Colorado Springs retailer Audio Limits was filling one of the very large ground-floor rooms at RMAF with sound, courtesy of the massive Venture Grand Ultimate loudspeakers ($90,000/pair) driven by the new AMP M1 solid-state monoblock amplifiers from BMC ($7790 each, $15,580 pair). Source was the BMC BDCD1 belt-drive CD transport ($5990), the BMC DAC1 Pre (HR) D/A converter/preamplifier ($6290), with Silversmith The Silver interconnects and speaker cables, Stage III power cables, and Weizhi PRS-6 power distributor.
I listened to a track I haven't heard in years in this room, Michel Jonasz's "Les temps passeé," from the CD La fabuleuse histoire de mister swing (1987), and was blown away by the enormous sound, the huge dome of ambience that was defined between and behind the speakers, and the sheer effortlessness with which the music was presented.
When Michael Fremer reviewed the 710 amplifier from Swiss manufacturer Soulution last August, his praise for the sound was surpassed by mine for the measured performance. "The Soulution 710 is definitely one of the best-measuring amplifiers I have encountered, " I wrote, "Color me impressed."
Denver retailer Apex Audio, which is continuing in the tradition of the late John Barnes' Audio Unlimited store, was using the Soulution 700 monoblocks ($130,000/pair), which each offer 430W into ohms, 860W into 4 ohms, were being use to drive Focal's Stella Utopia EM speakers ($90,000/pair), with their electromagnet-powered woofers via Tara Labs cables.
George Cardas had had a celebratory coin minted to celebrate his company's first quarter century: "25 years helping musicians reproduce their music" it states on the front. Amen to that sentiment, George.
On the other side of the coin is a tribute to George's friend and mentor, retailer Brooks Berdan, who passed away last summer.
I review Empirical Audio's pricey Off-Ramp 4 asynchronous USBAES/EBU converter with its Monolith 1 battery supply in the forthcoming December issue and was impressed by the quality of its engineering as well as by its sound quality. At RMAF, Empirical's Steve Nugent showed me the Overdrive Ultra D/A converter ($10,000$15,000), housed in a bronze case, which is well-damped. The DAC uses the Off-Ramp 4 circuit as its USB front-end and features just one analog stage following the I/V converter. Unusually, this uses a bipolar emitter follower instead of the common FET buffer. The digital circuitry is powered from the Monolith, feeding 12 Hynes-type regulators, though Steve Nugent feels that the analog stage sounds better when powered from a conventional AC-derived supply. The volume control in the DAC is elegant in that it reduces the reference voltage to the DAC chip, thus maintaining full digital resolution. There are two choices for full-scale output voltage.
Stephen Mejias has already reported on the sound in the room shared by Wilson, Transparent, and Dan D'Agostino. I was equally impressed, agreeing with Millennia Media's John La Grou that one of Peter McGrath's classical recordings, Mahler's Symphony 5 performed by the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson-Thomas and captured with Joe Grado's omnidirectional microphones, was as good as it can get when it comes to two-channel representations of an orchestra. (John manufactures the very-low-noise mike preamps I use for my Stereophile recordings.) But I really just wanted to show another picture of the forthcoming Dan D'Agostino Momentum line preamplifier, with Dan's wife Petra lending me her hand for scale, as she rotates the volume control ring around the meter.
It's the perfect name for a preamp, I thought. Grand Pre, if not Grand Prix, has a certain ring to it. The first upmarket product from the company that has made a name for itself with its high-performance iDecco, iNova, and iDac, the Grand Pre will be priced at $3000. It combines the high-resolution ESS 9018 DAC chip with a buffer stage based on 12AX7 tubes, and offers both analog and digital inputs, including a 24/192k-capable USB input. Peachtree's David Solomon, shown in my photo,was demming the Grand Pre with a Simaudio Moon amplifier driving B&W 802 Diamond speakers, using Pure Music on his laptop to send it USB data.
. . . stand-mounted speaker is hardly compact but it is a reference. TAD's Andrew Jones was showing off the speaker, which combines a hi-tech coaxial tweeter/midrange array with a port-loaded, high-excursion woofer, with all-TAD electronics, including an asynchronous USB DAC and 600W-into-4 ohms solid-state monoblocks. What did I think of the sound? Well, for that all I will say is that it echoed what I will be writing in my January 2012 review.
On passive show were TAD's new entry-level E1 floorstanding speaker. Scheduled to cost $27,000/pair, the E1 uses a beryllium-dome tweeter and is a more refined development of the Pioneer S1-EX that so impressed Kal Rubinson a few years ago.
Speaker engineer Don Keele almost wrote the book on measuring speakers. so when I bumped into him at RMAF and he told me he had a new speaker on show, I went straight to his room. There, I saw and heard the CBT36, which as you can see, is very unusual in both appearance and design. CBT stands for Constant Beamwidth Transducer and is based on unclassified military underwater sound beam-forming research. There are 72 0.75" tweeters crossed over to 18 3.5" Dayton Audio midrange units, arranged in groups that, with the 36° arc of the 5'-tall array, gives sound that doesn't change its balance as the listener sits or stands. And as you can see from the mirror that Don has slipped in front of the speaker in my photo, the ground-plane reflection of the array effectively doubles its height.
Magico's Alon Wolf shows off his new Q1 stand-mounted speaker ($24,950/pair), which marries the beryllium-dome tweeter from the Q3 and Q5 floorstanders with a 7" Nano-Tec–cone woofer. The sealed, hard-anodized aluminum enclosure is braced and damped to minimize resonances. Despite its relatively diminutive sizeit measures 14.2" H by 9" W by 14.2" Dthe Q1 weighs 60 lbs.
Driven in Chicago retailer Musical Artisans' room by by BAlabo amplification, a Zanden phono stage, a Clearaudio turntable, and a Bottlehead-modded Nagra open-reel deck to play Tape Project tapes, the Q1s produced a full-range sound that flattered female vocals without sounding mellow or lacking in transparency.
The eighth Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, held October 1416 at the Denver Tech Center Marriott, with Analogue Productions' Pink Floyd presentation at the Hyatt a couple of blocks down the road, was the largest yet, with an estimated 180 brands on show. We haven't yet seen the official attendance figures, though I wouldn't be surprised if they were a little down from last year, the corridors being more comfortable. But Show organizer Marjorie Baumert, seen here obviously having fun despite the pressure, is to be congratulated for making the RMAF a fun place to spend a weekend and a superb venue to see, but more importantly, to hear the best of what high-end audio has to offer music lovers. Thank you, Marjoriewe will see you in 2012.
Kimber Kable’s Nate Mansfield greets everyone with a warm and friendly smile. He was presenting Kimber’s entire line of speaker cables and interconnects, from the truly affordable Tonik (see Art Dudley’s review in our November issue) and the classic PBJ to the cost-no-object Kimber Select Series. I’ve never heard Kimber Kable in my own systema crime, I know. I’ll have to fix that sometime in 2012.
The Signal Collection exhibited a small and elegant system made up of the unique Davone Audio Ray loudspeakers ($7500/pair), jewel-like Absoluta Partenope integrated amplifier ($15,995), super skinny (just the way I like them) Black Cat Morpheus loudspeaker cables ($350/3m pair), and Stereolab Tombo interconnects and power cable (prices to be determined). MA Recordings Todd Garfinkle was selecting the tunes from his collection of wonderful SACDs and playing them through a Korg MR2000s digital recorder/playback unit ($2499).
Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha loudspeakers, D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum monoblock power amplifiers, Transparent Audio cables, and Peter McGrath handling the tunes via an iPad and Meridian Sooloos MC200 media center. I heard a very similar system in a shoebox of a room at the California Audio Show earlier this year. What a difference a room makes!
I walked in during “Band on the Run,” and the sound was full of life, energy, and impact. I took a seat and scanned the deceptively small and apparently simple system: 3-way ATC SCM50SL passive loudspeakers ($11,650/pair), each way powered by its own pair of Crimson Electronics 640E Series III monoblocks ($5995/pair), a Crimson Electronics 710 preamplifier ($6995, including phono section), and Resolution Audio’s Cantata Music Center ($6000; reviewed by Jon Iverson in our November issue). All components rested neatly on simple, affordable Ikea Lack stands.
Even as my dear friend Michael Lavorgna lays down the law in the Wild Wild West that is Computer Audio and continues to rid himself of Compact Discs, I find myself more and more attracted to the little silver discs and their associated players. So I was happy to learn about Parasound’s new CD 1, which adds a computer to the conventional CD player.