The UK’s Neat Acoustics is distributed in the US by High Fidelity Services in Braintree, Massachusetts. Here we see the company’s Motive SX2, in sassy pink ($2395/pair), driven by a Sonneteer Orton integrated amplifier ($3795). The digital source was Sonneteer’s Byron CD player ($2795), while vinyl was being spun on a VPI Scout 2 ($2400) with a Dynavector 20-2 XL cartridge ($850). The attractive rack is the Custom Design Ikon 750 Reference ($1475). Neat, indeed.
Designed and manufactured in Columbus, Ohio, the JansZen zA2.1 loudspeaker ($7495/pair) is an interesting design with a side-firing ring-radiator tweeter and two 7” Alnico woofersone above and one below a pair of stacked electrostatic panels.
My sleeping room at the Tech Center Marriott was next to the Jeff Rowland Design Group's sound room. The night before the show started, though I wasn't kept awake, I was puzzled by the low-level, low-frequency noises coming through the wall. When I went into the room after the show had begun to take a listen, JRDG's Lucien Pichet, who for many years had been a stalwart at Avalon Acoustics, explained that they had been breaking in the system. This comprised Raidho D1 speakers, driven by the Continuum S2 400Wpc integrated amplifier ($9800) via Cardas Clear cables, with source the Aeris D/A processor ($9800) hooked up to a Bryston BDP-1 file player. The components were supported by one of the impressively built Harmonic Resolution Systems racks.
If you’re going to spend time scrubbing records, the task might as well be made fun and easy. That seems to have been Jonathan Monks’ goal when he designed the new discOveryOne record-cleaning machine ($2495, base price).
Ray Kimber always gets great sound at shows, but this year, although he was still using four Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers hooked up with Kimber Select cables and an EMM DAC to play his four-channel IsoMike DSD master files, there was something extra-magical happening in the room. Both pianist Fan-Ya Lin's album Emerging and the Romantic Album from violin and piano ensemble the Formosan Duo, sounded tangibly real. The key, it turned out were the gigantic, 300lb MTRX class-A/B monoblocks from EMM Labs, can be seen in my photo. This brute will output 1500W into 4 ohms and, in Ray Kimber's words, extracts "cheerful obedience" from the speakers it is tasked to drive.
The KingSound King III electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) sounded superb at RAF, without the sweet-spot beaming I would have expected from their width. Amplifier was the 120Wpc, $6500 Innamorata from Wells Audio that I first heard at the 2013 Newport Beach Show, with an EAR 868 tube preamp ($7395) and Kaplan cables. Source was the latest Sound Science Music Vault M7 ($5595) with an Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC with Voltikus power supply ($5500). Analog source was a Townshend Rock 7 turntable ($3900) fitted with an Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge ($879).
Thanks to PS Audio’s P5 Power Plant ($3495) and Nordost’s Norse cabling, Krell’s Phantom III preamplifier ($5499, or $7000 w/optional 24/192 onboard DAC), S-350A CD 24/192 CD player ($2500), EVO 2250E amplifier ($8000), and Krell Connect ($3500) were enabling Magico’s S-1 loudspeakers ($12,600/pair) to perform wonderfully. In the room sponsored by Audio Video Logic of Iowa, a Red-Book file of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” had great slam and midrange power, with the guitar singing clear and free in a deep soundstage.
Very clear and open sound, with a shiny treble and lovely midrange distinguished the room that partnered four lithium battery-powered componentsa Kronos turntable ($32,000) outfitted with Lyra Atlas cartridge and Black Beauty tonearm, Veloce’s Platino Series LP-1 phono stage (NLA), Lithio Series LS-1 linestage ($18,000), and Lithio Saetta 400Wpc monoblock amplifiers ($18,000/pair)with YG Acoustic’ Kipod II loudspeakers ($38,000/pair) and Kubala-Sosna Emotion cabling.
Taiwanese speaker manufacturer used an 400Wpc/8 ohms Jeff Rowland Design Group 825 stereo amplifier and Aeris DAC to demonstrate its new Double Bass loudspeaker ($28,000/pair), with audio data sourced from a Bryston BDP-1. The Double Bass combines an MTM ribbon array with an 8" sandwich-cone mid-woofer and 12" sandwich-cone woofer in a vented enclosure that resembles, yes, a double bass.
I have listened to Legacy's Aeris loudspeaker at earlier shows this year, but this impressive tower ($17,750/pair) sounded better at RMAF. Driven by an AVM SA8 stereo amplifier ($13,880) an AVM PA5.2 tube preamp ($5650), and AVM CD5.2 tube CD player ($6995) and wired with Morrow cables, the system reproduced the Crash Test Dummies' "Superman's Song" with authority.
Bent Holter, founder of and designer for the Norwegian company Hegel, explained that his circuits are based on work he had done designing ultralow-noise preamplifiers for the European CERN laboratory. Hegel's new H80 D/A integrated amplifier ($2000) replaces the H70, which was introduced in 2010, and uses the low-noise preamp circuit from the $5500 H300 amplifier and Hegel's patented feed-forward "Sound Engine" amplifier topology. It has two single-ended analog inputs, one balanced analog input, and five digital inputs, including USB. Though this doesn't operate in the usual asynchronous mode, it uses a proprietary topology said to eliminate jitter. The H80 offers 75Wpc into 8 ohms compared with the H70's 70W.
“Hands down great sound” I wrote of a room that combined Joseph Audio’s universally lauded Pearl loudspeakers ($31,500/pair with outrigger bases), Cardas Clear cabling, and a VPI Classic Direct with 3D arm ($30,000) outfitted with a Soundsmith Hyperion OCL cactus cantilever cartridge ($7500), with Jeff Rowland’s Capri preamp with phono option ($4300), Aeris DAC ($9800), and 825 power amp ($32,000). Sourced from computer, Boz Scaggs “Thanks to You” sounded gorgeous, and the beauty of Reference Recordings’ LP version of Vaughan Williams’ The Wasps confirmed the superiority of both the equipment chain and the Keith Johnson/Sean Martin recording team. Bass was profound, the midrange world-class, and highs just right. Transparency, too, was excellent. I wish I could have spent hours immersed in the beauty and grace of this system.
Norbert Lindemann tells me that his musicbook:20 ($5000) and musicbook:25 ($5500) will be available in six weeks. The musicbook:25 is a remotely controlled network player/CD player that includes a TEAC CD drive and USB-A port. It also contains a fully balanced analog preamp with analog volume control as well as class-A headphone amplifiers. The musicbook:20 lacks the 25’s CD drive.
I always have to remind myself that, despite Marantz’s “mass-market” reputation, the company’s Reference line products have more than earned their place on audiophiles’ equipment racks because they sound so good. Which leads to Marantz’s TT-15S1 turntable ($1500) and PM-14S1 integrated amp with phono stage ($2500). As best I can tell from my scribble, the table is a joint venture from Marantz and Clearaudio, and comes complete with arm and cartridge. What I am sure of is that system had a really nice midrange and lovely sound.
Roy Johnson of Green Mountain Audio (left) teamed with Ron Hedrick of Marigo Audio Labs (right) to create a system modest in appearance and generous in musicality. After pairing Green Mountain’s Eos HX top-of-the-line 2-way loudspeaker ($4995/pair) with a cheap Sony multi-disc changer and the Jeff Rowland Design Group’s Model 525 amp and Aeris DAC, they put Marigo’s Mystery Feet under the electronics, and used, in addition to Audio Magic power cords, Marigo Audio cables and, on CDs, Marigo’s new Ultimate High-Definition Signature Mat ($239).