I’m not at all embarrassed or ashamed to admit that there have been times when I was so distracted by a system’s appearance that I couldn’t properly appreciate its performance. Similarly, there have been times when I was so overwhelmed by a system’s price, that I couldn’t even hear its music.
But, here, in the MBL suite, just as in the Wilson/VTL suite, the sound of music was so compelling that I was easily able to ignore those aspects that are beyond my appreciation and reach.
You know the slinky hi-hat, the funky wah, the groovy bass line; the slow-building horns, the deep voice, the suggestive lyrics: Who’s the black private dick / That’s a sex machine to all the chicks? / (Shaft!) / Damn right…
There was a party going on in the Xact Audio room.
Based in Taiwan, Lawrence Audio Co. (“Inspired by Musical Masters”) manufactures limited-edition and custom-made loudspeakers modeled after stringed instruments. Lawrence Liao, founder and chief designer, is also an interior decorator, music lover, and musician: He plays saxophone, violin, and piano.
Lawrence’s line includes the two-way, standmounted Mandolin; the slightly larger Violin; and the 3.5-way, floorstanding Cello ($18,000/pair), which was playing when I walked into the room.
Dali’s Thomas Knudsen may look a bit shy, but he was quite proud of the show debut of Dali’s Epicon 8 loudspeakers ($20,000/pair). Hidden from view were Naim’s NAC 172 streaming preamp ($2895), CD5i-2 ($1795), NAP 250-2 ($5995), and the UnitiServe SSD ($3995) network server with bit-perfect CD ripping capability.
The natty Barnaby Fry, Philip O’Hanlon’s rival in the bow tie department, was getting good sound from a handmade-in-the-UK system, consisting of Rega’s RP6 Limited Edition Union Jack Version turntable, shown complete with cartridge and electronic speed control ($2095), Apollo-R CD player ($1095), DAC ($995), and Brio-R integrated amp ($895). Chord cabling held the system together (and a whole lot more), and fed signal from the electronics to MC’s twenty.21 ($2600$2800/pair, depending upon finish), a stand mount monitor from the same Professional Monitoring Company that is said to help standardize the BBC’s studio sound.
KT Audio Imports put together a cost-no-object system, comprising: Eventus Audio Nebula loudspeakers ($65,000/pair), a large three-way design with a specified sensitivity of 91dB; Triangle Art (“Design for Perfection) Reference turntable ($16,500); NAT Audio Magma single-ended monoblock power amplifiers ($44,990/pair), rated to deliver 160W into 4 or 8 ohms; NAT Signature Phono phono preamp ($7800); and NAT Symmetrical balanced line stage ($8690).
First of all, I’d like to point out that, though I probably should have, I did not take this picture. This picture was taken by VPI’s young Mathew Weisfeld, who is way cooler than me.
Now, the turntable is VPI’s Traveler, which I review in our November issue. What turntable, you ask? That turntable therethe one behind the girl in the red glasses. (The red glasses, she told me, weren’t hers, but instead belonged to Music Hall’s Leland Leard. But that’s another story.)
I emerged from the elevator, to be greeted by the sound of a late Beethoven piano sonata being played with power and precision by a slightly built young lady. The artist, 22 year-old Fan-Ya Lin, was the winner of the 2010 Music Teachers National Association Steinway Young Artists National Piano Competition, and other awards. She studied at Weber State University where she was spotted by Kimber Kable prez Ray Kimber. Ray, who has always sponsored live music performances at RMAF, arranged for Ms. Lin to give recitals during the days at the show, with a big concert Saturday night. Fan-Ya Lin has a new SACD out on Ray Kimber's Isomike label: Emerging, featuring performances of Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata, Bach's Toccata in c, and works by Chopin and Lowell Liebermann.
My thanks to Ms. Lin and Ray for reminding me how much further audio reproduction has to go before it could be mistaken for the real thing.
The November issue of Stereophile was new at RMAF and free to Showgoers. We were kept busy all weekend replenishing the stock on our booth, which were literally walking away. But no prizes for spotting the enigmatic suggestion in Eric Swanson's cover photo of the VPI Traveler turntable.
Dynaudio’s Michael Manousselis was having a ball showing the Xeo 5 ($4500/pair with transmitter and remote) and Xeo 3 ($2300/pair with transmitter and remote). With music sourced from a Mac mini, then sent up to 50’ via Dynaudio’s transmitter unit to the digital amps of up to three sets of speakers, the total-solution Xeo obviates the need for amps, preamps, DACs, interconnects, and speaker cables. Given all that, the sound is pretty amazing for the price.
Across the hallway from the Xeo dem, on the fourth floor of the Marriott Atrium, Dynaudio and T+A featured two systems. The one I heard delivered solid, satisfying sound from Dynaudio’s Focus 260 floorstanders ($4900/pair) driven by T+A’s Power Plant balanced Vollverstärker integrated amplifier ($3100) and Music Player balanced multi-source CD player/DAC/streaming client ($4400). The latter can be controlled with T+A’s recently released Control App.
The Sound Organisation’s Naim system inspired me to jot “very musical and complete” in my notes. On active duty were Naim’s NDS reference network player equipped with their top DAC ($10,995) with separate 555PS power supply ($9645), NAC202 upgradable preamp ($3295) with separate power supply ($2195), NAP250-2 80Wpc stereo amplifier ($5995), and S400 loudspeaker ($6495/pair in the finish shown).
I still recall, many years ago, being blown away by the sound of one of ProAc’s extremely musical monitors. The company re-emerged at RMAF 2012 to display the ProAc Response D40/R ($12,000$14,000/pair, dependent upon finish). Hooked up to Sonus Veritas’ Modena DAC ($15,999), Genoa preamplifier ($15,999), and Florence KT120 monoblock power amplifiers (not yet released, price TBD), and sources unidentified, the system was producing excellent solid, full-range sound on a track from the Michael Wolff Trio’s 2 AM.
“These blood-red eyes don’t see so good / But what’s worse is, if they could / Would I change my ways?”
So sings Dan Auerbach on “These Days,” the closing track from the Black Keys’ excellent 2010 album, Brothers. As Auerbach sings, achingly, slide guitar weeps, bells chime, bass guitar thumps along woefully, cymbals splash, and floor toms rumble. It’s a beautiful few moments of R&B-inspired pop music, flooded with heartache.