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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Peak Consult is a new brand for Jay Rein’s Bluebird Music, and the company’s attractive InCognito XII loudspeaker ($22,000/pair) sounded just perfectly at home with Chord Electronics’ Red Reference MkII CD player ($25,900), CPA 5000 preamp ($21, 900), and 500Wpc SPM 1400 monoblocks ($32,900/pair). Cables were Van den Hul’s Nova speaker wire ($3295) and MC Silver interconnects ($7268).
I was mightily impressed by the sound of the bus-powered, $399 DACport USB-input headphone amplifier when I reviewed it in June. So when I was looking round the CanJam exhibit, I checked out the Centrance booth. There sat Michael Goodman, the Chicago company's managing director, with a new product with a very familiar form factor. The $795 DacMini headphone amplifier/preamplifier is the size and shape of the Mac mini computer, and offers two line-level inputs as well as USB, Toslink, and S/PDIF electrical digital inputs. Versions are planned with a power amplifier section and an iPod dock.
I confess. Ever since I heard Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show Las Vegas some years back, I have lusted after a pair. In fact, one of the big excitements on my trip to China a few months backstory forthcoming sometime before the Twelfth of Neverwas visiting the same Aurum Cantus factory that manufactures Evolution's tweeter. The combination of Evolution Acoustics MMtwo loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), darTZeel NHB-458 monoblocks ($135,000/pair), and darTZeel NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier with MC phono section ($29,000) earned my personal best of the show for the systems I auditioned at CES and T.H.E. Show 2010.
Sam Laufer of Laufer Teknik was showing the German Physiks HRS-120 loudspeaker in high gloss finish ($33,500/pair). Helping this omnidirectional design sing were Abis Shuhgetsu monoblock amps (price to be determined), The Memory Player source and preamp ($22,500), Paul Kaplan cabling including speaker cables ($1995), Halcyonics Active Isolation Platform ($11,500), five LessLoss BlackBodys ($959 each), and the wonderful Stein Music Harmonizers (two A and two B units plus 12 stones for $4900) with their new matching stands (price not supplied). You can see one of the Stein Music Harmonizers, aka that little black box with the blue light that doesn't have to be on for the box to be working, peeking out from behind the loudspeaker.
I was delighted to discover that AudioPrism, originators of the infamous green pen (aka the AudioPrism CD Stoplight), is still in business. For newbies who do not know about the green pen, Collett and those who reviewed it shook skeptics to the core when they declared that painting the edge of CDs with the green pen lowered digital edge and improved data retrieval. The backlash was tremendous. Then Krell began bathing its CD tray in green light, some people found that green-tinted CD-Rs and then black discs sounded better, CD mats with green undersides made a demonstrable improvement in sound, and the skepticism was transferred to the next tweak on the horizon.