California Audio Show 4 (2013) – A Visit with my Camerman

This past Saturday, I sent my fierce Corgi out to hunt for the California Audio Show:

corgi_hunting

Ah – there it is – the lovely Westin Hotel:

the_westin

This time, I went with my trusty camera man in tow, so I have a few photos to share. My usual gripes about audio shows aside, I had a fun time and would recommend this show to locals.

OK, I just love the look of the Sonus Faber Olympica loudspeakers. This is a new line of speakers that made their debut a few months ago in Munich, and here is the Olympica 1 stand mount speaker, what a beauty!

olympica1_2

olympica1_1

This is just a gorgeous gorgeous speaker, with solid walnut wood for the top and bottom, stitched leather on top, and leather covered baffle and rear, and a swoopy, curvy lyre shape that is a Sonus Faber signature. You can read more about them on the Sonus Faber site: http://www.sonusfaber.com/en-us/products/olympica-i.

I was told the speakers will have a retail price (in the USA) of $6,500, and another $1,200 for the matching aluminum stands. Pretty pricey in my book, but oh, they are lovely. Now value in high end audio is something of an iffy proposition, and given the high quality materials, limited production, and relatively costly Italian craftsmanship, others may perhaps view these as reasonable. For me, I feel confident that, if given the components (drivers, crossovers) of the SF speakers, I could make an externally plain box (but with interior complications and lots of bracing) that would sound quite similar, but it wouldn’t look this good! Seriously, it is hard for me to imagine that a fairly small 2-way loudspeaker with stands could be worth nearly $8K sonically – each speaker has a single 6″ paper (“cellulose”) cone woofer, and a more or less conventional tweeter. In my opinion, and based on my recent experience with DIY loudspeakers, it’s hard for me to justify such stratospheric prices when I can build something like a monitor version of Troels Gravesen’s Seas CNO for under $2K /pair even factoring in high end Excel drivers from Seas, paying a cabinet maker, and using top quality plywood, damping, and crossover components.

How did the Olympica I sound? Not sure, to be honest. They were being demoed with some techno music “noise” – I wonder what Franco Serblin (RIP) would have thought of such a choice of music for his brand. How can one judge the naturalness of speakers playing loud synthesized techno music? The one impression I had was that, on the one hand, the speakers made a lot of sound and bass for their size and relatively small woofers, but it wasn’t my idea of good bass, it was “impressive for a little speaker” bass, if that makes sense. I wish the demo had been better.

What else was disappointing? I had my first listen to the Wilson Audio Duette 2s, and they are, to me, an even worse offender when it comes to value, approaching nearly $20K with their matching stands. How did they sound in the demo room to me? Well they played loud, they did sound “big”, but the bass was boomy, and the sound was not natural. Another disappointment in my view was a pair of A Capella horn speakers with a fancy plasma tweeter. The sound was overly bright/harsh, and I can’t imagine that having a large midrange horn in front of a tweeter doesn’t cause all sorts of diffraction problems.

BTW, if you disagree with my opinions, well, that’s fine. If something does sound good at a show, I take that as a positive sign. If it doesn’t sound good, well, could be the room, could be the demo recording, could be the pairing of the equipment, and so on, I can only give my impressions, and I think it’s useful perhaps to read a different point of view to the professional sites where critical comments are less common.

Ok, so what did sound good at the Show? One of the best sounding rooms was from Music First Audio, they have a “transformer passive preamplifier” and were playing an analog reel-to-reel tape with Audio Note loudspeakers, the volume was reasonable, the recording was excellent, a very good sounding room! And I heard a demo of Vivid Audio Giya speakers – they sorta look like huge Hershey’s kisses, the sound was excellent, clearly a few notches above my home system in terms of dynamics and clarity at higher volumes.

One room that impressed me with good sound for a more down to earth price was a demo of AudioPhysic Classic 20 loudspeakers powered by Nait XS2 integrated amplifier. The AudioPhysic speakers are slender 3 way towers with side-mounted woofers, I don’t recall exact pricing but somewhere between $4-$5k, and the Nait XS2 is around $2,500, downright reasonable compared with some rooms where the price of the components exceeds the cost of many houses in the USA.

I want to mention a few turn-offs. The show was not very friendly for young folks. My teenage son desperately wanted to hear “his” music instead of classical or older pop/rock. What is his music? Nothing too unusual for today’s teenagers – he’s a bit eclectic, but as a random sampling of things he’s played for me, he’ll listen to Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, and so on. In the majority of rooms, nothing remotely like his music was being played. Finally, we arrived at a demo room, the host asked what we wanted to hear, my son, seeing his playlist, said “Coldplay” and then the host  proceeded to play something else – hello – he asked for Coldplay! Folks in the audio industry, if you are reading this, the teenagers don’t have the money to buy now, but if you want them to become interested in audio, make the show more accessible to them!

The best part of the show for him – the big room with all the headphones and headphone amplifiers. We visited our friends at Woo Audio, they again had the lovely fireflies amplifier:

fireflies

And here’s the trusty camerman enjoying the sound of Sennheiser HD800 headphones:

sennheiser

One more cool thing – I saw and heard Mr. Speakers headphones featuring a headcup that was made by a 3-D printer.

I prefer speakers to headphones, but no question, the biggest bang for the buck for good sound are headphones – get something like the Sennheiser HD800 and the Woo Audio fireflies amplifier, pair with your laptop computer, great sound!

Thanks for reading…

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