Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Chronicles of Sydnia, Part 4: A Visit with Edgar Kramer

As I've already mentioned, I do have a moderate case of arachnophobia. In the weeks leading up to my visit to Australia, quite a few people took to teasing me about my completely rational fear of those eight-legged little bastards and how Australia, land full of things that want to kill you, would be the end of me. Most of my concerns revolved around a nasty little bugger called the Sydney funnel-web spider, one of the most venomous spiders in the world. To make matters worse, they're known for being aggressive. And they're not out in the boonies, which is why they call them Sydney funnel-web spiders. Bloody hell, what's that crawling up my leg?

Once I arrived in Sydney, I quickly learned a few things as I constantly scanned the ground around my feet. Funnel web spiders, for instance, couldn't really be found in central Sydney, where I spent most of my time. They scampered around in the outer suburbs, and especially in the the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney where they apparently blanket the landscape like morning dew. In addition, I also learned that funnel-web spiders hadn't killed anyone in Australia since 1981, when they developed the anti-venom. So I was told not to worry about them so much, and to stay away from the Blue Mountains where herds of them ravage and pillage the countryside at will.

Brad Serhan and David Allen, along with Morris Swift (President of the Audiophile Society of New South Wales), arranged for me to meet with Edgar Kramer, well-known audio reviewer for 6Moons and his own publication, a gorgeous print magazine known as Audio Esoterica. Edgar reviewed the Axis VoiceBox S for 6Moons some time ago, and he had already spent some time with the larger floorstanding speaker from Brigadiers Audio, now known as the BA1.

The purpose of the visit was for me to meet Edgar, a very civilized and gracious host, to bring him the smaller two-way monitors from Brigadiers, known as the BA2, and for me to spend some time in the beautiful Blue Mountains. Gulp. The Blue Mountains, guys? Really? Can I borrow a hazmat suit and a flame thrower first?

Despite the beautiful home and the extraordinary sound system, I was told by the others that Edgar was a "bloke." Up to that point, I always thought that bloke referred to anyone of the male persuasion, a mere synonym for guy, man or dude. But it really meant that Edgar was a buddy, a pal, a regular guy who can joke around and have fun and perhaps even come and bail you out of jail one night, no questions asked. He was all that, and even more--he served us all tea and cake.

I've only seen tea and cake in the movies. But let me tell you this--tea and cake is awesome. As an aside, I drank so much tea in Australia that it actually became a habit, and now I miss it a little. But I digress.

Once we were done, we sat down and started some serious listening. While Edgar played DJ, I browsed through a few issues of Audio Esoterica, and I have to say that I really miss this kind of audio publication with its huge, glossy pages and wonderful photography. It's like a bigger version of Architectural Digest for hi-fi enthusiasts. AE dedicates itself to the very best high-end audio, so you're assured of lots of wondrous eye candy. While you can download a hi-rez version on Zinio, I'm set on getting the print version ASAP. It has such a classic look and feel, and I get nostalgic just thinking about it.

Edgar's current system consisted of the new Alexia speakers from Wilson Audio, the big Parasound Halo monoblocks, a Supratech preamp and a very cool-looking digital player from AMR. Within the context of Edgar's astonishing home, this is one of the great listening rooms I've ever seen--spacious, comfortable, filled with light and, of course, tweaked to the nth degree for the best sound quality.

We were treated to some wonderful musical selections and I was instantly impressed with the sheer weight and size of the system. I haven't always been a fan of Wilson, but the last few times I've heard them they had a distinct, enveloping roundness to the sound that was very unlike the more aggressive presentation I heard from the earliest versions of the WATT/PUPPY back in the early '90s. This newer Wilson sound is more welcoming and intimate and therefore more musical. The Alexia sounded absolutely engaging and musical every step of the way.

Edgar's system, obviously, is an incredibly neutral and resolving tool for his reviewing duties, but it's also a joy to listen to, and I couldn't help but feel just a little envy.

At one point I was led to a smaller room off to the side of the main listening room--the home theater room--where Edgar has used the Axis Voicebox S for multi-channel duties. I noticed that the tweeter on the center channel had been rotated 90 degrees so that the speaker could be set on its side. John Reilly of Axis designed the tweeter to do this--something the current US importer and distributor didn't know.

Of course I jumped on Facebook and immediately revealed this "new" feature on the Colleen Cardas Imports page. John, of course, jumped on within minutes and warned that the tweeter rotation is something that should be performed by the Axis dealer. So, kids, don't do this at home. But it's still cool.

After an hour or two of listening, we brought the Brigadiers Audio BA2 two-way monitors in for an audition. We were anxious, of course--Wilson Audio is a tough act to follow sometimes. And I'm not about to tell you that the BA2s came close to the performance of the Wilsons at a fraction of the price, because then you'd know I was just tryin' to sell you sumthin'. But once we had everything warmed up and playing music, I couldn't help but feel a little proud of the BA2s. I halfway expected them to sound like miniatures compared to the Alexias, but they sounded big and warm and full with plenty of extension at the frequency extremes.

I've had this particular pair of BA2s since January and I've used them in a lot of different systems, but the majority of my amplification is of the modestly-powered vacuum tube type and I've always felt that I needed to place a good 100 to 200 watts per channel on them to hear their true potential. Here they were, powered by the gigantic Parasound monoblocks, and they just kicked ass all over the place.

After our listening sessions, the five of us went down the road a bit (I saw a herd of wild cockatoos standing around on someone's front lawn on the way) and visited the iconic rock formation known as the Three Sisters. I was quickly reminded of CES back in January, where Colleen and I took a road trip to the Grand Canyon with Bartolomeo Nasta of Unison Research and Opera. Bart has wanted to see the Grand Canyon all his life, and every year he's asked us to take him. Well, this year we finally did. We rented a tiny and worthless Chevy, Spark and the three of us drove for four hours across Nevada and Arizona. When we finally arrived, the entire canyon was socked in with dense fog. Bart was so disappointed that we thought he was going to throw himself over the edge.

Just eight months later, I was facing the same problem at the allegedly lovely Three Sisters. We managed to be patient for a while and slowly this three-tiered rock formation revealed itself to me, especially as I hiked toward it. The only downside was that it was a very cool and rainy day, and I thought I could brave the temperatures in just a long-sleeve shirt. I had to borrow one of Brad's "jumpers," which is what Australians call jackets and sweaters.

I never did see a funnel-web spider. In fact, I had to go to a zoo to finally see one. But I did see this snake and decided to make friends. I posted this on my Facebook wall and everyone went nuts. One of my oldest friends exclaimed, "Marc, what are you DOING?" But as you can see, this particular snake was docile and slow-moving. VERY slow-moving. Almost motionless. Okay, completely motionless.

Thanks go to Edgar Kramer for a wonderful afternoon. And I'm planning on getting a subscription to Audio Esoterica as soon as I can--it's a welcome return to the sexy, beautiful pictorial magazines from the not-too-distant past.

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