Despite the recession, which hit the world of high-end audio hard in 2009, every Show features many new brands. One such was Emillé from South Korea, named after a 10'-high, 18.9-ton bronze bell cast in that country in 771AD, using the "lost-wax" process. Shown in my photo is the Emillé Rapture tube monoblock power amplifier, a zero negative-feedback design that uses four 6550 output tubes to produce 110W into 8 ohms at 2% THD. Emillé products are being distributed in the US by Solos of Cerritos, CA.
When I reported in our report from the 2009 RMAF that I perceived a degradation when Ted Denney of cable manufacturer Synergistic Research removed his tiny ART devices from the room, it triggered a debate that raged not just in the comments following that report but also in our website forum right up to today. The fact is that these small metal bowls are too small to have a significant effect on the acoustics of a room at frequencies below 10kHz or so, yet they seem to improve the accuracy and stability of stereo imaging and even tighten up the sounds of bass instruments. It is a mystery, therefore, how these devices can work. I have conjectured that perhaps they have an effect on the listener’s state of mind rather than the acoustics, but if so, then I don’t comprehend how that effect can be both repeatable and demonstrable. Whatever they doif they do anything, that istherefore, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into my final room at the 2010 RMAF, the Synergistic room.
Here's an up-close look at the Merrill-Williams Audio table featured in the Quad room. The base is made of Rubber Elastomer Acoustic Laminate (aka R.E.A.L.got it?), and the platter of Bakelite resin composite. tHE outboard power transformer, clamping ring, etc. are not pictured. Despite its English-sounding name, the company is based in Memphis.
After walking me through the Naim Uniti display, Naim’s David Dever then ushered me over to a second Naim room where the company was showing off its new NDX network player ($4750, shipping this November).
Perhaps the best sound I heard at RMAF was in the large room on the mezzanine shared by Dynaudio, XLO, and Wadia. The Dynaudio Confidence C4s ($20,900/pair), which I first reviewed in March 2003, were sounding as good as I remember them sounding in my own room, perhaps even better. The rest of the system was obviously high-class: a Wadia 971 CD transport ($17,950) fed Wadia's Series 9 Decoding computer ($33,450, comprising the 931 controller and dual-mono 922 DACs), which in turn fed Octave MRE130 tubed monoblocks from Germany ($16,000/pair) sitting on Grand Prix amp stands. Cabling was all by XLO. The 130W Octave amplifiers use two pairs of KT88s in push-pull and the wideband output transformer has a single tap. The amp can also use 6550s or EL34s, and an accessory "black box" increases the B+ storage capacity.
I enjoyed a conversation with Jude Mansilla, founder of Head-Fi, organizers of the CanJam conference which was sort of tucked away in the Marriott’s grand Rocky Mountain Event Center. The entire perimeter of the space was occupied by long tables, each showcasing headphones and headphone accessories from companies such as Sennheiser, Head-Direct, JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, CEntrance, Grado, Audeze, and Ray Samuels Audio.
As with other Shows, RMAF gave audiophiles the opportunity to stock up on LPsthe original hi-rez mediumboth old and new. This is the bazaar on the Marriott's ground floor, which was crowded throughout the Show.
Peachtree's David Solomon, seen here accosting Stereophile's Stephen Mejias (right) in the hotel's coffee bar, was in ebullient mode. He's holding Peachtree Audio's new idAC ($999), which combines the usual 24/192kHz S/PDIF inputs with a 24/96-capable USB input and an iPod dock that, like the Peachtree iDecco amplifier that is favorably reviewed by Art Dudley in our December 2010 issue, takes the audio data from the iPod in digital form. The iDAC uses the latest version of ESS's 32-bit Sabre32 D/A chip.
JH Audio, founded by Jerry Harvey (formerly of Ultimate Ears, and also known for his work as Van Halen’s audio engineer), had on display an entire line of in-ear monitors, from the single-driver JH 5 Pro ($399) to the 3-way JH 16 Pro ($1149). I listened to a bit of Tool’s “Schism,” from the album Lateralus (a John Atkinson fave), through the Ray Samuels Emmeline The Shadow (which was cute as heck), playing from an Apple iPad, and the JH 5. Nice! I was struck by the deep, grumbling lows, the expressive, truthful guitar tones, clarity of the voices, and the pure drive and impact.
Boulder-based retailer Blu Note Design had a passive display in the Marriott's loby, but its active room on the second floor of the Tower was debuting the Avalon Transcendent speaker ($15,000/pair). One of my best sounds at the Show, the 2-way, 3-driver speakers were being driven by a Jeff Rowland Design Group 625 amplifier, a Jeff Rowland Corus preamp, an Ayre C-5XEmp disc player and QB-9 DAC, with Cardas Clear cabling.
I was smitten by the sound of San Francisco-based dealer and distributor Tim Nguyen's Tone of Music equipment line-up at the California Audio Show. Tim's RMAF exhibit, which featured the Simon Yorke turntables he distributes, included the Simon Yorke S10 Record Player ($19,950), Convergent Audio Technology preamplifier ($9950) and Jl2 signature amp ($19,950), and Synergistic Research cabling. The big difference was the presence of the Lansche No.3 loudspeaker from Aaudio Imports ($30,000/pair in gloss black), a 2-way with 91dB sensitivity and frequency response of 40Hz150Hz (!) ±3dB.
Also distributed in the US by Aaudio Imports, the German Lansche speakers feature a horn-loaded ionic "singing flame" tweeter similar to that used by Acapella, also from Germany. In an off-site demonstration Friday night, I listened to the company's impressive-sounding flagship, the $80,000/pair, 243-lb Cubus, which combines the ion tweeter with a horn-loaded midrange unit and an 18", reflex-loaded woofer. The Lansche display at RMAF featured the somewhat more affordable three-way No.5 speakers ($40,000/pair), driven by the Ypsilon Aelius monoblocks ($34,000/pair) and PST-100 tube preamplifier ($37,000). Cabling was by Stage III, power distribution by Weizhi, and the front-end was either a Bergmann Sleipner Reference turntable and tonearm ($54,000) or the Ypsilon CDT-100 CD transport and DAC-100 D/A processor. As with many of the rooms in the Tower, the room acoustics cramped what this expensive system was undoubtedly capable of producing. But I was sufficiently impressed by the presentation that I have asked for a sample of the Ypsilon preamp for Michael Fremer to review.
t's one thing to know that you're attending what has quickly grown into the largest annual high-end show in the United States. It's something else entirely to try to take in even a third of the 180 exhibits that were spread over the width, breadth and height of the Denver Marriott Tech Center.
RMAF 2010 drew such a huge rush of attendees on the first day (October 15) as to cause at least one overly packed elevator to spend what seemed like a minute in limbo, considering whether it should dare try to ascend. When it finally determined to go up rather than crash down, it moved in fits and starts, and shuddered each time it reached a floor. I think more than one of its occupants took a vow then and there to finally lose some weight. Stereophile ran out of their new-at-the-Show November issue by the end of the second day, and when a member of the Colorado Audio Society donated his collection of back issues to us on Sunday (see the photo), they were all gone within minutes.
Show exhibits extended to eight packed floors, and down into the. . .