These nice-looking standmounts are Salk Sound's Exoticas ($6000/pair), which use new high-performance drive-units from SEAS. Driven by an AVA solid-state amp (bottom in the rack), they produced a natural sound on a Kimber IsoMike cello recording. But when I first entered this room, the less-expensive, floorstanding Salk Sound Towers, which sell for less than $2000/pair, were producing a big sound on a Trentemoller track, driven by AVA's Ultravalve tube amplifier ($1995, above the solid-state amp in the rack), which gets 35Wpc from a pair of EL34s per channel. Preamplifier was AVA's new FET-Valve CF.
Bent Holter, founder of and designer for the Norwegian company Hegel, explained that his circuits are based on work he had done designing ultralow-noise preamplifiers for the European CERN laboratory. Hegel's new H80 D/A integrated amplifier ($2000) replaces the H70, which was introduced in 2010, and uses the low-noise preamp circuit from the $5500 H300 amplifier and Hegel's patented feed-forward "Sound Engine" amplifier topology. It has two single-ended analog inputs, one balanced analog input, and five digital inputs, including USB. Though this doesn't operate in the usual asynchronous mode, it uses a proprietary topology said to eliminate jitter. The H80 offers 75Wpc into 8 ohms compared with the H70's 70W.
Colorado Springs-based HiFi Imports were demming their system in one of the Marriott's very large ground-floor rooms. Speakers were the Venture Grand Ultimate Mk.IIs from Belgium ($98,000/pair), which combine Venture's proprietary 2" tweeter, which uses a graphite-pulp-composite diaphragm, with a 7" midrange unit and four 7" woofers. All the lower-frequency drivers use carbon-fiber/graphite-composite cones and the speaker's frequency range is specified as 22Hz60kHz with a 92dB sensitivity.
I had been impressed by the 5.1 speaker from the German Lansche company when I reviewed it in July 2012. In particular, I found Lansche's horn-loaded ionic tweeter produced superb treble sound quality. At RMAF, I photographed Aaudio's Brian Ackerman standing by the enormous, 900lb Lansche 8.2 ($266,000/pair in Macassar ebony veneer), which combines that ionic tweeter with four 8" mid/woofers, crossed over at 2.5kHz.
Denver retailer Gold Sound was featuring Focal's new tower speaker, the Aria 948 ($5000/pair), in its room at RMAF, in a system featuring a Cambridge Audio 851E preamp ($1799) and Cambridge 851W 200350Wpc amplifier ($2499), both also new at the show. Front ends were either a Cambridge 851C CD player or a VPI Classic turntable fitted with the 3D-printed tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge and amplified with a Parasound Halo JC3 phono preamp.
As had happened at the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, there were so many exhibitors wanting to show their wares at the 2013 show that there was some overflow housed at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tech Center. I'll be writing about the Scaena and Wilson exhibits at the Hyatt in stories to be posted later, but the first room I went into featured speakers from a company of which I had been unaware, Missouri-based Vapor Audio (www.vaporsound.com). The floor-standing Joule Black speakers ($12,995/pair) were being demmed with a BMC preamplifier and monoblock amplification, but beyond that I have nothing to write as no-one in this room seemed interested either in playing me music or giving me any information.
In German Physiks’ room on the 11th floor of the Denver Tech Center Marriott, the Unlimited Mk.II loudspeakers ($13,500/pair) were mated with Vitus Audio’s RCD-100 CD player ($12,750), RD-100 D/A converter ($11,250), and RS stereo power amplifier. Held together by Purist Audio Design’s Corvus balanced interconnects ($2100/1m pair), fabulously named Aqueous Aureus digital cable ($705/1m), and Venustas speaker cable ($5450/7m pair), the system displayed a lovely midrange with a bit of hard edge on a golden oldie, Sara K’s “If I Could Sing the Blues.” (Who remembers the audio show where this track was playing in at least 7 rooms, if not more?) Regardless, I found the superb sense of depth and air uncanny.
Thinking it was my last roomwrongI lingered for some time with two great and dedicated guys, Keith Greeninger and Dayan Kai of Wyred 4 Sound. Listening to “The Deeper That You Love” from a Blue Coast Special album, I found a moderately bright leading edge balanced by an extremely lovely midrange. “Mids very, very nice for this price” I wrote in my notepad. Then, “Summertime” on an Original Master issue of Patricia Barber’s A Distortion of Love yielded “a fabulous sense of space and air, and great low bass.” (“A great demo track,” I noted, although the same can be said for many of Barber’s wonderfully recorded and mixed tracks).
Walter Liederman’s Underwood Hifi showed an $11,600 system that he sells for the discount price of $8995 + freight. At its head were Emerald Physics CS3 Mk.2 open-baffle, controlled-dispersion loudspeakers complete with Emerald DSP2.4 digital equalizer/crossover ($3500/pair). Supporting them were two REL T9 powered subwoofers ($1200/each) electronically bi-amped through the Emerald DSP2.4, an Emerald Physics EP100.2SE amplifier ($2200), one DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core for preamplification and room correction ($1200), and a Jolida Fusion tube DAC/Transport ($2300). Also included, prices not supplied, were a Pro-Ject Xtension 10 turntable, PS Audio NuWave phono stage, and Mac mini.
Roy Johnson of Green Mountain Audio (left) teamed with Ron Hedrick of Marigo Audio Labs (right) to create a system modest in appearance and generous in musicality. After pairing Green Mountain’s Eos HX top-of-the-line 2-way loudspeaker ($4995/pair) with a cheap Sony multi-disc changer and the Jeff Rowland Design Group’s Model 525 amp and Aeris DAC, they put Marigo’s Mystery Feet under the electronics, and used, in addition to Audio Magic power cords, Marigo Audio cables and, on CDs, Marigo’s new Ultimate High-Definition Signature Mat ($239).