going to hook it up. He said no, because he would have let it warm up for a full day, which I thought was a reasonable reply.
I thought the PASS XA25 used with the Zu speakers handled them extremely well, even though the Zu demo was the usual raw speakers in whatever space with whatever stuff happened to be around with no particular attention to environmental parameters. I think the PASS XA25 is a fantastic amp from the two demos I heard, and it sounds better to me than any PASS LABS amp I have heard to date, even the XA30.8.
I got the young Zu guy to play one of my records (Al Di Meola 'Casino') and had a generation gapping experience with him. I guess he expected me to defend the record in some manner because he asked me (paraphrase) "What is this?" in a slightly aggro tone (translation: are you trying to foist some senile, Alzheimer's oompah music on me?) I was a bit dumbfounded, because I just assumed that everybody knew who Al Di Meola was, so I said "From Return to Forever? Chick Corea?" which didn't register on him. He just said, "What's that? The cover looks cool, so maybe it's OK" So I just said that Al Di Meola was a jazz guitarist. He looked a bit nonplussed, but went ahead and played side 2 cut 2. When it was done, he said "I guess he can play. Do you want to hear more?" I said "yes" and he let the side run out. When it was done, he said, "Do you want to hear the other side, too?" and I said, "Thank you, that's plenty".
He is the same guy at all the Zu demos over the years, and he has gotten older, but a little hipster, and he cracks me up whenever i see him. He is generally pretty nice, but trying to talk past the generation gaps is weird.
I did spend a bit of time at the headphone exhibit, and listened to some planar magnetics and the (Mr. Speaker?) stats with Blue Hawaii EL34 amp. I have not heard a Blue Hawaii/stat setup yet that I liked that much, and this was no exception, a bit tizzy. I don't know why, because I generally like el34 sound, and the Blue Hawaii looked to be using the vaunted Siemen el34 tubes.
One exhibit was using the Woo 300b device with the rabbit eared rectifier. The other table was mostly Schiit stuff with a variety of headphones. I rather liked the beat up old Bayer 880 with the smallest Schiit module, and I also like the beat up Senn 650. I didn't think the ZMF bio cellulose open headphone even close to my Sony Z1R.
In all, whatever the price, I like my own home Stax 'n Sony stuff better than what I heard there.
Surprise, surprise as I figured the ACA / Triangle Art would run away with best in show, but it looks as though it took runner up. Destination Audio and ACA/TA were two rooms that strongly contrasted each other and yet finished first and second respectively. Interesting.
To be fair to Brian, the Wilson Benesch speakers he was demoing were brand spanking new and sounded aggressive - that said I would never want to do a show with speakers that weren’t properly broken in.
Actually, I did hear 'Joe's' room and thought it sounded good, but didn't spend a lot of time there.
There is no right or wrong opinion about what's best, often just taste and variables.
When I went to the headphone guy in the cable room by the entry area, I listened to I guess the LCD3 headphone with his tube stuff. I liked it. He then said "You have to hear this!" and gave me the new Senn 800x or whatever. I told him I liked the LCD3 better. I surmise it is because I am a "gut" audiophile, I like the lower midrange, bass and lots of tone and texture. He is a "head" audiophile, he likes leading edges, wide soundstage and detail. He was really surprised that I liked the LCD3 better. Then, he tried to sell it to me, heh, heh.