There was a lot to see and hear in the PSB/NAD suite. Here we see JA rocking PSB’s first headphone, the noise-cancelling M4U 2 ($400). The M4U 2 uses battery power in active mode, but also works passively without battery power. The oval ear pads are thinner at the front, thicker at the back, for increased comfort and an effective seal. The headphones come with a tangle-free cord and protective travel case. I popped them on my happy head, listened for a bit, and was impressed by the lightweight, comfortable feel.
It is obviously an Avalon design but the new Idea loudspeaker ($7995/pair) continues the Colorado company's goals of combining transparency and articulation with expansive soundstaging. All these qualities were in evidence at RMAF, with the Ideas driven by Electrocompaniet monoblocks on cuts from Johnny Cash and Luka Bloom. The Idea combines a 1" dome tweeter with two 7" Nomex-Kevlarcone woofers. The woofers are loaded with a downward-firing port.
Providing the music for the YG Kipod Series 2 speakers driven by an Esoteric amplifier in the Synergistic Research room was a Mach 2 music server feeding USB data to Synergistic's The Music Cable D/A converter ($3599). This has a flying USB input cable on one end and two flying, single-ended analog output cables on the other, and it gets power not from the USB bus but from two mono supplies. The system was wired with Synergistic's new Element cables, which use tungsten conductors, a material chosen, I was told, using blind listening tests.
A large name for a large loudspeaker, Nola's Baby Grand Reference Series II, which combines four Raven ribbon tweeters with two 9" magnesium-cone woofers and four proprietary 4.5" midrange units, was being demonstrated with Audio Research Reference 250 amplifiers and front-end, Nordost cables, a QX4 system conditioner, and a Silver Circle Pure Power One 5.5 AC isolation transformer. Like many rooms at this year's RMAF, a Billie Holiday track was playing when I went into the Nola exhibitin this case, "Lover, Come Back to me"and even in mono, the sound was immersive. The Show speakers had an attractive piano-gloss rosewood finish and they featured the 3.5-way Unison Xtreme Crossover System, implemented on three separate boards and integrated into the speakers themselves. The speaker's price of $55,000/pair will be maintained until the New Year, when they will rise to $58,000/pair.
Von Schweikert speakers were featured in a number of rooms at RMAF, and their VR-33s ($4500/pair) were demonstrating impressive dynamics with a drum recording in the second-floor room the company was sharing with Jolida. Power was being provided by the new Jolida JD 1000RC tubed integrated amplifier, which gets 100Wpc into 8 ohms from its four matched pairs of EL34 tubes. The VR-33 weighs 103 lbs and combines an MTM array on the front panel with a rear-firing, port-loaded woofer. "Own a $15,000 speaker for only $3750" says Von Schweikert's literature. My notes said $4500, but whatever the exact price, you get a lot of speaker for the money. As you can see from the photo, the price of the VR-33 has been kept competitive by using a cloth covering for the enclosure rather than veneer.
The United Home Audio room at RMAF featured Von Schweikert speakers driven by Jolida electronics, this time the Von Schweikert VR5 Anniversary Mk.2s ($30,000/pair), Jolida Fusion preamp and Fusion 200W tube monoblocks ($6000/all three). But my eye was drawn to the UHA Phase 9 tape deck, which was playing some Series 3 releases from The Tape Project, specifically Nat Adderley and his band performing "Work Song." One of the better-sounding rooms, I thought.
Zesto Audio was a name new to me, but their versatile Andros PS1 tubed MM/MC phono stage ($3900) was getting great sound from Billie Holiday's "Day In, Day Out," played on a Thorens TD309 player ($1900) fitted with a Dynavector DV-20X2L cartridge ($850). The rest of the system comprised a ModWright LS 100 tube preamp ($3495) and ModWright KWA 150 solid-state amplifier driving Fritz Carbon 7, Rev.5 speakers ($1795$1950/pair), wired with WyWires.
Taking an imaginative approach to the design of their room, rack manufacturer Dynamic Contrasts was holding the impressive BMC C1 integrated amplifier and the Esoteric UX-3SE CD player in a tight embrace with its RTS system. With Legacy Focus SE speakers, the sound in this room featured impressive dynamics and extension at both ends of the spectrum, but the sound was so loud, not only with David Essex's driving "Rock On" but also with 10cc's gentle "I'm Not In Love," that I couldn't stay. Perhaps I am just getting old.
The analog front end in the E.A.R. USA room was the Townshend Rock 7 turntable ($3200), with its unique system for applying damping where it is most needed, at the cartridge end of the arm rather than the pivot, fitted with the Helios Omega arm ($2800) and a Dynavector XV1S cartridge. Phono preamp was the E.A.R. 324 that both Art Dudley and Mikey Fremer have enthused over in the pages of Stereophile.
Dan Meinwald of E.A.R. USA explained to me that his goal for RMAF was to put together a system where the individual components each cost $6000 or less. The new Marten FormFloor loudspeakers ($6500/pair) just exceed that limit, but are compensated for by the impressive new 192 DACute D/A processor from E.A.R. ($5700 in black but $6500 in chrome). The DAC was being fed audio data by the latest Diamond version of Neal van der Berg's Music Vault ($4449), which incorporates a Blu-ray drive for ripping discs, a 2TB drive for audio data, a solid-state drive for the operating system, and a Lynx aes16 audio output card.
Industry veteran Colleen Cardasand yes, Colleen, I meant the word "veteran" as a complimenthas set up, with vinyl blogger Marc Phillips, a new company Colleen Cardas Imports, to distribute Unison Research amplifiers and Opera loudspeakers in the US. However, the room at RMAF CCI was sharing with Positive Feedback Online was featuring the Sonicweld Pulse Rod active speakers ($125,000/pair including DEQX DSP equalizer). Analog front-end was the Funk Firm Sapphire turntable $5000) fitted with the Funk Firm FXR-II tonearm and a Transfiguration cartridge and feeding a Unison Research Unico Nuovo integrated amplifier ($2795) used as a phono stage. Digital front-end was a laptop running Amarra feeding USB data to the new Sonicweld Divertor ($2888) which fed 24/192 S/PDIF data to the DEQX.
Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield was his usual effective DJ self in the room in Colorado retailer Listen-Up was demming the Canadian company's gear. Digital front-end was the Moon Evolution 650D CD player/DAC ($8000) that Mikey Fremer raves about in the November 2011 issue of Stereophile; analog front-end was the ProJect Xperience Classic turntable feeding a Moon 310LP phono preamp; the Moon Evolution 700i integrated amplifier ($12,000) that Fred Kaplan enthusiastically reviewed for Stereophilelast March, was driving Sonus Faber Cremona M floorstanding speakers ($10,000/pair). Cables were all Shunyata Black Mamba and power was sourced from a Shunyata Hydra.
I was intimately familiar with the Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution speakers $20,000/pair), with their matching stands ($2000/pair), in one of Listen-Up's rooms at RMAF, having measured them two days before I left for Denver. (Art Dudley is reviewing this little jewel of a speaker in the January 2012 issue of Stereophile). At RMAF, they were being bi-amped with four PrimaLuna DiaLogue 7 tubed monoblocks ($5499/pair) with AudioQuest cable, Preamp was the PrimaLuna DiaLogue 3 ($2699) and while a PrimaLuna ProLogue Classic CD player ($2999) could be seen. this had been broken in shipping and CDs were being played on a Simaudio player.
From my listening notes, as I auditioned the classic Chet Atkins-Mark Knopfler gittar-pickin' duet "There'll be Some Changes Made": "maybe a little too rich-balanced but a good sense of pace and impressive low-frequency extension for such a small speaker...unaccompanied female voice had a beautifully liquid quality with space space space!"