"That's a lot of bass!" I was listening to the audiophile version of Nine-Inch-Nails' "A copy of a copy..." on Bryston's three-way Mini-T stand-mounted speakers ($2695/pair). The speaker's woofer has a large half-roll surround, suggesting good linearity at large excursions, which was confirmed by the fullrange sound in the room. The rest of the system included Bryston 28B monoblocks, hooked up with StraightWire cables and with a Bryston BDP-2 file player and BDA-1 DAC as the source.
"Together, We Make Beautiful Music" proclaimed the one-sheet that was handed to me in this room. "You are listening to a complete audio system that cost under $15,000," it continued, adding that "we put together this relatively modest playback system to better demonstrate the musical purity and refinement produced with products manufactured by: Mojo Audio, Atomic Audio Labs, VH Audio." $15,000 doesn't sound "relatively modest" to me, but the sound in this room was surprisingly good considering that the speakers were a DIY design using a full-range 8" unit and the amplifiers were vintage Allen organ tube models, based on the Williamson circuit.
Michigan retailer Paragon Sight & Sound's room on the Marriott's ground floor featured the Wilson Alexia speakers $48,500/pair. I was familiar with the Alexia, having just finished reviewing it for the December issue of Stereophile, as I was with Audio Research's CD9 CD player ($13,000), but not all with the Doshi Jhor 160 tube monoblocks (projected price of <$36,000/pair) that were driving the Alexias via Transparent Audio Reference XL cables, or the Doshi 3.0 tubed line stage and Doshi 3.0 tubed phono stage, both of these projected to sell for <$20,000 each. Michale Fremer was playing a Acoustic Sounds 45rpm test pressing of a Beach Boys album on the Pro-Jekt HL Signature turntable, fitted with a Koetsu Azule Platinum cartridge, when I entered the Paragon room, with all the equipment mounted on impressively engineered HRS racks and stands. "Midrange magic!" I wrote in my notebook as the Beach Boys launched into "In My Room."
I went into the SimpliFi room expecting to see the excellent Weiss MAN301 media player and effective DSPeaker room correction and D/A devices. Yes, there were there at RMAF but SimpliFi's Tim Ryan wanted to talk about the Swiss Klangwerk Ella active speaker ($15,000/pair) shown in my photo. This modest-looking floorstander uses DSP to make it work as a time-aligned virtual point source. A constrained layer-damped Corian front baffle supports an advanced Aerogel-dome tweeter from Audax and a 5.5" woofer; two more 5.5" woofers covering the same passband are placed on the speaker's sides, and all three are reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port. The advantage of this design is that it has a wide listening window on both vertical and horizontal planes, explained Tim, and indeed, on Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," I found that I could move up and down and from side to side without any significant change in the perceived balance.
When Jason Serinus visited the room shared by DeVore Fidelity, Tone Imports, and Oregon dealer Eugene Hi-Fi, the $12,000/pair Orangutan O/96 speakers that are Art Dudley's new reference and are shown in Jason's photo were playing. But when I visited the room, the smaller, floorstanding Orangutan O/93s ($8400/pair) were playing, and sounding very good indeed on a favorite Stephen Mejias album from Jenny Hval. (However, don't ask me about my reaction to the lyrics, which involved Ms. Hval applying an electric toothbrush to a body part other than her teeth.)
At the 2012 RMAF, Ayre Acoustics had decorated their room in the Marriott's tower to resemble a 1950s bachelor pad, complete with lava lamp. This year, the theme was Charlie's Records, complete with racks of bargain LPs offered for sale. It was great to see Ayre founder Charlie Hansen (left, above) back in action at a show, after a long hospitalization. The system featured JBL K2-9800SE speakers driven by Ayre's VX5 power amp and KX5 preamplifier, with source either an Ayre DX5 universal player or an Ayre/Bauer DPS turntable amplified by an Ayre P5 phono preamplifier.
Artist Jay Paul Apodaca and his lovely wife, Houda Alaoua Apodaca, were rocking out with Roksan UK’s Oxygene touch-sensitive, Bluetooth-equipped integrated amp ($7000) at the world premiere of its limited edition Jay Paul Apodaca incarnation. As the story goes, Roksan’s owner, Tufan Hashemi, visited Jay Paul’s store in Detroit and began collecting his art. Eventually he decided to commission Jay Paul to make 12 original paintings that he could reproduce on the front of the Oxygene. Mated with Roksan’s Darius S1 loudspeaker, the artwork and system livened up the Marriott’s Tower like few other systems I heard.
How wonderful to finally catch up with Scott and Paul McGowan, and to discover how good PS Audio’s prototype class-D amplifier with Hypex modules sounds in its temporary housing. Equally exciting was the just-launched NuWave Phono Converter (NPC, $1895), which combines a phono stage with an A/D converter that can archive LPs in both PCM and DSD formats. Paired with Von Schweikert VR-35 loudspeakers ($10,000/pair) and a custom subwoofer, the system delivered impressive deep bass on a track from Turkish artist and DJ Mercan Dede’s Breath, and lots of color on a track by Chesky artist Marta Gomez.
By the time I reached the Tower’s 11th floormy final floor, thank Godat 5:35pm on Saturday, I had been at it for over 8.5 hours, and my cold and fever were at their peak. It felt as though nothing short of the Balm of Gilead could bring me solace. But when I heard, in succession, impressively full-range sound and excellent low-bass definition on Mahler’s Symphony 2, and gorgeous warmth and color on everything soprano Arleen Auger sang, I felt as though I could simply float through the rest of the day in a state of peace.
Sergey Sorokin, who deserves kudos as Russia’s first high-end manufacturer, arrived at the Marriott Denver Tech Center from Moscow a day before other exhibitors to ensure that his set-up was as close to ideal as the room allowed. Nonetheless, as John Atkinson and I learned upon listening, one of his Israeli-sourced, hand-wound transformers was damaged in transit, and insisted on humming/buzzing along with the music. Despite the unexpected accompaniment, the voice of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Handel (Avie SACD) exhibited absolutely gorgeous tonalities. The great artist’s hushed sounds, even through the transformer noise, were something special. The period instrument orchestra’s bass foundation was also solid and superbly rendered.
Very clear and open sound, with a shiny treble and lovely midrange distinguished the room that partnered four lithium battery-powered componentsa Kronos turntable ($32,000) outfitted with Lyra Atlas cartridge and Black Beauty tonearm, Veloce’s Platino Series LP-1 phono stage (NLA), Lithio Series LS-1 linestage ($18,000), and Lithio Saetta 400Wpc monoblock amplifiers ($18,000/pair)with YG Acoustic’ Kipod II loudspeakers ($38,000/pair) and Kubala-Sosna Emotion cabling.
German loudspeaker manufacturer ELAC showed its prototype Air-X403. Scheduled for launch at CES2014, the wireless loudspeaker system includes a passive model ($2800?) and an active baby with a 210Wpc, class-A/B amplifier ($4000 range total). This black, bottom-ported speaker system did a very nice job on a track by Diana Krall, a singer John Atkinson enjoys, and I do in moderation. I would never have expected such a good midrange from such small speakers.
Thanks to PS Audio’s P5 Power Plant ($3495) and Nordost’s Norse cabling, Krell’s Phantom III preamplifier ($5499, or $7000 w/optional 24/192 onboard DAC), S-350A CD 24/192 CD player ($2500), EVO 2250E amplifier ($8000), and Krell Connect ($3500) were enabling Magico’s S-1 loudspeakers ($12,600/pair) to perform wonderfully. In the room sponsored by Audio Video Logic of Iowa, a Red-Book file of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” had great slam and midrange power, with the guitar singing clear and free in a deep soundstage.
In the room put together by Rutherford Audio of Denver, Genesis’ 7.2f loudspeaker ($12,500/pair), whose servo-controlled bass extends down to 22Hz; Burmester’s 089 CD player ($33,000), Phono 100 ($20,000), and 956 amplifier ($19,000); Thorens’ TD 2035 Black with TP92 Genesis cartridge (price given as $6399 table, priceless cartridge); and Genesis cabling made for an ear-opening combination. An LP of Count Basie and his Orchestra’s “Me and you” had huge dynamic range, a nice and warm midrange, and an aggressive top. My JVC-XRCD of Sarah Vaughan and Basie was a bit mellower, but the top was again bright.
I always have to remind myself that, despite Marantz’s “mass-market” reputation, the company’s Reference line products have more than earned their place on audiophiles’ equipment racks because they sound so good. Which leads to Marantz’s TT-15S1 turntable ($1500) and PM-14S1 integrated amp with phono stage ($2500). As best I can tell from my scribble, the table is a joint venture from Marantz and Clearaudio, and comes complete with arm and cartridge. What I am sure of is that system had a really nice midrange and lovely sound.