Taking an imaginative approach to the design of their room, rack manufacturer Dynamic Contrasts was holding the impressive BMC C1 integrated amplifier and the Esoteric UX-3SE CD player in a tight embrace with its RTS system. With Legacy Focus SE speakers, the sound in this room featured impressive dynamics and extension at both ends of the spectrum, but the sound was so loud, not only with David Essex's driving "Rock On" but also with 10cc's gentle "I'm Not In Love," that I couldn't stay. Perhaps I am just getting old.
Zesto Audio was a name new to me, but their versatile Andros PS1 tubed MM/MC phono stage ($3900) was getting great sound from Billie Holiday's "Day In, Day Out," played on a Thorens TD309 player ($1900) fitted with a Dynavector DV-20X2L cartridge ($850). The rest of the system comprised a ModWright LS 100 tube preamp ($3495) and ModWright KWA 150 solid-state amplifier driving Fritz Carbon 7, Rev.5 speakers ($1795$1950/pair), wired with WyWires.
The United Home Audio room at RMAF featured Von Schweikert speakers driven by Jolida electronics, this time the Von Schweikert VR5 Anniversary Mk.2s ($30,000/pair), Jolida Fusion preamp and Fusion 200W tube monoblocks ($6000/all three). But my eye was drawn to the UHA Phase 9 tape deck, which was playing some Series 3 releases from The Tape Project, specifically Nat Adderley and his band performing "Work Song." One of the better-sounding rooms, I thought.
Von Schweikert speakers were featured in a number of rooms at RMAF, and their VR-33s ($4500/pair) were demonstrating impressive dynamics with a drum recording in the second-floor room the company was sharing with Jolida. Power was being provided by the new Jolida JD 1000RC tubed integrated amplifier, which gets 100Wpc into 8 ohms from its four matched pairs of EL34 tubes. The VR-33 weighs 103 lbs and combines an MTM array on the front panel with a rear-firing, port-loaded woofer. "Own a $15,000 speaker for only $3750" says Von Schweikert's literature. My notes said $4500, but whatever the exact price, you get a lot of speaker for the money. As you can see from the photo, the price of the VR-33 has been kept competitive by using a cloth covering for the enclosure rather than veneer.
A large name for a large loudspeaker, Nola's Baby Grand Reference Series II, which combines four Raven ribbon tweeters with two 9" magnesium-cone woofers and four proprietary 4.5" midrange units, was being demonstrated with Audio Research Reference 250 amplifiers and front-end, Nordost cables, a QX4 system conditioner, and a Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.5 AC isolation transformer. Like many rooms at this year's RMAF, a Billie Holiday track was playing when I went into the Nola exhibitin this case, "Lover, Come Back to me"and even in mono, the sound was immersive. The Show speakers had an attractive piano-gloss rosewood finish and they featured the 3.5-way Unison Xtreme Crossover System, implemented on three separate boards and integrated into the speakers themselves. The speaker's price of $55,000/pair will be maintained until the New Year, when they will rise to $58,000/pair.
Providing the music for the YG Kipod Series 2 speakers driven by an Esoteric amplifier in the Synergistic Research room was a Mach 2 music server feeding USB data to Synergistic's The Music Cable D/A converter ($3599). This has a flying USB input cable on one end and two flying, single-ended analog output cables on the other, and it gets power not from the USB bus but from two mono supplies. The system was wired with Synergistic's new Element cables, which use tungsten conductors, a material chosen, I was told, using blind listening tests.
It is obviously an Avalon design but the new Idea loudspeaker ($7995/pair) continues the Colorado company's goals of combining transparency and articulation with expansive soundstaging. All these qualities were in evidence at RMAF, with the Ideas driven by Electrocompaniet monoblocks on cuts from Johnny Cash and Luka Bloom. The Idea combines a 1" dome tweeter with two 7" Nomex-Kevlarcone woofers. The woofers are loaded with a downward-firing port.
There was a lot to see and hear in the PSB/NAD suite. Here we see JA rocking PSB’s first headphone, the noise-cancelling M4U 2 ($400). The M4U 2 uses battery power in active mode, but also works passively without battery power. The oval ear pads are thinner at the front, thicker at the back, for increased comfort and an effective seal. The headphones come with a tangle-free cord and protective travel case. I popped them on my happy head, listened for a bit, and was impressed by the lightweight, comfortable feel.
Wes Bender’s been in the hi-fi business for a long time and he’s finally decided to open up his own shop. Wes Bender Studio NYC is perhaps the newest audio salon in New York. I say “perhaps” because new hi-fi dealers seem to be popping up like mad around here. I can't keep up. This is a good thing. The more good places we have to listen, the better chance we have of growing.
Audioengine’s new A5+ ($399/pair in gloss black and white; add $70/pair for bamboo) adds a remote control, RCA and mini-jack inputs, a rear-panel USB charge port, rear-panel heatsink, upgraded speaker binding posts, and a variable preamp audio output. In addition, the A5’s large circular ports have been replaced by narrow slotted ports, said to provide a smoother, cleaner low end. (Who doesn't want that?)
My kind of style in the Music Hall room, where the featured system came in at under $4000: Music Hall’s new a70.2 integrated amplifier ($1499), MMF-2.2 turntable ($449) with Cruise Control 2.0 power supply and speed control ($299) and cork record mat ($50), a15.2 CD player ($499), the new DAC15.2 ($299), and Epos Epic 2 loudspeakers ($799/pair; see our reviews in the November and December issues).