Strange that I should travel 1800 miles to hear products that are designed and manufactured less than two hours from my home. Happily, the McIntosh experience at RMAF was worth the effort, especially inasmuch as the hallowed brand distinguished itself by playing real music as opposed to audiophile chestnuts. (Think of it!) I especially enjoyed some selections from the Beatles' Anthology 3 collection, played via JRiver software on an HP laptop, through a McIntosh C50 preamp ($6500) and MC452 amp ($7500), along with the McIntosh MEN220 room-correction system ($4500, which includes the microphonebut not the standseen in this photo). Rounding out the system were the company's recent XR100 speakers ($10,000/pair): certainly the best McIntosh loudspeakers I have yet to hear.
The Sound Organisation’s Naim system inspired me to jot “very musical and complete” in my notes. On active duty were Naim’s NDS reference network player equipped with their top DAC ($10,995) with separate 555PS power supply ($9645), NAC202 upgradable preamp ($3295) with separate power supply ($2195), NAP250-2 80Wpc stereo amplifier ($5995), and S400 loudspeaker ($6495/pair in the finish shown).
High Fidelity Services of Braintree, MA was producing good, solid sound on well-recorded rock on a system that mixed two products it imports and distributes, Neat Acoustics’ Ultimatum XL6 loudspeakers ($14,280/pair) and Scheu Analog’s Das Laufwerk 1 turntable with 12" Tacco arm and Scheu/Benz cartridge ($15.995), with Zanden’s Model 2500 CD player ($22,000), Model 6000 integrated amplifier ($22,000), and 1300 phono stage ($13,750); Running Springs’ Maxim power conditioner ($6400); and Chord Cable Company’s SArum cabling ($8400).
The German manufacturer ADAM Audio, whose high-frequency drive-unit technology is descended from that of Oskar Heil's Air-Motion Transformer, introduced their new Gamma loudspeaker ($22,000/pair), which is built around a 25mm-thick aluminum baffle: a departure from the honeycomb material used in elder ADAMs. Demonstrated with a pair of Cary SA 500.1 solid-state monoblocks ($4995 each), Cary SLP 05 preamp ($8495), and Cary CD 303T CD player ($6995), the Gammas were clear and distinctly articulate, with a pleasant balance overallalthough I wouldn't have wanted them to be an iota lighter.
Mike Hopkins of Aperion Audio has reason to smile. The Aperion Verus Grand ($1798/pair), a three-way tower loudspeaker with a frequency response of 45Hz22kHz, 6 ohms impedance, and 92dB sensitivity, was being fed by a Marantz SA 1153 SACD player and PM 1153 integrated amplifier via Straight Wire cabling, and delivering a very nice, complete presentation of Belinda Carlisle's cover of "Hallelujah."
In the Nordost/Raidho suite, I was very impressed by the spacious, delicate, detailed sound made from a system comprising Raidho C1.1 standmounted speakers ($20,000/pair, including dedicated stand), a Simaudio CD player, Hegel amplification, Quantum Resonant Technology (QRT) power conditioning, and, of course, Nordost cabling.
Nordost’s Lars Christensen has become an industry legend of sorts for the enthusiasm with which he launches into cable comparison after cable comparison. At RMAF, he notched his demos up several steps, inviting people to hear the effects that cabling, power distribution, and resonance control products from Nordost and other companies can have on system sound.
“The bottom line is, despite the science involved, if you can’t hear it, it matters not,” Nordost’s West Coast distributor Michael Marko told me outside the demo room...
Odyssey Audio products are proudly handmade in the US and sold factory-direct. The system I heard consisted of Odyssey’s Kismet Reference loudspeakers ($3500/pair), Stratos stereo amplifier ($1400), Candela preamp ($1500), Suspiro MC/MM phono stage ($1200), Groneberg cables, and a 15-year-old VPI turntable.
As familiar as I may be with the Playback Designs/Evolution Acoustics set-ups that Blue Light Audio's Jonathan Tinn brings to showsone of these, with darTZeel electronics and much bigger Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers, received my Best of Show at T.H.E. Show Las Vegas a few years backI constantly find myself amazed by the quality of the sound. This time, with Playback Design's MPS-3 DSD-capable high-resolution CD player with USB input ($8500); an Ampex ATR-102 open-reel recorder, restored by ATR Services, Inc of York, PA, playing 15ips master tapes sourced from ATR and Puget Sound Studios; and B.M.C. Audio's AMP CS2 integrated stereo amplifier ($8400) driving Evolution Acoustics' MMMicroOne 2-way monitor loudspeakers with stands ($2500/pair), the sound of a Shelby Lynne demo safety copy of her new album, provided by ATR Services, blew me away with its solid bass, powerful slam, and great depth. True, there was a bit of an edge on Lynne's voice, but it may have been room-induced, and sure didn't stop me from writing "OMG" in my notes.
In the AudioQuest room, I was treated to a course on the Powers of Network Attached Storage. It wasn’t really a course and it wasn’t really called that, but it could have been. AudioQuest’s Steve Silberman is convincing. And I am now convinced that, when the time comes for me to dive into computer audio and other digital waters, I’ll seriously consider a NAS for my needs.
While Silberman has found success with several different NAS devices, on display in the AQ room was Synology’s powerful DS712+, which Silberman says is highly reliable, has a very friendly user interface, and never compromises the performance of his system.
Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Paragon Sight & Sound put together another high-performance, cost-no-object system: Wilson Audio MAXX Series 3 loudspeakers ($69,500/pair); Doshi Audio (“Audio Products for Music Lovers”) Alaap v3.0 NAB tape preamp ($10,995), Alaap v3.0 line stage ($14,995), Alaap v2.1 phono stage ($10,995), and Jhor 160 monoblock power amplifier ($28,995/pair); SME 20/3 turntable ($15,500 with SME’s Series V tonearm) and Koetsu Urushi Vermillion cartridge ($5850); and Transparent Audio cables. The gear was supported by Harmonic Resolutions Systems racks. I didn’t listen to any digital while I was in the room, but digital was being handled by a Wadia S7i CD player and a Playback Designs MPD-5 Reference DAC.
Danny Richie of GR Research, which supplies drive-units and other components to the DIY community, designed and assembled these panel loudspeakers using push-pull planar-magnetic drivers from BG Corporation. The loudspeaker, which hands over to a servo woofer at 200Hz, sounded open and detailed with all-battery-powered tube electronics from Dodd Audio. (There was also, on static display, a gorgeous one-off Dodd preamp using 6C33C tubes for voltage gain!)
Visual aesthetics were clearly not the main priority in room 431. Pictured is Polk Audio's LSiM 707 loudspeaker ($4000/pair), driven by an unseen Oppo 83 SE used as a transport, the excellent Peachtree DAC/Pre ($4700), and, on the computer end, a Macbook Pro running Amarra 2.4.2 via an Audioquest Carbon USB cable. Audioquest Rocket 88 cabling, PS Audio P10 power conditioner, XLO-10 power cords, and room treatment completed a system that, on George Benson's classic recording of "The Ghetto"a song that doesn't sound remotely like the predominantly Mexican, multi-ethnic and multi-national ghetto in which I livesounded like solid hi-fi.