"Good grief, those look like Apogees," I muttered as I went into the Analysis Audio room and saw the Analysis Omega planar-ribbon speakers ($22,000/pair). Driven by Arion HS-500 hybrid monoblocks ($5995/pair), which combine a tube input stage with a class-D output stage, the speakers sounded a bit too warm in the upper bass on Jennifer Warnes version of Leonard Cohen's "Way Down Deep," but this could well have been a room effect. The soundstaging was to die for, in terms of stability and accuracy.
I ended Saturday's incredibly packed tour of the 15 rooms on the Marriott Tower's 10th floor with a stop in Musical Fidelity's room. It was a good choice. This was the first room at the show where I pulled out Channel Classics' superbly recorded hybrid SACD of the Ebony Band Amsterdam performing a unique arrangement of Revueltas' elemental, gutsy, phantasmagorical Sensemaya. The sense of air was immense, with amazing soundstaging that belied the small size of the room. I also loved the height of the soundstage, and the deep reaches of the bass. But as much as I savored the presentations' air and depth, this hardly laid-back system sounded a bit tipped-up in the highs, a common factor in many of the smaller rooms at the Marriott.
Aperion Audio introduced their new Verus Grand line of speakers: the Verus Grand Tower ($1798/pair), Verus Grand bookshelf ($598/pair), and Verus Grand center channel ($699), all with very nicely finished, curved cabinets in attractive high-gloss cherry or piano black lacquer.
Departure Audio seems to take their name seriously. In a system fine-tuned by Shakti Hallographs (the candelabra-like devices at the edges of the photograph) and the infamous you know whats from Synergistic, the Fort Collins dealership was showing Canton Reference 7.2 loudspeakers ($7000, presumably for the pair), Herron Audio's VTSP-3A preamplifier ($6550) and M1 power amps ($6850, presumably for the pair), Arcam CD 37 ($2295), Blue Circle Audio BC 507 DAC ($2095, with options available), Audio Magic cabling and Oracle power conditioning ($7500). The sound was clean and incisive, which means somewhat tipped up. I would have stayed to explore more, but constant conversation in the room led me to take Departure Audio's name literally.
Michael Fremer enthuses over the sound of the Esoteric E-03 phono preamplifier in our forthcoming December issue, and this $6500 component was being featured in Esoteric's ground-floor room at RMAF, fed from a VPI Scoutmaster turntable fitted with a Dynavector DV20X phono cartridge. The rest of the system, which sounded excellent on Eva Cassidy's Songbird LP, comprised Esoteric's C-03 preamp, A-03 class-A solid-state amp, and MG-20 tower speakers, hooked up with Esoteric's XL cables. (I very much liked the MG-20 when I reviewed it in the August 2008 issue.) The digital front-end was the X-05 player feeding the $4800 D-07 D/A processor, which I will be reviewing in the January 2011 issue of Stereophile.
The sound in this room blew me away. When I walked in, Dr. John's "In a Sentimental Mood" was sounding as lovely and mellow as can be. Switching gears 180°, Reference Recordings' LP issue of Stravinsky's Firebird had absolutely amazing bass. "Amazing," I wrote twice in my notes.
Colorado dealer Listen-Up had three rooms at RMAF. The first one I went into featured Sonus Faber Liuto 3-way speakers ($6000/pair) with PrimaLuna amplification and CD player (the latter the Prologue 8 that Fred kaplan and I reviewed for the magazine a couple years back) and AudioQuest cables and a SolidSteel stand. The Liuto speaker is intended to offer Cremona-like performance for half the price; it combines a 1.25" silk-dome tweeter with a 6" woven composite-cone midrange unit and a 7" magnesium-alloy cone woofer. The nicely finished enclosure follows Sonus Faber's usual technique of laminating cherry sections.
Judging by my complete lack of notes on the room occupied by Silver Circle Audio, Sutherland Engineering, and Tyler Acousticsa VPI Scoutmaster turntable was spinning tunes, with amplification from Plinius driving the speakersI would have to say that I didn’t do much listening in here. I mean, I heard music, but I was too busy enjoying my conversation with Silver Circle’s David Stanard, and I was too impressed by the appearance of the gear. From the cabinetry of the Tyler Acoustics Decade D1 loudspeakers to the hefty AC cords coming from the Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.0’s rear panel to the exposed circuitry of the Sutherland Engineering 20/20 phono preamp (review to come from Brian Damkroger), to the equipment rackhandmade by Stanard in one afternooneverything was handsome and personal and showed obvious fine craftsmanship.
I had been impressed by the sound Classic Audio were producing from their T1.3 Reference speakers at last March's Axpona Show in Florida. In Colorado, the Michigan-based company was using the smaller T3.4 speakers, which still use a field-coilenergized 15" woofer and Fostex horn tweeter, but with slightly smaller, Tractrix-flare midrange horn crossing over at 300Hz rather than 250Hz. The speakers were being driven by Atma-Sphere M60 tube monoblocks and an MP-1 preamplifier.
See those little, white, star-shaped things? Those are room-tuning accessories from Stein Music. These were scattered, perhaps haphazardly, about the roomon the floor in front of an equipment rack (as seen here), as well as affixed to the walls and ceiling!
I was impressed by the looks and sound of PMC’s new Fact 3 monitor ($9500/pair). PMC’s Ian Verdugo explained that the company gave the model the “deluxe audiophile treatment,” with a completely new design and modified transmission line. Shown in an attractive Tiger Ebony finish, the Fact 3 uses two 5.5” SEAS mid/woofers and a 0.75” Sonomex soft-dome, ferro-fluid cooled tweeter. On the speaker’s brushed anodized rear panel, users will find two switches for adjusting the high frequency and bass response.
"Bring the concert home!" declared the Jones Audio brochure. The 18-month old company, whose products are "handcrafted" in Seattle, took advantage of RMAF to debut the Jones Audio PA-M300 monoblock amplifier ($24,000/pair). This 300W into 8 ohms, 560W into 4 ohms baby, which uses a 35 lb toroidal transformer, kept company with the Jones Pre-S2 preamplifier (approx. $11,000), the Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers I've lusted after on multiple occasions ($22,000/pair), a Benchmark DAC1 Pre, and Kimber cabling with WBT connectors (approx. $1000 worth).
Audioaero’s LaSource ($44,000) combines an SACD/CD player with a preamp and DAC, and its “hybrid circuitry” makes use of 32-bit re-sampling technology and a “subminiature” tube output stage. It uses an Esoteric VRDS-NEO/VMK 5 transport mechanism and has a dedicated master clock for jitter and noise reduction.