Sunday, June 1, 2014

Newport Beach T.H.E. Show Ratings

[within classes, ordered by preference, Class A is the best available period]

Class A

MBL Extreme system, 4 MBL amps, 6 MBL subwoofers, MBL Preamp, UHA tape deck
(Mind blowing.  I listened to this system for a total of 6 hours during two evenings without fatigue. They had evening demonstrations after 8pm on Friday and Saturday.  I got the sweet spot on Friday evening and was in heaven.  I moved around in the back on Saturday and full stereo wasn't as good as my own system off axis, but that was mostly because of all the people in front taller than me.  Transparency, clarity, dynamics, power, freedom from noise and distortion, this system has all I look for.)

MBL Extreme

U.H.A tape deck and MBL electronics

4 MBL monoblock amplifiers

One of several room tuning devices (against wall)

[At 2009 CES show, I heard two Class A systems, the Force dipole line source speakers from Perfect 8 with Bridge amplifiers, in the same price range as MBL Extremes, and a demonstration of actual "safety" master tapes played by the Hollywood recording engineer who made them--he refused to identify loudspeakers.  None of the 2009 Las Vegas T.H.E. show exhibits were Class A, except for my last brief encounter with the late James Bongiorno.]

[I rate my living room system as Class A- on good days, Class B on lousy days, depending on music, media, and minor setup details like chair position.  I combine line source electrostatic full range electrostats with ribbon omnidirectional super tweeters and massive subs--that's not all that different in concept from speakers like The Force.  I continue to believe that for the very best sound, you have to break away from the box speakers--though box speakers can be quite good.  I need more work on room and speaker integration---but what I've already done with time delay correction and minor eq is not too bad.]

Class B+

Yg Speakers, Kronos Turntable
(totl Kronos may be best turntable I've ever heard.  Both quiet and dynamic.  Brubeck played with jaws dropping and total silence from listeners.)

Class B

German Physiks speakers

Exceedingly transparent, great bass, good sound off axis

Usher Speakers, Usher Subs, Pass Labs X and XA Amps
(excellent but lacking ultimate deep bass)

Usher speakers and subs, Pass X and XA amps

Von Schweikert VR100 XS  (lacking only ultimate deep bass, and often played too loud)

Wilson Sasha, Audio Research Electronics, guided by famous recording engineer who always set levels perfectly, playback used Amarra but set levels via Audio Research preamp)

Walker Proscenium Turntable, Pass Labs 300 Xs Amps
(Totally quiet, non-resonant, and perfect decay of notes, but seemingly lacking leading transient dynamics.  Makes me think that other belt drive tables, like Linn Sondek, use resonance to add pseudo dynamics, and this is why Linn has only slowly adopted anti-resonance features which many people, including me, thought they should have had in the beginning.  Unfortunately with total resonance control like Walker Proscenium, belt drive can lack dynamic sound.  One anomaly in this hypothesis is how the Walker presented the decay of sounds perfectly.  One would think that if heavy platter belt drives had a problem with dynamics it would show up mostly in the decay of sounds, not in the leading transients.  Perhaps the Walker is the one that actually reads records correctly, and all other turntables with more assertive dynamics editorialize.  Also the speakers in the Walker demo did not look impressive and I only heard two scratchy classical chamber music album sides, perhaps not good enough for fair assessment.  And the only turntable I clearly liked better is the Kronos.  A friend argues that the Kronos is wrong and the Walker is right.  So I've moved this up to Class B.)

Class C+ or better (room issues prevented higher rating)

Magico Speakers (the big ones), VAC electronics, Tape
(room had echoes and weird imaging, phasey sound.  Can't fully judge speakers therefore.  Room had buzz from AC--needed to remove heat from the massive VAC amps.   But Kraftwork tapes had massive and effortless slam, best slam I've heard outside the MBL Extremes.  You might not expect massive slam from tube amps, but these looked as big as the MBL mono blocks--picture from back of room doesn't do them justice.)

Magico speakers, VAC amps, Tape

Big Mac Amps
(Massive sound, but somewhat lacking HF detail compared with D'Agostino amps)

Class C

(most other systems I heard)

Class C-

Audio Note System

E.A.R System

(both E.A.R. and Audio Note systems sounded harsh, though at least Audio Note had high resolution from ladder dac.  I've never heard good sounding SET's, they have always sound harsh to me.  Push pull tube amplifiers always sound fine to me, but not necessarily better than transistor amps.)

Class D

MBL surround system (and for that matter, ALL surround systems I've heard)
   no real imaging...all I heard was nearest speakers

Class F

Sound Reinforcement at T.H.E. live concert

*************************** End of Ratings

Special Mention

Believed to be Class A:  MSB DAC's....possibly best sounding DACs,  better resolution that sigma delta DACs.  The sound was highly resolved, but speakers+amplification+room were only Class C+, so hard to judge.  I have noticed this pattern before, people who make some super expensive component often pair it with cheap stuff in demos.

Disagreed with

Michael Fremer...who said that Quad DSD is identical to tape (nb, I haven't heard quad dsd), that DSD is better than PCM, and that DSD files are superior to SACD, all wrong IMO.  DSD at all speeds is inferior to R2R decoded Redbook CD on principles, and I have never heard either SACD or DSD to sound better than PCM, or DSD files to sound better than SACD discs.  Furthermore, the DSD bandwagon has destroyed the market for real PCM dacs since cannot economically keep up with inferior sigma delta DACS at increasingly higher speeds.  However MSB does offer 2x DSD with their ladder dacs, a great technical achievement.  DSD is a sorry legacy of Sony's "leadership" in digital, which took a wrong turn with sigma delta converters, leading to DSD

[Updated last on June 19, mainly adding pictures.]

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