The penultimate room I went into on the RMAF's final day was being shared by SMc Audio and Audience. I was assuming the latter company was demonstrating its well-reviewed AC conditioner and cables, which indeed it was. But I was not expecting to see and hear loudspeakers from the Californian company. The ClairAudient LSA 16 (LSA for "Line Source Array) was designed by the late Richard Smith, cofounder of Audience, and features 4, 8, 16, 24, or 32 50mm drive-units, used full-range, with no tweeters or crossover (something I have not seen since the Ted Jordan designs of the late 1970s). A separate subwoofer handles the low bass and with a very high claimed sensitivity, the ClairAudient design will produce very high spls in-room, but with great clarity. The sound of the 16-driver version in the RMAF room was a little lacking in top-octave air, but was otherwise very detailed. The rest of the system comprised a McCormack Audio UDP-1 universal player, McCormack monoblock power amps, and a preproduction example of Steve McCormack's new SMc VRE-1 line preamp.
After several years of collaboration with Lew Johnson and Bill Conrad with McCormack Audio, Steve McCormack went it alone a year or so back with SMc Audio. He was demming SMc's first product at RMAF, the $6800 VRE-1 line preamplifier ("VRE" stands for "Virtual Reality Engine"). The solid-state design uses Lundahl and Jensen coupling transformers and uses J-FETs in a zero-feedback circuit. Unusually, it dispenses with the otherwise ubiquitous solid-state voltage regulators in its power supply. Instead, it uses a choke-smoothed voltage rails, which Steve feels eliminates any trace of "transistor" sound. Next to come will be a matching phono stage.
After hosting three hour-long seminars on Sunday (following five on Friday and Saturday), I spent the final hours of the 2007 RMAF racing around rooms I really wanted to hear before the Show closed at 4pm. At 4:30pm, I stopped by what would be my last room, the one featuring a new name to me, Salagar Speakers. This Illinois company is aiming high: its first product is a beautifully finished, physically large two-way active design, the Symphony S210, that combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with a 10" woofer in an unusual curved enclosure. Power is provided by internal ICEpower class-D modules, and the integral X-ACT crossover operates in the digital domain and includes the facility to adjust the speaker's balance to cope with room acoustics problems. The Symphony S-210 costs $7,999/pair complete with crossover, and showed promise, even in the less-than-optimal hotel room.
Nordost has entered the realm of stratospherically-priced cabling with the introduction of Odin interconnects and speaker cable. With Odin interconnects draped around Lars of Nordost's neck, and the speaker cable seen running between Raidho Ayra C3 speakers and Burmester 001 CD, BAT preamp, and Gamut D-200 amplifier (a last-minute replacement for an ailing Burmester amp), the combination of Odin interconnects and speaker cable and Nordost Valhalla power cables—Odin power cables are yet to come —delivered one of the most breathtakingly realistic depictions of a huge, three-dimensional soundstage I've ever experienced. It's you-are-there transparency was pretty damn amazing. I greatly look forward to reacquainting myself with this cabling at CES 2008, and promise to report on it in my show blog if five other Stereophile colleagues don't get to the Nordost room before me. But oh, the price, which is in the "don't ask" category, adds JA.
Driven by the Triode Corporation Japan's TRV-M300SE 20W 300B parallel single-ended monoblocks ($4199/pair) and TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1799), and fed by a very-slow-to-cue dCS SACD player, the Cain&Cain Wall-O-Sound (W3) ($3300), designed by Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio, did a superb job reproducing the true timbre of a piano. Throwing a huge soundstage, with wonderful height and depth, this little system had me writing "really beautiful" in my notebook.
Mark Schifter is well on his way to becoming a legendary figure in high-end audio. From his small-box, low–price-point Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technology components, Mark has gone on to found one of the first genuine bargain high-end websites, AV123, and build speaker cabinets for many major players. Here he stands next to one of his extremely fine-sounding, amazingly low-priced speakers and subs, all sourced from renewable forests and finished with eco-friendly veneers.
Mark Schifter and Walter Liederman of AV123 continue to blow my mind. To their astoundingly low-priced line of quality loudspeakers, only available through the AV123 website, they have added two large loudspeakers from GR Research. Designed by Danny Richie, who previously designed the Epiphany Loudspeakers and is now redoing the crossovers in the Ushers—I am told that Wes Phillips will be reviewing one of Danny’s Usher make-overs for Stereophile—Danny is shown standing next to the GR Research LS6. Priced at $4500/pair, the speakers feature eight 6.5” woofers and six planar magnetic drivers. The LS6 not only boasts a 20Hz–20kHz frequency response, but also features bass drivers that are adjustable according to what the room and system can handle.
Walter Liederman and Danny Richie next showed me the mammoth LS9 (named for its nine planar magnetic drivers). Priced at an unbelievable $6000/pair considering their size and complexity, the LS9s were coupled with Al Stiefel's fine Red Rock Audio 50Wpc Renaissance Monoblock amplifiers ($39,750/pair), Red Rock prototype preamplifier, Abbingdon Music Research CD-77 player ($8500), Grand Prix Audio Monaco turntable ($19,500), and Red Rock Audio cables. Components were supported by the Monaco Modular Isolation Rack ($4750) and Monaco Amplifier Isolation System ($1499). Grand Prix designer Alvin Lloyd says of these plexiglass shelf stands, "I will argue that our stands are the most efficient and highest-performing isolation products in the industry."
It was 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. As Day Two was coming to a close, this sleep-deprived audiophile determined to end the day on a high note. Ah, the Cary/Dali room. That's sure to be a winner. Thank God, it was.
Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable strongly believes that audiophiles need to be exposed to live music. He arranged for one of the ensembles he records with his Isomike system, the Fry Street Quartet, to perform a series of concerts at RMAF. After the players finished a Haydn Quartet in the Marriott's lobby, the audience went into the Kimber listening room across the corridor to hear the same piece on Ray's $500k reference surround system, described earlier in the blog.
Many years ago, in a conversation I was having with Peter Walker of Quad, I asked him if there was a speaker he'd wished he'd designed. "PJ" thought for a moment, then said he admired the Beveridge electrostatic, where a flat panel fires into a waveguide, thus allowing the panel to overcome its Achilles' Heel: the very limited horizontal dispersion resulting from its width.
I was impressed by the extremely full-range presentation of the VMPS RMD-60 loudspeaker ($9950/pair) paired with the VMPS Very Solid Subwoofer ($1850)—especially with the system's admirable bass control. Part of the credit goes to Bybee special-effect Golden Goddess AC cables and speaker bullets, Bolder Cable interconnects and cables, the rest to the Eastern Electric M156 monoblocks (160W into 8 ohms, $7000/pair, based on the EL 156 pentode tube), and Bolder's Statement Level Modded Squeezebox 3 ($1300). If The Bolder Cable Company’s display sounded this good with brand-new amps that were not yet broken in, I look forward to hearing it again once everything is fully ready to strut its stuff.
Ayre and Vandersteen are two companies whose products have achieved an enviable reputation for excellence. I was, in fact, blown away by my listening experience in the Ayre room at RMAF 2006, and looked forward to an equally enveloping experience this year.
The sound in the large PS Audio room was impressive. Despite, at one point, my trying to listen to music over three conversations at once, the system on display,—all PS Audio save for the Avalon Ascendant speakers and JL Audio subs—was distinguished by its full midrange and inviting warmth. The sign on the poster behind the system—"Perfect Power Without the Box"—refers to the company’s forthcoming rack, which will have a power conditioner built into the bottom, additional power filters for every component, and the power itself carried by the tails of the rack. The initial plan is for an 11" wide rack designed for smaller, "lifestyle" components. (I’m one of those folks more concerned with having a life than displaying a lifestyle, but a chacun son gout). A desktop version is also planned.