John DeVore, loved as much for his eagerly anticipated Monkeyhaus musical gatherings, where music new and old wins over hearts and minds, as for his speakers, had a surprise in store for me. After playing an LP of Indian drums, whose depth and resonance were captured wonderfully by the forthcoming high-sensitivity DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers ($7900/pair estimated cost), pictured on the outside of the soundstage, he pulled out a rare Vanguard LP of soprano Netania Devrath singing Yiddish songs. If that name sounds familiar, she’s the very same Israeli soprano who made the extraordinary, dialect-correct recording of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne that has become an audiophile favorite. In Yiddish, she sounds positively adorable.
As I entered the second floor seminar room, where I awaited the third of four installments of Stereophile editor John Atkinson’s “Just How ‘Absolute’ Is Recorded Sound?”, I happened upon an energetic exchange between Michael Fremer of Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com (right) and Roy Gregory, UK Editor of TheAudioBeat.com (left). Mikey was keeping it light, but the issue was real: how do you describe the sound of a component or system without telling listeners and readers what kind of sound they should prefer?
Across the hallway from the Xeo dem, on the fourth floor of the Marriott Atrium, Dynaudio and T+A featured two systems. The one I heard delivered solid, satisfying sound from Dynaudio’s Focus 260 floorstanders ($4900/pair) driven by T+A’s Power Plant balanced Vollverstärker integrated amplifier ($3100) and Music Player balanced multi-source CD player/DAC/streaming client ($4400). The latter can be controlled with T+A’s recently released Control App.
Dynaudio’s Michael Manousselis was having a ball showing the Xeo 5 ($4500/pair with transmitter and remote) and Xeo 3 ($2300/pair with transmitter and remote). With music sourced from a Mac mini, then sent up to 50’ via Dynaudio’s transmitter unit to the digital amps of up to three sets of speakers, the total-solution Xeo obviates the need for amps, preamps, DACs, interconnects, and speaker cables. Given all that, the sound is pretty amazing for the price.
Eficion’s distinctly shaped F250 loudspeaker ($9950/pair) combines an Air Motion Transformer tweeter with a 5” carbon-fiber midrange unit and a 10” woofer. The speaker has a high specified sensitivity of 90db and a frequency range of 30Hz35kHz.
The speakers were partnered with Plinius (“The Heart of Music”) gear: the 125Wpc, Class-A SA-103 power amplifier ($10,125), M8 preamplifier ($5150), and Tiki 24/96-compatible networking DAC ($4775).
North American distributors Rutherford Audio were on hand with the latest full-range loudspeaker from the German company ELAC, with celebrates its 86th anniversary this year. (Brit-fi fans such as myself will remember ELAC as the manufacturer of the silky-smooth aluminum-dome tweeter from the first and best version of the Acoustic Energy AE-1.) Their new 249 BE loudspeaker ($8000/pair), the woofer cones of which are faceted for rigidity, sounded fine with Burmester electronics. Bruno de Lorimier of Rutherford Audio invited us to guess if the singers on one recording in particular were wearing boxers or briefs; the answer, of course, was "yes."
Hawaii-based Emerald Physicsa company I hadn't heard of until RMAF 2012demonstrated their own US-built loudspeakers and electronics with a Peachtree Audio novaPre preampD/A converter playing music files from a laptop computer. Emerald's CS2P open-baffle loudspeaker ($2990/pair) works as a dipole below 1000 Hz, with a 15" woofer and a horn-loaded 1" tweeter. The retail price of the system I heard, including the Peachtree unit; the Emerald Physics CS2P loudspeakers; Emerald's DSP2.4 active outboard crossover/EQ unit ($850); and the company's EPI100.2 100Wpc digital amplifier ($1600) was under $7000, not including computer and playback software. While far from perfectthe bass wasn't especially taut, and there was little in the way of the sorts of texture and tone I cravethe performance was clean, spacious, and satisfying.
Emotiva, the Tennessee-based company whose Chinese-manufactured components have been providing a genuine taste of the high-end to large numbers of audiophiles, previewed their all-new pro line. The combination of the Stealth DC-1 24/192 DAC ($699) and Stealth 8 powered Studio Monitors ($1499/pair), due by the end of the year, was making great sound for the price.
The active L’Ocean speaker from French manufacturer Cabasse is similar in concept to the huge La Sphère that Michael Fremer reviewed in June 2008, but is smaller, cheaper$159,000/system, compared to $205,000and its external digital crossover can now handle 24-bit datastreams up to 96kHz. L’Ocean was demonstrated at RMAF with Esoteric digital componentsCabasse is now distributed in the US by Esotericand Johnny Cash’s version of the The Beatles’ “In My Life” sounded palpably real. And in a Show dominated by black boxes, the Cabasse’s White Pearl finish was very camera-friendly.
No, I’m not talking about one of the young women who always seem to drive Stephen Mejias to distraction at shows. Rather, I’m speaking of Estelon’s Model XB loudspeakers ($32,900/pair). Designed for more modestly sized rooms, this Estonian speaker was producing realistic, full-range sound courtesy of Vitus Audio’s SM 010 monoblock amplifiers, SL 102 preamplifier, and SCD010 CD player. Power Conditioner was Silver Circle Audio’s Tchaik 6, cabling Kubala-Sosna’s Elation, and rack and feet from Stillpoints.
I finally got to meet one of my audio heroes, John Tucker: founder of Exemplar Audio and co-designer of the legendary Exemplar Horn loudspeaker system. Tucker, who spent the early part of his career working for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, is an engineer and software designer who keeps a distinctly open mind when it comes to the audible effects of seemingly anomalous mechanismsfrom acoustic resonators to powered cables. (John is also featured in an article of mine that will appear in the Autumn, 2012 issue of The Fretboard Journal.) These days, Exemplar's products include a heavily modified version of the Oppo 95 disc player ($3500, including base Oppo unit) and a line of active interconnect and speaker cables called Portals.
I emerged from the elevator, to be greeted by the sound of a late Beethoven piano sonata being played with power and precision by a slightly built young lady. The artist, 22 year-old Fan-Ya Lin, was the winner of the 2010 Music Teachers National Association Steinway Young Artists National Piano Competition, and other awards. She studied at Weber State University where she was spotted by Kimber Kable prez Ray Kimber. Ray, who has always sponsored live music performances at RMAF, arranged for Ms. Lin to give recitals during the days at the show, with a big concert Saturday night. Fan-Ya Lin has a new SACD out on Ray Kimber's Isomike label: Emerging, featuring performances of Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata, Bach's Toccata in c, and works by Chopin and Lowell Liebermann.
My thanks to Ms. Lin and Ray for reminding me how much further audio reproduction has to go before it could be mistaken for the real thing.
Denver retailer Gold Sound’s room featured the Focal 836W speakers ($4500/pair), a three-way design related to the French manufacturer’s 826W Anniversary Edition speaker that Robert Deutsch enthusiastically reviewed in November 2010. Driven by a Cambridge Audio 851A integrated amplifier ($1795) and a Cambridge 851C CD player ($1795) and hooked up with Crystal cables, this relatively affordable system punched above its weight, producing a big, naturally balanced sound.