A familiar face and voice stopped me in the corridor outside the MC (Music Culture technology) room. It was MBL founder Wolfgang Meletzky, who, following his recent departure from the Berlin-based company, has started a new company to produce more affordable electronics and speakers. The system Meletzky was demming was based on the MC RL31 3-way tower speaker ($10,000/pair), this a conventional dynamic-driver design rather than the omnidirectional type that MBL was renowned for, driven by the MC801 power amplifier (180Wpc, $3300) and MC601 preamp ($3500). Source was an Onix CD player, as MC's own player had been held up in shipping. I listened to the Dutch Turtle Records CD of Sting's "Walking on the Moon," played by a trio of saxophone, double bass, and drums. The sound offered sharply defined transients, a natural midrange, and excellent low-frequency extension, and despite the room being one of the smaller ones in the Marriott Tower, the system's high frequencies were in natural balance with the rest of the spectrum.
Perhaps the very prettiest gear of all I saw at RMAF was in the room occupied by Kaiser Acoustics, GTE Audio, and Fono Acustica. This was also the most physical sound I heard at the show; this system, more than any other I heard at RMAF, seemed to bring the musicians and instruments into the room with really impressive body and force.
After building ModWright Instruments' reputation as a quality source for equipment mods, Dan Wright has expanded his business to include manufacturing his own components. Perhaps because his gear was called into play in a number of rooms, his own room was mobbed until Sunday, when crowds traditionally lighten up.
Products making their debut at the 2010 RMAF from Philip O’Hanlon’s On a Higher Note: The interesting LaSource SACD player/preamp/DAC from Audioaero ($44,000), Vivid G2 Giya loudspeaker ($50,000/pair), and Brinkmann 9.6 tonearm ($4000), Brinkmann Pi cartridge ($2700), and Brinkmann Edison tube phono stage ($12,900).
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.
Check out the throng of thick Silver Circle AC cables, each with heavy-duty connectors from Furutech. Also note the lovely side panels of the Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.0. Who knew a power conditioner could be so pretty? The Pure Power One 5.0 ($5000; reviewed by Michael Fremer in our August 2010 issue) includes a 65-lb, 5kVA, custom-built isolation transformer, a proprietary EMI/RF filter, four double-ganged, gold-plated Furutech AC jacks, and a Vesuvius power cord.
A familiar dem track was playing when I entered the large room from Colorado Springs retailer Audio Limits: "There'll Be Some Changes Made," from Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins. However, rather than LP or CD, it was being played back from a PC running the J-River player and feeding the well-regarded Weiss DAC202 Firewire D/A converter ($6670). Speakers were the beautifully finished Venture Reference II Signature ($135,000/pair), which combines an AMT (Air-Motion Transformer) tweeter with a 7" graphite-coned midrange unit and four 8" graphite-coned woofer. Amplification was the Swiss FM Acoustics 811 Mk.II amplifier (455Wpc into 8 ohms, $128,800) and the FM Acoustics 245 preamp ($23,200). Power conditioning was by Isotek and Audience; racks were from Harmonic Resolution Systems. The full-range sound was superbly clean and effortless, but I couldn't help thinking that the room was not doing justice to this very expensive system's potential.
"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.