Classic Audio always makes good sound at Shows, and RMAF was no exception, both analog and digital sources sounding clean, clear and detailed. The system featured a pair of T-1.4 Reference speakers ($36,500/pair), this a retro-looking design combining two reflex-loaded, field-coil energized 15” woofers (one firing forward, the other downward) with a horn-loaded, field-coil energized midrange unit, and a Fostex tweeter. Amplifiers were Atma-Sphere MA1.5 monoblocks, cables were by Purist, and analog source a Brinkman Bardo turntable fitted with a Tri-Planar arm and van den Hul Grasshopper cartridge. The digital source was new to me: all from Texas-based Stahl-Tek, an Opus CD transport fed the “entry level” Ariaa D/A converter ($12,900).
Blues singer Jimmie Lee Robinson was singing when I entered the Aaudio Imports room, his jingling spurs sounding preternaturally real on the 6’-tall Lansche Audio 7 speakers ($108,000/pair). Like the Lansche 5.1 that I reviewed in July, the 7 uses an RF-energized corona tweeter to produce clean, transparent-sounding highs. Amplification was the new Ypsilon SET100 monoblocks ($125,000/pair) with a tubed Ypsilon PST-100 Mk.II preamp and tubed VPS-100 phono preamp, these two both favorites of Mr. AnalogPlanet, Michael Fremer.
In the other Hear No Evil room, Kevin Deal introduced PrimaLuna's new DiaLogue Premium Integrated amplifier ($3299). This amp can be fitted with KT66/6L6GC, KT77/EL34, or 6550/KT88 tubes and, driving a pair of KEF R900 speakers ($5000/pair) did sonic justice to Nils Lofgren’s homage to Keith Richards, “Keith Don’t Go.” Source was PrimaLuna’s ProLogue Premium CD player ($3299), which now has a 24/192k-capable USB input based on an M2Tech module as well as the tubed clock circuit used in the earlier Prologue Eight player.
Not only was Stereophile celebrating its first half-century at RMAF, so was British speaker manufacturer KEF with the US premier of its LS50 ($1499/pair) in one of retailer Hear No Evils’s rooms. Driven by Parasound electronicsZDAC, P7 preamp, A21 power ampthe sound was both delicate yet full-bodied. This came as no surprise as reviewing this little beauty, whose single Uni-Q drive-unit was developed from that used in KEF’s flagship Blade model, for our forthcoming December issue was a highlight of my 2012 auditioning.
“I know that is, it’s Prince. I went to school with him!” exclaimed the woman sitting next to me. We were listening to a strangely compelling version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” in Hear No Evil’s large ground-floor room. I have heard KEF’s flagship Blade loudspeaker ($30,000/pair) on other occasions but never under good enough conditions for me to get a handle on its sound quality. It was different at RMAF. Driven by McIntosh electronicstwo MC601 600W monoblocks, a C48 preamp, and an MCD500 SACD/CD playerwith a PS Audio PowerPlant regenerating the AC for the front-end components and a MacBook Pro supplying the bits, that audiophile classic “Die Tänzerin” from Ulla Meinecke was reproduced with impressive space and dynamic range.
A reader complained recently that exhibitors at audio Shows tend to demonstrate cost-no-object systems. He was rightthey do. As Stephen Mejias has explained, exhibiting at a show is an expensive proposition and most companies go for broke with the systems they show, wanting to get the maximum “Wow factor,” hence return, on that investment.
Colorado retailer Audio Limits was no exception, its large room off the Marriott’s atrium featuring Venture Ultimate Reference loudspeakers ($135,000/pair) driven by FM Acoustics 115 monoblocks ($108,200/pair), an FM Acoustics 245 preamp ($25,800), with the source either a PC laptop running XX High End software, a Weiss Jason transport ($22,7070), or a Weiss Man301 network player ($9083 without DAC), Weiss Medea+ FireWire D/A converter ($21,799) . . .
Not listed in the Show Guide but providing the power in the Fidelis room was the Bully Sound Corporation’s 60S class-A amplifier ($7900). BSC is a new company founded by Brett D’Agostino, son of one Dan D’Agostino, and with the Harbeth Monitor 30.1 speakers ($5995/pair) so beloved by Sam Tellig, JD Souther’s “New Kid in Town,” played with J River Media Center sending the data to Bricasti’s superb M1 DAC ($8495) via USB, sounded sweet. Until I noticed the Stein Harmonizers sprinkled around the room. (You can see one sitting on top of the speaker.) Would the system sound so good without the Steins? I didn’t dare ask, though Mikey Fremer swears they made his system sound worse!
This room was the first I went into on Sunday morning of RMAF, drawn in by a superbly natural representation of the cellos, violas, and gambas on a recording of the fifth Bach Brandenburg Concerto. (An ensemble led by Antony Holstead, I was later told.) And the chile lights didn’t hurt. Speakers were the Daedalus Orpheus ($38,500/pair) with two BOW woofers ($6080 with handbuilt crossover), driven by the ModWright 150Wpc KWA150 Signature monoblocks ($8495 each), a ModWright LS 36.5 DM preamplifier ($9995), and a Modwright Elyse DAC (price TBD) fed data by a modified Oppo BDP 95 (two tubes poked through the top panel). Speaker cables were Daedalus; interconnects and AC cords were WyWires.
As someone who fell in love with the sound of Apogee full-range ribbon speakers in the early 1980s, I made a point of visiting the room featuring Analysis Audio planar ribbon speakers. Driven by Arion HS-500 amplifiers ($5995/pair), which combine a class-D output stage with a tube input and driver stage, via JPS cables, a track from Patricia Barber’ Companion album sounded sweet and rich on the Omega ribbons ($24,200/pair with external crossovers), but with a touch of color in the mind-bass that was audible on kick drum.
Denver retailer Gold Sound’s room featured the Focal 836W speakers ($4500/pair), a three-way design related to the French manufacturer’s 826W Anniversary Edition speaker that Robert Deutsch enthusiastically reviewed in November 2010. Driven by a Cambridge Audio 851A integrated amplifier ($1795) and a Cambridge 851C CD player ($1795) and hooked up with Crystal cables, this relatively affordable system punched above its weight, producing a big, naturally balanced sound.
Austrian company Ayon was sharing the large room with Legacy, which led to some delicate choreography scheduling dems. A pair of Lumenwhite Artisan speakers ($25,000/pair) was being driven by Ayon’s Triton 3 tubed, class-A integrated amplifier ($12,500), with an Ayon S3 media server ($8500) providing the bits. Some dub-step/electronica/who-knows-what-genre tracks from Swiss band Yello rocked the house on this system!
I’ve come to expect three things from Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio: great music, great sound, and great set-up. The music came first. With the new Joseph Audio Pearl3 loudspeakers (introductory price $28,500/pair) singing their hearts out, the timbres of Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan’s saxophones were gorgeously conveyed. The same goes for the massed voices on Cantata Domine’s Scandinavian language version of “O Holy Night,” which was a favorite classical demo track at RMAF for exhibitors with analog rigs.
Listening to HDTracks’ 24/192 download of the Jimmy Cobb Quartet’s Jazz in the Key of Blue, I finally heard what a well-tuned MSB system can do. “So musical!” I wrote in my notes. Instrumental timbres were excellent, with the warmth and fullness of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet portrayed with near tube-like roundness and warmth. Combined with the air and depth conveyed by the high-res recording, and the sheer presence of the drums, the experience opened a portal to audio nirvana. I could have spent hours exploring music in multiple formats on this system, and still have wanted more. It killed me to have to leave the room so soon. Only the reality of many more rooms to cover before show’s end kept me from staying longer.
No, I’m not talking about one of the young women who always seem to drive Stephen Mejias to distraction at shows. Rather, I’m speaking of Estelon’s Model XB loudspeakers ($32,900/pair). Designed for more modestly sized rooms, this Estonian speaker was producing realistic, full-range sound courtesy of Vitus Audio’s SM 010 monoblock amplifiers, SL 102 preamplifier, and SCD010 CD player. Power Conditioner was Silver Circle Audio’s Tchaik 6, cabling Kubala-Sosna’s Elation, and rack and feet from Stillpoints.
In two adjacent rooms, GTT Audio & Video showcased systems dominated by much-admired YG Acoustics loudspeakers. In the smaller set-up, the diminutive YG Acoustics Carmel ($18,000) joined the excellent PS Audio PWT Memory transport ($3500), Devialet D-Premier all-in-one DAC/Phono Stage/Integrated amp ($16,000), and Kubala-Sosna Research Emotion interconnects and speaker cable ($3000/first meter) and power cables ($1100/first meter). The chosen material, Jascha Heifetz’s classic recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, sounded excellent, but the system’s clarity drove home to me that he was playing so fast that much of the soul of the music was lost.