My final favorite solid-state exhibit requires the following preface: It's easy to like really expensive stuff. Not all lives up to the excellence implied by cost, but when it does, one feels a certain degree of vindication for having lost one's marbles. The Argento Audio/SoundLab/Vitus Audio room was filled with marbles. Big ones! Five of those were mine...

Needless to say, US distributor Jim Ricketts of tmh audio isn't afraid of the word expensive - just think Wavac, another brand he handles. Hence his exhibit combined SoundLab's best U-1 full-range electrostat with SM-100 Vitus Audio amplifiers that weigh in at $45,000. A matching battery-powered linestage sells for $22,000, and Argento Audio's silver cables clock in at $9,500/1m for their finest Serenity Master Reference speaker cables. Ouch & oy veh.

Never mind the cost though, never mind what for the biggest SoundLabs was a crammed space beyond belief - this system had inner detail, coherence and musicality up the proverbial yingyang. The black hole of insatiable current lust that's the hallmark of SoundLabs proved incapable of sucking dry the 100-watt Class A rated monster amps (800-watt in Class A/B) whose frequency response of DC to 1.6Megahertz suggested phenomenal speed and zero high-frequency phase shift.

There isn't much more to say except to congratulate the few lucky souls with the requisite financial endowment who will end up with one of these Vitus Audio amps. Why don't bunnies make sounds when they mate? Because they have cotton balls. There, marbles and all, I declare myself defeated. Kudos to all participants in this exhibit - money certainly doesn't buy taste, but if you already have taste? Then money, as proven here, can surely be used extremely effectively.

Von Gaylord Audio presented the world with the first audible Sea Urchin [$28,000/pr], the liquid-cooled triode monoblocks whose 3CX300A1 transmitter tube capable of 300 watts of triode dissipation is entirely submerged in a special dielectric cooling fluid. With 730 volts on the plate, the Uni monos are conservatively rated into 200 watts/8 ohms while holding current reserves 4 times in excess of an actual 200-watt signal level.

While we're still in the realm of turbocharged ambitions, Von Schweikert Audio put together a cutting-edge exhibit with VAC, Oracle Audio and Rives Audio who contributed not only on-site acoustic room treatments (check out the replaced ceiling tiles called Skylights that are Rives-designed and RPG-built) but also real-time mastering/playback facilities to record the Misty River gals in-room, then allow attendees to hear the live/playback differences. I fully intended to attend but, because of scheduling conflicts, got side-swiped and thus also missed my planned interview with Rives' resident mastering engineer Chris Huston. Drat. Rives Audio is going places in a hurry, having participated in seven rooms this year including Avantgarde-USA/BAT; Talon/Chapter Audio (who, I understand, make some cutting-edge digital switching amps); Talon/Electrocompaniet; Talon/Gryphon/EAD; Talon/Rowland; and Harbeth/Plinius.

I did, however, listen to a Frank Sinatra LP cut which had far too much bass to feel realistic. While Chris explained the realities of LF equalization in 60s recordings in the lobby afterwards, I question the dj's wisdom of playing musical selections that were unbalanced on the software side. Most listeners will ascribe unbalanced results to the hardware which then gets unfairly blamed. That's what happened to me with this track. I wrote off the system as skewed when I probably shouldn't have. In my weak defense, does the world really need another $100,000/pr speaker?
As I questioned earlier, what consumer has the discretionary real estate to house such behemoths? But perhaps that wasn't the design objective after all. Perhaps these speakers really belong on the mastering stage of George Lucas or some other large-scale recording venues.

To be clear, the sheer effort required to put this -- or other Xtreme Audio -- rooms together should not go unacknowledged even if your narrow-minded scribe doesn't entirely grasp the real-world significance of such projects. But that has never yet prevented folks from scaling sheer cliffs, from penetrating frost-bitten outposts for the mere thrill of it, to simply celebrate human ability in the face of brutal adversity or out-of-reach goals. Check out Phil Gold's report for a low-down on VAC's stunning new triode components.
VTL's new "Son of Siegfried" S-400 stereo amplifier uses a total of twelve 6550Cs, two 6350s and two 12 AT7s for 300/200 8ohm-watts of tetrode/triode but sports ultra-modern self-diagnostics to make living with massively paralleled output tubes a walk in the park. Wilson System 7s, VTL's TL7.5 reference two-box line-stage and more Grand Prix Audio component isolation stands rounded out the hardware to offer big musical satisfaction. Luke and Bea Manley were sequestered next door in private closed-door demos so I didn't get to chitchat with these luminaries. Next time perhaps.

Wadia's full-line display encapsulated the 302 CD player [$3,800], the 861 [$6,250 - $10,000 depending on trim level]; the 270 transport [$8,000]; the 27 DAC [$9,000] and the brand-new dual-mono-DAC/transport 921 flagship triple combo [pricing TBA but somewhere between $20-30K] on actively display with the Avalon Eidolons. TEAC's "Special Edition hybrid turntable" disc clamping bridge is displayed above to quicken your pulse. There was far too much newsworthy detail here to fit into my overview report, and interested readers should log onto Wadia's website for the blow-by-blow account. Suffice it to say that the 861 one-box player has become very flexible due to the custom a-la-carte options whereby a prospective buyer can configure the machine to suit his or her needs without paying for redundant features.

Walker Audio's mighty Proscenium Gold Reference turntable held court with Viva's gleaming monoblocks and Zingali's hybrid Italian horns, both latter brands now represented by Victor Goldstein's Fanfare (not a website but e-mail link - how about it, Victor?).

Anyone needing a pro-turntable argument to cut down to size the digital brigade merely needed to step into this room to hear full-bodied, gutsy sound without any tendonitis, er - digititis, flatness, thinness or agitation. By the time I happened upon casa Walker, the maestro had already burned through his entire supply of SST Super Silver Treatment. Word of its silly-obvious benefits had apparently quickly spread down the aisles to generate enough requests for this potent contact enhancer to have utterly cleaned out the man when a paying customer walked in and handed him the freshly minted green.

Nothing fails like success, Lloyd? All ye numb-nut had to say was "No, Goddammit, I brought this shit for my own benefit!" But Walker's far too good-hearted to not freely share of his knowledge or magic potions. That's why he's one of my heroes in this little industry of ours. Nice guys may not always come in first, but in the end, they always do where it really matters!