I wandered into the Oracle Audio room hoping to see something new on the analog front. Nadda. What caught my eye instead was Oracle's new silver coffee table. Oh, that's an integrated amplifier? What's with the legs, and why is it the size of a Buick? Jacques Riendeau , the brilliant mind behind Oracle's Delphi turntable, seems to have created a monster in the 1.5si integrated amplifier. Most audiophiles I know buy integrated devices to save space and money. The 1.5si fails on both counts. Dimensions? How about a mammoth 19" x 10" x 20.5" (W x H x D). Coupled with a rack-busting 100 pound weight, this dual mono, zero feedback, solid-state behemoth, offering 150 Watts of power into 8 Ohms and 300 into 4, might be a tough sell. Oh yeah, the price: a mere $10,000. Definitely for the "what were they thinking?" files.

The Envelope Please
I was fortunate enough to hear two stunning demos in Vegas. The first was in the claustrophobic quarters housing Herron Audio. Somehow, Keith Herron managed to cram an Immedia RPM-1 turntable (fitted with RPM tonearm and Lyra Clavis D.C. phono cartridge), Herron Audio VTSP-1/VTPH-1 linestage/phono stage, Herron Audio's new M150 solid-state monoblock power amplifiers ($5300), Audio Physic Virgo loudspeakers ($5645/pair), and an Audio Physic Luna subwoofer ($2995) into this munchkin-sized space. Equally amazing was the fact that he managed to make it sound so good. Even in a less-than-ideal seat, the sound was effortless, expansive and exceptionally musical. A real treat. Equally enjoyable was the Avantgarde Acoustic room (hosted by the affable Jim Smith of Avantgarde-USA), which afforded me my first listen to the stunning Duo Series 2 horn loudspeaker. Driven by all BAT components, the Duos sounded glorious, and far less colored than any other speaker I've heard employing horn-loaded drivers. The sound of massed choral voices was particularly sumptuous, the speaker conjuring an eerie apparition of the original event. A true achievement. Not to be missed.

The Golden Turd award must certainly go to Martin-Logan's demo of the much-anticipated Prodigy hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker ($10,000).

The company had a large suite at its disposal, and a long line of ESL enthusiasts waiting patiently to be ushered in to hear the scripted demo. Unfortunately, the demo sucked. Having heard great things from the company's Aerius, SL-3, and ReQuest models, I can only blame the choice of demo material and, perhaps, the associated Theta/Krell ancillaries. The first piece played was a remastered version of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine on DVD. This was an unfortunate choice, as the sound was sub-par to say the least, with a hollow midrange and an edgy top end. The whole thing sounded oddly synthetic too. Next! The second piece was the most dreadful rendition of The Police's Walking on the Moon I've ever heard, played by a forgettable jazz trio whose obscurity is well deserved. The sound, which the presenter advertised as "audiophile grade", was equally disappointing. As my wife and I looked at each other incredulously, the demo was over and we were ushered out. I look forward to hearing the Prodigy under better circumstances. The speaker was, in my opinion, done a serious injustice by Martin Logan's misguided marketeers.

The Much Ado About Nothing award goes to Sony's demo of the much-ballyhooed SACD format and SCD-1 player. Having read the gushing praise heaped on the new format by many industry pundits, I was expecting to be knocked off my feet. I'm still standing. Even with a gaggle of computers crunching the bits and pieces, the two-channel Miles Davis Kind of Blue demo left me cold. Sure, it was smooth, and inoffensive, but Jimmy Cobb's cymbals sounded muted and rolled-off and Bill Evans' piano lacked presence. Don't sell your six-eye pressings just yet. The multi-channel demo sounded pleasant enough - again, smooth and warm, but something was missing. The music was lifeless and dull. I felt nothing. If this is the future, stop the world, I want to get off. If you're looking for a high-resolution, analog-like format that won't be outdated by the time you read this, has a shit-load of supporting software, and is capable of providing a stunningly realistic view into the musical event, then look no further. It's called the LP. Get over it.


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