RMAF 2011

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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 18, 2011 2 comments
Larry Greenhill's May 2010 review of JBL's Synthesis 1400 Array BG loudspeaker was a highlight of that year's issues for me. At $11,500/pair, the 1400 Array offers a huge but highly neutral sound from its 15" woofer and horn-loaded midrange unit and tweeter. At RMAF, the JBLs were being driven by a Mark Levinson No.512 SACD player, No.326S preamplifier, and a pair of No.531H amplifiers, all hooked up with Transparent cables. The room's acoustics had been tamed with ASC Tube Traps and the sound was as good as I was expecting.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 18, 2011 0 comments
One of Colorado dealer Listen-Up's rooms at RMAF featured Musical Fidelity gear, including the M1 CLiC network player ($1999) that Jon Iverson will soon be reviewing for Stereophile. But what caught my attention in this room was the cute Penaudio Cenya speaker ($3995/pair), a two-way stand-mount that uses premium SEAS drive-units. We have been impressed by Penaudio speakers in the past, so it was good to hear that Tempo Distribution will now be importing these Scandinavian speakers, which use a unique cabinet construction combining MDF and plywood, in the US. The sound of John Lee Hooker dueting with Van Morison was surprisingly full-bodied considering the diminutive size of the speakers.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 18, 2011 0 comments
Colorado retailer Listen-Up's B&W and Classé room offered a surprisingly full-bodied sound from the small B&W PM1 speakers ($2800/pair), driven by a Classé CA-2300 amplifier and CT-P800 digital preamplifier via AudioQuest cables. But if you closely, you can see one of the almost-as-tiny B&W PV1 subwoofers ($1500 when last available) fleshing out the low bass. Visitors to the room were encouraged to play their own recordings on the Mac mini that was acting as a server sending asynchronous USB data to the CT-P800.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 1 comments
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 106dB—the experience was like being at the highest fidelity rock concert ever!

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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 2 comments
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.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 0 comments
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.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Oct 15, 2011 Published: Oct 16, 2011 4 comments
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 damping—qualities which, according to Ledermann, had previously been mutually exclusive.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Oct 16, 2011 2 comments
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.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Oct 16, 2011 5 comments
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 possibility—no, inevitability—of my dear Ikea Expedit shelves collapsing beneath the weight of all my precious vinyl. I frowned.

“Do you have children?” she asked.

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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 0 comments
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.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Oct 16, 2011 2 comments
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).
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 0 comments
Here's the SACD in its multichannel glory, newly arrived at RMAF!
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 0 comments
"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.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 16, 2011 17 comments
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 situation—see my September 2011 "As We See It" on this subject.
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John Atkinson Posted: Oct 15, 2011 0 comments
I am always intrigued by Wavelength's combination of cutting-edge digital technology and tubes. Their room at RMAF featured new developments in both areas. Shown in the photo are the latest HS 24(32)/192 version of the Cosecant asynchronous USB DAC (left, $4000), which features the new Denominator D/A module with 9016 ESS converters, and the new Royal preamp (right, $7500). Wavelength's Gordon Rankin walked me through the design of the minimalist preamp. The input signal is taken to a transformer hat inverts the polarity and feeds high-precision Penny & Giles two-channel attenuator. The wipers of the attenuator are connected directly to the grids of two 71A triodes and that's it! (The third tube is a rectifier.) Because the single tube stage inverts polarity, the preamp output is again in correct absolute polarity.

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