California Audio Show 2019 FULL REPORT

This year’s 2019 California Audio Show was the PLACE to meet audio enthusiasts as well as to hear some excellent quality audiophile component sound demonstrations. Caslyn Anderson and Howard Milstein report!

The surroundings for this years California High End Show were relaxed and easy going at the Hilton hotel near the Oakland Airport (as compared to this years AXPONA). The Sound Advocate was able to cover and listen to some great audio combined with fine conversation. Caslyn Anderson and I were eager and ready. Here are some of the highlights of our coverage!

NAIM AUDIO/FOCAL

The proprietors of Audio-Vision in San Francisco were displaying an all Naim system featuring their Uniti Nova Streamer/DAC/integrated (and power supplies) paired with the Focal Sopra 2 loudspeakers. A wide range of acoustical pop and orchestral program material was used, (Vinyl as well) and this was one of the few times I was able to hear the terrific Focal Sopra 2 Loudspeakers produce music in an environment as they were truly meant to sound; simply excellent!   Focal 2 @ $13,999/pair / Naim UnitiNova@ $6,900. 

WYRED4SOUND

Not only was Wyred-4-Sounds’ E.J Sarmento displaying his excellent line of Amplifiers and DAC’s (watch for the 10th Anniversary DAC and mAMP monoblocks to be reviewed shortly by the Sound Advocate—and see our review of The mINT ) but adding to this, the company just introduced their “Signature Line” with the premiere of the ‘Aura Preamplifier’ which should elevate the performance and quality of the well-established top of the line STP-SE preamplifier.  

E.J Sarmento

I was quite surprised to see E.J’s newest creation, the “Tempus Loudspeakers” on display as they were impressively bringing forth all of the finesse and power that the Wyred-4-Sound electronics are known to offer. In fact, Mr.Sarmento had been designing loudspeakers way before Wyred was formed when he was working with home theater products. These speakers were sounding very good indeed!

AURENDER

Aurender’s Proprietor Jean Paul Lizar’s had a truly grand demonstration in a well sized room of his latest Streamer/Server and CD ripper, the ACS10. The demo featured Constellation Audio as well as the esteemed Berkeley Audio Design’s DAC. What I was not prepared for was listening to Aurender’s prototype, ‘testing’ loudspeakers, as seen above. We were literally the first ones in and got the center seat. The ACS10 and Aurender’s “test” loudspeakers exhibited some exceptional sound quality, to say the least! There was something particularly memorable about the ACS10 that I can’t seem to forget….mmm!

Jean-Paul-Lizar Aurender
Jean-Paul-Lizar

Aurender’s 3-way loudspeaker design is currently not even in production but their sound quality was simply superb! The prodigious looking and honestly priced Aurender ACS 10 retails for approximately $6000.00 . The Sound Advocate would love to have the opportunity to audition this new product!

AUDIO NOTE the UK

The highly acclaimed Audio Note system from the UK was offering some of the finest music and sound at the show. The flamboyantly opinionated Peter Qvortrup and Nick Gowan of True Sound had their Audio Note AN E series Loudspeakers featuring the AN-E/SPe HE, which is a lower mid level version of the AN-E.

This first rate system also included: The most recent version of the CD player CD3.1x/II, integrated player with built in tube and no oversampling DAC. ($6,820.00), the TT Three 3 motor turntable with ARM Three and an IQ3 moving magnet cartridge (with standard PSU1- $ 7,735.00) without arm/>The The ARM Three $ 2,026.00 as well as Audio Notes IQ3 MM cartridge, $ 1,026.00. Finishing things off was the beautiful sounding MEISHU Phono Tonmeister ($11,500.00). This model is so new, that the price may well change when the company have built some more. Interestingly, Peter advised me that they sold the demo unit at the show and another one immediately after the show.

Peter Overtrup proprietor Audio Note
Peter Qvortrup

This was the first time I had heard the Audio Note loudspeakers, although they have been on the scene in many different models and variations for some years. To say they made an impression on me would be an understatement, particularly when I found out they were initially based on the late Peter Snell’s Type E—which I owned back in the 1980s.

Quite simply, the emphasis of the Audio Note loudspeakers was scrupulous “neutrality”. Peter’s fine quality vintage vinyl recordings of jazz and opera as well as some wonderful CD and streaming presentations rendered some exquisite music while the human voice sounded amazingly real. This was a real treat!

BRICASTI DESIGN

Proprietor Damon Gramont has launched the newest “value” oriented Bricasti D/A converter, The M3 to their already ground breaking line of products. (approx. $5500.00). The new M3 includes two differential conversion channels and separate conversion for PCM and native DSD as well as a balanced analog level control circuit.

Damon Gramont

Also included in the demonstration were Bricasti’s massive M28 monoblock amplifiers driving the exuberant yet subtly refined sounding Tidal Contriva speakers at $65K /pair. The complete Bricasti system presented yet another first-rate musical presentation at this years show.

iFi AUDIO

We were treated to a welcome surprise upon entering the demonstration room of iFi Audio where Jared Orgeron was teamed up with AMR Audio products. I was particularly impressed with iFi’s current Source/Streamer DAC/Amplifier combination, the Pro iDSD while below that you can see the flagship headphone amplifier, the Pro iCAN on display. These personal audio products are value priced and compact while unveiling a truly lovely, self effacing sound that was easy on the ears and a joy to listen to.

The Pro iDSD has three options of output circuit: Solid-State: pure class-A J-FET topology Tube; a totally separate, pure class-A circuit based on two GE5670 tubes and Tube+: which reduces the tube circuit’s negative feedback to a minimum.

The unorthodox looking and designed loudspeakers were provided by Unisinger. (Above). Having never heard this speaker design before, I was intrigued with their design and how well they mated sonically with the ifi electronics.

ZESTO AUDIO

Zesto and Joseph Audio

The American Company Zesto Audio was making some huge waves in Room 5203. They’re all tube electronics front end, magnificent looking as they are, was assisted by the Merrill Williams Audio REAL101.3 turntable ($8900) along with the Tri-Planar U12 tone arm ($6200) and 2 cartridges: a Benz Micro Gullwing SLR moving coil ($3600) as well as the Ortofon Cadenza (MONO !-$1280) cartridge. (I happen to sometimes use the regular Ortofon Cadenza myself). Bringing this sumptuous front end to life were the extremely accurate Joseph Audio Perspective 2 Graphene Loudspeakers. ($15,000 pair), the Zesto Audio Lato tube preamp ($7500) and Eros 300 Class A mono blocks $19.900.

I’m happy to report that Zestos’ proprietor, George Counnas was using some exceptional program material of classical and pop genres. Although the room was a bit cramped, I was able to get a formidable idea of some of the excellent quality of sound reproduction that this complete system was displaying. Without doubt, Zesto Audio’s exotic gear was a huge hit and the system was totally engaging in every way!

AAUDIO IMPORTS– Wilson-Benesch

Brian Ackerman who owns AAudio Imports had a blue-chip demonstration this year as he was able to acquire a Boardroom whose size was most accommodating for The Wilson Benesch loudspeakers’ he distributes. The featured British Wilson Benesch A.C.T One Evolution loudspeakers– ($36,000! ) were accompanied by their Infrasonic generator ($13,000) and the speakers were mounted on the Wison Benesch Carbon Plinth speaker platforms ($3400).

Of course, nothing but the best was used to drive this speaker system. The source was the Aurender N10 Music Server ($8.000), a Ypsilon DAC 1000 tube unit ($24,000) and the Hybrid Ypsilon Phaethon Integrated Amplifier. ($25,000). It was great talking to Brian about this exorbitant yet exciting system and his acute knowledge was unsurpassed!

EXOGAL

Exogal is another new product line cutting a nice swathe on the audio scene and we found these fine looking and impressive sounding components most satisfying ! The streamlined and wonderfully conservative looking COMET DAC was performing with their accompanying ION Stereo Power Amplifier (Ion Power DAC) which is designed as an amplifier and processing extension to the Comet. It connects to the comet via the EXONET Interface and provides 125 watts per channel (into 8 ohms).

The Ion integrates fully with the Comet and there are no complicated remotes or apps required – the Comet just seemed to handle it all. The Comet will easily connect to the Ion with one cable and you’re ready for music. This was a lovely, natural sounding system with no harsh edges but plenty of detail. I like these units alot; Really good sound!

So there you have our wrap up for CAS 2019. NOW, back to work!!

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