Perhaps the best sound I heard at RMAF was in the large room on the mezzanine shared by Dynaudio, XLO, and Wadia. The Dynaudio Confidence C4s ($20,900/pair), which I first reviewed in March 2003, were sounding as good as I remember them sounding in my own room, perhaps even better. The rest of the system was obviously high-class: a Wadia 971 CD transport ($17,950) fed Wadia's Series 9 Decoding computer ($33,450, comprising the 931 controller and dual-mono 922 DACs), which in turn fed Octave MRE130 tubed monoblocks from Germany ($16,000/pair) sitting on Grand Prix amp stands. Cabling was all by XLO. The 130W Octave amplifiers use two pairs of KT88s in push-pull and the wideband output transformer has a single tap. The amp can also use 6550s or EL34s, and an accessory "black box" increases the B+ storage capacity.
Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis pulled me into his room with the familiar sounds of the XX. On display here were T+A’s more affordable R-Series components, less flashy than the V-Series, but no less elegant: G1260 R turntable ($3250 with tonearm; $3600 with arm and cartridge; $4300 with built-in phono), PA1260 R integrated amplifier ($5000), CD1260 R CD player ($3800), and MP1260 R DAC streaming client ($4200, providing internet radio, two USB inputs, and wired or wireless streaming abilities).
You can always count on EAR's Dan Meinwald to be spinning some great platters. When I walked in, whatever jazz recording was playing sounded very alive and incisive. (EAR's electronics and Marten's speakers are not shy and recalcitrant). When Dan switched to an old classic LP, Meeting at the River, the Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's unique guitar sounded uncommonly beautiful and clear. Had I not had 18 rooms left to visit on Saturday, with a lot more screaming for attention, I would have stayed longer.
I first heard the Eficion F300 loudspeaker at RMAF or some other show perhaps two years ago. Bob Walters of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, who urged me to audition it, raved about the Eficion F300 and bought a pair. Two years later, the Eficion F-300 and Stillpoints amplifier stands and stainless steel supports have transformed my system.
Due to all the positive reviews Emerald Physics loudspeakers have earned, it took several attempts over a three-day span until the crowds in the two Emerald Physics rooms had thinned down enough to allow a brief listen.
Despite the recession, which hit the world of high-end audio hard in 2009, every Show features many new brands. One such was Emillé from South Korea, named after a 10'-high, 18.9-ton bronze bell cast in that country in 771AD, using the "lost-wax" process. Shown in my photo is the Emillé Rapture tube monoblock power amplifier, a zero negative-feedback design that uses four 6550 output tubes to produce 110W into 8 ohms at 2% THD. Emillé products are being distributed in the US by Solos of Cerritos, CA.
Michael Fremer enthuses over the sound of the Esoteric E-03 phono preamplifier in our forthcoming December issue, and this $6500 component was being featured in Esoteric's ground-floor room at RMAF, fed from a VPI Scoutmaster turntable fitted with a Dynavector DV20X phono cartridge. The rest of the system, which sounded excellent on Eva Cassidy's Songbird LP, comprised Esoteric's C-03 preamp, A-03 class-A solid-state amp, and MG-20 tower speakers, hooked up with Esoteric's XL cables. (I very much liked the MG-20 when I reviewed it in the August 2008 issue.) The digital front-end was the X-05 player feeding the $4800 D-07 D/A processor, which I will be reviewing in the January 2011 issue of Stereophile.
I confess. Ever since I heard Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show Las Vegas some years back, I have lusted after a pair. In fact, one of the big excitements on my trip to China a few months backstory forthcoming sometime before the Twelfth of Neverwas visiting the same Aurum Cantus factory that manufactures Evolution's tweeter. The combination of Evolution Acoustics MMtwo loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), darTZeel NHB-458 monoblocks ($135,000/pair), and darTZeel NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier with MC phono section ($29,000) earned my personal best of the show for the systems I auditioned at CES and T.H.E. Show 2010.
Not only was the sound in the Larkspur Suite familiar, so were the speakers. The $80,000/pair Acapella High Violoncello IIs being demmed were the exact same pair that I had very favorably reviewed in the September issue of Stereophile. Amplification was all-Einstein, including The Tube preamp that Michael Fremer reviewed in October.
Judging by my complete lack of notes on the room occupied by Silver Circle Audio, Sutherland Engineering, and Tyler Acousticsa VPI Scoutmaster turntable was spinning tunes, with amplification from Plinius driving the speakersI would have to say that I didn’t do much listening in here. I mean, I heard music, but I was too busy enjoying my conversation with Silver Circle’s David Stanard, and I was too impressed by the appearance of the gear. From the cabinetry of the Tyler Acoustics Decade D1 loudspeakers to the hefty AC cords coming from the Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.0’s rear panel to the exposed circuitry of the Sutherland Engineering 20/20 phono preamp (review to come from Brian Damkroger), to the equipment rackhandmade by Stanard in one afternooneverything was handsome and personal and showed obvious fine craftsmanship.
At one end of the 11th floor sat the large, imposing Galibier Design Suite. It was dominated by several eye-catching products: Daedalus Audio loudspeakers, which replaced the scheduled and, from distant memory, fine Green Mountain Audio Calypso HD speakers ($14,900/pair) because the Daedalus babies were able to put out enough bass to fill the room; and Adona Master Reference stands (price not supplied) which supported the Galibier Design Stelvio-II turntable ($27,500) with its Durand Taiea tonearm ($7900) and Dynavector XV1s cartridge ($5250), and Atma-sphere MP-1 preamp ($15,000) and M-60 amplifiers ($13/600/pair). Equally important were Marigo Labs' VXi Mystery Feet ($779/set of 3), Analog 1 interconnects ($2000/pair), and Analog 1 SC speaker cable ($2000/pair).
I caught up with the always affable Lars Goller of Gamut who was very proud of the company’s new S Series speakers. Here we see Goller standing beside the S5 ($30,000/pair), which boasts a very attractive cabinet made of form-pressed solid wood over multi-layered Finnish Beech ply. Externally machined canals in the speaker’s side panels divide the speaker into segments to better control vibrations and minimize coloration, Goller explained. In addition, two large port openings of 5mm-thick solid machined aluminum are threaded directly into the speaker’s rear panel to minimize port turbulence and noise.
Tweak Studio, the Genesis dealer in Washington state, paired the new Genesis G7.1f loudspeaker ($8000/pair) with the Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) Vk-3ix preamp and VK 55SE amp. The match was fortuitous, with the BAT's tubey midrange bringing out the loudspeaker's considerable best. Completing the partnership were the SOTA Sapphire Series 5 turntable ($2700) with SME 4 arm and Denon 103 cartridge; Kosmic server w/500GB hybrid storage ($2295) and a bunch of options; Absolute Fidelity Component Interface cable ($1800/pair), Loudspeaker Interface cables ($3000/pair); and Power Interface cables ($1800); and a host of Kosmic Equipment stands (the stand base shelf is $1600).