Although he looks a bit burned from being asked to play one too many Columbia LPs, whose harsh string tone belies the myth that vintage analog recordings are de facto superior to CDs, Dan Meinwald has a lot to be happy about. The EAR Acute CD player ($5900), 890 Primary Drive 70W stereo amp, 868 preamp complete with phono stage ($6900), Discmaster turntable ($20,000 without tonearm), Dynavector XVIS cartridge, and debut 3-way, open-baffle dipole loudspeakers ($7000/pair—also available in a larger model) were creating a wonderful, magical soundstage on Stokowski’s monumental recording of Smetana’s The Moldau. It’s no wonder that so many dedicated audiophiles continue to be seduced for life by EAR’s vaunted sweetness and bloom.
Audio Note UK, shown at RMAF by its US distributor AudioFederation.com, chose the Denver Show for the world premiere of its first USB-input DAC. The DAC 0.1X, an entry-level product that features neither anti-alias filtering nor oversampling, and uses a teeny little 6111WA dual-triode output tube that is said to behave like a 12AU7 but last a staggering 100,000 hours, was making fine sound paired with a complete line of Audio Note components and cables.
Audio Federation doesn't play around. Its top-of-the-line, no-holds-barred system centers around the Marten Coltrane Supreme loudspeaker ($250,000/pair), Audio Note UK Ongaku amplifier ($85,000), EMM Labs/Meitner Design CDSD SE transport ($8400) and DCC2 SE DAC ($13,500), Brinkmann Balance turntable ($29,900), Lamm LP2 Deluxe phono preamp ($6990), and, for this system, modestly priced Lyra Titan cartridge ($5000). Cabling is no less than Nordost Valhalla, Stealth Indra, Jorma Design No.1 and PRIME, while power cords and distributors include Nordost Valhalla, Elrod Statement II and Signature III, and Acrolink Mexcel 7N-7100.
So read the flyer promoting YG Acoustics' dem in room 446 I picked up in the Marriott's lobby. So I went by room 446. Twice. Neither time could I get in, such was the throng inside. But I did manage to hold my camera above the avid listeners' heads to take a shot of the Colorado company's Anat Reference speaker, which had very much impressed me when I heard it at the 2006 CEDIA Show. I am going to try to get a listen on the Show's final day, but the news that YG has hired veteran sales manager Dick Diamond away from Kimber is a sign that this new speaker manufacturer is aiming high.
Musical Fidelity/Era Design distributor SignalPath's David Solomon is also interested in the desktop and enthusiastically demmed the new Peachtree Decco for me. The $700 tubed D/A processor/60Wpc integrated amplifier has a rear-panel bay that will accommodate the popular Sonos ZP80 WiFi media player and will take either digital or analog signals to its own, higher-quality DAC circuitry and output stage. It also has a USB input. The revolution is here.
Audioengine is making a name for itself with its extremely affordable powered speakers. But rather than photograph the speakers being demmed at RMAF, I concentrated on the Apple iBook running iTunes being used as the source. "What's that?" I asked, pointing to the dongle.
I went into the Esoteric room to take a listen to the digital components that build on the performance of the excellent SA-60 universal player that graced our October cover. But my attention was drawn to a pair of elegant loudspeakers sporting the Esoteric name. The Mg20 floorstander ($8410/pair) and bookshelf Mg10 ($5500/pair plus stands) feature tweeters and woofers fabricated from the very light metal magnesium, which is said to have an optimal combination of stiffness and self-damping. It has not been previously used in speakers (other than in alloys) because it degrades with exposure to the air. However, Esoteric collaborated with a British company to develop an effective protective coating.
Well, not really. But the Thiel CS3.7 speakers set-up in the Denver Audio Designs room could be driven either by an all-Bryston system—the new BCD-1 CD player ($2395), BP26 preamp, and a pair 7B-SST monoblocks—or an all-Simaudio Moon system: SuperNova CD player P7 preamp, and W7 power amp. I listened to "Comfortably Numb" from Pink Floyd's The Wall with both set-ups and the differences were both audible and surprising. The Moon system favored David Gilmour's paradigmatic guitar solo; the Bryston the contribution of David Mason's drums and Roger Waters' bass. I could have lived with either.
In Hebrew, the number 18 is called "chai," which also means "life." As my final (and 18th) blog entry from Day One at RMAF, I was happy to report how thrilled Jeff Wilson and I were with the sound in the Gill/Art Audio/Daedalus room.
I really enjoyed the mellow sound created by the USB-input Benchmark DAC 1 and the Studio Electric T3 loudspeakers. The speaker, with its 87dB sensitivity and 4 ohm impedance, is distinguished by the 6.5" broad-band drive-unit, encased in a stainless-steel sphere, that handles frequencies from 50Hz to 4kHz. Although you can see the diminutive silk-dome tweeter in the photo, the side-firing 8" woofer, which handles the single octave from 25–50Hz, is missing from view. Very, very nice.
Barrows Wurm urged me to "take a picture because it’s beautiful." This is PS Audio's as-yet-unnamed, forthcoming transport. A replacement for the aged PS Audio Lambda used in their RMAF rack display, it should cost under $2000. Other components included the Power Plant Premiere ($2195), GCC250 class-D Control Amplifier ($3495), and DL3 DAC ($995).
The sound in the large PS Audio room was impressive. Despite, at one point, my trying to listen to music over three conversations at once, the system on display,—all PS Audio save for the Avalon Ascendant speakers and JL Audio subs—was distinguished by its full midrange and inviting warmth. The sign on the poster behind the system—"Perfect Power Without the Box"—refers to the company’s forthcoming rack, which will have a power conditioner built into the bottom, additional power filters for every component, and the power itself carried by the tails of the rack. The initial plan is for an 11" wide rack designed for smaller, "lifestyle" components. (I’m one of those folks more concerned with having a life than displaying a lifestyle, but a chacun son gout). A desktop version is also planned.
Ayre and Vandersteen are two companies whose products have achieved an enviable reputation for excellence. I was, in fact, blown away by my listening experience in the Ayre room at RMAF 2006, and looked forward to an equally enveloping experience this year.
I was impressed by the extremely full-range presentation of the VMPS RMD-60 loudspeaker ($9950/pair) paired with the VMPS Very Solid Subwoofer ($1850)—especially with the system's admirable bass control. Part of the credit goes to Bybee special-effect Golden Goddess AC cables and speaker bullets, Bolder Cable interconnects and cables, the rest to the Eastern Electric M156 monoblocks (160W into 8 ohms, $7000/pair, based on the EL 156 pentode tube), and Bolder's Statement Level Modded Squeezebox 3 ($1300). If The Bolder Cable Company’s display sounded this good with brand-new amps that were not yet broken in, I look forward to hearing it again once everything is fully ready to strut its stuff.