California Audio Show 2012 (CAS) By
This is the third California Audio Show to hit the San Francisco Bay area seen since that first show in 2010. This year's event was held from August 3rd thru August 5th, 2012, at the Crowne Plaza SFO. I have been lucky enough to have attended all three the first of which was held just a short drive across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco into Emeryville. Both the more recent events have taken place at the Crown Plaza SFO in Burlingame just a little ways south of San Francisco on the Peninsula. This show was put on thanks to the efforts of Constantine Soo (Publisher of DaGoGo) and sponsored by both The Absolute Sound and Stereophile.
The first two shows were attended by me purely for my own enjoyment, a very hedonistic mission for sure. You can see last year's coverage by Enjoy the Music.com writer Clarke Robinson at this link. This time my agenda was to cover the show for Enjoy the Music.com and its readers in an effort to share my passion for audio gear and music. That is of course the main reason for my writings. Lucky for me the show was only twenty minutes from my home. While most of my listening is normally done in the comfort and privacy of my home it certainly was nice to get out, meet people who share the same interests as I, talk to dealers, distributors and manufacturers' all while enjoying music in a group setting rather than alone. It is only at shows where I get to see the reactions from a large audience of people, not just my family or close circle of friends to find out what people of different backgrounds, age groups etc. enjoy. So for me this was an education of sorts and I would like to thank all who attended (as well as those who put on the show) for lessons learned.
Getting there right when the doors first opened my feet immediately scurried over to the Blue Moon Audio room to visit Len Kinsey. Blue Moon Audio located in Pacifica California, is where I hang out weekly sharing a cup of coffee, talking audio, relaxing and just listening to music with the owner Len, occasionally his wife and even Buffy their dog. Len brought with him the Tannoy Westminister SE loudspeakers ($35,000 a pair) weighing in at 304 lbs each with a 98dB/W/m sensitivity rating. They looked gorgeous and are quite rare to find so if you get a chance to hear them please do. As their web site states, "The 15" Dual Concentric drive unit incorporates an Alnico magnet system with an integral computer designed and manufactured reverse throat high frequency Pepper Pot Wave Guide for exceptional transient response and increased sensitivity. A hard edge' cone surround and unique chassis earthing system deliver tight, fast and controlled bass with fluid and transparent midrange and high frequency performance of great purity."
Driving them were two Cary Audio SA-500.1 monoblock solid-state amplifiers ($4995 each) with a rated power output of 1 x 500 watts @ 8 Ohms. Of course they were paired with Cary's SLP-05 two chassis preamplifier ($7995) and 303TSACD Professional Version CD player ($6495). Most of the music though was provided from a Linn Klimax DS Music Streamer ($20,700). Power conditioning was by Furman with cabling thanks to Kimber Kable. Having heard the Westminster's before back at Lens store they sounded altogether different in this large suite where the sound could expand filling that larger room with lifelike music. Music sounding quite natural and organic coupled with an expansive soundscape made for a place I would visit numerous times to just sit back and "Enjoy the Music".
Deciding to hit all the larger suites first, next up on my list was a visit to the Music Lovers Audio room (with store locations in San Francisco and Berkeley California). There I ran into Garth Leerer President of Musical Surroundings of Oakland California. Garth is always helpful and a great guy in fact he sold me my Aesthetic Calypso linestage preamplifier. While there I got to enjoy Wilson Audio's Alexandria XLF loudspeakers ($199,500 per pair) and Wilson's Thor's Hammer Subwoofer ($21,500), driven by VTL Siegfried Series II Reference monoblock amplifiers ($65,000 per pair), VTL TL7.5 Series III Reference line preamplifier ($8500) feed by the dCS Scarlatti digital playback system ($80,000) and the AMG Viella W turntable with 12J2 tonearm ($16,500 with the wood trim $1500 less without) mounted with a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge ($15,000).
There was approximately $90,000 worth of Transparent Audio Opus cables and power conditioning as well as HRSSXR Audio racks ($25,000). If you ever wanted to experience some earth shaking bass this was just the room to attend. Not that it lacked finesse, clarity or spaciousness for it had them all in abundance but that bass felt so good. Last year the room was amazing this year it stepped up another notch, very impressive indeed.
Now what would a show be without a room to display MBL products. Their rooms are known to produce some of the finest sounds around and today would be no exception. Not only did they look and sound wonderful but also came in one of my favorite colors, white. I am a fan of having things a little different, give me white, yellow, red etc. and it puts a smile on my face. Good news, custom colors and finishes are available upon request at an additional cost. As you can see from the pictures the room was setup with two different systems at varying price points. The Corona Line being the least expense and the Reference Lineup filled with the big guns. The Corona series system consisted of the mbl Radialstrahler 120 loudspeakers ($21,400 a pair) and matching stands ($1630 per pair). CDs were played through their C31 model ($9200) with amplification heard from the C32 Stereo Power Amplifier ($9200). The preamplifier in use was their model C11 (with remote control of course) for $8800. For a total system price of $50,230 ($48,600 without matching loudspeaker stands) it was a relative bargain. I mean there are turntables alone that sell for more, without a cartridge. Think about it. If you feel the need to save some more, yet stay within the MBL family you might think to try the C51 integrated amplifier ($11,100) instead of going separate amplifier/preamplifier. That would bring down the total system price down to $41,700 without matching stands or $43,300 with. While not a formal review, timbre accuracy, layering, texture, dynamics all were in line with a system in this price range, that is to say they were excellent.
Of course if you have the need to take it even further there is mbl's Reference Lineup. That system consists of 101 E MK11 Radialstrahler loudspeakers ($70,500 a pair), two 9011 power amplifiers ($53,000 each), a 1621 A CD transport ($28,000), model 1611 F D/A Converter ($28,700) and their 6010 D preamplifier ($26,500). Total system price $259,700. Of course neither setup takes into account cost of power conditioning, cables, stands, etc... For me most of my time was spent listening to the very revealing Corona system where I was quite happy indeed both in terms of price and in sound quality. Still if you have the money, the Reference System is obviously the way to go.