Audio Note now handles its US sales directly from the UK. The sound in their room may have been warmer than neutral, but it had an immediacy that I enjoy. Here, the vividness of a classic recording of music from Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila struggled to triumph over the bass commentary from the adjacent room’s Göbell behemoth. When the booming subsided, Jennifer Warnes emerged triumphant.
Steve (Sze) Leung, a neighbor of Stereophile’s Wes Phillips and a joy to boot, made my day when he played a 45 rpm audiophile pressing of Elvis’ “Are you Lonesome Tonight.” As the great one began to intone the chapters of this teenage melodrama with tongue-in-cheek sincerity, the sound was so vivid and lifelike that images of the night I tried to ask Ellen Schmidt to go steady flooded through my mind.
Vapor Audio’s Rick LaFaver had reason aplenty to smile. Playing MA Recordings’ fabled CD of Sera Una Noche: La Segunda, his system nailed the timbre of instruments spot on. I was amazed at the depth he achieved from his small speakers, and took special note of the realistic decay of the sound of brushes on cymbals and bells being struck. “The hollow resonance of the percussion seems real,” I wrote in my notes.
Hawaii-based Emerald Physicsa company I hadn't heard of until RMAF 2012demonstrated their own US-built loudspeakers and electronics with a Peachtree Audio novaPre preampD/A converter playing music files from a laptop computer. Emerald's CS2P open-baffle loudspeaker ($2990/pair) works as a dipole below 1000 Hz, with a 15" woofer and a horn-loaded 1" tweeter. The retail price of the system I heard, including the Peachtree unit; the Emerald Physics CS2P loudspeakers; Emerald's DSP2.4 active outboard crossover/EQ unit ($850); and the company's EPI100.2 100Wpc digital amplifier ($1600) was under $7000, not including computer and playback software. While far from perfectthe bass wasn't especially taut, and there was little in the way of the sorts of texture and tone I cravethe performance was clean, spacious, and satisfying.
I’m afraid I hit High Water Sound’s room at the end of the fourth floor at a time when, overwhelmed by how many systems I had left to visit before show’s end, could only muster the words “very nice sound” in my notes. Clearly I owe you an apology, and Jeffrey Catalano’s high-end emporium a visit the next time I’m in New York City.
Having heard the complete Haniwa 24/192 system twice, at two shows, I confess that I don’t get it. The ad for this $18,000 system, which includes 4" speakers, digital preamplifier with channel divider and DSP, and digital amplifier with recording and playback capabilities, proclaims: “An authentic 3D image pops up from sharply focused, high resolution left and right images . . . .Then, an authentic 3D sound should pop up from sharply focused, high resolution right and left channel sounds...” What I hear from digital copies of fine classical analog recordings is bright, edgy sound.
Squeezed into a small hotel room were the towering Gbell Epoque loudspeakers ($70,000/pair), driven by Artemis MK II monoblock amplifiers ($120,000), Stahl-Tek’s Opus DAC ($40,000) and Opus CDT ($37,000), with connections courtesy of Purist Audio Design 25th Anniversary cabling. How all this would have played out in a larger room, I do not know, but here, both period instrument and modern violins sounded edgy on different recordings, and bass was out of control on a third recording of a Mahler symphony.
There’s nothing like a good demo to change one’s opinion of what are now called Harman Luxury Audio components for the better. I had previously heard the pairing of JBL’s visually striking NDD66000 Everest loudspeaker ($60,000/pair) with Mark Levinson electronics at the speaker’s debut at CES a few years back. Although the buzz around the speaker was major, I recall thinking how dark and monochromatic the system sounded, and how it lacked the luminosity and color that I prefer.
Here, by contrast, the sound was some of the best solid-state sound I heard at the show . . .
There’s nothing like an active AB demo to convince that something major is going on with Synergistic Research’s increasing arsenal of mind-bending products. In one comparison, Ted Denney and Peter Hansen turned on and off the two Tranquility Bases ($1995/each including MiG supports) which were placed under their Computer Audio system and Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated amp ($2195). The difference in clarity, three-dimensionality, a lower noise floor, and image size was striking. Having a similar effect was turning on and off the Active Shielding on the company’s SR Active Firewire 800 cable ($595).
Robert Kelly of German Physiks strikes a pose worthy of a Kraftwerk album cover while showing off the company's newest loudspeaker, the Unlimited Mk.II ($13,500/pair). With the company's omnidirectional DDD driver handling everything above 200Hz, the Unlimited Mk.II had an unsurprisingly open and spacious sound, with the same sort of near holographic imaging I heard in the Nola room: very impressive.
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings was so busy cueing up music for visitors on the three headphone amps in his room that he barely had time to talk. I’m a huge MA Recordings fan, finding their choice of music from all genresthere’s even a recording of music composed and performed by Stereophile Contributing Editor/Web Monkey Jon Iverson. Alternesiaand their sound quality on both CD and high-resolution discs unique and compelling. In the photo, Todd is listening to his latest CD, Résonance, on which Nina Ben David plays music from baroque to contemporary on viola da gamba.
Without, of course, wishing in any way, shape, or form for the title of his four seminars, “Just How ‘Absolute’ Is Recorded Sound?,” to be misconstrued as referring to a certain publication based on what I personally consider a dubious concept, Stereophile editor John Atkinson used everything from a drumstick to a cowbell, both sounded “live” and played back on the seminar room’s stereo system, to convey the message: “Nothing is real. How the recording art affects what you think you hear!” As John proceeded to point out that the brain combines information from separate left and right loudspeakers into a single stereo image, my own brain began to repeat the refrain, “30 or so more rooms in the hall, 30 or so more rooms, If one of those rooms should end up uncovered, your ass will be plastered far into the wall.” Hence I vamoosed, and now leave it to John to say more about the content of his seminar.
As I entered the second floor seminar room, where I awaited the third of four installments of Stereophile editor John Atkinson’s “Just How ‘Absolute’ Is Recorded Sound?”, I happened upon an energetic exchange between Michael Fremer of Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com (right) and Roy Gregory, UK Editor of TheAudioBeat.com (left). Mikey was keeping it light, but the issue was real: how do you describe the sound of a component or system without telling listeners and readers what kind of sound they should prefer?
Taking a somewhat different, historical approach than my presentation on the same subject at the 2009 RMAF, HiFi Plus editor Alan Sircom, despite being jetlagged, forcefully showed how insensitive use of compression kills recorded sound.