Saturday, July 16, 2011

Off topic: Notes from the California Audio Show

Good luck meant I had a few moments to check out the California Audio Show. My impressions:

Magico Q3

They were playing some bass or cello piece. I felt that the high frequencies were extremely disconnected from the upper bass and mid range. The entire thing sounded harsh and artificial. The lower registers were not round or soft.

Wilson Maxx

I wanted to hate these, but I could not. They were actually quite good. When I entered the room they were playing some lousy smooth jazz that sounds like plastic, but the sound was totally integrated all the way up and down the frequency range. Tone and texture were good.

Next up as a Bach Partita I know very well and like. It was great -- texture and microdynamics were super, but the piece is not challenging to reproduce either.

There was a more complex chamber piece next that I did not recognize. There was no congestion or compression anywhere in the range, and it was, again, totally seamless.


These were really interesting. The high frequency special effects are quite remarkable. Sound stage was very wide and detailed (if you value that). But the mid range was textureless, and the bass was very recessed (and the room was small!). I don't know how you can have such great HF and lack tone in the midrange. Anyway, I also I liked the complex classical music they played.

Magico Q1

I liked these much more than the Q3. They were in a smaller room, and they had a punchy, integrated sound without that disconnected HF noise I got from the Q3. Still a little aggressive and dry overall though.

Wooden Gallos

The bass was surprisingly good and the HF was well integrated. They sounded kind of boxy and the texture was flat. I was a little bummed not to hear the Gallo 3s. They are tiny in real life, and look very unusual.

Little Tannoy

I went to the Linn room to hear a multi-amp setup, but they were playing a little Tannoy. Oh well. The played the opening track from Bueana Vista Social Club, and I know exactly what I want that track to do. Unfortunately, the Tannoy was not up to the task, and the bass lacked swell and body. I don't think the little room helped either.

Sony SSAR1

Yay Sony for trying to make a quality, high-end speaker! They had a model there disassembled, and it was amazing how perfectly all the parts were manufactured. I'm sure the workmanship is fantastic. The entire rig was powered by a gamut of massive, Passlab amps. I cannot seperate the amp from the speaker, but the sound while rich and warm, lacked texture. The integration up and down the frequency range was not great tonally either, although I have no doubt it will measure as flat as a ruler. It didn't sound fake, just a little flat.


They had a reel to reel source playing Copland. This is a great choice -- challenging music and it sounded great. I cannot remember which speakers they were using, but the overall sound had exaggerated HF, warm mid range, and a bass that was fine but congested easily when you asked it to do anything complicated.

Acapella High Violoncello

I think these were the only horns at the show, and I'm glad I was able to spend a few moments with them before I had to leave. This was a three way speaker, with the horn loaded tweeter and mid range, and direct radiator woofers in the lower plinth. The mid range and upper bass was really poorly integrated with the upper mid range and HF. Pity because the texture and dynamics out of the horns were fantastic. And by "poorly integrated" I mean boomy and muffled.

Further thoughts

This was my first audio show, and I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to all of these setups. I wish I had had more time.

First, I'm struck by how much sensitivity matters. The texture you get from high sensitivity speakers, to me, really made the world of difference. Maybe this is why the MBL and Sony seemed flat, while the Wilsons and Violoncello, despite other problems, were so vivid. Or maybe my Zu Druids have just habituated me to listen for microdynamics, and therefore, texture.

Second, driver integration matters too. I didn't think this would be an issue with multi-ways, but it was. I think this is especially problematic when the HF, instead of extending and texturing the midrange, becomes a distinct channel by itself.

Third, my Druids are *really* directional. Most of the speakers I listened to had decent listening positions of maybe 10 sq feet, but my home setup really only works in 1 sq foot. (My head, while large, is not that large).

Fourth, careful room integration matters. I think many of the problems I heard with boomy, or worse, muffled bass was because the rooms were not loaded properly, or tried to fix bass problems with traps. I have dual subs, and use them to roll off my Druids at 60 Hz, and I have taken some care to dial them into the room. It's not great, but my home system has more weight and softness than what I heard at the show, with no boomyness.



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