Whereas the headphone enthusiasts' CanJam had been a subdued affair at the 2010 and 2011 RMAFs, this year's event seemed to have twice as many exhibitors and twice as many attendees. You can find Tyll Hertsens' informed and informative coverage of the RMAF CanJam for our sister site InnerFidelity here.
Speaking of McIntosh, there was lots of Binghamton bling on display in the Totem room, where showgoers enjoyed the world introduction of the Totem Forest Signature loudspeaker ($6000/pair). Driven by a McIntosh C50 preamp and MC452 amplifier and fed by an Apple laptop running Amarra software, the Forest Signatures sounded like great all-around-ers, combining thoroughly impressive spatial performance with surprisingly good color and "body," plus a very natural top-to-bottom tonal balance. As with the Brodmann/Electrocompaniet, Wilson/VTL/dCS/Spiral Groove, Audio Feast, and MBL demonstrations, having to leave the cocoon of this room was a drag.
In the Nordost/Raidho suite, I was very impressed by the spacious, delicate, detailed sound made from a system comprising Raidho C1.1 standmounted speakers ($20,000/pair, including dedicated stand), a Simaudio CD player, Hegel amplification, Quantum Resonant Technology (QRT) power conditioning, and, of course, Nordost cabling.
I ended Day 1 of RMAF with my first visit ever to the MC room. Although the MC-501A CD/USB player ($3995) and MC-701 integrated amplifier ($4595) were initially driving MC’s RL-21 loudspeakers ($3495/pair) too loud, generating an unwelcome host of small room interactions, the system did an exceptional job, at more realistic volume, playing a recording of a traditional jazz trio. Not only did the music sound very alive and in the moment, but the piano also had a special illumined quality absent from many systems that cost far more than this one.
Jim Rush of PTE (Precision Transducer Engineering) of Orange, CA explained that he was using the system in his room, headlined by PTE’s The Phoenix self-powered, bi-amplified loudspeaker ($5700/pair), to conduct 10 different blind tests with five sequences. The results of his experiments, which he said demonstrated that most people couldn’t discern differences with a high degree of accuracy, are slated to be posted to PTE’s website.
As I was heading out of the Sony room, which John Atkinson is covering separately, I spied an open door. Like a cat to a paper bag, I dove inside to discover the sensational recording engineer and producer Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records. A strong proponent of DSD, with which she records many of her projects (including free hi-rez downloads), Marenco was hanging in Sony’s storage area/hospitality suite prior to delivering one of her four guest demos in the adjacent Sony room. (Gus Skinas of Sonoma Systems presented three other demos, and Chad Kassem of Analogue Productions the remaining two). I promised Cookie, when snapping the photo, that I would say nothing about the tantalizing, not-yet-released products intentionally hidden from view.
Stereophile alumnus and publicist extraordinaire Jonathan ScullBel Canto, Furutech ADL, DEQX, XLOexchanges fire with the RMAF registration staff: In life as in the Leonard Cohen songbook, "Outdrew ya'" rhymes with "Hallelujah."
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”).
Get a grip, Serinus. The equipment may have been ringed with Christmas lights, but it was October in the Denver Marriott Tech Center, not December in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. Nor does Nhan Huang of Angel City Audio resemble Western conceptions of Mary's immaculate offspring. Be that as it may, or as some of my harshest critics may wish it weren'tjump to it, JohnnyRthe Melody Pure Black 101 preamp ($499), Melody M845 monoblock amplifiers ($5899/presumably for the pair), Onix CD-50 $3699), Angel City Audio P2000 power conditioner ($4499), and MG Audio interconnects and speaker cable were delivering bright and incisive sound on two unidentified jazz tracks.
There was so much going on in the George Warren Precision Sound room that, once I finished snapping photos, it was hard to focus on the music. Nonetheless, it was clear that the George Warren turntable ($4200$4850, depending upon finish) with its MØrch DP-8 tonearm (around $5000, available in gold or silver) were what this system was all about.