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pass the bass

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  1. I don't think visitors expect ideal sound at the show because of venue limitations, however it should be decent enough without being bad. Excellent (never ideal) sound is the icing on the cake. A common problem is many demos have the volume turned up too loud. When one room does this it starts a loudness war, then every one loses because you hear distortion and cannot tell if the bass is coming from the demo or adjacent rooms. Some of the exhibitors displayed volume level in their room, which is good to see, as they were less likely to turn feral. I was in the Lake4 room trying to appreciate the ATCs and saw how the the exhibitor was trying in desperation to find music he could play that wouldn't be drowned out by the Yamahas next door. Also, I think many listeners put too much emphasis on stereo imaging, stage and image focus; they are not the be all and end all of audiophiles, and would be very difficult to control in irregular, small hotel rooms with odd furniture and crowds. Timbre, dynamics and timing for example are equally important, and can be appreciated even if you don't sit in the sweet spot (as long as you're not too far out to the side or right against the back wall). Many speaker setups sound decent enough if you sit within a 30-45 degree arc, as designers usually factor for this.
  2. It wasn't easy to have a listen to the Spendors, as there were only 2 chairs in the room. But I'm glad I persisted, because the top models from the D (9.2) and Classic (200) lines were on demo. It's uncommon to hear an infinite-baffle design (Classic 200) these days, let alone comparing it with a bass-reflex design (D9.2). Another interesting aspect of this comparison is that they are made by the same company, employing similar sound principles, and even sharing the same midrange driver - which reduces the number of confounding variables. Both are 3-way, 4-driver floor-standers. The other major differences are that the Classic 200 has 2x 31cm woofers, compared to 2x 18cm in the D9.2. But wait, there's more: to top it all off, Gordon Hoskins (Director of MG Hoskins, distributors for Spendor) kindly allowed me to play several tracks on both speakers, as he switched them back and forth after each track - I was in hifi show nirvana. Both speakers did not sound too boomy in the bass (that was my first concern as the room was on the smaller side). From the Classic 200, piano notes had a more sonorous tone, you could hear more of the tonal harmonics and decay (equivalent to more colour saturation on a screen). I suspect the Classic 200's large woofers contribute to that effect because I have heard this in other systems employing stereo subwoofers to enhance higher-frequency perception, air and space; they also impart a "warmer" tonal balance. The D9.2 were stronger on transients, attack, and clarity. There was less (not unsatisfactory) "body" to the sound, and the tonal balance was not as warm (certainly not cold). The soundstage was wider with the Classic 200, and deeper with the D9.2's, neither being deficient otherwise. I liked the sound of both speakers, and it really comes down to choosing the sound you prefer, according to the music you play. To use another analogy: do you prefer curvaceous, or athletic women? Aren't they all beautiful? Amplification was from a Leema Tucana solid-state integrated. N.B. Pictures are borrowed from Spendor, as I have a crappy camera-phone.
  3. What I found surprising is how good the Magnepans sounded sitting close to the side walls (they were at least 1 metre from the rear wall and only cemtimetres from the side walls). I thought that panel speakers in general need to be far from the walls to sound their best. Also, I thought they didn't really need subwoofers; there was enough bass in that room.
  4. Vale Con Lucas I only found out from attending the hifi show that Con had passed away earlier this year due to ill health. He was formerly of Telos Audio. The Telos room was usually packed and jumping with music. It was frequently voted best sound of show. I recall one year the combination of omnidirectional speakers and Dohmann turntable produced such a "live" atmosphere, it felt more like a concert than a hifi show. There was even a Studer machine playing reel-to-reel tapes. Con would be sitting discretely at the back of the room with his stack of records, directing his professional team. I first met Con after hearing Charlie Musselwhite play Cristo Redentor (a rambling, bluesey harmonica & piano performance). He was eager to chat about the music afterwards, not just to enquirers, but to the whole room between each track; I liked that aspect of listening to music in context. One always felt unconditionally welcomed in his room, there was no "sales pressure", just there to enjoy the music. Although there was undoubtedly high-end gear in his room, it always seems that they were subservient to the music: the talk was largely about the music, and uniquely, his whole team showed this passion in the way they went about their business. It's one thing to have a knowledge of the music and using it for demos, but quite another to show passion for it. Rest in peace, Con. You will be missed.
  5. First Impressions Though I didn't get to every exhibit, notable sounds were heard in: Park room - Chord amps, DACs & Kharma speakers. Admirable set-up utilising elaborate and elegant acoustic panels. 1310 - McIntosh amps & Sonus Faber speakers. Enjoyable "valve" sound, in comfortable armchairs (like the ones I use at home). If only they could also serve whiskey on the side! 1206 - NuPrime electronics & Magnepan speakers. The transparency of the Magnepan speakers, with the usual very good music selection. Overall, I thought there were fewer demos offering quality sound this year. I thought the KEF Blades & D'Agostino amps combination undersold their potential, being limited by the small room they were placed in. Often overheard problems: 1) Visitors asking to play their music, with no intention of purchasing hifi. - It's understandable that exhibitors need to sell; it's a business after all. But, the show also provides the opportunity for some to experience gear that they could not afford. 2) Playing music that will not clear the room of visitors. - We have different tastes in music, so there will usually be someone who won't like what's being played. Choose boldly, not timidly; I would risk suffering unpleasant music in my exploration, than to be restricted to a narrow range. Musical discovery: The textured baritone voice of Tenessee Ford. Thanking all those who made the show possible.
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