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 walked into the big Peachtree Audio room to find listening chairs scattered about in every direction, seemingly without purpose. Indeed, some listeners stood while some listeners sat and even others danced.
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.
OMG. It’s 4pm on Sunday, the show is over, and I have three rooms left to cover. Dash to door number one. It’s already locked. Next to door number two. It’s locked as well. Is this going to be the worst episode of Let’s Make A Deal ever known to man or audiophile, I wonder, or will I find the pot of gold behind door number three?
Well, kind of. The door opens, there are boxes everywhere, and Larry Alan Kay, former co-founder of Fithe audiophile magazine that ran all those recipes for audiophiles who like to drink and chomp while they listenis packing up the BSG Technologies QOL Signal Completion Stage.
“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.
The active L’Ocean speaker from French manufacturer Cabasse is similar in concept to the huge La Sphère that Michael Fremer reviewed in June 2008, but is smaller, cheaper$159,000/system, compared to $205,000and its external digital crossover can now handle 24-bit datastreams up to 96kHz. L’Ocean was demonstrated at RMAF with Esoteric digital componentsCabasse is now distributed in the US by Esotericand Johnny Cash’s version of the The Beatles’ “In My Life” sounded palpably real. And in a Show dominated by black boxes, the Cabasse’s White Pearl finish was very camera-friendly.
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.
Thiel’s long-awaited trickle-down speaker from 2008’s ground-breaking CS3.7, the CS2.7 ($9900/pair), made its North American debut in one of the Denver Audio Designs rooms. It combines the coaxial HF/MF unit that the late Jim Thiel developed for the ‘3.7 with a proprietary 8” woofer, reinforced with a passive radiator to give claimed bass extension to below 35Hz. Frequency response is specified as 35Hz20kHz ±2.5dB, and crossover filters, of course, are all first-order. (No impedance spec was given; Thiel speakers have always been current-hungry.) The CS2.7s were demmed with Aragon Iridium 400W monoblocks ($7998/pair), an Aragon Sound Stage digital preamp ($4499), an Arcam CD37 SACD/CD player ($2299), an Arcam FMJ D33 D/A processor, and Straight Wire Expressivo interconnects and speaker cables, and Straight Wire Blue Thunder AC cords. The sound of Ryan Adams’ “Dirty Rain” had extended lows, grain-free highs, and superbly stable, well-defined stereo imaging.
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.
Legacy's Bill Dudleston stands by the new Aeris speaker ($16,900/pair), which combines an AMT tweeter/supertweeter module (see below) with a dipole midrange unit and upper wooferthese have corrugated surrounds for maximum inearityand two sealed-box subwoofers operating below 220Hz and driven by an internal 500W ICE-power class-D amp. With an AVM amplifier and CD player,the sound of Tchaikovsky's Italian Caprice was forceful and clean, though the big bass drum thwacks clipped the amplifier at the level I had chosen for the orchestral sound in the large room Legacy was using.
With a fanfare at 4pm, Sunday October 14, in the Denver Tech Center Marriott's Atrium, the Denver Broncos Half-Time Band, courtesy of Kimber Kable's Ray Kimber, brought the Show to a close. According to Show organizer Marjorie Baumert, "We had about 150 more exhibitors (according to the badges), about 3600 attendee days (approximately 100 more than last year). We had 1295 attendees pre-register and that was an all-time record (last year was 1100). . .
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.
The next-to-the-last demonstration I heard at RMAF 2012 was among the two or three most impressive. Doing business as Volti (it means to move forward) Audio, Maine resident Greg Roberts builds horn loudspeakers that seem to embody both the superb craftsmanship and musical impact of America's finest vintage-audio products. His newest, the Vittora ($15,000/pair), is a three-way loudspeaker with a horn-loaded 15" bass driver, horn-loaded 2" compression driver for the midrange, and horn-loaded 1" compression driver for the treble, with passive crossover networks, stepped attenuators for the mids and trebles, and an all-plywood cabinet in a choice of veneers. Based on a brief audition with EMM Labs digital source components and a BorderPatrol S20 single-ended 300B amp ($13,750), I can only say that the Vittora is, if anything, underpriced. My first question to Mr. Roberts was, "Who do I have to kill to borrow a review pair?"; we're still working out the details. . .
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) . . .