Incredible Shrinking California Audio Show 2019

cjfrbw

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
2,358
133
63
Pleasanton, CA
#1
Went to the Incredible Shrinking California Audio Show 2019 yesterday.

Getting smaller, but still, some delectable items on the sonic menu.

No pix from me, everybody can get those with commentary at Jack Robert’s site Audio Beatnik:

https://theaudiobeatnik.com/california-audio-show-2019-day-1-pictures

Favorite Sound: Audio Federation:
Screen Shot 2019-07-28 at 3.01.25 PM.png


Very mellow for big horns, maybe slightly tilted down and slightly dark, However those happen to be my tastes. Kind of like 90’s Koetsu sound: you need a couple of moments to let your self sink into it and then, seduction.

The speakers were an education in dynamic scaling. I had to un-kink my mind a bit from listening to other systems and re-adjust to it. Some guys talk about ‘ease’ from megawatt amplifiers, but this arrangement did not distinguish between soft and loud, all the same, all rendered with the same ease and articulation with every soft shadow in between. A massive drum set would come out of right field like a shock wave, then a vocal, then a startling harmony over. Yup, horns 'n tubes again.

So, there are things the rich can bask in with exclusivity and elan if this is one of the ways you can get it. High power not necessary, looked like about 16 to 20 watts per channel with 300b. (Caveat, I am sure that the woofers and ion tweeter consume a good bit of power for their frequency ranges).

There were many other excellent sounding systems that I liked. The Pi Voxative Pure Audio Project with 2A3 Whammerdyne again, bliss.

Sound Lab magnificent as usual, dynamics belying electrostatics with a solid state amplifier I have never heard of: Bricasti Audio. I still like OTL tubed Sound Labs better, sorry Bricasti, but it was still wonderful.

Voxativ did a turn at the affordable with an incredible sounding mini-system consisting of just small full range monitors with a customized amp/upscaling dac/streamer called an Absolut Box. Holger Adler was there in the flesh. Surprisingly.

Voxativ has managed to bring German brains and craftsmanship (usually always uber expensive) with the full monte in at under 10k in the smallest system and it is very much anti-suck. 95db efficient

Holger has defeated the usual full range ‘squawk’ customarily heard in the upper midrange of most full range speakers and with his Japanese calligraphy paper cones turn it into musically related texture. The Voxativ speakers sound fantastic with tubes but also mate well with his customized solid state solution for his smallest systems.

Our own AstroToy (Larry) gave an outstanding seminar illustrating live why tape is still the best source, with Martin Logan speakers and Doshi electronics, complete with Doshi, himself. Larry’s fanatical tape journey is worth a long article, if not a book. Sound, as expected, was amazing, so turn green with envy, all you audio impoverished vinyl only guys.

The small Focal speakers sounded good until dynamics made them congeal a bit. I think for mini’s, the Voxativs were better. However, they were played with Naim electronics and I was surprised to hear them sounding very good. Several years ago, this SF parlor had some Naim stuff that scoured my ears out of the room

Biggest surprise: Marchand room with some incredible sounding speakers called Bernhagen Porter. These speakers aren’t cheap, but they are top performers embarrassed by none.

So a small but very tasty show for an afternoon. Opinions are my own, and of course, may be different from other listeners who are free to batter me with invective and contempt.
 
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bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#2
Sad show, really. I was in and out in 4 hours.

Some drive by commentary:

I told my friends that either the Acapella or the Martin Logan rooms would win best in show. But I didn't find either particularly impressive.

Screenshot_20190728-202813.png

I'd agree that these horns are mellow. They don't project and they don't present nearly as big a scale as 8 foot tall floorstanders should. Like most horns I've ever heard, they also lacked detail. Maybe the AN chain is veiled. But I'd hope not, looking at it's price sheet.

Screenshot_20190728-213759.png

On the positive side, bass was good and timber wasn't off as horn timber can be.
 

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#3
Martin Logan, Studer, Doshi.

Screenshot_20190728-233404.png

Sorry, but I just don't like estats. I've always tried to, but haven't ever succeeded. And here again, the plastic sounding guitar strings drove me crazy. Listening to the Studer was cool and all, but it just couldn't hold my attention long enough to hang around. I kept thinking "why couldn't they have used Magicos even!?"
 

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#4
I guess if I had to pick a favorite, it'd be the Bricasti room. It was well set up and had a very 3D soundstage compared to most other rooms which presented as a wall of sound. The M21 would be a great DAC in a simple DAC/amp system without a preamp. It had an analog-like sound that was immersive, engaging, but was slightly polite. The room was crowded for the entire day on Friday.

Screenshot_20190729-070502.png
 
Likes: mountainjoe

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#6
The Tidal 3-ways in the pic were in need of being moved. Doug was hinting at a nice discount being available.

As far as the DAC, I still see the M1 being better value and excellent sound. If for some reason one has a strong preference for and a large collection of DSD content, then I could see the M21 coming in to play but the price delta is 2x. And DSD remains questionable.
 
#7
Sad show, really. I was in and out in 4 hours.

Some drive by commentary:

I told my friends that either the Acapella or the Martin Logan rooms would win best in show. But I didn't find either particularly impressive.



I'd agree that these horns are mellow. They don't project and they don't present nearly as big a scale as 8 foot tall floorstanders should. Like most horns I've ever heard, they also lacked detail. Maybe the AN chain is veiled. But I'd hope not, looking at it's price sheet.



On the positive side, bass was good and timber wasn't off as horn timber can be.
Glad you liked the bass [let's hear it for SET amp bass! certainly my favorite] and timber.

First time we've heard the 'not big enough scale for 8 footers' for the Campaniles... Not sure what to say... (!)

But, and I am not sure why or how horn speakers get lumped together w/r to detail but we hear this sometimes w/r to the Acapella ION Tweeters [they work by modulating a spark / plasma and so are massless]. Most (all?) other tweeters have an edge to them with a artificial effect that can be used to judge resolution / detail by mentally listening to how many edges/second it generates. By this measure, real music and the ION tweeters have no resolution - since there are none of these edges to outline each detail.

We hear the same comments sometimes w/r to detail with Audio Note U.K. DACs as well, though this year we went with EMM Labs at the show [with the spectrum from edgeless resolution to edge-highlighted detail something like AN --> Lampizator --> EMM Labs -> DCS -> Esoteric .... YMMV]. Nothing wrong with preferring the details to have an edge to them - it is entertaining, at least I find it so - though some think the prevalence of this kind of sound these last few decades is why our industry currently fairs so poorly among the general public .
 
#8
Went to the Incredible Shrinking California Audio Show 2019 yesterday.

Getting smaller, but still, some delectable items on the sonic menu.

No pix from me, everybody can get those with commentary at Jack Robert’s site Audio Beatnik:

https://theaudiobeatnik.com/california-audio-show-2019-day-1-pictures

Favorite Sound: Audio Federation:
View attachment 55260


Very mellow for big horns, maybe slightly tilted down and slightly dark, However those happen to be my tastes. Kind of like 90’s Koetsu sound: you need a couple of moments to let your self sink into it and then, seduction.

The speakers were an education in dynamic scaling. I had to un-kink my mind a bit from listening to other systems and re-adjust to it. Some guys talk about ‘ease’ from megawatt amplifiers, but this arrangement did not distinguish between soft and loud, all the same, all rendered with the same ease and articulation with every soft shadow in between. A massive drum set would come out of right field like a shock wave, then a vocal, then a startling harmony over. Yup, horns 'n tubes again.

So, there are things the rich can bask in with exclusivity and elan if this is one of the ways you can get it. High power not necessary, looked like about 16 to 20 watts per channel with 300b. (Caveat, I am sure that the woofers and ion tweeter consume a good bit of power for their frequency ranges).

There were many other excellent sounding systems that I liked. The Pi Voxative Pure Audio Project with 2A3 Whammerdyne again, bliss.

Sound Lab magnificent as usual, dynamics belying electrostatics with a solid state amplifier I have never heard of: Bricasti Audio. I still like OTL tubed Sound Labs better, sorry Bricasti, but it was still wonderful.

Voxativ did a turn at the affordable with an incredible sounding mini-system consisting of just small full range monitors with a customized amp/upscaling dac/streamer called an Absolut Box. Holger Adler was there in the flesh. Surprisingly.

Voxativ has managed to bring German brains and craftsmanship (usually always uber expensive) with the full monte in at under 10k in the smallest system and it is very much anti-suck. 95db efficient

Holger has defeated the usual full range ‘squawk’ customarily heard in the upper midrange of most full range speakers and with his Japanese calligraphy paper cones turn it into musically related texture. The Voxativ speakers sound fantastic with tubes but also mate well with his customized solid state solution for his smallest systems.

Our own AstroToy (Larry) gave an outstanding seminar illustrating live why tape is still the best source, with Martin Logan speakers and Doshi electronics, complete with Doshi, himself. Larry’s fanatical tape journey is worth a long article, if not a book. Sound, as expected, was amazing, so turn green with envy, all you audio impoverished vinyl only guys.

The small Focal speakers sounded good until dynamics made them congeal a bit. I think for mini’s, the Voxativs were better. However, they were played with Naim electronics and I was surprised to hear them sounding very good. Several years ago, this SF parlor had some Naim stuff that scoured my ears out of the room

Biggest surprise: Marchand room with some incredible sounding speakers called Bernhagen Porter. These speakers aren’t cheap, but they are top performers embarrassed by none.

So a small but very tasty show for an afternoon. Opinions are my own, and of course, may be different from other listeners who are free to batter me with invective and contempt.
Thanks, CJ.

Maybe I should mention that the speakers were on -1 w/r to the midrange settings [there are separate binding posts or +/- 1 and +/- 2 and 0]. Hermann, the co-founder, did this and it was his judgement call this year to play it with the midrange a little more laid back than what we have here [in our extremely live listening room!]. At shows, it is often good to play it safe - never want to sound bright, attendees ears are often overwhelmed by all the stimulation as it is.

Oh, and I also thought the little Voxative speakers/system rocked! Something like $6K for the speakers and $3K for the system. Recorded this at 24x96... video forthcoming.
 
Last edited:

cjfrbw

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
2,358
133
63
Pleasanton, CA
#9
One of my problems in listening to audio show sound is that my brain is like an old CRT tube, burned in with logos and etches from my own system. I like to listen a lot to a few systems to allow my brain to re-boot to the new sound, rather than do too much superficial sampling. With my pre-dispositions, I often anticipate things that are not there, and hear strange things that are.

I have found that many times 'better' is so unfamiliar, I have to allow some time and re-orientation before being able to actually appreciate it aka I try to stay humble and non-judgmental. I also learn things at every show and have my expectations turned upside down even after decades of being an audiophile.

The Audio Federation setup indeed sounded a little flat with whatever material was playing when I first went in. However, the speakers did scale immensely with more varied source material, all the way out the the corners of the room with unmitigated dynamics when called for, and the vividness increased. I approved of whatever tilted down setting was used because I could sink into the sound better. Again, that is nothing more than that it agreed with my tastes.

So, horses for courses, I am sure there are better ears than mine that can finesse distractions from the various speaker types and setups. However, the last three years of favorite rooms for me at CAS have been high efficiency speakers and SET tubes.
 
Jul 30, 2019
1
1
3
55
#10
Yes, the Bricasti stuff is fantastic. I have an M1 LE DAC and have borrowed an M15 amp.
That's an Ampex ATR-102 open reel tape deck with the Martin Logan speakers.
And to cjfrbw, nice to have ones work recognized (David Bernhagen and Lyle Porter).
 
Likes: bazelio

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#11
My bad on the tape deck. Sure looks like the Studer to me.

On the Acapellas, I texted @KeithR from the show telling him they sounded better than last year. He was pretty surprised by my change of tune on these horns, knowing how I reviewed them last year. Maybe the EMM is to thank for that. What is interesting about AN is that I think they do make some superb parts. I've heard amps with their OPTs vs other OPTs for example, and the AN OPTs are excellent. Their electronic components, such as caps, are likewise very good. But I just have not yet heard a full AN system that brings it all together and sounds good. Instead, the AN experience is always midfi for me. I think the lack of midrange detail is something I generally correlate with the horn listening experience (at least my own) and it held true here, though admittedly separating the horns from the electronics is not possible. Tube chains are always suspect. So, don't get me wrong. Also, I've not heard Cessaro nor AG. I'd love to.
 
#12
"Horses for courses...." long time since I've heard THAT phrase! :)

I am hoping that by recording the rooms in as high a fidelity as possible, that more horses can hear what courses they want to be following... to push an analogy further than perhaps it might ought to be....

I posted photos of each room and a video walk through here:

https://www.whatsbestforum.com/thre...ghts-of-the-california-audio-show-2019.28661/
 

Tim Link

New Member
Feb 12, 2019
7
5
3
51
#13
Went to the Incredible Shrinking California Audio Show 2019 yesterday.

Getting smaller, but still, some delectable items on the sonic menu.

No pix from me, everybody can get those with commentary at Jack Robert’s site Audio Beatnik:

https://theaudiobeatnik.com/california-audio-show-2019-day-1-pictures

Favorite Sound: Audio Federation:
View attachment 55260


Very mellow for big horns, maybe slightly tilted down and slightly dark, However those happen to be my tastes. Kind of like 90’s Koetsu sound: you need a couple of moments to let your self sink into it and then, seduction.

The speakers were an education in dynamic scaling. I had to un-kink my mind a bit from listening to other systems and re-adjust to it. Some guys talk about ‘ease’ from megawatt amplifiers, but this arrangement did not distinguish between soft and loud, all the same, all rendered with the same ease and articulation with every soft shadow in between. A massive drum set would come out of right field like a shock wave, then a vocal, then a startling harmony over. Yup, horns 'n tubes again.

So, there are things the rich can bask in with exclusivity and elan if this is one of the ways you can get it. High power not necessary, looked like about 16 to 20 watts per channel with 300b. (Caveat, I am sure that the woofers and ion tweeter consume a good bit of power for their frequency ranges).

There were many other excellent sounding systems that I liked. The Pi Voxative Pure Audio Project with 2A3 Whammerdyne again, bliss.

Sound Lab magnificent as usual, dynamics belying electrostatics with a solid state amplifier I have never heard of: Bricasti Audio. I still like OTL tubed Sound Labs better, sorry Bricasti, but it was still wonderful.

Voxativ did a turn at the affordable with an incredible sounding mini-system consisting of just small full range monitors with a customized amp/upscaling dac/streamer called an Absolut Box. Holger Adler was there in the flesh. Surprisingly.

Voxativ has managed to bring German brains and craftsmanship (usually always uber expensive) with the full monte in at under 10k in the smallest system and it is very much anti-suck. 95db efficient

Holger has defeated the usual full range ‘squawk’ customarily heard in the upper midrange of most full range speakers and with his Japanese calligraphy paper cones turn it into musically related texture. The Voxativ speakers sound fantastic with tubes but also mate well with his customized solid state solution for his smallest systems.

Our own AstroToy (Larry) gave an outstanding seminar illustrating live why tape is still the best source, with Martin Logan speakers and Doshi electronics, complete with Doshi, himself. Larry’s fanatical tape journey is worth a long article, if not a book. Sound, as expected, was amazing, so turn green with envy, all you audio impoverished vinyl only guys.

The small Focal speakers sounded good until dynamics made them congeal a bit. I think for mini’s, the Voxativs were better. However, they were played with Naim electronics and I was surprised to hear them sounding very good. Several years ago, this SF parlor had some Naim stuff that scoured my ears out of the room

Biggest surprise: Marchand room with some incredible sounding speakers called Bernhagen Porter. These speakers aren’t cheap, but they are top performers embarrassed by none.

So a small but very tasty show for an afternoon. Opinions are my own, and of course, may be different from other listeners who are free to batter me with invective and contempt.
I enjoyed reading your comments, and find I pretty much agree with your assessments of the systems I heard. My favorites included the Audio Federation Acapella horns, the Pure Audio Project / Whammerdyne room, the Marchand/Bernhagen-Porter room, and I liked the AudioNote speakers as well, even though I was sure I wouldn't after everything I had read about them. Seems that my ears prefer high efficiency. I got a concert level demonstration of the Bernhagen-Porters playing some hard rock at the end of one day. Those things can seriously rock and rattle your brains! They do classical vocals with realistic intensity too. Loved them.

The Pure Audio Project / Whammerdyne room took me about 2 seconds upon walking in to realize it was very much to my liking. I didn't get to stay long.

One thing I was surprised at was your and bazelio's impression that the Acapellas sounded a bit mellow, and slightly dark. That was not my impression, and a lot of comments I heard were that they were too bright and brash, with people saying that the room needed some acoustics help. I also heard people complain that the bass wasn't clear. I did not perceive the bass lacking clarity. I did perceive a brightness, or hotness somewhere in the midrange that would jump out on certain notes. It could have been some issue in the room.
 
Likes: bazelio

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#14
I don't think I ever said Acapellas were dark. Hopefully, I didn't because that wasn't my impression. On the other hand, I'd definitely not call them bright either. I thought their treble was pretty good. I did say they were mellow for horns and veiled, particularly in terms of midrange detail, as most other horns I've heard have been. Better said, the room or the system was... I.e., I can't isolate the AN chain's properties from the speakers'. I was at the show on Friday, the first day.
 
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Likes: Tim Link

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#15
I should have listened to the Bernhagen-Porters this year. I skipped them this year after being underwhelmed by them last year. Your description is surprising.
 

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
839
208
43
California
#16
By the way, here's another room that was good.

Screenshot_20190801-224008.png

Salk speakers, Exogal DAC, some tube amp. A new model from Salk apparently, and a lot of speaker for the money to my ears. The room had good tonality and presented a nice open and deep soundstage. I heard none of the downsides that can be associated with Be tweeters here, either. And with a more dynamic amp, this could have gone from good to great.
 

Tim Link

New Member
Feb 12, 2019
7
5
3
51
#17
I don't think I ever said Acapellas were dark. Hopefully, I didn't because that wasn't my impression. On the other hand, I'd definitely not call them bright either. I thought their treble was pretty good. I did say they were mellow for horns and veiled, particularly in terms of midrange detail, as most other horns I've heard have been. Better said, the room or the system was... I.e., I can't isolate the AN chain's properties from the speakers'. I was at the show on Friday, the first day.
Thanks for clarifying. Being a person who has spent some time experimenting with horns, I'm trying to relate my experiences to your description. I suspect that since I listen to horns a lot and focus on their virtues, I might not be as aware of their shortcomings as you are. I have noticed that good direct radiators can have more finesse and silkiness than I've achieved so far with horns. But I mostly hear their lack of dynamics, which is a funny thing to say because the good ones really have good dynamics. Just not as much. Or so it seems. I'd really like to see good numbers on just what the real dynamic difference is on typical music played at normal listening volumes in a home. I suspect I don't really understand all that's going on here. I've tried to see dynamic compression effects in some cheap speakers, but so far have only seen them track output to input levels with near perfect rise time and accuracy - at reasonable volume levels. I did notice that their settling time was long enough at 500hz to blur fast pulses to a maximum 15db differential. I'm not sure if that's audible. I'll have to try my horns next to see if they settle any faster, or slower.
Once upon a time I did an experiment to test the effects of diffraction and higher order modes in my midrange horns. I put loose insulation in the horns, covered the mouths completely with 1" fiberglass sound absorber, re-equalized them, turned them up, and had a listen. This had detrimental effects on perceived dynamics and caused very measurable increased distortion, but unquestionably to myself and others it added a certain clarity. Nothing new in the music could be heard, but subtle details seemed to stand out in the stereo sound field and separate themselves better - more like what you hear from a good direct radiator speaker with good imaging.
Another thought I had about detail and perceived mellowness - or not ( I didn't perceive the Acapellas as mellow) is that it could just be that horns are more picky about where you are in the room than a speaker with a broader dispersion. Where I work we spend time looking at pulsed sweep tones recorded in rooms. On thing that can be seen is that typically where there is a null, the noise floor of the room also rises at that frequency. So not only is the signal quiet there, but the sound loses clarity and articulation. Where there's a peak in the room, the sound is typically clearer because the noise floor usually drops. So 64th notes or faster pulses in a room peak can be heard cleanly separated by quiet spaces. Loud and clear! That's more like what I perceived from some tones in that room. With a fairly directional horn in front of you and a flat, non diffusive wall behind you, it can create some distinct peaks and nulls with few other early reflections to help break them up. Depending on where you are standing and what you are listening too, it can possibly have a profound effect on the perceived presentation. I noticed that if I sat right between the Acapellas they sounded smoother and mellower than if I was off to the side a bit, worst case if I was directly in front of the right speaker in the front row. If you found a spot with no hard peaks bothering you but where there was a null or two, then mellow and veiled might be the sound you got. If you moved around the room and heard pretty much the same thing everywhere, well then that's cold water on this idea.
 

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