Stereophile|September 2021


Jim Austin

The first post-pandemic audio show was The Home Entertainment Show in Long Beach, California, which took place June 11–13.

In the months leading up to this show, I wondered why they hadn’t canceled it: It seemed too soon. Then, in late spring, the pandemic was abating. More people were vaccinated. Case rates were dropping fast. I decided, yes, the time was right. I congratulated Emiko Carlin, the show’s coordinator, for her good judgment.

Among the fully vaccinated was Jason Victor Serinus; he lived closest to the show and was eager to go back out into the Big World.

Big world, small show: Carlin said the show counted 1416 visitors. And yet, on Saturday, most rooms were full all day; some were packed even on Sunday, subject to social-distancing protocols. “I hope these show reports convey how good the majority of exhibits sounded,” Jason wrote in his show summary.

The room sponsored by Sunil Merchant’s Sunny Components of Covina, California, featured some seriously high-end equipment. From CH Precision came the M 1.1 amplifier ($54,000/pair) (2), L1 line preamplifier ($34,500), P1 phono stage ($31,000), and the X1 external power supply, which powered the phono pre and linestage. Wadax sent the Atlantis Reference DAC ($145,000) and Reference Streamer ($67,000) (3); the styling of the CH Precision and Wadax gear made for quite a contrast. From Stenheim came the big, new Ultime Two loudspeaker ($150,000/pair) (4). The presentation, Jason wrote, was, in many respects, “mind-blowing.”

Also notable was the US return of Italy’s Zingali Acoustics; their high-sensitivity Twenty 1.2 EVO Thirtieth Anniversary Edition loudspeakers ($21,045/pair in walnut) were on audition. (5) “Sweetened by Cary Audio’s 27Wpc CAD-805 RS single-ended triode monoblocks ($15,995/pair) with a host of new, old, and NOS tubes and a Cary SLP-98P preamplifier ($4995) with Tung Sol tubes from the 1940s,” Jason wrote, “the sound was magical.”

Also sounding gorgeous, in the Cake Audio room, were the Alsyvox Botticelli ribbon loudspeakers ($92,000/pair + $30,000 for the optional external crossovers) powered by a Vitus SS-103 stereo amplifier ($40,000). On the Oistrakh/Rostropovich/Richter Triple Concerto, Jason found the interplay of violin and cello “truly heavenly.”

Also making beautiful music at the show were the Audiovector R 8 Arreté loudspeakers—see p.38 in this issue for my full review. And in the Lone Mountain Audio room, the ATC SCM100ASLT Active Driver Tower loudspeaker ($50,999/pair as equipped, at right in the photo) was making JVS “feel ridiculous sitting quietly … taking notes, when everything you hear declares, ‘Get up and dance!’” (6)

In the PBN room, the huge MR!777 speakers ($85,000) with PBN electronics sounded lovely when they weren’t blowing the doors off their hinges—which, in fairness, they were quite capable of doing without losing their composure. (7)

We also learned from the show that in the coming months and years, E.A.R. plans to release several components designed by the late Tim de Paravicini. Something to look forward to. On display was the E.A.R. Phono Classic phono stage, the replacement for the truly classic E.A.R. 834P, displayed with the new Dhara loudspeakers (price TBD) and Purna/Ma amplifier ($8950) from PranaFidelity.

I wish I had more room to write about this first post-pandemic show, but I’m out of column-inches.


Herb Reichert

The most exotic excitements of audiophile audio are not found in the million-dollar rooms at prestigious audio shows, or upscale audio salons, or Sunday afternoon audio society meetings. The real action takes place late nights in basement workshops, over lunch at a Paris café, or in sleeping rooms at hotels such as New York’s Ace Hotel, where Stereophile Technical Editor John Atkinson and I attended a top-secret “sneak preview” of Audeze’s soon-to-be-released CRBN electrostatic headphone.

It was 11am and 95° outside when Audeze Audio’s Sankar Thiagasamudram met us in Ace’s dark lobby. Upstairs, we met Audeze’s Chris Berens and Nicholas Tolson of Linear Tube Audio; they were setting up in a sleeping room decorated with Pendleton blankets, an antique wood ironing board, a vintage Gibson guitar, and a Music Hall turntable. We took our seats on 1950s office chairs.

In 2016, Audeze was approached by researchers from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and industrial designers from BoomBang for help designing a headphone that would work inside MRI machines.

MRI machines expose patients to intense magnetic fields. They sound like a ton of bolts slamming against a steel drum. During scans, patients must remain still, but panic attacks are common, and patient-operator communication is difficult at best.

The design brief for the headphones included noise cancelation and a microphone for patient-operator communication. The headphone and its cables had to be invisible to the scanner.

The MRI’s magnetic field ruled out the use of ferrous metals and other magnetic materials. Even copper wire was off-limits. Audeze used fiberoptics and developed a polymer-film diaphragm that embeds carbon nanotubes within a thin film. According to Sankar, this technology yields uniform conductivity and full MRI compatibility.

Audeze is known for making audiophile-grade planar-magnetic headphones, but this intense research yielded electrostatic headphones—two of them. One is for the MRI; the other is for audiophiles and is fully compatible with Stax five-pin energizers.

The audiophile CRBN will cost $4500 without a power supply and is scheduled to appear in August. I’ll provide a full CRBN exposé (along with another top-secret Audeze headphone unveiling) in a Gramophone Dreams column, coming soon.


Jim Austin

Between 1960 and 2002, Leo L. Beranek conducted interviews and made questionnaire surveys of more than 150 conductors, music critics, and concert aficionados in an effort to determine how well-known concert halls rank acoustically. Fifty-eight halls were ranked, and the results were published in 2003. More recently, Magne Skålevik did something similar using an online questionnaire.

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