North American distributors Rutherford Audio were on hand with the latest full-range loudspeaker from the German company ELAC, with celebrates its 86th anniversary this year. (Brit-fi fans such as myself will remember ELAC as the manufacturer of the silky-smooth aluminum-dome tweeter from the first and best version of the Acoustic Energy AE-1.) Their new 249 BE loudspeaker ($8000/pair), the woofer cones of which are faceted for rigidity, sounded fine with Burmester electronics. Bruno de Lorimier of Rutherford Audio invited us to guess if the singers on one recording in particular were wearing boxers or briefs; the answer, of course, was "yes."
I finally got to meet one of my audio heroes, John Tucker: founder of Exemplar Audio and co-designer of the legendary Exemplar Horn loudspeaker system. Tucker, who spent the early part of his career working for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, is an engineer and software designer who keeps a distinctly open mind when it comes to the audible effects of seemingly anomalous mechanismsfrom acoustic resonators to powered cables. (John is also featured in an article of mine that will appear in the Autumn, 2012 issue of The Fretboard Journal.) These days, Exemplar's products include a heavily modified version of the Oppo 95 disc player ($3500, including base Oppo unit) and a line of active interconnect and speaker cables called Portals.
Danny Richie of GR Research, which supplies drive-units and other components to the DIY community, designed and assembled these panel loudspeakers using push-pull planar-magnetic drivers from BG Corporation. The loudspeaker, which hands over to a servo woofer at 200Hz, sounded open and detailed with all-battery-powered tube electronics from Dodd Audio. (There was also, on static display, a gorgeous one-off Dodd preamp using 6C33C tubes for voltage gain!)
Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts NYC had assembled quite an impressive system, most of whose components I had never heard before. Given the system’s price, one would reasonably expect something wonderful, if not extraordinary from Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair); Nagra’s new Jazz preamplifier ($12,250, with the input and output jacks now on the back instead of the sides), 300B power amplifier ($16,950), and VPS phono preamplifier ($6850); Metronome’s C8 Reference Asymmetrical USB DAC ($22,750) and Calypso Reference transport ($43,750); Holborne’s Analog 2 Mk.2 turntable ($7495), Dualpivot tonearm ($3475, MC1 cartridge ($1975), and rack ($3975); Van Den Hul’s Cumulus 3T speaker wire ($6995/pair) and The Cloud 3T interconnects ($695/set); and a Schopper Thorens fully restored 124 Mk.2 (“priceless”).
There's pretty much only one way to hear Rammstein at a hi-fi show: Visit the demonstration room of Swedish-based, American-built Sjöfn HiFi. (As close as I can tell, the name is pronounced hoofin, although you have to do something funny to the H.) Sjöfn 's Managing Director, Lars Erickson, approaches the selection of demo music with a adventurousness and whimsythis is the man who turned me onto the great Israeli trance duo, Infected Mushroomand the sound of his new two-way loudspeaker, The Clue ($999/pair, direct, including shipping) was up to the task. As with earlier Sjöfn designs, I have no idea whatsoever how he manages to wring such enormous scale, clarity, and impact out of such a tiny box. But he does.
When I walked into the Robyatt Audio room, I discovered that Robin Wyatt had come all the way from New York City to show people what a lovely, airy sound he could get from Jacintha’s “Here’s to Life” and other LP selections. “The man who recorded that LP used the same stereo Miyajima Kinsui cartridge that I’m using for playback,” he explained.
If there’s anything that will grab this whistler’s attention, it’s the sound of another whistler who knows what she or he is doing. Given that the first thing I heard when I set foot in the room from Pro Audio Ltd. of Tower Lakes, IL was the delightful sound of whistling on Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” I was primed for a good experience. And so it was, with the system’s genuinely lovely if somewhat light-bodied sound distinguished by a captivating sense of air that is the mark of good analog.
Nordost’s Lars Christensen has become an industry legend of sorts for the enthusiasm with which he launches into cable comparison after cable comparison. At RMAF, he notched his demos up several steps, inviting people to hear the effects that cabling, power distribution, and resonance control products from Nordost and other companies can have on system sound.
“The bottom line is, despite the science involved, if you can’t hear it, it matters not,” Nordost’s West Coast distributor Michael Marko told me outside the demo room...
Near-holographic imagingan audio ideal for some hobbyists!could be heard in the Nola suite, where the company's new KO loudspeaker ($9800/pair) was demonstrated with Audio Research amplification, Audio Research CD player, and Nordost cabling and Quantum QX4 EMF-control devices. The 3.5-way KO uses aluminum-cone woofers and is described by designer Carl Marchisotto as offering 90dB sensitivity and a nominal 8-ohm load.
Among the many delights in the Audio Feast room: a prototype of an autoformer-based volume control called the Finemet TVC (price TBD). The real attraction, of course, was the fact that Audio Feast played real music in their room. (They were playing a Miles Davis disc when I was thereand I don't mean one of the umpteen audiophile reissues of Kind of Blue.) I look forward to getting to know Audio Feast in the months ahead.
It was that rarest of rare occasions in audio-show reporting: I entered the demonstration room of a brand that was unfamiliar to me, and was impressed at once by a sort of musical rightness I seldom hear from modern playback gear. Sure, I was familiar with the company that made the CD player, preamp, and monoblock amps in useElectrocompaniet, whose solid-state amps are among the few I consider worthy of comparison to the best tube designsbut the Austrian loudspeaker manufacturer Brodmann Acoustics was new to me. Their stand-mounted Festival S ($4500/pair), driven by a pair of Electrocompaniet AW180 monoblocks ($5425 each) allowed the solo violin in a Paganini work to have far greater than usual texture, tone, and presence. Based on my experience at RMAF, the pairing of these two brands is something you should go out of your way to hear.
Ever since encountering KingSound electrostatic loudspeakers at an audio show several years ago, I’ve looked forward to seeing how their line would develop. This time around, KingSound was showing its King III Full Range ESL ($12,000/pair). Driven by Bob Carver Cherry tube monoblock amplifiers ($7400/pair), Purity Audio Design Statement 2 preamplifier (approx. $12,500), and an AMR CD777 ($12,000), all hooked together by Kaplan Cables from John Atkinson’s adopted hometown of Brooklyn, the system was a joy to listen to on Chet Atkins’ recording of “Mr. Sandman.”
Strange that I should travel 1800 miles to hear products that are designed and manufactured less than two hours from my home. Happily, the McIntosh experience at RMAF was worth the effort, especially inasmuch as the hallowed brand distinguished itself by playing real music as opposed to audiophile chestnuts. (Think of it!) I especially enjoyed some selections from the Beatles' Anthology 3 collection, played via JRiver software on an HP laptop, through a McIntosh C50 preamp ($6500) and MC452 amp ($7500), along with the McIntosh MEN220 room-correction system ($4500, which includes the microphonebut not the standseen in this photo). Rounding out the system were the company's recent XR100 speakers ($10,000/pair): certainly the best McIntosh loudspeakers I have yet to hear.
Art Dudley’s already mentioned the many delights in the Audio Feast room, so I’ll just add that I was particularly delighted to chat with Audio Feast’s Kenji Furukawa, pictured here with his Feastrex NF9ex F90 field-coil loudspeaker ($19,118/pair).
Not to be outdone, Kent Loughlin of MIT (Music Interface Technologies) staged 5-minute cable comparisons in the MIT room on the 2nd floor of the Marriott’s Tower. Using a Cary CD player and Cary monoblock amplifiers, and Polk Audio monitors with Custom Sound Anchors stands, Loughlin initially chose the beautiful, albeit oft-played soprano solo from Reference Recordings’ superb version of Rutter’s Requiem to let people hear the difference that MIT’s AVT Speaker Module ($149), which added up to 10 poles of articulation, brought to MIT’s custom installation cable (80 cents/foot for 12-gauge cable with two conductors).