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Positive Feedback ISSUE 25


Home Entertainment Show 2006 in Los Angeles
by Larry Cox

I only occasionally read—and even less frequently post—on Audio Asylum, which seems to me to be a sniper's palace full of unwarranted or misplaced suspicion and disjunctive communication. Aside from the medical reasons, there are explanations for such mindsets. One is that each of us has a different experience of music. We hear and listen differently. It is also very rare—if in fact it ever happens—that we listen to the same music through the same system, so it's not surprising that we disagree. Going to an event like Primedia's Home Entertainment Show allows you to hear systems that others have reported upon, and allows the audiophile community an opportunity to compare our experiences to those of others. I had not intended to write about HES 2006 because the coverage was so extensive, but the reports I read did not reflect my experience of the show, so I decided to write about the rooms that lit my candle. The following should be taken only as the expression of my personal experience.

The Zu room had pretty good sound. I had brought a boogie-woogie instrumental (Lee Roy Parnell's "Mama, Screw Your Wig On Tight") and a vocal piece (Pepé and the Bottle Blondes' "Unnamed") for system testing. The tonality was pretty full, but there was an ever-so-slight reticence and a slight veiling in the lower treble. Although I had heard this same veiling from the Zu Druids at Francisco Duran's house, I found that I could listen through it, and that happened at the show as well. I find myself at odds with other writers' rhapsodic trillings about the Zu Druids and the Definitions, but for the money, they remain quite recommendable.

I've never been a Von Schweikert fan, as I find that their speakers have a ringing sound that I can't listen through, but at HES, a pair of Von Schweikert speakers powered by Channel Islands gear sounded very nice, with a musical sound that I could easily live with.

The Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers, at a "mere" $3600, were pretty amazing, with deep, tight bass. The speakers sounded fast, with no overhang, and did I mention that the bass was tight, tight, tight? When I was in the room, they were playing a percussion piece that reminded me of the Dafos LP of years gone by—a fun piece, but one that caters to the worst in audiophiles and completely misses a music lover's sensibilities. Still, the sound was awesome, yet musical. The Adagios break sound and price barriers.

The Rives Audio/Real Traps rooms (there were two, both with identical systems—one treated, one not) amply demonstrated the effects of room treatment. The untreated room sounded okay, though not anything to write home about. Moving into the treated room was a delight. There was more midrange clarity, more bottom end foundation, and an ever-so-slight sweetening of the overall sound. This dual exhibit underscored the importance of the room in the sound of an audio system. While listening in the treated room, I realized that room treatment would be a worthwhile sonic upgrade at my house, but might end happy relations with my wife. So it goes.

VTL electronics and Raidho speakers filled a huge room. The beautifully finished speakers were fast, and they disappeared despite being over six feet tall. The system was a bit analytical for my taste, but it provided an in-the-original-acoustic experience. The finish of the speakers was excellent, and their beauty made their size seem a little less threatening.

The Wavac/Acapella/Einstein room sounded quite good. The very large Acapella speakers are beautiful enough to allow them space in a room dedicated to things other than listening. The sound was very nice, but lacked that "in the recorded acoustic" sort of transparency. Some of the excellence of this room can probably be placed at the feet of the very expensive Isoclean products.

The most surprising discovery of the show for me was the Odyssey Audio room. The sound was really remarkable, though not as refined or sweet sounding as I'd like, given the price of the system. For about $7000, you can have what most non-audiophiles would consider a state-of-the-art system that could fill a barn with undistorted sound. Odyssey also offers a twenty-year warranty, and that's very attractive. I'll be writing about their new, $1000 tube line stage, built in the United States.

Also in the Odyssey room, I was struck by the marvelous "art" speakers made by Picture Art Systems. These speakers are three to five inches deep, and hang on your wall like a picture. You can purchase the speakers with pictures chosen from PAS' somewhat limited selection, or provide JPG files and they'll produce speakers with your own images on them. Pretty cool!

I own a pair of the fabulous GamuT Audio L5 speakers. GamuT was showing with their new DI-150 integrated amp and CD-3 CD player. The sound was very similar to what I get at home, with less of the silkiness I get from my tube amps, but remarkable nonetheless.

My favorite rooms included the one put together by the LA store, Acoustic Image. Store proprietor Elliott Midwood was getting suave, detailed, powerful, and delicate sound with ESP loudspeakers, Wavestream Kinetics V-8 amplifiers, a Lector CD player, and a Brinkman Balance turntable. Elliott is a music lover and part-time musician, which may account for the delicious sound. Boy, those ESPs are big for speakers that do delicacy so well.

Also melting my audiophile shell, and allowing my inner music lover to emerge, was the Combak Reimyo setup. Though the Bravo speakers are small, they filled the room with dulcet tones and a sense of being in the original acoustic. Fabulous sound in a bedroom-sized room.

In my opinion, the best sound at the show was produced by what may be my favorite speakers—the Venture Audio speakers from Belgium. These $57,000 speakers are beautiful, and quite large, but delivered the most beguiling sound I've ever heard. These magnificent speakers warrant broader availability for the few that can afford them. No doubt the $50,000 worth of Concert Fidelity electronics and $20,000 worth of Esoteric and Weiss Medea digital gear had an impact on the sound quality.