The combination of Octave Audio V 40 SE integrated amplifier ($5300) and Dynaudio Excite X34 compact floorstander ($3400/pair) produced some of the fastest, most agile, and muscular sounds I heard at RMAF.
German loudspeaker manufacturer ELAC showed its prototype Air-X403. Scheduled for launch at CES2014, the wireless loudspeaker system includes a passive model ($2800?) and an active baby with a 210Wpc, class-A/B amplifier ($4000 range total). This black, bottom-ported speaker system did a very nice job on a track by Diana Krall, a singer John Atkinson enjoys, and I do in moderation. I would never have expected such a good midrange from such small speakers.
Walter Liederman’s Underwood Hifi showed an $11,600 system that he sells for the discount price of $8995 + freight. At its head were Emerald Physics CS3 Mk.2 open-baffle, controlled-dispersion loudspeakers complete with Emerald DSP2.4 digital equalizer/crossover ($3500/pair). Supporting them were two REL T9 powered subwoofers ($1200/each) electronically bi-amped through the Emerald DSP2.4, an Emerald Physics EP100.2SE amplifier ($2200), one DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core for preamplification and room correction ($1200), and a Jolida Fusion tube DAC/Transport ($2300). Also included, prices not supplied, were a Pro-Ject Xtension 10 turntable, PS Audio NuWave phono stage, and Mac mini.
It’s no exaggeration to say that I love Harbeth’s Monitor 30.1 loudspeakers ($5995/pair). No matter where I hear them, regardless of music or associated gear, I’m always impressed by the warm, full-bodied, detailed sound. In Sam Tellig’s December 2012 review, he wrote of the Harbeths, “Whatever amp I used, the tonality was superb. Never, ever fatiguing.” My thoughts, exactly.
Hardly ones to shy away from the big stuff, the folks at Apex Audio Denver filled the mezzanine’s large Blanca Peak room with an I-dare-not-do-the-math system that, for starters, paired Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers ($95,000/pair) with Soulution’s 500 monoblock amplifiers ($55,500/pair), 530 integrated amplifier ($49,000), 520 preamp ($26,000), and 540 CD/SACD player ($32,500). Those still breathing can add in a Transrotor Rondino Nero turntable ($14,000), Graham Phantom Supreme ($6800), and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme Cartridge ($10,500).
There was a lot of talking going on when I entered room 8012 in the Marriott’s Tower, but Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter sounded very mellow through Funk Audio powered loudspeakers ($19,875/pair) David Berning ZOTL Pre One preamplifier ($12,360), Silver Circle Audio Juice Box One w/Vesuvius power conditioner, and Luminous Audio cabling. Although I don’t know if the RCA LP of tenor Jussi Björling I heard next was inherently bright, it sure sounded such through a VIP Classic 1 turntable with 3D-printed arm ($4400) outfitted with a Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($7500), which I know is not inherently bright, and a Dynamic Sounds Associates Phono II phono preamp ($12,000).
The Funk Firm’s new entry-level turntable, the Flamenca ($1495, without cartridge), will be available next month. The two-speed ‘table uses a DC motor and a very thin (0.15mm) thread-belt to drive its glass platter. Funk refers to their tonearm as a “pickup arm.” A tonearm, explained Pro Audio’s Brian Tucker, implies that the arm imparts its own sonic signature to the system. Funk aims to eliminate the arm from the system, thereby allowing the cartridge to perform optimally. In this case, the Flamenca’s new F6 tonearm is carrying a Dynavector DV 10X5one of my fave cartridges. The F6’s detachable mounting block is meant to simplify cartridge installation. And, while the stock Flamenca is said to be specifically balanced for high-quality performance straight from the box, it can be easily upgraded with Funk’s Achromat platter mat and any of Funk’s higher-end tonearms.
In the room put together by Rutherford Audio of Denver, Genesis’ 7.2f loudspeaker ($12,500/pair), whose servo-controlled bass extends down to 22Hz; Burmester’s 089 CD player ($33,000), Phono 100 ($20,000), and 956 amplifier ($19,000); Thorens’ TD 2035 Black with TP92 Genesis cartridge (price given as $6399 table, priceless cartridge); and Genesis cabling made for an ear-opening combination. An LP of Count Basie and his Orchestra’s “Me and you” had huge dynamic range, a nice and warm midrange, and an aggressive top. My JVC-XRCD of Sarah Vaughan and Basie was a bit mellower, but the top was again bright.
In German Physiks’ room on the 11th floor of the Denver Tech Center Marriott, the Unlimited Mk.II loudspeakers ($13,500/pair) were mated with Vitus Audio’s RCD-100 CD player ($12,750), RD-100 D/A converter ($11,250), and RS stereo power amplifier. Held together by Purist Audio Design’s Corvus balanced interconnects ($2100/1m pair), fabulously named Aqueous Aureus digital cable ($705/1m), and Venustas speaker cable ($5450/7m pair), the system displayed a lovely midrange with a bit of hard edge on a golden oldie, Sara K’s “If I Could Sing the Blues.” (Who remembers the audio show where this track was playing in at least 7 rooms, if not more?) Regardless, I found the superb sense of depth and air uncanny.
Denver retailer Gold Sound was featuring Focal's new tower speaker, the Aria 948 ($5000/pair), in its room at RMAF, in a system featuring a Cambridge Audio 851E preamp ($1799) and Cambridge 851W 200350Wpc amplifier ($2499), both also new at the show. Front ends were either a Cambridge 851C CD player or a VPI Classic turntable fitted with the 3D-printed tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge and amplified with a Parasound Halo JC3 phono preamp.
By the time I reached the Tower’s 11th floormy final floor, thank Godat 5:35pm on Saturday, I had been at it for over 8.5 hours, and my cold and fever were at their peak. It felt as though nothing short of the Balm of Gilead could bring me solace. But when I heard, in succession, impressively full-range sound and excellent low-bass definition on Mahler’s Symphony 2, and gorgeous warmth and color on everything soprano Arleen Auger sang, I felt as though I could simply float through the rest of the day in a state of peace.
Earlier this year, Michael Lavorgna told us about Grimm Audio’s attractive and intelligent LS1 system ($39,900), which incorporates high-resolution (24-bit/192kHz-capable) A/D and D/A converters, six Bruno Putzeysdesigned NCore amplifiers, a DSP processor, USB interface, a preamp/control unit, integrated bass modules, and all the necessary cables. There is even an analog input. All you need to add, then, is a source.
I first met Gary Gesellchen and Rick Kernen, the duo behind Vanatoo, at the 2012 Music Matters event, held at Definitive Audio in Seattle. At the time, Gesellchen and Kernen, who, through prior business relationships and active participation in the Pacific North West Audio Society, have known each other for 28 years, were just bringing their design to market. Now, the Vanatoo Transparent One powered loudspeaker ($499/pair) seems fully realized.
Colorado Springs-based HiFi Imports were demming their system in one of the Marriott's very large ground-floor rooms. Speakers were the Venture Grand Ultimate Mk.IIs from Belgium ($98,000/pair), which combine Venture's proprietary 2" tweeter, which uses a graphite-pulp-composite diaphragm, with a 7" midrange unit and four 7" woofers. All the lower-frequency drivers use carbon-fiber/graphite-composite cones and the speaker's frequency range is specified as 22Hz60kHz with a 92dB sensitivity.