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.”
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!