What has become a familiar site at shows, Acoustic Zen loudspeakers and cabling mated with Triode electronics, has also become a welcome sound. Here, I experienced a beautiful airiness around female vocalists. "Just gorgeous," I wrote in my notes. The bass, however, was challenged, perhaps because of the room.
Ray Lombardi's international set-up was getting much better sound from JBL's 1400 Array ($11,500/pair) than at the first California Audio Show (CAS) a few months back. In fact, Diana Krall's semi-lethargic rendition of "Let's Face the Music and Dance" sounded much less doped-up than it did when I last heard it at the Aurum Cantus factory in China. The presentation featured crisp and sweet highs, and a natural midrange. Neither Sound Applications power treatment (model not specified) nor ASC Tube Traps could totally tighten up the speaker's soft bottom, but I don't recall it sounding very tight at CAS either.
For the second year running, Head-Fi held a CanJam meet at the 2010 RMAF, with headphone-oriented companies like Sennheiser, HeadRoom, Centrance, JH Audio, BeyerDynamic, Audeze, Head-Direct. Moon Audio, Ray Samuels Audio, Westone, and Ultimate Ears exhibiting in the humongous space of the Marriott's Rocky Mountain Event Center. At the bottom left of the photo is reviewer and occasional Stereophile contributor Steve Guttenberg checking out some BeyerDynamic cans.
I'm afraid the companies exhibiting in this room will not be adequately served by this blog entry. David Salz of Wireworld was not available, and I never got details on his cabling other than word that his new, top-of-the-line USB cable got caught up in FedEx drama and didn't make it to the show on time. All I know is that the big speaker was the eye-catching, glass-enclosured Waterfall Niagara from France ($54,000/pair), which has 89dB sensitivity and a frequency response of 36Hz28kHz ±3dB, and a Cary 300T SACD player ($6500) and Cary monoblocks ($10,000) were called into action. Power was conditioned by the APC units that Kal Rubinson recommends. I don't know much more, unfortunately. As I just explained to the man who just answered the phone at Waterfall Audio USA, I owe them and Wireworld one.
One of the many graphs Nordost and Vertex displayed at their research presentation was of time-domain error in a CD player, ie, the difference between the data on a disc and the output of the CD player. It ain't pretty. Other graphs showed reduction in error with the addition of cables, supports, and power products (specifically, Nordost's Quantum). All these graphs will be downloadable from the websites of Nordost and Vertex EQ within a matter of weeks.
At RMAF 2009, Nordost shook up quite a few audiophiles by announcing preliminary results of research that can measure and validate the positive effects after market cabling, supports, and power products. One year later, Nordost announced that the research, jointly conducted by Nordost's competitor, Vertex AQ of the UK in collaboration with military electronic-engineering consultant and sonar expert Gareth Humphries-Jones of North Wales, has taken a major step forward.
I wonder if our expectations drop somewhat when walking into a room occupied by small, inexpensive, neatly organized gear. The contrast from the massive, overwrought, wildly expensive components found in some rooms is undeniably refreshing, and might allow the music to take center stage. Such is always the case with Audioengine, makers of adorable loudspeakers whose quality belies their small size. The more I learn about the company and the more time I spend with their speakers, the more it seems that they’re here to stay. In fact, I expect great sound from Audioengine. The company simply continues to surpass my expectations.
Clean and refreshing music and sound in the Audioengine room, from left: A5 active loudspeaker ($349/pair), P4 passive loudspeaker ($249/pair), N22 desktop amplifier ($199), and A2 active loudspeaker ($199; reviewed by Bob Reina).
I had been aware of TTWeight’s line of beautifully crafted, heavy-duty phono accessoriescenter weights and clamps, outer rings, and matsand while I knew that TTWeight’s Larry Denham also designed turntables, it wasn’t until seeing them in person that I fully understood the extent to which Denham has gone in perfecting his designs. Turntables aren’t just a hobby or side project for Denham.
Kosmic’s Joe Pittman stands beside a Sota Millenia turntable equipped with a Kosmic tonearm and Magic Diamond cartridge, sitting atop a Kosmic equipment rack. Kosmic, a company that was new to me, manufacturers a tonearm, a music server, and equipment racks, which seemed like a strange product line. When I asked Pittman about it, he simply replied that all three areas are integral to the overall performance of any system. The Kosmic Server ($2295 with 500GB hybrid drive) stores approximately 1600 CDs in FLAC format, and provides FireWire and USB 2.0 output up to 32-bit/384kHz sampling rates and TosLink up to 24/96. Kosmic is located in Seattle, WA, and is also a dealer for Genesis loudspeakers.
I caught up with the always affable Lars Goller of Gamut who was very proud of the company’s new S Series speakers. Here we see Goller standing beside the S5 ($30,000/pair), which boasts a very attractive cabinet made of form-pressed solid wood over multi-layered Finnish Beech ply. Externally machined canals in the speaker’s side panels divide the speaker into segments to better control vibrations and minimize coloration, Goller explained. In addition, two large port openings of 5mm-thick solid machined aluminum are threaded directly into the speaker’s rear panel to minimize port turbulence and noise.
If the Soundsmith room had been a van, it would have been rocking. (Hee-haw.) Seriously, there was a party going on in here and Peter Ledermann was the master of ceremonies, cueing up one record while a second was playing. But before I could take a seat, I was mesmerized by this awesome-looking device, the Soundsmith Cartright ($899.95, due early 2011), which resembles some sort of old-school, psychedelic Electro-Harmonix stomp box, but promises to simplify cartridge setup.
In addition to the Cartright cartridge setup tool, Soundsmith was showing the new EZ-Mount cartridge screws ($29.99, review to come from Michael Fremer), which allow for easy cartridge installation; Soundsmith’s new top-of-the-line Sussurro Paua moving-iron cartridge ($3499), inspired by Frank Schroder; the special edition, VPI-branded Zephyr high-output cartridge ($999), designed for use with VPI and other unipivot tonearms; and the neat, little “Intuitive” tool ($49.99), designed to make simple, precise adjustments of tracking force and azimuth to VPI tonearms!