Musical Fidelity/Era Design distributor SignalPath's David Solomon is also interested in the desktop and enthusiastically demmed the new Peachtree Decco for me. The $700 tubed D/A processor/60Wpc integrated amplifier has a rear-panel bay that will accommodate the popular Sonos ZP80 WiFi media player and will take either digital or analog signals to its own, higher-quality DAC circuitry and output stage. It also has a USB input. The revolution is here.
I really enjoyed the mellow sound created by the USB-input Benchmark DAC 1 and the Studio Electric T3 loudspeakers. The speaker, with its 87dB sensitivity and 4 ohm impedance, is distinguished by the 6.5" broad-band drive-unit, encased in a stainless-steel sphere, that handles frequencies from 50Hz to 4kHz. Although you can see the diminutive silk-dome tweeter in the photo, the side-firing 8" woofer, which handles the single octave from 25–50Hz, is missing from view. Very, very nice.
I went into the Esoteric room to take a listen to the digital components that build on the performance of the excellent SA-60 universal player that graced our October cover. But my attention was drawn to a pair of elegant loudspeakers sporting the Esoteric name. The Mg20 floorstander ($8410/pair) and bookshelf Mg10 ($5500/pair plus stands) feature tweeters and woofers fabricated from the very light metal magnesium, which is said to have an optimal combination of stiffness and self-damping. It has not been previously used in speakers (other than in alloys) because it degrades with exposure to the air. However, Esoteric collaborated with a British company to develop an effective protective coating.
I was utterly intrigued by the innovative speakers from Dr. Shelley Katz’s UK-based Podium Sound ($5995/pair). Katz produces panel loudspeakers that mechanically vibrate via electromagnetic drivers. Inherently free from phase error and less sensitive to placement than electrostats, they operate full-range without any filters.
As Jason said, I started my coverage of the much-expanded RMAF with the Atrium rooms, and at the corner of the ground-floor level, I encountered Gary Leonard Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies. Gary brought me up to date on what has been happening with the Seattle company since parting ways with veteran speaker designer Arnie Nudell.
Garth Leerer sure knows how to make a vocal lover happy. As soon as he spotted me entering the Musical Surroundings room, the Oakland-based distributor chose to demonstrate the supreme musicality of the Musical Surroundings’ "Audio Unlimited" system by playing an LP of mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. Recorded in her prime, and sensitively accompanied on piano by the great Gerald Moore, Baker began singing a grief-stricken Schubert song. To say I was blown away by the intensity of her expression, the beauty of her voice, her daring to sing with such naked emotion, and the system's ability to capture and integrate all the different colors and shadings of her instrument only begins to tell the tale. I was transfixed.
Veteran speaker designer Albert Von Schweikert (left) has every reason to smile. To celebrate two anniversaries—the 50th year since he built his first kit, and 30 years in the business of high-end audio—he is releasing the VR-4A Anniversary Model. Shown in prototype form, with the final product expected at the 2008 CES in January, this completely redone, much improved VR-4jr replaces that speaker's Mk.II version. Although it plays well in large rooms, the Anniversary Model was specifically created for folks who have smaller rooms. Featuring denser cabinets and the highest-quality parts, the speaker will be available in a standard version with Hovland caps ($6000/pair) and Signature Edition ($7500/pair) with special finish and Mundorf caps.
Mark Schifter and Walter Liederman of AV123 continue to blow my mind. To their astoundingly low-priced line of quality loudspeakers, only available through the AV123 website, they have added two large loudspeakers from GR Research. Designed by Danny Richie, who previously designed the Epiphany Loudspeakers and is now redoing the crossovers in the Ushers—I am told that Wes Phillips will be reviewing one of Danny’s Usher make-overs for Stereophile—Danny is shown standing next to the GR Research LS6. Priced at $4500/pair, the speakers feature eight 6.5” woofers and six planar magnetic drivers. The LS6 not only boasts a 20Hz–20kHz frequency response, but also features bass drivers that are adjustable according to what the room and system can handle.
Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable strongly believes that audiophiles need to be exposed to live music. He arranged for one of the ensembles he records with his Isomike system, the Fry Street Quartet, to perform a series of concerts at RMAF. After the players finished a Haydn Quartet in the Marriott's lobby, the audience went into the Kimber listening room across the corridor to hear the same piece on Ray's $500k reference surround system, described earlier in the blog.
"How often do you hear no limiting, no compression, no mixing, and no equalization? Recorded in DSD and played back the same way today" announced the blurb for Ray Kimber's IsoMike dem at RMAF. Inrigued, I entered the ginormous Ballroom F to be confronted by a system costing no less than $507,288! The six pairs of humongous Sound Lab ProStat 922 electrostats were joined by two pairs of a prototype speaker from Sony in Japan, all driven by no fewer than 8 Pass Labs X350.5 monoblocks. Source was Ray's latest four-channel DSD master files stored on a Genex hard-disk recorder and decoded by EMM Labs DACs. Kable was all-Kimber, of course.
When I entered the room assembled by Matrix Systems of Pennsylvania, Joe of Critical Mass (maker of excellent, hand-crafted supports for amplifiers and other components) was playing a recording of jazz vocalist Mary Stallings (Maxx Jazz). I was immediately captivated, both by the sound, and by Stallings' artistry. When Joe recognized me and asked me if I wanted to play some of my own music, "No way!" I exclaimed. "Let the music continue."
I experienced a fascinating comparison in one of the RMAF rooms featuring systems from Colorado dealer ListenUp. With Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa speakers (review forthcoming) driven by a combination of Musical Fidelity X-T100 integrated amplifier "supercharged" with MF's 550K monoblocks, and Shunyata AC conditioning and power cables, CDs played back on MF's new top-loading CD player were being compared with lossless-encoded files of the same recordings played back over WiFi via a Sonos ZP80 that fed its S/PDIF digital output to the MF player's DAC section. The data were the same, so other than the WiFi connection, there was no reason for the sound to be different. And I did indeed find it very difficult to hear any consistent difference between the two presentations. Perhaps the low frequencies were a little better-defined and extended via CD, but I don't think I could have identified that without knowing which was which. Interesting.
I've always wanted to win the lottery so I could buy a pair of Jed Barber's much-coveted Joule Electra tube amps. I've spent hours in the Joule-Elrod room at several CESes, always entranced by the sound, but have never before heard the Joule LA150 Mk.2 preamp ($7000) and VZN 100 OTL monoblocks ($19,000/pair) paired with Merlin VSM MXE loudspeakers ($10,500.pair) and the Audio Aero Prestige CD player ($14,000). Wired with Cardas Golden Reference, this system did a superb job of bringing out the lovely, warm, full-range sound and delicious richness of Gary Karr's double bass on his Cisco Systems Adagio d’Albinoni CD.
Undoubtedly contributing to the excellent sound I heard from the Vivid speakers in the previous story was this neat 30Wpc class-A integrated amplifier, the L-590A II ($9000) from legendary Japanese brand Luxman, shown here sitting on the top of the stack of Weiss gear. On A Higher Note is now distributing Luxman in the US.
I have commented in previous blogs on the easy, unforced and natural sound of Moscode hybrid electronics. Here, the Moscode 402 200Wpc hybrid amplifier was paired with Quad 988 electrostatic speakers that were bolted to custom bases, Esoteric DV-50 universal player, and Cardas Golden Reference cables. Since neither George Kaye nor Gage Rommel was in the room at the time, I was unable to determine what tubes were being used in the amp. But the ability to easily roll tubes in this unit makes it a dream for people like myself who love to tailor the system's sound to their specific preferences.