Sam Laufer of Laufer Teknik was showing the German Physiks HRS-120 loudspeaker in high gloss finish ($33,500/pair). Helping this omnidirectional design sing were Abis Shuhgetsu monoblock amps (price to be determined), The Memory Player source and preamp ($22,500), Paul Kaplan cabling including speaker cables ($1995), Halcyonics Active Isolation Platform ($11,500), five LessLoss BlackBodys ($959 each), and the wonderful Stein Music Harmonizers (two A and two B units plus 12 stones for $4900) with their new matching stands (price not supplied). You can see one of the Stein Music Harmonizers, aka that little black box with the blue light that doesn't have to be on for the box to be working, peeking out from behind the loudspeaker.
Last spring's Axpona show in Jacksonville gave me a first opportunity to audition some of Grant Fidelity's bargain-priced Chinese imports. I really liked what I heard. Despite cries of foul from a few of those posting comments to the blog who depicted Grant as the cause of the entire high-end slowdown in the US, and me as a conspirator in the eventual collapse of Western Civilization, the word is clearly out. Grant's room at RMAF was mobbed, so mobbed by attendees who were eager to chat away while the music played that nothing short of blowing a police whistle would have quieted them down. (A few systems at RMAF sounded like police whistles, but that's another story).
Fidelis, distributors of Harbeth loudspeakers and other products, was playing the classic BBC style Harbeth Super HL5 ($4995/pair), Perreaux Prisma 350 350Wpc stereo power amplifier ($8995), Wadax Pre1 preamplifier/DAC ($19,995), Sound Science MV Diamond digital server ($4500 w/iPad), and Pyon Sound Muzika Ultima turntable ($18,995). Bringing out the best this equipment can offer were the excellent Echole Obsession cables that are poised to make a major impression in the U.S. market. Four Stein boxes (little black boxes with the blue light on silver stands), which I discussed in the TweekGeek report below, were the icing on the cake, adding air and ease to the presentation.
I enjoyed a conversation with Jude Mansilla, founder of Head-Fi, organizers of the CanJam conference which was sort of tucked away in the Marriott’s grand Rocky Mountain Event Center. The entire perimeter of the space was occupied by long tables, each showcasing headphones and headphone accessories from companies such as Sennheiser, Head-Direct, JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, CEntrance, Grado, Audeze, and Ray Samuels Audio.
Check out the throng of thick Silver Circle AC cables, each with heavy-duty connectors from Furutech. Also note the lovely side panels of the Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.0. Who knew a power conditioner could be so pretty? The Pure Power One 5.0 ($5000; reviewed by Michael Fremer in our August 2010 issue) includes a 65-lb, 5kVA, custom-built isolation transformer, a proprietary EMI/RF filter, four double-ganged, gold-plated Furutech AC jacks, and a Vesuvius power cord.
And here’s the new HiFiMan HM-602 ($439) which offers much of the functionality of the larger HM-801, but lacks that model’s modular headphone amp. It uses a Philips TDA-1543 DAC, offers 16GB onboard flash memory, and is about the size of an iPod Classic. Cool.
Craig Oxford and William Carpenter, CEO of Consensus Biotechnology and Consensus Biolabs of Little Rock, happily introduced me to the successors to Pipe Dreams loudspeakers, the HighEmotion Audio Pyra Bella 7 monitors ($6000/pair), Bella Basso 28 subs ($4000/pair, with 2 pairs in use), and Passare XOL crossover ($3000). (I did not audition the second system with the HighEmotion Audio Festune Bass Module). The HighEmotion speakers, which employ "a substantial amount of new technology", are the result of years of research into brain imagining technology, and "the emotional responses to music, auditory system function, physics, and electrical engineering."
Making its debut was a platter that screamed for Michael Fremer: Kodo's The Beat MagDrive turntable ($24,000). Alas, the widely lamented "where is Michael Fremer" was starring in an opera entitled Home Remodeling Can't be Accomplished with Remote Control, and was back in New York.
Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound provided my very favorite musical experience of the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Along one wall of the room, there were stacks and stacks of vinyl records, an obvious sign of something good about to happen.
JH Audio, founded by Jerry Harvey (formerly of Ultimate Ears, and also known for his work as Van Halen’s audio engineer), had on display an entire line of in-ear monitors, from the single-driver JH 5 Pro ($399) to the 3-way JH 16 Pro ($1149). I listened to a bit of Tool’s “Schism,” from the album Lateralus (a John Atkinson fave), through the Ray Samuels Emmeline The Shadow (which was cute as heck), playing from an Apple iPad, and the JH 5. Nice! I was struck by the deep, grumbling lows, the expressive, truthful guitar tones, clarity of the voices, and the pure drive and impact.
Big does not mean five figures in Jolida's book. The most expensive equipment in their main exhibit on the second floor of the Marriott Tower were the Phase 6 Tape Deck from United Home Audio ($15,000) that was playing master tapes from The Tape Project, the Von Schweikert factory-direct VR33 loudspeakers ($3750/pair), and the Fosgate tube phono preamp ($2500).
Jolida of Maryland sure knows how to produce good sound for people with limited budgets. Playing Leonard Cohen's classic "Back on Boogie Street" through iTunes, with all the sonic compromises that Apple's music server imposes on a system, Jolida's Glass FX tube DAC ($350) and Glass FX 25 Integrated hybrid amplifier ($350) still sounded great. This was not toy hi-fi; it was an indisputable portal into the real thing, with a musicality that put to shame some much more expensive systems I encountered at RMAF.
Since my earliest visits to the Stereophile Show, well before I began writing for the magazine, I have always left Jeff Joseph's speaker displays with a smile on my face. This show was no different. Displaying the lovely Joseph Audio Pulsar ($7,000/pair) with not-yet-released-or-priced Pulsar stands, the combo with Ayre electronics (including the QB-9 USB DAC$2750) and Cardas Clear cabling was a joy.
Here’s a look at one of Jude Mansilla’s systems: Apple iPad, Head-Direct HiFiMan HM-801 portable music player, Grado Head-Fi Series HF-2 headphones. I took a quick listen and enjoyed the liquid midrange, the smooth, easy sound.