Big does not mean five figures in Jolida's book. The most expensive equipment in their main exhibit on the second floor of the Marriott Tower were the Phase 6 Tape Deck from United Home Audio ($15,000) that was playing master tapes from The Tape Project, the Von Schweikert factory-direct VR33 loudspeakers ($3750/pair), and the Fosgate tube phono preamp ($2500).
Jolida of Maryland sure knows how to produce good sound for people with limited budgets. Playing Leonard Cohen's classic "Back on Boogie Street" through iTunes, with all the sonic compromises that Apple's music server imposes on a system, Jolida's Glass FX tube DAC ($350) and Glass FX 25 Integrated hybrid amplifier ($350) still sounded great. This was not toy hi-fi; it was an indisputable portal into the real thing, with a musicality that put to shame some much more expensive systems I encountered at RMAF.
Welcome to retro city. Not only did the Quad ESL2805 speakers ($10,000/pair), Classic II integrated amp ($6000) and QC24 phono stage ($2449) look from another era, but the equally classic-looking Merrill-Williams turntable ($4000), clamp ring ($649), weight ($249), and 33/45 power supply ($1150) was playing Frank Sinatra's "Days of Wine and Roses."
Here's an up-close look at the Merrill-Williams Audio table featured in the Quad room. The base is made of Rubber Elastomer Acoustic Laminate (aka R.E.A.L.got it?), and the platter of Bakelite resin composite. tHE outboard power transformer, clamping ring, etc. are not pictured. Despite its English-sounding name, the company is based in Memphis.
A dream machine for the used LP lover: AudioDeskSysteme’s record cleaning machine cleans both sides of an 12” record simultaneously, quietly, and thoroughly, without any effort from the user. Just push a button and walk away. Five minutes later, the record is clean and dry. At $3495, however, it’s expensive. Such luxuries don’t come cheap.
I enjoyed a conversation with Jude Mansilla, founder of Head-Fi, organizers of the CanJam conference which was sort of tucked away in the Marriott’s grand Rocky Mountain Event Center. The entire perimeter of the space was occupied by long tables, each showcasing headphones and headphone accessories from companies such as Sennheiser, Head-Direct, JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, CEntrance, Grado, Audeze, and Ray Samuels Audio.
Here’s a look at one of Jude Mansilla’s systems: Apple iPad, Head-Direct HiFiMan HM-801 portable music player, Grado Head-Fi Series HF-2 headphones. I took a quick listen and enjoyed the liquid midrange, the smooth, easy sound.
And here’s the new HiFiMan HM-602 ($439) which offers much of the functionality of the larger HM-801, but lacks that model’s modular headphone amp. It uses a Philips TDA-1543 DAC, offers 16GB onboard flash memory, and is about the size of an iPod Classic. Cool.
JH Audio, founded by Jerry Harvey (formerly of Ultimate Ears, and also known for his work as Van Halen’s audio engineer), had on display an entire line of in-ear monitors, from the single-driver JH 5 Pro ($399) to the 3-way JH 16 Pro ($1149). I listened to a bit of Tool’s “Schism,” from the album Lateralus (a John Atkinson fave), through the Ray Samuels Emmeline The Shadow (which was cute as heck), playing from an Apple iPad, and the JH 5. Nice! I was struck by the deep, grumbling lows, the expressive, truthful guitar tones, clarity of the voices, and the pure drive and impact.
I was impressed by the looks and sound of PMC’s new Fact 3 monitor ($9500/pair). PMC’s Ian Verdugo explained that the company gave the model the “deluxe audiophile treatment,” with a completely new design and modified transmission line. Shown in an attractive Tiger Ebony finish, the Fact 3 uses two 5.5” SEAS mid/woofers and a 0.75” Sonomex soft-dome, ferro-fluid cooled tweeter. On the speaker’s brushed anodized rear panel, users will find two switches for adjusting the high frequency and bass response.
Aperion Audio introduced their new Verus Grand line of speakers: the Verus Grand Tower ($1798/pair), Verus Grand bookshelf ($598/pair), and Verus Grand center channel ($699), all with very nicely finished, curved cabinets in attractive high-gloss cherry or piano black lacquer.
Products making their debut at the 2010 RMAF from Philip O’Hanlon’s On a Higher Note: The interesting LaSource SACD player/preamp/DAC from Audioaero ($44,000), Vivid G2 Giya loudspeaker ($50,000/pair), and Brinkmann 9.6 tonearm ($4000), Brinkmann Pi cartridge ($2700), and Brinkmann Edison tube phono stage ($12,900).
Audioaero’s LaSource ($44,000) combines an SACD/CD player with a preamp and DAC, and its “hybrid circuitry” makes use of 32-bit re-sampling technology and a “subminiature” tube output stage. It uses an Esoteric VRDS-NEO/VMK 5 transport mechanism and has a dedicated master clock for jitter and noise reduction.