Art loudspeakers, made in Scotland, paired up German-manufactured audio components from AcousticPlan and a line transformer from Japan to make their joint US debut at the 2007 RMAF. In two adjacent rooms, I heard two different Art models. As depicted in the photo with Art's Derek Dunlap, I first auditioned the art Stiletto 6 loudspeaker ($5000/pair), mated with AcousticPlan's Sitar hybrid-design integrated amp ($7500, complete with external power supply), Audio Technic line transformer from Japan (also debuting), and Cary Audio CD player. The Stiletto, a vented two-way made from birch plywood without use of MDF, measures 88.5dB sensitivity and has a fairly linear frequency response that starts at the mid '30s. It features a SEAS 6" coated-paper driver and a 1" soft-dome tweeter equipped with a proprietary horn to create a delightfully open soundstage. I was quite impressed with this system, which produced very warm, rich sounds that belied the speaker's diminutive size.
Kara Chaffee has every reason to smile even wider than she's smiling here. Her DeHavilland GM-70 50W SET monoblocks ($11,000/pair) and Ultraverve remote preamp ($2995) were creating one of the most wondrous, air-filled soundstages I have heard. "We aim at the heart of the music," she told me after I had spent a while listening to some of my favorite CDs.
Aerospace engineer James M. Harrell, Jr. debuted his Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers at RMAF 2007. Only available from jumpingcactusloudspeakers.com, these tri-amped, 120lb loudspeakers are housed in sealed aluminum cabinets that feature a Bubinga wood front panel. The speakers are said to have a high measured sensitivity of 94dB. With a frequency range of 65Hz–20kHz., a subwoofer is recommended. The speakers also come with an active XM44 4-way crossover by Marchand Electronics.
Veteran speaker designer Albert Von Schweikert (left) has every reason to smile. To celebrate two anniversaries—the 50th year since he built his first kit, and 30 years in the business of high-end audio—he is releasing the VR-4A Anniversary Model. Shown in prototype form, with the final product expected at the 2008 CES in January, this completely redone, much improved VR-4jr replaces that speaker's Mk.II version. Although it plays well in large rooms, the Anniversary Model was specifically created for folks who have smaller rooms. Featuring denser cabinets and the highest-quality parts, the speaker will be available in a standard version with Hovland caps ($6000/pair) and Signature Edition ($7500/pair) with special finish and Mundorf caps.
One of my fondest experiences at previous Home Entertainment shows involved listening to a recording of violinist Hilary Hahn play Brahms on Tenor Electronics. The way those electronics captured the sweetness of her tone was unforgettable. So I'm happy to report that Francois' and Robert's Montréal-based company is back, this time with Ontario's Jim Fairhead as President.
Garth Leerer sure knows how to make a vocal lover happy. As soon as he spotted me entering the Musical Surroundings room, the Oakland-based distributor chose to demonstrate the supreme musicality of the Musical Surroundings’ "Audio Unlimited" system by playing an LP of mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. Recorded in her prime, and sensitively accompanied on piano by the great Gerald Moore, Baker began singing a grief-stricken Schubert song. To say I was blown away by the intensity of her expression, the beauty of her voice, her daring to sing with such naked emotion, and the system's ability to capture and integrate all the different colors and shadings of her instrument only begins to tell the tale. I was transfixed.
Perhaps you've experienced something similar. I recently invited members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society to hear my system. Many of them had visited our house before, but only to attend demos of other equipment that had been brought in specifically for the event. Now I finally had the chance to let BAAS members hear my system whole and complete.
Roy Gregory, that is, editor of HiFi+ magazine from the UK, who had chosen and set-up the system I was using for my high-resolution demonstrations. And my thanks also to Roy's wife Louise, who was signing up attendees for my dems at the Show's front desk.
As well as the excellent-sounding Avalon NP2 speakers, the system I used to play back 24-bit AIF files from my laptop consisted of (from top to bottom): Metric Halo ULN-2 to convert the Firewire output of my Apple PowerBook to AES/EBU; Bel Canto DAC 3 (which I enthusiastically review in the forthcoming November issue), sitting on cylindrical wooden footers from a new company Waipuna Sound and connected to the Metric Halo box via a DH Labs AES/EBU link; Conrad-Johnson CT5 preamp and ET250S hybrid power amplifier; and Nordost Thor AC conditioner. Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables were used throughout. Equipment rack was the attractive and effective Stillpoints, which suspends the acrylic shelves from four steel cables.
I have commented in previous blogs on the easy, unforced and natural sound of Moscode hybrid electronics. Here, the Moscode 402 200Wpc hybrid amplifier was paired with Quad 988 electrostatic speakers that were bolted to custom bases, Esoteric DV-50 universal player, and Cardas Golden Reference cables. Since neither George Kaye nor Gage Rommel was in the room at the time, I was unable to determine what tubes were being used in the amp. But the ability to easily roll tubes in this unit makes it a dream for people like myself who love to tailor the system's sound to their specific preferences.
When I entered the room assembled by Matrix Systems of Pennsylvania, Joe of Critical Mass (maker of excellent, hand-crafted supports for amplifiers and other components) was playing a recording of jazz vocalist Mary Stallings (Maxx Jazz). I was immediately captivated, both by the sound, and by Stallings' artistry. When Joe recognized me and asked me if I wanted to play some of my own music, "No way!" I exclaimed. "Let the music continue."
After my final hi-rez seminar on Sunday, and triggered by my very positive experience with the inexpensive Avalon NP2 speakers, I went across the hallway to the room Denver dealer HD Home Cinema & AV Design was using to debut Avalon Acoustics' new $9300/pair Ascendant loudspeaker. This combines the composite-dome tweeter from the NP2 with a pair of Kevlar-composite woofers in the angled, faceted enclosure that has become a de facto trademark of the Colorado company's high-end speakers. With Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Ayre C-5xe universal player, K-5xe preamp, and P-5xe power-line conditioner, and wired with Cardas cable, the Avalon system proved one of the best-sounding of the Show.
The NSR Sonic Research D3 Concerto Sonata loudspeaker ($4495/pair) was reportedly making a lot of waves at its world premiere. Displayed in not completely broken-in prototype form, with tweaking of crossover and capacitors still to come, the speaker is claimed to have 93.7dB sensitivity. The bottom of the enclosure features an exclusive "Acoustic Projection Lens." The lens, developed over the course of 30 years by its guitarist/luthier/locomotive engineer designer, is claimed to act as a sonic prism that overcomes randomly generated frequencies. The company also offers the much larger D1 Concerto Reference ($32,000/pair). Both speakers have back panels that intentionally resonate like an instrument, a feature that JA points out was first seen in the controversial Bösendorfer loudspeakers.
I experienced a fascinating comparison in one of the RMAF rooms featuring systems from Colorado dealer ListenUp. With Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa speakers (review forthcoming) driven by a combination of Musical Fidelity X-T100 integrated amplifier "supercharged" with MF's 550K monoblocks, and Shunyata AC conditioning and power cables, CDs played back on MF's new top-loading CD player were being compared with lossless-encoded files of the same recordings played back over WiFi via a Sonos ZP80 that fed its S/PDIF digital output to the MF player's DAC section. The data were the same, so other than the WiFi connection, there was no reason for the sound to be different. And I did indeed find it very difficult to hear any consistent difference between the two presentations. Perhaps the low frequencies were a little better-defined and extended via CD, but I don't think I could have identified that without knowing which was which. Interesting.
Of the many speakers I have reviewed over the years, the one I now regret the most having had to return to the manufacturer was the mbl 111B. No other tweeter has so efforlessly floated high-frequency sounds into my listening room like the German manufacturer's unique, omnidirectional "Radialstrahler" design. At RMAF, mbl was demming the larger 101E speaker, which Michael Fremer reviewed in October 2004. The sounds of Brian Bromberg's solo double bass on "Come Together" and Nils Lofgren's Ovation guitar on his Live Acoustic CD, played on mbl's new digital gear, were to die for.