Herb Reichert's Final Day at RMAF
I have always thought that open baffles and transmission lines were among the smartest ways to make good, neutral-sounding loudspeakers. But the problem is always those half- and quarter-wavelength effects. To get deep smooth bass you need a large baffle and a long transmission line. Neither format is easy or inexpensive to manufacture. Not to mention, large open baffles can easily dominate a domestic living space.
But today's designers have seen how open baffles can reduce (or eliminate) so-called box colorations. And, by using either active or passive frequency-response correction/equalization they can make the baffles very small and rigid. The Spatial Hologram M4s uses a passive approach and keeps their baffle size to 36" x 16" x 3" and still make bass that reaches down to 45Hz. And they look good too!
Using a Red Dragon Audio stereo amp ($1999) and the sweet-sounding Apogee Duet DAC ($649), these handsome room-friendly open-baffle speakers were making some of the finest grained most relaxed sound at the show.
Like Spatial Audio, R2R Audio Ltd. makes single-driver, full-range, open-baffle loudspeakers, but their designs employ a powered 15" driver in a DSP-equalized system. The R2R speakers played even better than they looked and that's saying a lot, as I thought they looked sensational. These slick beauties are made in Toronto, Canada and they made music that was big and open and race-car fast.
Wei Chang's Enigmacoustics specializes in radical new employments of self-biased electrostatic (electret) design. They just introduced a set of $1200 headphones whose quality and value caught me totally by surprise. In addition to exceptional clarity and natural tone, these hybrid dynamic/electrostatic earspeakers image much better than any of the many others I have tried. I never before experienced a headphone that could project a singer or musician so solidly into space.
This extraordinary image construction was especially obvious at a Chesky recording session at a church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. After sitting behind the binaural dummy head and listening to The New Appalachians sing and play just a few feet in front of me, I returned to the recording desk and listened to the live mike feed via a variety of expensive and highly regarded headphones. The Enigmacoustics phones were the only ones that placed the musicians exactly where I saw and heard them in the church nave. Images extended further from my head than with any previous headphones I have used.
At the last several audio shows, I have enjoyed music emitted by the Enigmacoustics Sopranino self-biased electrostatic, "ambient restoration devices" ($3690/pair) used in conjunction with Kent McCallum's (Electrostatic Solutions Ltd.) modified Quads in the Robyatt Audio rooms. Although I can't say I actually heard the Sopraninos, I can agree with John Atkinson in his June 2014 review of the Sopranino that the effect of this remarkable electrostatic speaker + electrostatic super tweeter combination was vivid, hyper detailed and spellbindingbut in the most relaxed and un-mechanical way.
Today, at RMAF 2015, I got to hear the Sopraninos as part of their new Mythology M1 hybrid electrostatic mini-monitor speaker system ($14,690/pairstands and Sopraninos included) and I was deeply impressed by the weight and body these moderately sized loudspeakers could generate. Musical energy filled the room with noticeable force and transparent elegance. Just like with the Enigmacoustics headphones, images were unusually clear and accurately formed. I would have to rate this as one of the best sounding rooms at the show. From where I am sitting, Enigmacoustics looks like a new company with a very big future. Bravo Wei Chang!
I like Steven Norber. When he makes a demonstration, he always talks and explains things like "breath management" or how Prana means "life force" in Sanskrit. His soft clear voice and the rich-sounding music he plays always make me feel good about my life in audio. Today, Steve sat on the floor in a yoga position (his smile was hypnotizing) and explained how listening to recorded music in the home can generate a whole spectrum of emotional-body reactions ranging from 'fight or flight' to 'rest and digest'this kind of thinking works for mebecause I always see high-end audio design as a sophisticated form of energy management. I see listening to music in our homes as a sort of self-prescribed mood changer or a curated dream journey into our shared human pasts. I think Steven does too.
Steven also knows that serene breath management and feelings of rest and digest are always enhanced when he drives his excellent and surely underpriced Prana Fidelity Vayu/fs loudspeakers ($6950/pair) with his own purna/ma amplifier ($8950) and purna/ca preamp ($9950 balanced w/phono). Mr. Norber also knows that if he wants his listeners to perceive the musical life forces his equipment can project, he needs to employ venerable sources. Today he played vinyl on a Kuzma Stabi-Reference 2 turntable with 4Point tonearm and a Kuzma CAR 40 cartridge. Just as I was leaving a very astute woman asked if Steven he would please play some master tape on his Technics RS 1500 open-reel recorder. Now, can you see why I like Mr. Norber so much? I can't wait to see him, listen to his mystical stories, and enjoy his exceedingly musical (and moderately-priced) equipment at the next show.
Scott Markwell of Elite Audio Visual Distribution may not be as much of a yoga-breath control kind of guy as Mr. Norber, but he does have the serene audio wisdom to distribute the same LP front end that Norber was using: the Kuzma Stabi M turntable ($19,225) + 4Point tonearm ($6675) and CAR MC cartridge (($2250). Scott used this exotic machine to play the unbelievably good John Antill's Corroboree symphonic ballet conducted by John Lanchbery (EMI OASD7603): one of my most cherished records that I had to sell after I moved from a house to a house boat in 1997. (This record is typically around $500 on eBay.) Scott plays this exceptional record on one of the finest phonograph systems of our time, (no phonostage was listed in his handout sheet) so you can imagine how good the system must have sounded. But . . .
This exotic front end was driving these modest little, primer-black, horizontal-format speakers called the HRT Stage Basic ($999/pair) that were mounted on custom Sound Anchor stands ($600/pair). The basic two-channel Stage Basic speaker system comes with an amp, a DAC, and two multi-driver horizontal sound bar-type loudspeakers. If you want to move more air and project greater musical presence, you can purchase extra Stage speakers for $500 each.
The sound with this equipment and this exotic record was bigger than I expected, fast and clear. The giant scale of the Corroboree soundstage was hard to tear myself away from. But I had to keep them doggies movin'.
Dynaudio even brought their own smart-looking chairs. Now that is class! And so is the way the definitely classy and extremely well-dressed Michael Manousselis sets up, lights, and demonstrates the latest Dynaudio inventions. I am always pleased when an exhibitor finds a way to transform a dreary hotel room into a relaxing musical womb (Not to mention, it is usually the best way to display the company logo). I call it peace and good marketing. Today, I enjoyed peace and good music in two Dynaudio rooms. One featured the modestly priced but expensive-looking and sounding Dynaudio Contour S 1.4 stand-mounted speakers ($3950/pair plus $600 for stands). My Dynaudio fan-boyism goes way back, but these Contours seemed fresher and more open sounding than any in my recollection. Ebb and flow felt more supple than before. Maybe it was the Octave V 80 SE 130Wpc integrated tube amp ($10,500)? Or perhaps the Moon by Simaudio 380D DAC with MiND Streamer ($5500) was helping also. Don't know, but it was all working!
In the second room I listened to the elegant floor-standing Dynaudio Focus 600 XD loudspeakers ($13,500/pair). The Focus 600 is a digital-input active speaker with integral 600W amplifiers. Like the stand-mounted Contour S 1.4s, the Focuses sounded fresher, more open, and more accurate than my memories of past designs. Bass seemed tighter too. Dynaudio started out at the top of their game, and, with the excellent stewardship of Mr. Manousselis, just keeps getting better. Wow and dang!
And here are some of the Dynaudio chairs . . .
In my Day One report, I had reported that the new Vinnie Rossi amplifier was driving Harbeth HL5plus speakers. But as Harbeth pointed out, the speakers were the English company's new Monitor 40.2 loudspeakers, pictured below.