Steve (Sze) Leung, a neighbor of Stereophile’s Wes Phillips and a joy to boot, made my day when he played a 45 rpm audiophile pressing of Elvis’ “Are you Lonesome Tonight.” As the great one began to intone the chapters of this teenage melodrama with tongue-in-cheek sincerity, the sound was so vivid and lifelike that images of the night I tried to ask Ellen Schmidt to go steady flooded through my mind.
The German manufacturer ADAM Audio, whose high-frequency drive-unit technology is descended from that of Oskar Heil's Air-Motion Transformer, introduced their new Gamma loudspeaker ($22,000/pair), which is built around a 25mm-thick aluminum baffle: a departure from the honeycomb material used in elder ADAMs. Demonstrated with a pair of Cary SA 500.1 solid-state monoblocks ($4995 each), Cary SLP 05 preamp ($8495), and Cary CD 303T CD player ($6995), the Gammas were clear and distinctly articulate, with a pleasant balance overallalthough I wouldn't have wanted them to be an iota lighter.
I’m afraid I hit High Water Sound’s room at the end of the fourth floor at a time when, overwhelmed by how many systems I had left to visit before show’s end, could only muster the words “very nice sound” in my notes. Clearly I owe you an apology, and Jeffrey Catalano’s high-end emporium a visit the next time I’m in New York City.
The sound in the room from Arte Forma of Taiwan, represented in the US by Aire Audio, completely seduced me. Playing a wonderful recording of pianist Murray Perahia performing Handel, I was captivated by the presentation’s beautiful glow and air. It felt as though a light was shining from within the piano. This system portrayed the high treble delicacy of the piano’s strings like few others.
Squeezed into a small hotel room were the towering Gbell Epoque loudspeakers ($70,000/pair), driven by Artemis MK II monoblock amplifiers ($120,000), Stahl-Tek’s Opus DAC ($40,000) and Opus CDT ($37,000), with connections courtesy of Purist Audio Design 25th Anniversary cabling. How all this would have played out in a larger room, I do not know, but here, both period instrument and modern violins sounded edgy on different recordings, and bass was out of control on a third recording of a Mahler symphony.
Was it divine retribution that inspired Zu Audio’s Sean Casey to play The Evens intoning “Shut Up! Shut Up!” just as I entered the room? All I know is that, while I have been critical in the past of Zu Audio’s incisive sound, I never fail to find the room full of people digging it. More than that, Sean surprised me by playing Ella Fitzgerald, later in life, performing “Good Morning, Heartbreak,” and I too was digging it. Clearly Zu speakers, cabling, and cartridges are suited to jazz as much as raucous rock.
Robert Kelly of German Physiks strikes a pose worthy of a Kraftwerk album cover while showing off the company's newest loudspeaker, the Unlimited Mk.II ($13,500/pair). With the company's omnidirectional DDD driver handling everything above 200Hz, the Unlimited Mk.II had an unsurprisingly open and spacious sound, with the same sort of near holographic imaging I heard in the Nola room: very impressive.
Vanatoo is certainly giving other companies a run for their money with their Transparent One powered loudspeakers ($499$549/pair, dependent upon finish). Deferring to Michael Lavorgna’s recent review on Stereophile’s sister publication, AudioStream.com, I can simply say that the bass and sheer energy coming out of these small speakers was extremely impressive. In fact, it was so impressive that the folks running the demo felt the need to frequently tell the large crowd that everything was coming out of the two speakers, without aid of a subwoofer or any other hidden device.
Tone Audio’s founder, Jeff Dorgay, seated in the center of the photo, made sure to bring his lava lamp to set the tone in his publication’s hospitality suite on the 5th floor of the Marriott Atrium. Enjoying the ambiance were Shelly Williams of GIK Acoustics and John Derko of Digital Audio Review. Tone Audio celebrated its 7th anniversary at RMAF, Stereophile its 50th!
Taking a somewhat different, historical approach than my presentation on the same subject at the 2009 RMAF, HiFi Plus editor Alan Sircom, despite being jetlagged, forcefully showed how insensitive use of compression kills recorded sound.
As a card-carrying member of The Insecure, I tend to clam up when I'm around people who are considerably more intelligent or well-informed than I. Consequently, I had embarrassingly little to say in the presence of Bricasti Audio's Brian Zolner, whose understanding of the various digital-filtering choices offered by his company's M1 D/A converter ($8495) was as deep as it was generously and at times even humorously offered. In any event, the Bricasti sounded fine at the front of a system in which a pair of Harbeth HL5 loudspeakers ($5690/pair) was driven by the undeniably beautiful Dan D'Agostino Momentum Stereo amplifier ($25,000).
Hawaii-based Emerald Physicsa company I hadn't heard of until RMAF 2012demonstrated their own US-built loudspeakers and electronics with a Peachtree Audio novaPre preampD/A converter playing music files from a laptop computer. Emerald's CS2P open-baffle loudspeaker ($2990/pair) works as a dipole below 1000 Hz, with a 15" woofer and a horn-loaded 1" tweeter. The retail price of the system I heard, including the Peachtree unit; the Emerald Physics CS2P loudspeakers; Emerald's DSP2.4 active outboard crossover/EQ unit ($850); and the company's EPI100.2 100Wpc digital amplifier ($1600) was under $7000, not including computer and playback software. While far from perfectthe bass wasn't especially taut, and there was little in the way of the sorts of texture and tone I cravethe performance was clean, spacious, and satisfying.
The big news in Soundsmith land, besides the fact that Peter Ledermann’s fastest top-of-the-line Hyperion cartridge with its cactus spine and diamond tip was making wonderful sound in multiple rooms at RMAF, was the introduction of the Hyperion Mk.II ($7500). Boasting great channel separation, its 10-year warranty includes retipping for the original owner.
Having heard the complete Haniwa 24/192 system twice, at two shows, I confess that I don’t get it. The ad for this $18,000 system, which includes 4" speakers, digital preamplifier with channel divider and DSP, and digital amplifier with recording and playback capabilities, proclaims: “An authentic 3D image pops up from sharply focused, high resolution left and right images . . . .Then, an authentic 3D sound should pop up from sharply focused, high resolution right and left channel sounds...” What I hear from digital copies of fine classical analog recordings is bright, edgy sound.