The sound of the Harbeth Compact 7 speakers, driven by an LFD integrated amplifier via TellurideQ cables was as musically communicative as I was expecting. But then I saw the triangular Stein Magic Diamond sitting on top of the speaker cabinet and knew I was in the presence of serious audio strangeness. Sam Tellig wrote about the Stein devices in his September 2011 issue column: "The Harmonizers, Magic Stones, and Magic Diamonds helped make the room boundaries disappear and the venue of each recording matter more. It was as if sound flowed more freely through the air."
But the sound in this room did have some special magic to it.
Jason Stoddard and Rina Slayter presented a row of Schiit headphone amplifiersAsgard ($249), Valhalla ($349), and Lyr ($449)along with the Bifrost DAC ($449, with “buzzword-friendly” asynchronous USB input; $349, without USB input).
"Dimensional Purity" is the promoted benefit of Richard Vandersteen's approach to speaker design, and in one of the two rooms I went into at RMAF organized by Fort Collins retailer The Audio Alternative, the Vandersteen Tréos ($5990/pair) were living up to that promise. Driven by an Audio Research Vsi60 integrated amplifier ($4495) with the source the Bryston BDP-1 digital player and BDA-1 DAC, all hooked up with AudioQuest cable, Mark Isham's Blue Sun reproduced with excellent bass extension and clarity and a laidback but detailed midrange.
This was posted on the wall of his RMAF room by one manufacturer who still makes his products in the US. The message seems clear enough, even if it over-simplifies what is actually a complex situationsee my September 2011 "As We See It" on this subject.
A highlight of the 2011 RMAF was the first public demonstrations of James Guthrie's 40th-anniversary surround mix of Pink Floyd's classic Wish You Were Here, hosted by Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem (shown in my photo) and James Guthrie. With a system comprising five ATC professional active monitors fed by a Playback Designs SACD player, Showgoers were treated to a complete playback of the album from the SACD, to be released next month.
From the opening sound effects that tracked from the rear to the front, to the final fade on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 9", listeners were immersed in the re-creation of one of the finest rock albums of all time. I felt Guthrie's surround mix was true to the band's original two-channel intentions while expanding the soundfield to take full advantage of the multichannel medium. "Magnificent!" I scrawled in my notebook. The Studio Six SPL meter on my iPhone indicated that the sound pressure reached 106dBthe experience was like being at the highest fidelity rock concert ever!
A quarter century ago, it was de rigeur for show exhibitors to use a Linn Sondek LP12 as the source. The only Linn I have found at RMAF so far was in one of the Audio Alternative rooms, which was using the fully loaded LP12/Ekos SE/Radikal/Urika/Keel LP player/phono stage with a Lyra Kleos cartridge ($23,905). But with Wilson Sasha W/P speakers ($28,900/pair) hooked up to a Rega Osiris integrated amplifier ($8995) with AudioQuest cables, the sound of Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" from the new APO 45rpm pressing of her classic Dusty in Memphis album was vividly real-sounding.
I first encountered DEQX when Kalman Rubinson and I reviewed the NHT Xd speaker system a few years back, which featured its digital signal processing to implement its crossover and response optimization. The Australian company was putting on an impressive dem of its HDP-3 standalone processor at RMAF, showing the sound of a pair of Gallo Reference speakers driven by Parasound Halo amplification could be first optimized in both time and frequency domains, then its interaction with the room. DEQX's Larry Owens, shown in the photo, enthused about an unanticipated benefit of the speaker correction was the reduction in loudspeaker intermodulation distortion.
The Hyperion, Soundsmith’s new top-of-the-line moving-iron phono cartridge, utilizes a cactus needle cantilever. (That’s a cantilever made of a cactus needle.) Inspired by (the always dapper) Frank Schroeder and designed by Peter Ledermann, the Hyperion’s cactus needle cantilever provides both stiffness and dampingqualities which, according to Ledermann, had previously been mutually exclusive.
In my opinion, one of the coolest-looking systems of the show was pieced together by New York City’s Audioarts: Rethm Maarga loudspeakers ($8750/pair), Fi amplification, and a Lector CDP-6 CD player. The sound was just as good as the appearance: immediate and realistic, with a rich, detailed midrange.
It was a pleasure to finally meet Nick and Jennifer Atocha, makers of the most beautiful record cabinets I’ve ever seen. In the imaginary future of my mind, I will live in an old brownstone with extremely high ceilings, wide plank floors, cool chandeliers, a spiral staircase, a grand fireplace, a secret library, sky lighting, and at least three or five (I don’t like even numbers) of Atocha’s record cabinets.
Jennifer very slyly warned me of the possibilityno, inevitabilityof my dear Ikea Expedit shelves collapsing beneath the weight of all my precious vinyl. I frowned.
New from the Norwegian Hegel company at RMAF was the HD11 D/A processor ($1200), which features a 32-bit TI DAC but also a unique impedance-optimizing circuit on one of its coaxial S/PDIF inputs. Single-ended digital audio connections are specified to be 75 ohm transmission lines, explained Hegel's Anders Eitzeid, but not all all datalinks conform to that specification. (The RCA plug is a major source of the impedance mismatch even when the cable itself has a characteristic impedance of 75 ohms.) The impedance mismatch creates reflections that corrupt the integrity of the RF datastream, increasing jitter.
In the BorderPatrol room, we listened to that company’s beautiful-looking S20 300B single-ended power amplifier ($13,500) and EXT1 preamplifier ($12,250), driving a pair of Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW loudspeakers ($10,895/pair).
We didn’t listen to the Thoress F2A11 integrated amplifier, but just look at it: It’s awesome.
Entirely hand-built by Reinhard Thoress, the amplifier uses NOS Siemens F2A11 power tetrodes, which High Water Sound's Jeffrey Catalano explained, were popular in the Klangfilm cinema amplifiers of post-war Germany. Three line-level inputs are selectable by a rear-panel rotary switch, while separate volume controls for each channel can be adjusted using carefully matched high-grade rotary potentiometers. Why? I don’t know why, but it’s cool.
According to Catalano, the sound of the F2A11 is crystal clear. It “just cuts through all the BS.” There you go. The Thoress F2A11 looks like some kind of a tank, delivers about 6Wpc, and costs $8000.