The 2015 California Audio Show (CAS) met at the Westin Hotel near the San Francisco Airport on August 14-16, 2015. I finally got to see and hear a Pono in action, and there were a few new items of great interest that I had never seen before. There were less exhibitors than last year, but it was still a good show and worth attending.
Tannoy had some huge horn speakers on exhibit, their Prestige model. They were driven by Pass Labs power amplifiers. The sound was a bit harsh in the high frequencies for some unexplained reason. Usually, horns are very smooth. And, especially with Pass Labs amplifiers, it should have been very smooth. Pass’ Desmond Harrington told me he would look into it.
Avant Garde’s very impressive speakers were both beautiful in their industrial design, and terrific in the sound department. They are from Germany and retail for $21,000/pair. Notice the variation on the horn design for the tweeter and midrange drivers. Instead of a concentric horn, they had a teardrop-shaped indentation.
Pono had a lot of people on hand and a lot of Pono players. Unfortunately, they had inexpensive headphones attached for demonstration, and the sound was very poor, almost unlistenable. However, there was one with a set of Audeze headphones, and the sound was much better, although not nearly as detailed as when using high end DACs. It’s a niche product and probably will do well with the MP3 crowd, who will get a taste of high resolution music from Pono downloads.
Whammerdyne showed this 4 watt/channel tube amplifier, seen on the right side of the photo. $15,000 is a lot to pay for 4 watts, but I could not complain about the sound. Tubes are another world for most audiophiles, but to a tube aficionado, they are glorious.
Here is a close-up of the Whammerdyne. All those heatsinks just to handle 4 watts are necessary when biased into Pure Class A.
This Technics turntable from the 1970’s has been completely refurbished, meaning a new platter, new tone arm, cartridge, and enclosure. The plinth is the original. I would say 90% of the exhibitors were using turntables. This one was in the Pass Labs exhibit.
Melody had several tube amplifiers on display and in use. I have not seen this brand before. Instead of the usual retro look, these were more modern in appearance, with the curved front panel.
ANK exhibited this DAC 5.1 Signtature. The DAC chipset is in the top left quadrant. $5,500. Notice the tube output stage.
OPPO had this BDP-105 with a plastic cover that lists what each circuit does. Click on the photo to enlarge the image so you can read the description.
Along with turntables in the exhibits, there were plenty of used and new vinyl.
YG Acoustics builds their speakers out of solid aluminum blocks. This model, called the “Hailey” is $42,800/pair. They are about 5 feet in height. Knocking on the side felt and sounded like a column of granite, so there is no enclosure resonance of any kind.
These red tube coolers (heat sinks) are very cool (pun intended), and the look of the amplifier and its dials reminds me of the radio transmitters that the underground used to send information to the Allies from German occupied countries during WWII. No complaints on the sound, irrespective of the looks, but I’m a tubeophile.
Diraeus speakers, shown below, are big and heavy. But, they give you a big sound. The bill is big too, at $24,000/pair. These days, however, $24,000/pair, and up, is common.
High Fidelity Cables demonstrated some of the most unusual interconnects and speaker cables I have ever seen. The cylinders through which the cables pass are filled with magnets, and the conductors themselves are magnetic alloy, so the entire cables are magnetized. $1,500 – $10,000.
Tape decks were abundant, some of them used and restored, like this Studer.
Another restored deck of yore. The Tape Project sells copies of studio master tapes for use with used and restored tape recorders like these. The tapes cost several hundred dollars each and are copies of a copy of the studio master tape.
Audio Engine displayed these speakers, which were about 10″ high and smaller, but put out an amazing sound for their size.
The DAC in the middle of this setup is made by Briscati, at $9,000. It handles 24/384 PCM and DSD256. The performance was staggering. Detail and clarity that many other manufacturers could only hope for.
Here is a close-up of the Briscati DAC.
The new Woo Audio WA5LE ($3,699) and HiFiMAN HE-1000 headphones ($3,000) were a tough combination to match, let alone beat.
All in all, a pretty good show, with some new stuff I had not seen before. And, it looks like good stuff too. CAS will continue to grow and become a show that more and more people will want to attend. With its location near three major cities (San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland), there is a huge potential audience.
John E. Johnson, Jr.