Fidelis AV. Stein. Exemplar Audio.
Audio veteran Walter Swanbon, who owns and operates Fidelis AV in Derry, New Hampshire, always seems to have something new and exciting to show off at these events. The Kudos loudspeaker ($6500) is a sleek two-way that hails from the UK and is built by former NEAT speaker designer Derek Gilligan. Another interesting component from the UK was the Tellurium Q stereo amplifier ($8k). This full bodied and rich sounding Class-A design had the Kudos singing despite it modest 25 watts per channel rating. Trust me, the Tellurium Q sounded much more powerful than its specs. Digital was by way of the Bricasti M1 dual-mono DAC that's been getting rave reviews in the press. Setup was by Swanbon's longtime friend and audio guru Arthur Katsikas of Katiskas Technologies: a company that specializes in the reduction of RFI/EMI related noises.
This year, Swanbon unveiled this cool and funky looking two-piece DAC from Digital Iron Audio called the Numero Air (the bottom chassis is its power supply). Fully equipped to handle high-rez downloads, the Numero Air boasts S/PDIF, AES/EBU, USB and Optical digital inputs and has switchable upsampling capabilities. No price or official launch date has been determined but I found this to be quite an interesting and slick looking device. Stay tuned...
I wasn't the only person drawn to Swanbon's eccentric choice of electronics. Famous audio designer John Curl (above center) walks in demanding to hear the Stein Harmonizers which his long time friend Jack Bybee informed him of. Needless to say, after Curl met the man (Holger Stein) in the flesh (above left) and Larry Forbes (right) of Klee Acoustics Cables, did the real fun begin. Curl got a chance to personally hear what so many of us have been gushing over with regard to the Stein Harmonizers and Stones...
The remarkably talented jazz pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim's toe-tapping tune entitled Calypso Minor from his recently released Sotho Blue CD was used as an excellent choice for demo'ing the Stein boxes. After a short thirty-second intro, Stein removed the Harmonizers only (since the Stones were located in hard-to-reach spots). It took only a single A/B for Curl to hear the differences and according him "...they're not subtle. The soundstage, he says, collapsed!" Reinserting the four Harmonizers back into the corners of this smallish room brought back a sense of space and airiness that had many of us giddy upon our first encounter with the Stein Harmonizers. To his amazement, our own Mike Silverton had an up close and personal experience with these mighty devices (read his review here).
The Exemplar Audio electronics featured their model XPA1 300B SE mono amps (estimated around $10k) resting under ESS Stillpoints feet - and mounted directly on a ESS Stillpoints rack - sounded every bit as elegant as they looked. Designer John Tucker, also designed a test box enclosure for the excellent full-range, 5" Feastrex electro-driven driver (shown above). Tucker, also a great tweaker, modified that Oppo player (above left $3500) and produced some excellent sonic results at this year's show.
Also had the chance to meet Lena van der Schaaf and Wiebe Greydanus, designers of the Ziplex Resonant devices in the Exemplar/Still Points room. Our own Norm Luttbeg praised these devices highly in his review (here) while I concurred wholeheartedly. John Tucker says he regards them as indispensible and affordable acoustic treatments.
Von Gaylord, formally Legend Audio, produced a stellar sounding room once again this year. Those triode-based and pure Class-A -180 watt UNI KT-120 mono amps ($12k) - sang with their new Return of the Legend Mk IV loudspeakers ($13k) on Pyeng Threadgill's enchantingly sweet Wishing Well (from her Of The Air CD). These super charged 2-way monitors were stacked atop a pair of VG-1 Plus 10" subwoofers ($6k) which makes them look huge as compared to stand-mounted monitors are concerned. However, they mated seamlessly and I enjoyed the sonics as I had in previous years.
Always enjoy hearing running into Jim Aud of Purist Audio Designs and his daughter Kim. Once again, upon entering this rather large suite, I was romanced by the Stahl-Tek Vekian digital duo's dynamics and contrast heard through a pair of Peak Consult loudspeakers driven by a Vitus RI 100 Integrated. My only regret here was that I didn't stay long enough to hear my favorite Jim Aud song "House of the Rising Sun" by Charlie Byrd.
Finally got a chance to see and hear the George-Warren turntable our own Dave Thomas waxed poetic over in his review (here). Showing in the room also were a pair of very affordable Von Schweikert VR33 loudspeakers ($3750) and some Jolida tubed gear. Affordable but surprisingly rich and robust sounding. Kudos.
The PTE Phoenix is a self-powered audiophile-friendly loudspeaker whose designers obviously spent lots of time in recording studios. Ditto Antelope Audio's designer of the Zodiac Gold DAC/preamp/headphone amplifier($5k with separate power supply). Saw their pro wares at the Munich High End show last spring and came away very impressed. This company boasts having helped pioneer the "adoption of atomic clock generators in Audio Master Clocks." Keeping an eye out on these guys.