"This wasn't our choice of music," whispered German Physiks' Robert Kelly when I entered the room they were sharing with Danish electronics manufacturer Vitus Audio. "No problem," I whispered back, " I love Howard Shore's symphonic score to the movie trilogy Lord of the Rings," which a visitor had asked to be played.
Restocking the magazines on the Stereophile booth, I saw a familiar face on the booth next door. Audio industry veteran Jim Smith was selling (and autographing) copies of his book Get Better Sound, which is, as the name suggests, about how to get better sound from your system.
Both Art Dudley and Michael Fremer have praised Gingko Audio's isolation platforms in Stereophile's pages, and at RMAF, the company was showing the benefit of its Cloud 10 platform on an Atmasphere tube power amplifier. Projected on the wall above Gingko's Vinh Vu (and onto his forehead!), real-time analysis showed the outputs of B&K accelerometers fastened to the stand the amp was sitting on and to the amplifier chassis, which was supoorted by a Cloud 10. There was indeed a dramatic reduction in the excitation of the amplifier compared with the standespecially at low frequencies.
Thanks to a first-time alliance between RMAF and Head-Fi.org, the Denver Marriott Tech Center's large Event Center was ringed with exhibits and displays from headphone component manufacturers and Head-Fi community members. Strategically positioned at the show's entrance, for example, was JH Audio's custom in-ear monitor booth, which proclaimed, "We call it the JH|13 ProYou'll Call it Aural Sex." Thank God they didn't come right and say, "We give you know what."
Accustomed as I am to the beauteous sound of mbl gear, nothing prepared me for the combination of mbl speakers and electronics, hghi-resolution files played back on a Macintosh G5 tower equipped with the latest Amarra music server software, and Wireworld cabling. Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" was gripping when downloaded from a 24/96 Rumours DVD-A. The depth was "this" short of unbelievable, the bass and clarity astounding, and the tonal envelope very well represented. Even FIM's 16/44 version of Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen sounded hi-res due to the amazing depth of this system's images.
There was a time when Harry Pearson, founder of The Absolute Sound and one of the high-end's true living legends, rarely ventured from the confines of his kingdom at Seacliff, Long Island. Rather than trolling for equipment at shows like countless other audio reviewers, he invited manufacturers to come to him. Flock they did, hoping that their equipment and set-up expertise would warrant a sales-insuring rave or Golden Ear from HP.
One of the first rooms I visited at RMAF was the one shared by Luxman and Vivid distributor On a A Higher Note and cable manufacturer Synergistic Research. Auditioning the South African Vivid Giya speakers ($58,000/pair) had been a highlight of the 2009 CES and I wanted to repeat the experience before the speakers wended their way to Wes Phillips' place for a forthcoming Stereophile review.
One of my best sounds at RMAF was the room organized by Colorado dealer Audio Unlimited featuring the Emperor speakers from Canadian manufacturer Hansen Audio that had so impressed Jason Serinus at the 2008 RMAF. The three-way speakers were driven by Accuphase monoblocks sitting on Critical Mass Systems platforms, with the front end based on a Trans-Rotor turntable. I was drawn into the room by the full-range sound of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and didn't leave for quite a while. Wes Phillips said it best in his CES 2009 coverage of the Emperor: "the music had me melting in my chair."
Genesis Advanced Technologies was demming two new products: the latest iteration of owner/designer Gary Leonard Koh's new Absolute Fidelity Music Server, whose white paper is available on the Genesis website, and a new preamp. The preamp, a joint effort between Genesis and Steve McCormack's SMC Audio, boasts all-analog switching and controls. (Fully balanced, the solid-state preamp boasts all-analog switching and controls. The basic model will be priced somewhere between $4000 and $5000, with the first model scheduled for release priced around $8000. Pictured is Bruno De Lorimier, Canadian sales rep for Genesis, who is kneeling next to the rack with the new preamp.
At least two people I know came up to me in the hallways of the Marriott to urge me to check out Intuitive Audio's new Gamma Summit speakers ($10,000/pair). As soon as I walked into the room, the fabulous bass on Patricia Barber's rendition of "Keep on Using Me Until You Use Me Up"I'm guessing at the titletold me why. The system's riveting presentation also featured the kind of musical highlights for days that audiophiles love. Next I heard the same Mahler Symphony 2 recording I've been playing a lot at RMAF 2009. The speakers did an extremely fine job of controlling and highlighting the bass line, and also sounded very vibrant on top. Congratulations to designer Dale Pitcher for a job well done.
Nothing convinces more than a fabulous recording wonderfully reproduced. Wilson Audio scored big time when it engaged recording engineer Peter McGrath as its marketing VP. McGrath's recordings are legendary. When sourced from master hi-res computer files, played back using the superior Amarra Music Server software, they're pretty riveting.
After several years without distribution in the US, Peder Beckman of Norway's Electrocompaniet (kneeling on the left, next to company head Mikal Dreggevik) has quickly established a revitalized US dealer network that should number a good 10 by CES 2010. Without a long-standing reputation for affordable excellence, this would have been next to impossible to achieve in the current climate.
Having just heard a Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) demo of the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport ($2999), Perfect Wave DAC ($2999), and Power Plant Premier ($2199), all hosted by the ever-engaging Paul McGowan, I was very eager to hear PS Audio's front end powered by an early prototype of PS Audio's forthcoming class-D Perfect Wave amplifier. Using Focus Audio Master 2.5 speakers ($20,000/pair), two MartinLogan Descent subs, and a complement of Perfect Wave AC12 power cables ($699/meter) and older PS Audio speaker cables not currently on the market, the system delivered the kind of clean, impressively full range sound that has made PS Audio a legend in the industry.
There was full program of seminars and workshops at RMAF, as well as my own "Squeezing the Music Till the Bits Squeak," the session featuring Harry Pearson, and Michael Fremer on "Turntable Setup," I moderated a panel session, "How to Get the Most Out of Computer-Based Audio," on Saturday afternoon. The A-List panel(from left to right) Gus Skinas (SACD Center), John Stronczer (Bel Canto Design), J. Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), Charlie Hansen (Ayre Acoustics), record producer Joe Harley, and Chris Connaker (www.computeraudiophile.com)discussed the best way to use a computer as a legimate source component in a high-end audio system. All concerned felt this was the way forward for the high-end audio industry, particularly with the increasing availability of hi-rez downloads, and it was a shame that the session was limited to an hour.