The next-to-the-last demonstration I heard at RMAF 2012 was among the two or three most impressive. Doing business as Volti (it means to move forward) Audio, Maine resident Greg Roberts builds horn loudspeakers that seem to embody both the superb craftsmanship and musical impact of America's finest vintage-audio products. His newest, the Vittora ($15,000/pair), is a three-way loudspeaker with a horn-loaded 15" bass driver, horn-loaded 2" compression driver for the midrange, and horn-loaded 1" compression driver for the treble, with passive crossover networks, stepped attenuators for the mids and trebles, and an all-plywood cabinet in a choice of veneers. Based on a brief audition with EMM Labs digital source components and a BorderPatrol S20 single-ended 300B amp ($13,750), I can only say that the Vittora is, if anything, underpriced. My first question to Mr. Roberts was, "Who do I have to kill to borrow a review pair?"; we're still working out the details. . .
Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts NYC had assembled quite an impressive system, most of whose components I had never heard before. Given the system’s price, one would reasonably expect something wonderful, if not extraordinary from Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair); Nagra’s new Jazz preamplifier ($12,250, with the input and output jacks now on the back instead of the sides), 300B power amplifier ($16,950), and VPS phono preamplifier ($6850); Metronome’s C8 Reference Asymmetrical USB DAC ($22,750) and Calypso Reference transport ($43,750); Holborne’s Analog 2 Mk.2 turntable ($7495), Dualpivot tonearm ($3475, MC1 cartridge ($1975), and rack ($3975); Van Den Hul’s Cumulus 3T speaker wire ($6995/pair) and The Cloud 3T interconnects ($695/set); and a Schopper Thorens fully restored 124 Mk.2 (“priceless”).
First of all, I’d like to point out that, though I probably should have, I did not take this picture. This picture was taken by VPI’s young Mathew Weisfeld, who is way cooler than me.
Now, the turntable is VPI’s Traveler, which I review in our November issue. What turntable, you ask? That turntable therethe one behind the girl in the red glasses. (The red glasses, she told me, weren’t hers, but instead belonged to Music Hall’s Leland Leard. But that’s another story.)
Sunday afternoon is always the slowest time at an audio show, but you couldn’t tell it from the room dominated by Hsu subwoofers. In the only room I encountered on floors 4 and 5 of the Atrium that was playing action DVDs or Blu-rays, the movie’s obligatory, super-hyped explosions were resonating far outside the door. In what I take to be a statement about popular culture and the American obsession with violence, the darkened room was so packed that there was no way I could even stand in the doorway.
If there’s anything that will grab this whistler’s attention, it’s the sound of another whistler who knows what she or he is doing. Given that the first thing I heard when I set foot in the room from Pro Audio Ltd. of Tower Lakes, IL was the delightful sound of whistling on Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” I was primed for a good experience. And so it was, with the system’s genuinely lovely if somewhat light-bodied sound distinguished by a captivating sense of air that is the mark of good analog.
Vanatoo is certainly giving other companies a run for their money with their Transparent One powered loudspeakers ($499$549/pair, dependent upon finish). Deferring to Michael Lavorgna’s recent review on Stereophile’s sister publication, AudioStream.com, I can simply say that the bass and sheer energy coming out of these small speakers was extremely impressive. In fact, it was so impressive that the folks running the demo felt the need to frequently tell the large crowd that everything was coming out of the two speakers, without aid of a subwoofer or any other hidden device.
“For a speaker manufacturer to not recognize the importance of room interaction is either disingenuous or willfully naïve,” said Wisdom Audio’s Jon Herron, during his demonstration of the tall, slim L75 loudspeaker ($18,700/pair) and its outboard SC-1 crossover ($6500).
At the time, I was marveling over the system’s full-range, large-scale, dramatic sound. I found myself looking up in the air, feeling as though I was seated in a concert hall or movie theater, surrounded by sound.
You know the slinky hi-hat, the funky wah, the groovy bass line; the slow-building horns, the deep voice, the suggestive lyrics: Who’s the black private dick / That’s a sex machine to all the chicks? / (Shaft!) / Damn right…
There was a party going on in the Xact Audio room.
In two adjacent rooms, GTT Audio & Video showcased systems dominated by much-admired YG Acoustics loudspeakers. In the smaller set-up, the diminutive YG Acoustics Carmel ($18,000) joined the excellent PS Audio PWT Memory transport ($3500), Devialet D-Premier all-in-one DAC/Phono Stage/Integrated amp ($16,000), and Kubala-Sosna Research Emotion interconnects and speaker cable ($3000/first meter) and power cables ($1100/first meter). The chosen material, Jascha Heifetz’s classic recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, sounded excellent, but the system’s clarity drove home to me that he was playing so fast that much of the soul of the music was lost.
It’s a great name, isn’t it? Your Final System, based in Rochester, NY, is an Internet-based, high-end audio consulting firm specializing in custom USB 2.0 cables and computer music servers that will travel anywhere in the US to set up their music server. Unfortunately, shit happens. YFS’s McIntosh 275 amplifier died right as the show was getting underway, they hunted around until they located Jolida electronics that were fresh out of the box. Given the insufficient break-in time, it’s inappropriate to comment on the sound of a system that also included a customized YFS HD Ref 3 Digital Music Server/Transport ($13,000), Bricasti M1 DAC ($8600), Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktive loudspeakers ($26,000/pair), and YFS cabling (including their REF USB cables ($350 each).
I loved the pure, clean sound and sense of touch and bloom that came with Ben Webster’s tenor sax on “Stars Fell on Alabama” from Billie Holiday’s great Songs for Distingué Lovers. And, in “A Foggy Day,” Lady Day’s voice was as rich and true as can be.
Later, I noted fine snap and brassy pluck to the sound of acoustic guitars during “Chuck E.’s in Love,” the opening track to Rickie Lee Jones’ self-titled debut, an album that people often love or hate.
Was it divine retribution that inspired Zu Audio’s Sean Casey to play The Evens intoning “Shut Up! Shut Up!” just as I entered the room? All I know is that, while I have been critical in the past of Zu Audio’s incisive sound, I never fail to find the room full of people digging it. More than that, Sean surprised me by playing Ella Fitzgerald, later in life, performing “Good Morning, Heartbreak,” and I too was digging it. Clearly Zu speakers, cabling, and cartridges are suited to jazz as much as raucous rock.