Featured in Listen-Up's third room was a bevy of new gear from Canadian manufacturer Simaudio: the Moon 310D phono stage ($1799, which Michael Fremer falls in love with in our January 2011 issue), the Moon 300D D/A processor ($1600)this handles digital data with up to 24-bits word length and 192kHz sample rate via both S/PDIF and USB and uses 32-bit Sabre DACsMoon 350P preamp, Moon 400M monoblocks, and Moon CD3.3X CD player. (Apologies for not noting the prices of these components.) Analog was being played on a Sumiko RM10-1 turntable, and the speakers were Sonus Faber's Elipsas ($18,000/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.
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.
I must admit that I had never heard of Brodmann pianos from Vienna. The only Viennese piano manufacturer I was aware of prior to the 2010 RMAF was Bösendorfer, and Brodmann's Bernd Gruhn (pictured) enlightened me, explaining that back in the day, Herr Brodmann had been Herr Bösendorfer's teacher. I mentioned that it was a coincidence that a second Viennese piano manufacturer was branching out into loudspeaker productionBösendorfer launched an idiosyncratic line of speakers at a New York Stereophile Show a few years backonly to find out that it wasn't a coincidence at all. The Brodmann speakers are designed by Hans Deutsch, who had licensed his designs to Bösendorfer. When that company withdrew from the speaker business, Deutsch approached Brodmann.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Audio Physic is celebrating their 25th anniversary with the special edition Virgo 25 ($12,500/pair-$14,000/pair, depending on finish), “a miniature version” of the company’s top-of-the-line Cardeus. Partnered with the Virgo 25 at the time I visited was the Trigon CD II CD player ($4000), Trigon Dialog preamplifier ($9000), and Trigon Monolog monoblocks ($18,000/pair). Also on display was the Trigon Energy integrated amplifier ($5000). Supporting the gear was a Creaktiv Trend-Line 1-3 audio rack ($1300) and Creaktiv amp stands ($1000 each).
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.
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."
Selah Audio, a North Carolina speaker manufacturer that sells its products direct on the net, was showing the Verita sealed box loudspeaker ($2000/pair, or $2650 with the veneer displayed at the show). A sealed box with 84dB sensitivity and a frequency range of 60Hz20kHz, it combines the excellent RAAL ribbon tweeter from Serbia's Aleksandar Rasisavijevic with a ScanSpeak woofer.
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.