Shame on me for not writing down the name of Ron Sutherland’s adorable pooch, who stayed on my lap as we orbited to bliss with the great Johnny Hartmann. Partnering with some guys named John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, Hartmann made magic of “They Say It’s Wonderful.” Of course, that was on LP, soundingyeswonderful thanks to a Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 table with Tri-Planar arm, Sutherland N1 full-feature line/phone preamplifier ($18,000) and Sutherland Power Block amplifier ($6000), arrayed on a Krollo Rack and connected to each other and Avalon Transcendent loudspeakers by Incline cabling.
No US audio show feels complete without hearing Acoustic Zen cables, interconnects, power cords, and loudspeakers connected to Triode Corporation electronics. Acoustic Zen’s Robert Lee deserved to smile, because his set-up showed everyone’s equipment at its best. Upsampled to 192kHz, a violin CD sounded gorgeous, and the low organ pedals on Saint-Saëns’ well-known “Organ Symphony” were equally convincing.
How perfect. Shortly before I entered the room shared by Win Tinnon of Saskia Turntables and his friends, Dave Slagle of EMIA and Chris Kline of Telwire, relatively new singer/recording artist Lyn Stanley dropped by to hear her new LP. Lyn has an extremely special, warm mezzo, perfect what she calls “retro jazz,” which found its ideal home in the room’s fabulous sounding, clear and warm system. So did Bob McChesney’s trombone, which accompanied her with the perfect mix of edgy power and warmth. Thanks to Win’s hospitality and Lyn’s voice, this was one of my special moments at a very special show.
Crescendo Fine Audio of Boulder, a year-old venture founded by music lover and second-generation audio dealer Matt Alterman, 34, made its first showing at RMAF into a major event by sponsoring two impressive rooms. In 9018, Aerial Acoustics 7T loudspeakers ($9850) danced with Ayre’s V5X 175Wpc stereo amplifier ($7950), C-5xeMP universal audio disc player ($5950), and QB-9 DSD DAC ($3250). Preamps were Octave’s tubed HP 300SE ($7000) and, for phono, Red Wine Audio’s battery powered Analogica ($1995). A VPI Classic 1 ($2800) with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($1099) topped a system supported by Quadraspire’s Sunoka Vent 2 bamboo shelf rack ($795/shelf), and wired with Shunyata Research cabling, with a Shunyata Triton power distributor with stainless-steel feet ($4995) making sure everything sounded at its best.
Norbert Lindemann tells me that his musicbook:20 ($5000) and musicbook:25 ($5500) will be available in six weeks. The musicbook:25 is a remotely controlled network player/CD player that includes a TEAC CD drive and USB-A port. It also contains a fully balanced analog preamp with analog volume control as well as class-A headphone amplifiers. The musicbook:20 lacks the 25’s CD drive.
I always have to remind myself that, despite Marantz’s “mass-market” reputation, the company’s Reference line products have more than earned their place on audiophiles’ equipment racks because they sound so good. Which leads to Marantz’s TT-15S1 turntable ($1500) and PM-14S1 integrated amp with phono stage ($2500). As best I can tell from my scribble, the table is a joint venture from Marantz and Clearaudio, and comes complete with arm and cartridge. What I am sure of is that system had a really nice midrange and lovely sound.
In the room put together by Rutherford Audio of Denver, Genesis’ 7.2f loudspeaker ($12,500/pair), whose servo-controlled bass extends down to 22Hz; Burmester’s 089 CD player ($33,000), Phono 100 ($20,000), and 956 amplifier ($19,000); Thorens’ TD 2035 Black with TP92 Genesis cartridge (price given as $6399 table, priceless cartridge); and Genesis cabling made for an ear-opening combination. An LP of Count Basie and his Orchestra’s “Me and you” had huge dynamic range, a nice and warm midrange, and an aggressive top. My JVC-XRCD of Sarah Vaughan and Basie was a bit mellower, but the top was again bright.
Thanks to PS Audio’s P5 Power Plant ($3495) and Nordost’s Norse cabling, Krell’s Phantom III preamplifier ($5499, or $7000 w/optional 24/192 onboard DAC), S-350A CD 24/192 CD player ($2500), EVO 2250E amplifier ($8000), and Krell Connect ($3500) were enabling Magico’s S-1 loudspeakers ($12,600/pair) to perform wonderfully. In the room sponsored by Audio Video Logic of Iowa, a Red-Book file of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” had great slam and midrange power, with the guitar singing clear and free in a deep soundstage.
German loudspeaker manufacturer ELAC showed its prototype Air-X403. Scheduled for launch at CES2014, the wireless loudspeaker system includes a passive model ($2800?) and an active baby with a 210Wpc, class-A/B amplifier ($4000 range total). This black, bottom-ported speaker system did a very nice job on a track by Diana Krall, a singer John Atkinson enjoys, and I do in moderation. I would never have expected such a good midrange from such small speakers.
AudioStream.com's Michael Lavorgna took a front-row seat for Chad Kassem's discussion of his company's DSD download site. Photo: John Atkinson
“We’re so lucky that it’s all coming together at once,” said Acoustic Sounds’ Chad Kassem.
On the final morning of the 2013 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, editors from Stereophile, AudioStream.com, and AnalogPlanet.com gathered in Kassem’s demo room to learn more about his new Super HiRez DSD download site.
With Tyll Hertsens reporting in depth on RMAF’s CANJAM 2013 at our sister site, innerfidelity.com, I’ll just briefly acknowledge the scope of this major exhibition. Hosted by Head-Fi.org, the event drew the youngest crowd in its history.
I discovered the popularity of the “Cartridge Alignment” seminars presented by Vana Ltd.’s Stirling Trayle and the “Speaker Set-Up” presentations by AudioBeat.com’s Roy Gregory were when I passed the closed doorway to their seminar room and discovered people already lined up for the next presentation.
Warned that the speakers and phono cartridge were not fully broken in, I entered Vana Ltd’s Room 9025 to discover Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand SE loudspeakers ($5500/pair) paired with the debut of the Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable with 12 Jelco and Acoustical Systems Arché headshell ($8000) and equipped with an Ortofon Windfeld phono cartridge ($3900). Also in the system were Primare’s CD 32 CD player ($2800), I32 with MM30 media upgrade integrated amplifier ($4500), and R32 phono amp ($1200); IsoTek’s EVO3 Aquarius Mains conditioner ($2000), EVO3 Syncro active DC blocking cable ($1750), and EVO3 premier power cables ($195/each). Analysis Plus analog cables completed a system whose bass was not under control, and whose midrange was somewhat muffled, but whose highs, on an LP test pressing of Mahler’s Symphony 3, were quite wonderful.
When I entered the room sponsored by the three above entities, I heard first a CD quality file of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and then a 192kHz sample-rate file of period instrument violinist Rachel Podger playing Bach. I thought the system wonderful at handling complex information, keeping everything clean, and controlling the basssuperb in fact. The only question arose when, on an SACD of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Handel, the voice was somewhat damped.
What actually transpired as the person in charge of the darkened room began to change LPs:
Me: What are you putting on?
Him: (sounding slightly hostile) What am I putting on?
Me: Yes. What music are you playing?
Him: It’s violin music.
Me: (To myself: Yes, I do know what a violin sounds like.) To him: What violin music?
Him: “I can’t pronounce it. Here, you look.”