I always enjoy visiting the MBL room at a show. Not only I am addicted to the quality of the German company's "Radialstrahler" omnidirectional tweeter, which has a delicacy to its presentation that escapes conventional dome units, but MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan is obsessive about set-up. His RMAF system comprised the MBL 116f speakers ($29,000/pair) driven by a pair of MBL C15 amplifiers ($12,500/pair), a C11 preamplifier ($8800), and a C31 CD player/D/A processor ($9200), all hooked up with WireWorld Eclipse cables. (The electronics are all from MBL's Corona line.)
McIntosh’s Carl Porter was in the midst of demming McIntosh’s MEN220 room correction system ($5000) when I snapped this photo. I’ve heard this baby in action several times, and was not surprised by the positive effects its room correction, custom-EQ, and 2-way crossover had on a recording by Alison Krauss.
Count on McIntosh to invariably dem something new, albeit in chassis that maintain the company’s distinctive aesthetics. This time around, Ron Cornelius showed the new MCD550 SACD/CD player ($6500) with volume control, headphone output, asynchronous USB 2.0 input, and 32-bit, “192kHz PCM/SD digital to analog conversion”; and MA8000 300Wpc integrated amplifier ($10,000) with MC/MM phono inputs, five digital inputs that decode music up to 32/192, home-theater bypass, and headphone amplifier. In an all-McIntosh set-up, the system delivered the classic warm midrange and solid bottom end I’ve come to expect. Highs, at least in this small hotel room, were a touch metallic, however.
In the first of MIT’s two adjacent rooms, Steven Holt, in his last appearance with the company before moving on to Light Harmonic, showed off MIT’s newest Z-Plug 3 ($199) and Z-Plug 6 ($399) AC noise traps. Demonstrated with Audio Prism’s noise-sniffing device, these parallel power filters seemed to do a fine job of quieting things down. Also new are two power cables, the SL-Z-Cord3Fp AC Noise trap ($349) and SL-Matrix Z-Cord 6 AC Filter power cord ($699), both of which incorporate Z-series power filtration. Don’t you love these ridiculously long names that make you feel like you’ve bought something special, which, despite the name, it may very well be?
"Together, We Make Beautiful Music" proclaimed the one-sheet that was handed to me in this room. "You are listening to a complete audio system that cost under $15,000," it continued, adding that "we put together this relatively modest playback system to better demonstrate the musical purity and refinement produced with products manufactured by: Mojo Audio, Atomic Audio Labs, VH Audio." $15,000 doesn't sound "relatively modest" to me, but the sound in this room was surprisingly good considering that the speakers were a DIY design using a full-range 8" unit and the amplifiers were vintage Allen organ tube models, based on the Williamson circuit.
I was as surprised as everyone else who walked into the MSB room to find the company’s Universal Media Transport Plus ($5995), Diamond DAC Plus with Diamond Base ($34,000), and 200Wpc Platinum Stereo S201 amplifier ($17,995) driving the enormous SoundLab M1PX loudspeakers.
The demos given by High Water Sound’s Jeffrey Catalano are as much about music as they are gear. Attending one is like sitting in on a music history lesson with a wonderful professor. Catalano most enjoys making direct connections between the seemingly disparate.
On this occasion, he practically shook with excitement. As he walked across the large listening room, on his way to select one of the many vinyl LPs that had been propped up against a side wall, he paused to address the crowd: “For me, what I’m about to play . . . this is just the best piece of music I’ve heard . . . in . . . years.”
Mytek Digital's Michal Jurewicz (facing camera) was busy all weekend, demonstrating both his company's new Stereo 192-DSD DAC FireWire D/A converter (see "Music in the Round," July 2013) and his 8-channel DSD A/D converter. The latter was being used with an Ampex open-reel recorder just out of shot.
M•A Recordings' Todd Garfinkle is proud to now offer Sera Una Noche’s beautiful La Segundaon vinyl. Garfinkle explained that the source was upsampled to 5.6MHz and that the record was then cut "on the fly." The result is "a double-DSDmastered LP."
Naim Audio has just introduced three new great-sounding products in its NAIT (Naim Audio Integrated Series). The entry-level NAIT 5si Integrated amplifier ($1800) outputs 60Wpc into 8 ohms, and has four analog inputs (including DIN, which they think sounds best), a headphone output, and unity gain inputs for AV pre/pro or receiver. Climbing up the ladder gets you the 70Wpc Naim NAIT XS 2 integrated ($2900) and "audiophile version" 80Wpc Naim SuperNAIT 2 integrated ($4900). In addition to more inputs and features, these higher-level products include upgradeable external power supplies, which counts for a lot in Naimland.
PMC’s Fact.12 loudspeaker ($19,500/pair), the English company’s new reference 3-way floorstander, includes two 6” coated aluminum-cone woofers, a 2” hand-built soft-dome midrange, and 0.75” soft-dome SONOMEX tweeter co-developed with SEAS. With a somewhat low 84dB sensitivity and 8 ohm impedance, the speaker claims a 26Hz30kHz frequency response. Paired with four new Rega componentsthe Rega Elicit-R 105Wpc integrated amplifier ($2995), Saturn-R DAC + CD transport ($2995), RP8 turntable with Apheta MC cartridge ($3995 w./cartridge), and Aria MC/MM phonostage ($1495)the system sounded quite solid playing Kraftwerk's “Autobahn.”
Astell&Kern’s AK10 portable DAC ($299) measures 2.1 ” W x 2.1 ” H x 0.5 ” D, weighs just 1.8oz, and comes with an attractive leather case. It uses a Wolfson WM8740 DAC, capable of handling 24-bit/96kHz data, and is compatible with iOs (iPhone 5 and 5th generation iPod Touch) and Android (Galaxy S3, S4, Note2, Note3) operating systems. Its USB 2.0 input means it can also be used to improve the sound of music files stored on your Mac or PCjust send the output to your headphones or stereo. Inspired by turntable design, the silver circle atop the AK10 is actually a volume control: spin it to raise or lower the volume. Sweet.
One of our favorite small desktop loudspeakers has been significantly revised. Audioengine’s new A2+ powered loudspeaker ($249/pair) is scheduled to ship on November 1. Upgrades include a built-in 16-bit Burr-Brown DAC; variable subwoofer output; and improved binding posts, AC connection, and power supply.
I’ve grown quite fond of Nola Metro Grand Reference Gold loudspeakers ($33,000/pair). Mated once again with ultra-transparent, full-range Nordost Odin cabling and several Nordost Quantums ($2200/each), the system brought out the true nature of Audio Research’s CD-8 CD player ($9000), Reference 75 amplifier ($9000), and Reference 10 preamplifier ($30,000). On a recent Mercury Living Presence CD reissue of music by Chabrier, that made for an easy-on-the-ears, slightly damped top and the dominant ARC midrange that so many people love.
At last, Nordost has augmented its four-level Sort Kone equipment support line with the threaded Sort Füt ($350/each). A mechanically tuned resonance control device designed to replace the standard spikes and stabilizers supplied with loudspeakers and racks, it boasts aluminum and bronze hybrid construction, a filial dome to minimize effects of vibration, and three internal ceramic balls that minimize contact surface area while providing physical stability. The “Premium Package” includes four Sort Füt units (which together support speakers up to 800 lbs), an adjustment tool, laser leveling, and both 8mm and 6mm threaded adaptors.