The Audio Alternative's big room on the ninth floor was one in which I spent more time than I had intended, such was the spacious sweep of sound produced by the Vandersteen Model 7 speakers ($50,000/pair with premium M7 crossovers) driven by Audio Research Reference 250 monoblock amplifiers ($25,990/pair). A CD of Joe Williams singing a vocal version of Miles Davis's "All Blues," recorded 20 years ago with the then-groundbreaking Colossus digital system kept me in my seat. The source components were supported on one of Harmonic Resolution Systems' excellent racks, BTW.
I stuck my head in the door of Room 8009. "That's Willie Nelson," I recognized that distinctive voice. "But what's he singing? Wait a second, that's Peter Gabriel's 'Don't Give Up'WT...?" I had to go in and take a seat. Daedalus Athena three-way speakers ($9950/pair) were being driven by AMR AM-77 monoblock amplifiers which in turn were being fed signal from a First Sound Presence Deluxe tubed preamp ($9200). Source was AMR's impressive CD-77 CD Processor. Nice, very nice.
Emotiva introduced their Pro line at RMAF, beginning with three active loudspeakers: the Airmotiv4 ($399/pair), Airmotiv5 ($599/pair), and Airmotiv6 ($799/pair). Microphone preamps, DACs, and high-performance monitors are all in the works.
Dan Laufman explained that his background is in pro audio and most of the people involved with Emotiva have some sort of interest in recording and music production. As a frustrated ex-musician, Laufman longed to again be a part of the creative experience.
Retailer Denver Audio Designs was featuring Thiel's elegant-looking SCS4T tower speakers ($3690/pair) in its RMAF room. But the Dire Straits album playing when I entered the room had more low bass than I remembered the Thiels giving when we reviewed them. The system was familiarSimaudio Moon 360D player, 350P preamplifier, and 330A amplifier, all wired with StraightWirebut then I saw in the corners a pair of Thiel's new USS subwoofers. The towers were bring run full-range, with the subs reinforcing the sound below 40Hz.
I know audiophiles are not supposed to like Diana Krall. But the singer/pianist has true jazz instincts. Her version of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," played back an open-reel tape on a Right Sound-modified Studer A80, with the Usher Dancer Mini 2 speakers ($4999/pair) driven by Usher amps and connected with JPS Aluminata cables was gripping. Undoubtedly contributing to the quality of the sound was the fact that, like many exhibitors, Usher had made a serious attempt to modify the acoustics of their room at RMAF with acoustic treatments.
Their politically incorrect poster may have raised some hackles, but it has to be admitted that Odyssey was making some great sounds in their room at RMAF. Klaus Bunge was showing off the Kismet Reference Monitor standmounts ($2500/pair including stands), which use a Scanspeak beryllium-dome tweeter, driving the speakers with the two-chassis Odyssey Reference Line amplifier ($3500), which combines a tubed input stage with solid-state output. I listened to that old audiophile classic, Radka Toneef singing Jim Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," and the tangibility and solidity of the imaging was to be marveled at, given that wide-baffle speakers tend not to throw a stable, well-defined soundstage.
Dynaudio’s Mike Mannousselis always brings a ton of awesome music to hi-fi shows, and this time he played a track called “Suzanne” by Asobi Seksu, a band I once booked to play at Uncle Joe’s, a small but dearly loved dive bar in downtown Jersey City.
Doshi Audio was new to me, but the sound the Doshi Jhor 90W monoblock amp ($18,995/pair) was getting from Wilson Sasha W/P speakers withshudderan MP3 of Porcupine Tree was impressive. I was relieved, however, when a Milt Jackson LP, featuring Ray Brown playing a bowed solo version of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," went on the SME 20/3 turntable fitted with a Koetsu Onyx cartridge and SME Series V tonearm. The rest of the system included Doshi's own Alaap v2.1 full-function preamplifier ($14,995), a Wadia S7i CD player and 171i iPod Dock, with Transparent Audio cables used throughout.
And the names? "Jhor" and "Alaap," Nick Doshi explained to me, are two of three parts of the Indian raga musical form.
The sound of the Harbeth Compact 7 speakers, driven by an LFD integrated amplifier via TellurideQ cables was as musically communicative as I was expecting. But then I saw the triangular Stein Magic Diamond sitting on top of the speaker cabinet and knew I was in the presence of serious audio strangeness. Sam Tellig wrote about the Stein devices in his September 2011 issue column: "The Harmonizers, Magic Stones, and Magic Diamonds helped make the room boundaries disappear and the venue of each recording matter more. It was as if sound flowed more freely through the air."
But the sound in this room did have some special magic to it.
One of Colorado dealer Listen-Up's rooms at RMAF featured Musical Fidelity gear, including the M1 CLiC network player ($1999) that Jon Iverson will soon be reviewing for Stereophile. But what caught my attention in this room was the cute Penaudio Cenya speaker ($3995/pair), a two-way stand-mount that uses premium SEAS drive-units. We have been impressed by Penaudio speakers in the past, so it was good to hear that Tempo Distribution will now be importing these Scandinavian speakers, which use a unique cabinet construction combining MDF and plywood, in the US. The sound of John Lee Hooker dueting with Van Morison was surprisingly full-bodied considering the diminutive size of the speakers.
Tempo Distribution's John Quick was putting an LP on the Basis 2200 turntable (fitted with the Basis Vector 4 tonearm and My Sonic Labs Eminence EX cartridge)when I went into his room. He was showing off Musical Fidelity's new M1 VINL (no "Y") phono preamp ($1199), which has the same form factor as the M1 DAC and a front-panel display to show which of 10 resistive loadings (MC) or capacitive loadings (MM) has been selected. The sound of vinyl in this room, with the Musical Fidelity M6 500i 500Wpc integrated amp ($7000) driving Verity Leonore floorstanding speakers ($16,000/pair), was clean, clear and full-range.
But what I enjoyed most in this room was a live 24/48 recording of Tori Amos singing and playing piano at the Montreux Jazz Festival,played from John's laptop running Amarra and sending USB data to the dCS U-Clock interface for the Puccini player used as a DAC. Ms. Amos sounded vividly real.