Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Astell&Kern's AK120 in Prague

This is my first take on the new Astell&Kern AK120 media player (64GB, $1299 USD) from Iriver, a Korean company that claims its new product is capable of producing "Mastering Quality Sound" in a portable package (complete review forthcoming).

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T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, 2013: Part 2

For this second part of my Newport coverage, I focused on outstanding demos, mainly from systems with established gear, but also including one hot new product in the personal-audio category. Interestingly, all but one system was analog-based or from the analog option in their setup. And all were at the Atrium Hotel. It did seem to me that, in general and for what it's worth, there tended to be better sound over at the Atrium than at the Hilton.

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T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, 2013: Part 1

Along with Top Audio in Milan, Italy, the T.H.E Show Newport Beach in California is my favorite for a few special reasons. It's exclusively audio-oriented (as opposed to the massive CES), it's user-friendly (like Rocky Mountain), and it's in a great part of the world (like Top Audio). I went to graduate school and lived along its beaches for about five years back in the early '80s, so not only do I know my way around, but I can always read the silvery alphabet of the sea in any glance across its suburban landscape. Besides, I can usually count on fine weather, excellent food, live music, entertaining distractions (a cigar bar, a car show), and some important product debuts. T.H.E. Show Newport Beach ran for three days, May 30 to June 2, and took place at two adjoining hotels -- the Hilton and the Atrium -- across the street from the John Wayne Airport in Orange County. For this two-part blog post, I'll mainly cover new products in Part 1, while mostly talking about standout demos of established gear in Part 2.

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Profundo: Part 3

Bob Clarke started Profundo in 2002 after a stint at Musical Surroundings and while he was still a lecturer at UC Berkeley. He already repped the famed Viva tubed electronics and picked up the distribution of Transfiguration cartridges from Japan because, he said, he'd always loved them, temporally and tonally. "They're easy to listen to and natural," Clarke said.

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Profundo: Part 2

After a dinner of bistecca Fiorentina, some steamed greens, and a Casanova di Neri Brunello, Bob fired up "the big system" upstairs. It featured the original Trenner & Friedl Dukes ($125,000 USD per pair when available), a three-box-per-channel speaker system that stacked two long woofer cabinets on the bottom, a Harbeth-like monitor-shaped M/T cabinet in the middle, and a gleaming supertweeter like a grand silver eye atop it all. The Dukes had external crossovers and were biamped with Heed Obelisk PM monoblock amps (70Wpc; $4200/pr.) on the woofers (93dB/4 ohms) and a Viva Solista LT integrated amp (18Wpc; $7800 when available) on the M/T drivers (97dB/8 ohms). The speakers had a claimed range of 25Hz-40kHz.

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Profundo: Part 1

I first met Bob Clarke of Profundo in the hallway outside of his demo room at the California Audio Show back in 2010. I remember a strikingly gorgeous sound coming from a pair of Trenner & Friedl Art monitors driven by Heed electronics, with cabling from Cardas. But it was hard to get into the room, not only because it was so crowded with showgoers that there was no space to squeeze in, but also because Bob was so congenial, gracious, and witty out there in the hall. We struck up an exchange characterized by high-speed repartee, and I was having so much fun talking that, for a while, I forgot to keep up with my rounds of the show. It did help that Bob had a good bottle of wine in hand -- I think it was a California Cab from Mondavi -- and poured me some in a clear plastic cup.

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Honky-Tonking in Nashville over Spring Break

I was in Nashville last month to do a couple of events at Vanderbilt University -- a poetry reading on a Thursday night, then a Q&A on a Saturday morning. That left me with Friday night free, so I got some recommendations and headed off from the Embassy Suites where I was staying to the dives and honky-tonks of Music City's Lower Broadway.

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My Last-Minute AXPONA '13 Adventure: Part 2

Back at AXPONA the next day, one of the two rooms dealer George Vatchnadze of Kyomi Audio had was the knockout absolute best in show (not surprising from a concert pianist who teaches performance at DePaul University). Besides La bohème and the VSA Universe, another reason I came was to hear the Convergent Audio Technology JL5 -- a new triode stereo amplifier ($10,000 to $12,000) that was supposed to rival, if not equal, the performance of the grand, all-class-A JL2 Signature Mk 3. I wasn't disappointed.

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My Last-Minute AXPONA '13 Adventure: Part 1

On the spur, less than two weeks before its start, I decided to fly out to AXPONA '13 (March 8-10), the first major audio show in Chicago since Stereophile was there in 1999. I wanted to get out of Oregon for a while, hear the new Von Schweikert Audio VR-100XS Universe speaker that was to make its debut there, and take in Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja singing the iconic roles Mimì and Rodolfo in La bohème at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. I'd never heard either of them sing live -- the gorgeous Russian soprano nor the burly, "Caruso-like" Maltese tenor, and both had been among my favorite recording artists for years. When I went to the opera's website, there were only three single tickets left. I nabbed what I thought would be the best seat -- one in the first balcony -- and then booked a plane to O'Hare.

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