Welcome to retro city. Not only did the Quad ESL2805 speakers ($10,000/pair), Classic II integrated amp ($6000) and QC24 phono stage ($2449) look from another era, but the equally classic-looking Merrill-Williams turntable ($4000), clamp ring ($649), weight ($249), and 33/45 power supply ($1150) was playing Frank Sinatra's "Days of Wine and Roses."
I walked into Naim’s Uniti display to hear the Killers doing an alright impersonation of the Beatles. Who knew? The sound was very expressivenot a big sound, but an entirely friendly and welcoming soundin touch with the emotion of the music.
Some of my happiest sonic experiences at RMAF arrived in the last two rooms I visited: the Tidal Audio/Argento Audio Cables/dCS showcase put together by Doug White of The Voice That Is (Newton Square, PA), and the Simon Yorke/CAT/Synergistic/Lansche exhibit assembled by Tim Nguyen of Tone of Music (San Francisco, CA).
A dream machine for the used LP lover: AudioDeskSysteme’s record cleaning machine cleans both sides of an 12” record simultaneously, quietly, and thoroughly, without any effort from the user. Just push a button and walk away. Five minutes later, the record is clean and dry. At $3495, however, it’s expensive. Such luxuries don’t come cheap.
Music Hall’s inexpensive USB turntable, the two-speed, belt-driven USB-1 ($249), uses an aluminum die-cast platter, has a groovy S-shaped tonearm equipped with an Audio-Technica AT3600L moving-magnet phono cartridge, and comes in a high-gloss black finish. Overall, it resembles something Run DMC might’ve brought to a gig.
DIY hi-fi used to be an important aspect of audio magazine content 30 and more years ago, but these days it has migrated almost completely to the Internet, with just Ed Dell's AudioXpress magazine still waving the roll-your-own flag in print. Sharing a stand at RMAF were two of the Internet's most notable DIY engineers, Jan Didden from Holland (left) and Bob Cordell from New Jersey (right), and both were venturing into the print medium. Bob had advance copies of his new tome Designing Audio Power Amplifiers for sale, which I will be reviewing in Stereophile early in the New Year. Jan had the first volume of his new bookzine Linear Audio, which has articles on audio design from Bob, as well as Doug Self, Joachim Gerhardt, Nelson Pass, Siegfried Linkwitz, and many others. But if you have any interest at all in the nuts and bolts of audio design, don't wait for my reviews of these books; check them out for yourself. There's audiophile gold within their pages!
And here’s the new HiFiMan HM-602 ($439) which offers much of the functionality of the larger HM-801, but lacks that model’s modular headphone amp. It uses a Philips TDA-1543 DAC, offers 16GB onboard flash memory, and is about the size of an iPod Classic. Cool.
...was the title of the seminar presented Sunday afternoon by Audio Precision's Jonathan Novick. Audio Precision manufactures high-performance test gear (including the systems used by Stereophile for its reviews) and Novick's presentation concerned, among other things, how graphs, as published by Stereophile, are more meaningful than single figures of merit and how conventional measurements can miss problems with amplifiers that are undoubtedly audible. I came away from this presentation with some ideas on how to improve the magazine's test regime, but most telling was Novick's final slide which paraphrased Albert Einstein: "Not all that matters can be measured. Not all that can be measured, matters!."
It's always a joy to encounter Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings. Here he shows his latest audiophile quality CD, Nama. Also available as a 24-bit/176.4kHz hi-rez DVD-ROM format in a plain package that belies the beauty of its contents, the recording is the rightful successor to MA's Sera una Noche and La Segunda, and features some of the same superb Argentinean artists. I can't wait to take a listen, once I dig it out of my luggage.
Source material in the Nola room was a pair of open-reel recorders from United Home Audio, but on the one piece I listened to, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, it sounded like a dub from LP. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
Not only was the sound in the Larkspur Suite familiar, so were the speakers. The $80,000/pair Acapella High Violoncello IIs being demmed were the exact same pair that I had very favorably reviewed in the September issue of Stereophile. Amplification was all-Einstein, including The Tube preamp that Michael Fremer reviewed in October.
Jolida of Maryland sure knows how to produce good sound for people with limited budgets. Playing Leonard Cohen's classic "Back on Boogie Street" through iTunes, with all the sonic compromises that Apple's music server imposes on a system, Jolida's Glass FX tube DAC ($350) and Glass FX 25 Integrated hybrid amplifier ($350) still sounded great. This was not toy hi-fi; it was an indisputable portal into the real thing, with a musicality that put to shame some much more expensive systems I encountered at RMAF.
Driving Von Schweikert VR-3S speakers ($7995/pair) in Room 8032 was the awesome-looking Kronzilla SXI Mk.II monoblock, featuring the largest tubes I have seen in an audio amplifier. Source was the French EEra CD player, and there my handwritten notes become illegible. Apologies :-(
Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound provided my very favorite musical experience of the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Along one wall of the room, there were stacks and stacks of vinyl records, an obvious sign of something good about to happen.