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I went on travel this week, first to Bangor, WA and then to Kings Bay, GA. While I was on travel I had a few hours down time and some time before flights too, so I took the opportunity to visit a few hi-fi shops. I am always curious about what else is out there, even though I am very happy with my pawn shop Acoustat 3 based system. Also, my speakers are discontinued and old, so it's nice to determine what I could live with if they were every to develop too many problems for me to deal with.


First shop was Nuts About Hi Fi, in Bremerton, WA. They are a nice shop, no pressure, love to let you listen. For speakers, they only carry Focal. I listened to one model, not sure what it was. The salesman, Matt, told me they were around $3400 the pair. They were floor standers and ported. I found them initially impressive and very detailed, but soon realized I was listening to individual pieces of what the speaker could do, rather than being drawn into the music. The acoustic guitar on Cassandra Wilson's cover of Harvest Moon was distinctly separate from her vocals. It was almost like I had to pick one or the other to focus on. I had to go to a meeting, but the owner told me he would hook up the Sopra model, their newest, so I could come back for more listening. Unfortunately he got called away and was unable to do so.


I had to drive to Sea-Tac that afternoon, as my flight the next morning was very early. I just made it to Advanced Audio, less than 45 minutes before closing. I was quite up front that I was killing time, nevertheless the salesman, Victor, was quite friendly and let me listen to several speakers. I'm pretty sure I left after closing time.


I listened first to the Vandersteen 2Ce signature. I have always been curious about these speakers and found them utterly engaging to listen to. They didn't knock you over the head and say "look, we're hi fi" they just drew you in to the music. I listened to Eva Cassidy, Lila Downs and Cassandra Wilson. The purity of Eva Cassidy's voice was beautiful, the bass and impact on the Lila Downs and Cassandra Wilson track was there, along with just wonderful musicality. Although they didn't make me want to change over right away, I also left that listening session utterly convinced I could easily live with these if my Acoustat 3s ever give up the ghost.


Next I listened to the Vandersteen 5A CT (carbon tweeter). Wow! Me want. $29K a pair, so me no get. These had all the detail of the speakers that make you go "wow" but the engaging musicality of the 2Ce (or the Acoustats for that matter). I listened to some jazz and the brass sounded real. These are easily the best speakers I've ever heard. If a rich aunt I don't know I have dies and leaves me unlimited funds, I'll build a system around these.


Next day I was in Kings Bay and afterwards had time before my flight home to stop at House of Stereo in Jacksonville, FL. Another great store with a very nice salesman who, although he knew I was only browsing to kill time and have some fun, let me listen to several systems. Here I listened to vinyl, two different VPI turntables, one hooked up to Ayre electronics driving Maggie 3.7i speakers, the other (a Scout) hooked up to a Parasound integrated driving Maggie 1.7i speakers.


I haven't listened to Maggies in years. I was quite impressed by both, the 3.7i had near the detail of the big Vandersteens at much less money. I did notice that as per their reputation, the 3.7s needed a bit more volume to really open up. Fun, but worrisome given that I often listen after my wife has gone to bed.


They 1.7 models were very engaging, in some ways easier to listen to. For one thing, they were definitely more engaging at lower volumes. They were similar to the Vandy 2Ce to me in that I could imagine just wanting to listen more and more to them, much like I do with my own Acoustats.


All three shops were very nice to an admitted looky-loo. (Listen loo?) I though Nuts was a little Nuts to only carry one speaker line, but that's their choice. I was hugely impressed by the Vandy 5A carbon, and found it even more impressive that the Maggie 3.7 could build a whole system to compete with the big Vandys for probably the cost of the Vandy speakers alone. Of course, they do need both room volume and spl volume.


If over time the Acoustats give up the ghost, I found two American made speakers for not tons of money I could easily live with, the Vandy 2Ce signature 2 and the Maggie 1.7i.

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