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.
Here’s a look at one of Jude Mansilla’s systems: Apple iPad, Head-Direct HiFiMan HM-801 portable music player, Grado Head-Fi Series HF-2 headphones. I took a quick listen and enjoyed the liquid midrange, the smooth, easy sound.
One of my two best sounds at RMAF was from Revel's Ultima Salon2 speakers ($22,000/pair), which have been favorites of mine since Larry Greenhill's review appeared in the June 2008 issue of Stereophile. At RMAF, the Revels were being driven by Mark Levinson No.53 monoblocks ($25,000/pair), which in turn were being fed straight from the variable output of a Mark Levinson No.512 SACD player ($15,000). Cabling was all-Transparent. The superbly stable soundstaging extended beyond the physical positions of the speakers, the tonal balance was one of the most neutral I heard at the Show, and the bass was both extended and defined. I would have stayed listening for longer, but the Show only had 30 minutes more to run and I had two more rooms to visit.
As in previous years, the 2010 RMAF featured a full program of seminars. I moderated two of them, the first of which on Saturday morning featured Channel D's Rob Robinson demonstrating how to rip LPs to your PC. Rob flew by the seat of his pants, doing everything in full view of the packed houseincluding booting-up his Mac mini, hooking up a Music Hall turntable to a preamplifier/ADC and connecting the preamp to the computer with a FireWire linkto make the point that there was nothing intimidating about the process. (His and my thanks to AudioEngine for providing powered speakers to allow the audience to hear what was happening.) The only departure from orthodoxy was that as Robinson was using Channel D's Pure Vinyl program (reviewed by Michael Fremer last August) to capture the data, he was using the program's digital-domain RIAA correction so used a flat-response preamp rather than a true phono preamplifier.
Due to all the positive reviews Emerald Physics loudspeakers have earned, it took several attempts over a three-day span until the crowds in the two Emerald Physics rooms had thinned down enough to allow a brief listen.
New York-based Nola was showing its Metro Grand Reference speakers at RMAF ($25,000/pair). Combining a Raven ribbon tweeter and a 4" midrange, both mounted on an open baffle, with two 6.5" reflex-loaded woofers, this slim tower, driven by an Audio Research Reference 210 power amplfier, Reference 5 preamplifier, and CD8 CD player via Nordost cabling, produced more bass than I thought possible, given its modest drive-unit array. The response is specified as being 6dB down at a low 26Hz. This was one of several systems at RMAF using the Quantum QX4 AC treatment device from Nordost.
You can always count on EAR's Dan Meinwald to be spinning some great platters. When I walked in, whatever jazz recording was playing sounded very alive and incisive. (EAR's electronics and Marten's speakers are not shy and recalcitrant). When Dan switched to an old classic LP, Meeting at the River, the Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's unique guitar sounded uncommonly beautiful and clear. Had I not had 18 rooms left to visit on Saturday, with a lot more screaming for attention, I would have stayed longer.
Patricia Barber is a secret guilty passion of mine, so when I heard the sound of her singing "The Quality of Mercy" from Café Blue coming from room 2024 in the Marriott Tower, I had to go in. The system featured GR Super V open-baffle speakers ($2495/pair as a kit), which were designed by Danny Richie, who had done some of the crossover design on the well-regarded Usher Be718 speaker. Amplifiers were Dodd Audio tube monoblocks, preamp Dodd's battery-powered tube-buffered passive design. the D/A processor was the Tranquility from dB Audio Labs. This $2395 processor was being fed data via USB from a Mac mini modded by Mach2 Music. For $1495, Mach2 supplies a turnkey Mac mini fitted with a 40GB solid-state drive and 4GB of RAM, as well as a 320GB external drive for data storage and the playback software of your choice. The mini's Snow Leopard operating system has been slimmed-down by removing anything that would otherwise interfere with the task of streaming music data from the USB port.
We audiophiles can't resist pushing the boundaries of intimacy. Step on those cables, jostle them ampswe just gotta take a look at what's going on from all angles. Trying not to do permanent damage, here's what I spied on the back of Lowther America's Field-Coil EXR Open-Baffle loudspeaker (estimated price of $15,000/pair).
The second Listen-Up room featured PSB Synchrony One speakers ($5000/pair) driven by the NAD M2 Direct Digital amplifier ($5999), both of which were very favorably reviewed by Stereophile. Source was the NAD M5 CD player, wired with AudioQuest cables. Listen-Up has been a B&W dealer pretty much for ever, so I was surprised to see them take on PSB; a staffer told me that B&W's recent decision to have Best Buy sell its affordable speakers led this specialty retailer to look for an additional high-quality loudspeaker line to carry.