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.
Making its debut was a platter that screamed for Michael Fremer: Kodo's The Beat MagDrive turntable ($24,000). Alas, the widely lamented "where is Michael Fremer" was starring in an opera entitled Home Remodeling Can't be Accomplished with Remote Control, and was back in New York.
Craig Oxford and William Carpenter, CEO of Consensus Biotechnology and Consensus Biolabs of Little Rock, happily introduced me to the successors to Pipe Dreams loudspeakers, the HighEmotion Audio Pyra Bella 7 monitors ($6000/pair), Bella Basso 28 subs ($4000/pair, with 2 pairs in use), and Passare XOL crossover ($3000). (I did not audition the second system with the HighEmotion Audio Festune Bass Module). The HighEmotion speakers, which employ "a substantial amount of new technology", are the result of years of research into brain imagining technology, and "the emotional responses to music, auditory system function, physics, and electrical engineering."
Hegel provided a great demonstration on the effects of jitter. Using a Logitech Squeezebox Touch ($299) as a source we listened to a track first through the onboard DAC in Hegel’s entry-level 70Wpc A70 integrated amplifier ($2000) and then through their outboard HD10 DAC ($1200). Speakers were the B&W 802 Diamonds ($15,000/pair).
At one end of the 11th floor sat the large, imposing Galibier Design Suite. It was dominated by several eye-catching products: Daedalus Audio loudspeakers, which replaced the scheduled and, from distant memory, fine Green Mountain Audio Calypso HD speakers ($14,900/pair) because the Daedalus babies were able to put out enough bass to fill the room; and Adona Master Reference stands (price not supplied) which supported the Galibier Design Stelvio-II turntable ($27,500) with its Durand Taiea tonearm ($7900) and Dynavector XV1s cartridge ($5250), and Atma-sphere MP-1 preamp ($15,000) and M-60 amplifiers ($13/600/pair). Equally important were Marigo Labs' VXi Mystery Feet ($779/set of 3), Analog 1 interconnects ($2000/pair), and Analog 1 SC speaker cable ($2000/pair).