We first encountered the South African Vivid speaker, designed by B&W alum Laurence Dickie, at a CES a couple of years ago and was impressed with their clarity, dynamic range capability, and freedom from coloration and distortion. For whatever reason, the brand failed to get a foothold in the US, but it was announced at RMAF that Vivid was now being distributed by On a Higher Note. I sat down in the sweet spot and after listening to a rather nice recording of Aaron Neville singing "Save the Last Dance for Me," Philip O'Hanlon put on a DVD-A he had burned on his PC using the $49 Cirlinca program and was playing back on a Weiss Jason transport and Medea DAC, which On A Higher Note is also now distributing. Now there was a familiar sound—it was the 24/88.2 master of my recording of the slow movement from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, which I had completely forgotten sending Philip a few years back.
John Atkinson and I have made an agreement. When John is not taking part in any of the eight "Demonstration of Live High-Resolution Recordings" seminars he has scheduled over the course of the Fest, he will cover the exhibits in the Marriott's Atrium rooms, and I will cover exhibits in the Tower. Of course, each of us is free to cross over to the other side if we're dying to hear something. But that's the plan.
According to Marjorie Stiefel, who with her husband Al slaves over the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest for months on end, this year's RMAF has 142 exhibit rooms, 29 more than last year. The show, has in fact, not only reached the hotel’s size limit—the DTC Marriott is Denver's third-largest—but also exceeded Marjorie's and Al’s energetic capacity. Fried to a crisp beyond the smile, the couple is considering hiring help for next year in order to meet increased demand from such major players as Linn, McIntosh, Esoteric, dCS, Kimber, Wilson, BAT, Gamut, Clearaudio, Edge, Ayre, Nordost...you name them.
The NSR Sonic Research D3 Concerto Sonata loudspeaker ($4495/pair) was reportedly making a lot of waves at its world premiere. Displayed in not completely broken-in prototype form, with tweaking of crossover and capacitors still to come, the speaker is claimed to have 93.7dB sensitivity. The bottom of the enclosure features an exclusive "Acoustic Projection Lens." The lens, developed over the course of 30 years by its guitarist/luthier/locomotive engineer designer, is claimed to act as a sonic prism that overcomes randomly generated frequencies. The company also offers the much larger D1 Concerto Reference ($32,000/pair). Both speakers have back panels that intentionally resonate like an instrument, a feature that JA points out was first seen in the controversial Bösendorfer loudspeakers.
Nordost has entered the realm of stratospherically-priced cabling with the introduction of Odin interconnects and speaker cable. With Odin interconnects draped around Lars of Nordost's neck, and the speaker cable seen running between Raidho Ayra C3 speakers and Burmester 001 CD, BAT preamp, and Gamut D-200 amplifier (a last-minute replacement for an ailing Burmester amp), the combination of Odin interconnects and speaker cable and Nordost Valhalla power cables—Odin power cables are yet to come —delivered one of the most breathtakingly realistic depictions of a huge, three-dimensional soundstage I've ever experienced. It's you-are-there transparency was pretty damn amazing. I greatly look forward to reacquainting myself with this cabling at CES 2008, and promise to report on it in my show blog if five other Stereophile colleagues don't get to the Nordost room before me. But oh, the price, which is in the "don't ask" category, adds JA.
A definite eye-catcher, the $25,999/pair spherical Proclaim Audioworks DMT-100 speaker system features an external crossover that facilitates the ability to balance stereo output in difficult listening environments. (The crossover includes an L-pad bypass option to ensure "the cleanest possible signal path...for audio purists.") Each driver is independently mounted in a spherical enclosure cast from a proprietary high-density laminate. Fine-tunable for one's room, each driver can be adjusted up to 45° off-axis; they also afford up to 12" vertical and horizontal positioning flexibility for the tweeter and midrange modules. Daniel Herrington's babies, designed by ear, are so new that their sensitivity has yet to be measured.
The sound in the large PS Audio room was impressive. Despite, at one point, my trying to listen to music over three conversations at once, the system on display,—all PS Audio save for the Avalon Ascendant speakers and JL Audio subs—was distinguished by its full midrange and inviting warmth. The sign on the poster behind the system—"Perfect Power Without the Box"—refers to the company’s forthcoming rack, which will have a power conditioner built into the bottom, additional power filters for every component, and the power itself carried by the tails of the rack. The initial plan is for an 11" wide rack designed for smaller, "lifestyle" components. (I’m one of those folks more concerned with having a life than displaying a lifestyle, but a chacun son gout). A desktop version is also planned.
Driven by the Triode Corporation Japan's TRV-M300SE 20W 300B parallel single-ended monoblocks ($4199/pair) and TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1799), and fed by a very-slow-to-cue dCS SACD player, the Cain&Cain Wall-O-Sound (W3) ($3300), designed by Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio, did a superb job reproducing the true timbre of a piano. Throwing a huge soundstage, with wonderful height and depth, this little system had me writing "really beautiful" in my notebook.
It was 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. As Day Two was coming to a close, this sleep-deprived audiophile determined to end the day on a high note. Ah, the Cary/Dali room. That's sure to be a winner. Thank God, it was.
Toward the end of Day One, I encountered my Bay Area Audiophile Society buddy Jeff Wilson in the hallway. Jeff, a true music lover and long-time audiophile whose ears I trust, is about to open a showroom with Bob Kehn in Oakland, CA that will feature Magico, VAC, Silversmith, and other top-quality brands.
After hosting three hour-long seminars on Sunday (following five on Friday and Saturday), I spent the final hours of the 2007 RMAF racing around rooms I really wanted to hear before the Show closed at 4pm. At 4:30pm, I stopped by what would be my last room, the one featuring a new name to me, Salagar Speakers. This Illinois company is aiming high: its first product is a beautifully finished, physically large two-way active design, the Symphony S210, that combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with a 10" woofer in an unusual curved enclosure. Power is provided by internal ICEpower class-D modules, and the integral X-ACT crossover operates in the digital domain and includes the facility to adjust the speaker's balance to cope with room acoustics problems. The Symphony S-210 costs $7,999/pair complete with crossover, and showed promise, even in the less-than-optimal hotel room.
I couldn't resist the wonderful sounds of Louis Prima coming from the Green Mountain Audio room. Paired with Jaton Corporation’s Operetta AP2140A 2-channel Distributor amplifier ($1000, 140Wpc into 4 ohms, 70Wpc into 8 ohms), whose "processing filter circle eliminates 99.99% of noise at maximum volume," the intriguing-looking Green Mountain Calypso loudspeaker ($10,000/pair for the next month or so before the price increases 10–15%) was producing the kind of extremely smooth sound that draws you into the music. The speaker measures 88–89dB sensitivity, and utilizes a simple, first-order crossover to achieve "perfect" time-coherence. The midrange and tweeter are also adjustable forward and back for optimal sound in the listening position. The entire system, including the speaker, was wired with Marigo wire. I constantly find that Green Mountain's innovative designs produce lovely sound. Expect a whole new line of smaller, less-expensive speakers to appear on the Green Mountain website in another month or so.
The Manley Snapper monoblocks ($4250/pair) sure have snap. Playing one of those classic percussion demo CDs with drum thwacks galore, the combo of Manley amplification, Bel Canto DAC/preamp, Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers ($4400/pair), Apple iBook transport, and Cardas Golden Reference interconnects was as sharp and crisp as could be. But they were also far more. With the system playing an LP of La Fille Mal Gardée on the VPI Super Scout Reference Master Turntable (one of only two available) equipped with a Silversmith phono cartridge, the sound was beautifully warm and sweet, the soundstage all-enveloping.