It was all psychedelic retro in Room 9000, as Odyssey’s Klaus Bunge dimmed the lights and headed to Fillmore West as he played Iron Butterfly’s "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Given that I was hardly prepared to drop acid in the midst of blogging the show (as in who is that strange person from Stereophile who has spent the last 15 minutes staring at our turntable while muttering something about God being the deepest groove of all?), I didn’t know what was going on equipment-wise until I found Klaus outside the room and asked which way was up.
Given that Brodmann Acoustics uses Electrocompaniet components in their design studio, the pairing of Brodmann’s FS ($4500/pair), VC 2 ($19,900/pair) and VC 7 ($24,900/pair) loudspeakers with Electrocompaniet’s AW 180 power amplifier ($5425), EC 4.7 preamplifier ($3499), ECD-2 DAC ($3099, to be reviewed in the December issue by JA), and EMT-3 transport ($3995) was especially felicitous. I’m not sure which speakers I auditionedprobably the big guysbecause things got a little crazy when someone from another publication entered the room.
The Eficion loudspeaker/Plinius amplification combo, favored by Eficion’s Peigen Jiang because the fast amp complements the speed of the Eficion’s distinctive, highly detailed AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter, graced two adjacent rooms at RMAF. In the first, shared with FIM Music, Eficion F200 loudspeakers ($3400/pair), a Plinius SA103 amplifier ($10,150), Exemplar Audio preamp ($4250), and Exemplar-modded Oppo BDP-105 (aka the Expo T105$4750 including cost of the Oppo) produced gorgeous, full range sound and beautiful tonality on Jacques Loussier’s rendition of J.S. Bach’s Pastorale in C minor, from The Best of Play Bach. Credit is also due FIM’s remastering, which improves on the already fine sound of Loussier’s Telarc originals.
Designed and manufactured in Columbus, Ohio, the JansZen zA2.1 loudspeaker ($7495/pair) is an interesting design with a side-firing ring-radiator tweeter and two 7” Alnico woofersone above and one below a pair of stacked electrostatic panels.
Astell&Kern’s AK10 portable DAC ($299) measures 2.1 ” W x 2.1 ” H x 0.5 ” D, weighs just 1.8oz, and comes with an attractive leather case. It uses a Wolfson WM8740 DAC, capable of handling 24-bit/96kHz data, and is compatible with iOs (iPhone 5 and 5th generation iPod Touch) and Android (Galaxy S3, S4, Note2, Note3) operating systems. Its USB 2.0 input means it can also be used to improve the sound of music files stored on your Mac or PCjust send the output to your headphones or stereo. Inspired by turntable design, the silver circle atop the AK10 is actually a volume control: spin it to raise or lower the volume. Sweet.
Zesto first made its name with its Andros PS1 tubed phono preamplifier that Michael Fremer raved about in his April 2013 "Analog Corner" column. Then they launched the $7500 Leto tubed line stage, which Bob Reina will be reviewing in our February 2014 issue. Now they have the Bia 120 stereo power amplifier ($12,500), which uses a pair of autobiased KT88s per channel to produce 60Wpc. In a system featuring a Merrill Williams Real 101 turntable mounted with a TriPlanar tonearm and Dynavector XX2 cartridge, and TAD Evolution One speakers ($29,800/pair), I auditioned Steely Dan's classic "Hey Nineteen," which not only sounded superb but also got me thinking that the young girl who "don't remember ('Retha Franklin) the Queen of Soul" would now be 52!
I first heard Rockport's Avior speaker ($29,500/pair) in the VTL room at the 2012 CES where both Stephen Mejias and I were impressed by their sound. They sounded as good in the Xact Audio room at RMAF, driven by Absolare Passion Signature, zero-feedback, class-A, single-ended power amps ($48,500/pair). But contributing to the sound was the intriguing room treatment that you can see on the wall, cardboard diffusors that Xact calls the MIO and sells for $99/12 square feet.
The Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum DAC ($5500, including Voltikus power supply and remote control), seen here in the shadow of the wild Rubicon, utilizes the company’s 64-bit clocking technology, supports sampling rates up to 768kHz, and plays DSD files. It offers both analog and digital inputs, including balanced analog XLRs, unbalanced analog RCAs, AES/EBU, two coaxial, two Toslink, USB, and a 10MHz input for Antelope’s Rubidium Atomic Clock. Dual front-panel 1/4" headphone jacks, an analog volume control, and a spiffy app for PC, Mac, and mobile devices add to the fun.
SVS Sound’s Gary Yacoubian explained that his company’s speakers are designed to combine the dynamics of a home theater system with the neutrality of an audiophile system. “When voicing the speakers, we used real music that real people listen to in their homes.”
One of our favorite small desktop loudspeakers has been significantly revised. Audioengine’s new A2+ powered loudspeaker ($249/pair) is scheduled to ship on November 1. Upgrades include a built-in 16-bit Burr-Brown DAC; variable subwoofer output; and improved binding posts, AC connection, and power supply.
The UK’s Neat Acoustics is distributed in the US by High Fidelity Services in Braintree, Massachusetts. Here we see the company’s Motive SX2, in sassy pink ($2395/pair), driven by a Sonneteer Orton integrated amplifier ($3795). The digital source was Sonneteer’s Byron CD player ($2795), while vinyl was being spun on a VPI Scout 2 ($2400) with a Dynavector 20-2 XL cartridge ($850). The attractive rack is the Custom Design Ikon 750 Reference ($1475). Neat, indeed.
I was as surprised as everyone else who walked into the MSB room to find the company’s Universal Media Transport Plus ($5995), Diamond DAC Plus with Diamond Base ($34,000), and 200Wpc Platinum Stereo S201 amplifier ($17,995) driving the enormous SoundLab M1PX loudspeakers.
The KingSound King III electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) sounded superb at RAF, without the sweet-spot beaming I would have expected from their width. Amplifier was the 120Wpc, $6500 Innamorata from Wells Audio that I first heard at the 2013 Newport Beach Show, with an EAR 868 tube preamp ($7395) and Kaplan cables. Source was the latest Sound Science Music Vault M7 ($5595) with an Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC with Voltikus power supply ($5500). Analog source was a Townshend Rock 7 turntable ($3900) fitted with an Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge ($879).
Daedalus Loudspeakers has been a loyal exhibitor at RMAF, along with ModWright Instruments and WyWires. Their system showcased the Ulysses v.2 speakers ($14,950/pair) driven by a ModWright KWA 150 Signature amplifier ($8495), with the front-end a pre-production prototype ModWright Elyse DAC (price TBD) fed data from a ModWright-modded Oppo disc player, and ModWright LS 36.5 two-box preamp with tube-regulated power supply ($9995). Cables were WyWires PLatinum interconnects (from $1495) and Silver Series AC cords, with Daedalus/WyWires speaker cables. The Ulysses uses two full-range Fostex units for its midrange, combining it with twin tweeters and two proprietary 8" woofers with paper cones and corrugated surrounds originally designed by Daedalus 20 years ago for musical instrument use.