As Jason Victor Serinus mentioned, there was a party going on in the Music Hall room; and, while this meant that you really couldn’t evaluate the sound of the system, it also meant that you were bound to actually have fun.
Hmm: Evaluate sound or have fun, evaluate sound or have fun?
What more can be said about Audioengine's flagship self-powered loudspeakers, the A5 ($399/pair) and A2 ($199/pair), than has already been said? We currently use the bigger babies for sound on an antiquated TV in my husband's man cave, aka "the cottage," and they're astounding for the price. The speakers were showing off thanks to several prototype Audioengine products that are still in the development stage.
Since Sonic Studio dropped the price of its Amarra music software system to $189, lots more people have been enjoying its sound. Less than two months after Amarra’s last release, James Anderson announced the imminent arrival of 2.4.3 (free to current owners). He also played Reference Recordings’ superb recording of Copland’s Symphony 3, one of whose movements has become known as the “Ode to the Common Man.” Turns out that the performance was recorded using Sonic Studio’s professional Soundblade products. Played back with Amarra 2.4.3, it sounded fabulous, with absolutely tight, room-shaking bass. No doubt Amarra’s optional equalization component, which can help control bass booming created by either room nodes or less than flat loudspeaker response, had more than a little to do with the success of the presentation.
Having heard at last Randy Bankert’s 97dB-sensitive Sonist Concerto 4 floorstanding loudspeakers ($5895) with electronics and cabling that do them justice, I understand what beautiful sound they are capable of producing. Together with Snake River Audio interconnects and speaker cable ($1100$2449 for a 3m bi-wire pair of speaker cables), whose outer shell shimmers like a snake slithering in the sun, the Hong Kong sourced Increcable TIA-280 80Wpc integrated amplifier, and a Cary CAD-306 Pro SACD/CD player, this system produced solid bass and beautiful highs.
Styled to resemble Sonus Faber’s cost-no-object “The Sonus Faber” flagship design, the new Sonus Faber Venere range of speakers made its debut at RMAF. Costing $2498/pair, ie, around less than 2% of the big speaker’s price, the Venere 2.5 was demmed with an Audio Research DSI200 class-D integrated amplifier ($5995), a Wadia Model 121 decoding computer ($1299), a Pro Ject Xtension turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($3699) a Pro Ject Phono Box ($999), and Pro Ject’s new Stream Box ($1999). The LP of Jeff Buckley’s classic album Grace was reproduced with appropriate impact and a color-free tonal balance. Even considering the relatively affordable price of the system, this was still one of the better-sounding rooms I heard at RMAF.
One of the final rooms I visited at the 2012 RMAF was Sony’s. An as-yet-to-be-named floor-standing speaker was being demmed with Pass Labs amplification, Kimber Kables, and a Mytek DSD-capable DAC, taking data over USB from a laptop. The speaker has much in common with the superb SS-AR2 that I reviewed in October, but is shorter and, as can be seen from Jason Serinus’ photo, has an intriguing array of two supertweeters above and below the tweeter.
There was so much going on in the George Warren Precision Sound room that, once I finished snapping photos, it was hard to focus on the music. Nonetheless, it was clear that the George Warren turntable ($4200$4850, depending upon finish) with its MØrch DP-8 tonearm (around $5000, available in gold or silver) were what this system was all about.
At the end of the first day of RMAF, veteran audio journalist Ken Kessler moderated a seminar titled "High-End Audio: Regaining the High Ground." Some such eventsI would go so far as to say most such eventsmake me feel more like a reporter for Whine Spectator than Stereophile, but this one wasn't bad, and some of the observations expressed on the relationship between education (as in: music appreciation) and industry (as in: us) could actually prove useful. Ken Kessler stimulated the conversation with his own passionately held opinions, and many in the audience responded in kind (if with a little too much wind, in one case). Seen above are panelists Peter McGrath (Wilson Audio), Kathy Gornik (Thiel), Michael Fremer (Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com), and Roy Hall (Music Hall).
Electronics designer and manufacturer Ron Sutherland, who is surely one of the nicest and most upstanding people in our rather motley trade, brought to the show a sample of the brand new Sutherland Insight phono preamplifier ($1400). Essentially, an AC version of the battery-powered Sutherland Ph3D ($1000), the beautifully made Insight uses a well-screened switch-mode power supply, and offers a battery (sorry) of options with regard to gain and loading values, all selectable by means of gold-plated jumpers and pinswhich, according to Ron Sutherland, are far better-sounding and more reliable than DIP switches.
At the center of SVS loudspeaker demo were its prototype, hand-built Ultra Series Ultra Towers ($1999/pair), with a rated response of 28Hz22kHz (±3dB). Due November 20, the speaker's trapezoidal cabinet, which has no parallel lines, was blasting raucous, sinfully compressed, ridiculously tipped up rock courtesy of Classé's CA-2300 amplifier and CP-800 preamp. Once the energy shifted, I enjoyed the lovely touch of sanity delivered by cellist Antonio Lysy (from Antonio Lysy At the Broad on Yarlung Records playing Piazzola's "Oblivion" on a fabulous CD that is also available in hi-res download format from Linn. And when the Ultra Series is released, it will also include the SVS Ultra Bookshelf ($999/pair), SVS Ultra Center ($699), and SVS Ultra Surround ($1199/pair).
Salk’s beautifully finished SoundScape 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange unit, and 12” side-firing passive radiators as the company’s larger SoundScape 10 and 12 floorstanders, but where those designs use single 10” and 12” woofers, respectively, the SoundScape 8 employs two 8” drivers. While the base price for the SoundScape 8 is $8000/pair, custom-finished models such as those seen here, which had a marble-like appearance, can cost up to $12,000/pair.
There’s nothing like an active AB demo to convince that something major is going on with Synergistic Research’s increasing arsenal of mind-bending products. In one comparison, Ted Denney and Peter Hansen turned on and off the two Tranquility Bases ($1995/each including MiG supports) which were placed under their Computer Audio system and Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated amp ($2195). The difference in clarity, three-dimensionality, a lower noise floor, and image size was striking. Having a similar effect was turning on and off the Active Shielding on the company’s SR Active Firewire 800 cable ($595).