A quarter century ago, it was de rigeur for show exhibitors to use a Linn Sondek LP12 as the source. The only Linn I have found at RMAF so far was in one of the Audio Alternative rooms, which was using the fully loaded LP12/Ekos SE/Radikal/Urika/Keel LP player/phono stage with a Lyra Kleos cartridge ($23,905). But with Wilson Sasha W/P speakers ($28,900/pair) hooked up to a Rega Osiris integrated amplifier ($8995) with AudioQuest cables, the sound of Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" from the new APO 45rpm pressing of her classic Dusty in Memphis album was vividly real-sounding.
Colorado retailer Listen-Up's B&W and Classé room offered a surprisingly full-bodied sound from the small B&W PM1 speakers ($2800/pair), driven by a Classé CA-2300 amplifier and CT-P800 digital preamplifier via AudioQuest cables. But if you closely, you can see one of the almost-as-tiny B&W PV1 subwoofers ($1500 when last available) fleshing out the low bass. Visitors to the room were encouraged to play their own recordings on the Mac mini that was acting as a server sending asynchronous USB data to the CT-P800.
One of Colorado dealer Listen-Up's rooms at RMAF featured Musical Fidelity gear, including the M1 CLiC network player ($1999) that Jon Iverson will soon be reviewing for Stereophile. But what caught my attention in this room was the cute Penaudio Cenya speaker ($3995/pair), a two-way stand-mount that uses premium SEAS drive-units. We have been impressed by Penaudio speakers in the past, so it was good to hear that Tempo Distribution will now be importing these Scandinavian speakers, which use a unique cabinet construction combining MDF and plywood, in the US. The sound of John Lee Hooker dueting with Van Morison was surprisingly full-bodied considering the diminutive size of the speakers.
I was intimately familiar with the Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution speakers $20,000/pair), with their matching stands ($2000/pair), in one of Listen-Up's rooms at RMAF, having measured them two days before I left for Denver. (Art Dudley is reviewing this little jewel of a speaker in the January 2012 issue of Stereophile). At RMAF, they were being bi-amped with four PrimaLuna DiaLogue 7 tubed monoblocks ($5499/pair) with AudioQuest cable, Preamp was the PrimaLuna DiaLogue 3 ($2699) and while a PrimaLuna ProLogue Classic CD player ($2999) could be seen. this had been broken in shipping and CDs were being played on a Simaudio player.
From my listening notes, as I auditioned the classic Chet Atkins-Mark Knopfler gittar-pickin' duet "There'll be Some Changes Made": "maybe a little too rich-balanced but a good sense of pace and impressive low-frequency extension for such a small speaker...unaccompanied female voice had a beautifully liquid quality with space space space!"
Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield was his usual effective DJ self in the room in Colorado retailer Listen-Up was demming the Canadian company's gear. Digital front-end was the Moon Evolution 650D CD player/DAC ($8000) that Mikey Fremer raves about in the November 2011 issue of Stereophile; analog front-end was the ProJect Xperience Classic turntable feeding a Moon 310LP phono preamp; the Moon Evolution 700i integrated amplifier ($12,000) that Fred Kaplan enthusiastically reviewed for Stereophilelast March, was driving Sonus Faber Cremona M floorstanding speakers ($10,000/pair). Cables were all Shunyata Black Mamba and power was sourced from a Shunyata Hydra.
The 2011 RMAF saw the debut of MBL's new Corona series, all finished in gloss white. Playing Peter Gabriel's new CD of some of his songs abut accompanied by a orchestra, the C31 CD player ($9200) and C51 300Wpc integrated amplifier ($11,100) sounded open, spacious, and uncolored with the new MBL 116F "Radialstrahler" loudspeaker ($32,000/pair).
My kind of style in the Music Hall room, where the featured system came in at under $4000: Music Hall’s new a70.2 integrated amplifier ($1499), MMF-2.2 turntable ($449) with Cruise Control 2.0 power supply and speed control ($299) and cork record mat ($50), a15.2 CD player ($499), the new DAC15.2 ($299), and Epos Epic 2 loudspeakers ($799/pair; see our reviews in the November and December issues).
Tempo Distribution's John Quick was putting an LP on the Basis 2200 turntable (fitted with the Basis Vector 4 tonearm and My Sonic Labs Eminence EX cartridge)when I went into his room. He was showing off Musical Fidelity's new M1 VINL (no "Y") phono preamp ($1199), which has the same form factor as the M1 DAC and a front-panel display to show which of 10 resistive loadings (MC) or capacitive loadings (MM) has been selected. The sound of vinyl in this room, with the Musical Fidelity M6 500i 500Wpc integrated amp ($7000) driving Verity Leonore floorstanding speakers ($16,000/pair), was clean, clear and full-range.
But what I enjoyed most in this room was a live 24/48 recording of Tori Amos singing and playing piano at the Montreux Jazz Festival,played from John's laptop running Amarra and sending USB data to the dCS U-Clock interface for the Puccini player used as a DAC. Ms. Amos sounded vividly real.
A large name for a large loudspeaker, Nola's Baby Grand Reference Series II, which combines four Raven ribbon tweeters with two 9" magnesium-cone woofers and four proprietary 4.5" midrange units, was being demonstrated with Audio Research Reference 250 amplifiers and front-end, Nordost cables, a QX4 system conditioner, and a Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.5 AC isolation transformer. Like many rooms at this year's RMAF, a Billie Holiday track was playing when I went into the Nola exhibitin this case, "Lover, Come Back to me"and even in mono, the sound was immersive. The Show speakers had an attractive piano-gloss rosewood finish and they featured the 3.5-way Unison Xtreme Crossover System, implemented on three separate boards and integrated into the speakers themselves. The speaker's price of $55,000/pair will be maintained until the New Year, when they will rise to $58,000/pair.
Their politically incorrect poster may have raised some hackles, but it has to be admitted that Odyssey was making some great sounds in their room at RMAF. Klaus Bunge was showing off the Kismet Reference Monitor standmounts ($2500/pair including stands), which use a Scanspeak beryllium-dome tweeter, driving the speakers with the two-chassis Odyssey Reference Line amplifier ($3500), which combines a tubed input stage with solid-state output. I listened to that old audiophile classic, Radka Toneef singing Jim Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," and the tangibility and solidity of the imaging was to be marveled at, given that wide-baffle speakers tend not to throw a stable, well-defined soundstage.
It's the perfect name for a preamp, I thought. Grand Pre, if not Grand Prix, has a certain ring to it. The first upmarket product from the company that has made a name for itself with its high-performance iDecco, iNova, and iDac, the Grand Pre will be priced at $3000. It combines the high-resolution ESS 9018 DAC chip with a buffer stage based on 12AX7 tubes, and offers both analog and digital inputs, including a 24/192k-capable USB input. Peachtree's David Solomon, shown in my photo,was demming the Grand Pre with a Simaudio Moon amplifier driving B&W 802 Diamond speakers, using Pure Music on his laptop to send it USB data.
Industry veteran Colleen Cardasand yes, Colleen, I meant the word "veteran" as a complimenthas set up, with vinyl blogger Marc Phillips, a new company Colleen Cardas Imports, to distribute Unison Research amplifiers and Opera loudspeakers in the US. However, the room at RMAF CCI was sharing with Positive Feedback Online was featuring the Sonicweld Pulse Rod active speakers ($125,000/pair including DEQX DSP equalizer). Analog front-end was the Funk Firm Sapphire turntable $5000) fitted with the Funk Firm FXR-II tonearm and a Transfiguration cartridge and feeding a Unison Research Unico Nuovo integrated amplifier ($2795) used as a phono stage. Digital front-end was a laptop running Amarra feeding USB data to the new Sonicweld Divertor ($2888) which fed 24/192 S/PDIF data to the DEQX.
A highlight of the 2011 RMAF was the first public demonstrations of James Guthrie's 40th-anniversary surround mix of Pink Floyd's classic Wish You Were Here, hosted by Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem (shown in my photo) and James Guthrie. With a system comprising five ATC professional active monitors fed by a Playback Designs SACD player, Showgoers were treated to a complete playback of the album from the SACD, to be released next month.
From the opening sound effects that tracked from the rear to the front, to the final fade on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 9", listeners were immersed in the re-creation of one of the finest rock albums of all time. I felt Guthrie's surround mix was true to the band's original two-channel intentions while expanding the soundfield to take full advantage of the multichannel medium. "Magnificent!" I scrawled in my notebook. The Studio Six SPL meter on my iPhone indicated that the sound pressure reached 106dBthe experience was like being at the highest fidelity rock concert ever!
This was posted on the wall of his RMAF room by one manufacturer who still makes his products in the US. The message seems clear enough, even if it over-simplifies what is actually a complex situationsee my September 2011 "As We See It" on this subject.
There was a lot of buzz over the new high-performance, highly versatile Invicta DAC/preamp ($3395) from Resonessence Labs. The Invicta handles all resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz from all of its inputs, including asynchronous USB 2.0.