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). . .
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.
One of the final rooms I visited at the 2012 RMAF was Sony’s. An as-yet-to-be-named floor-standing speaker was being demmed with Pass Labs amplification, Kimber Kables, and a Mytek DSD-capable DAC, taking data over USB from a laptop. The speaker has much in common with the superb SS-AR2 that I reviewed in October, but is shorter and, as can be seen from Jason Serinus’ photo, has an intriguing array of two supertweeters above and below the tweeter.
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. . .
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.
Sunday afternoon is always the slowest time at an audio show, but you couldn’t tell it from the room dominated by Hsu subwoofers. In the only room I encountered on floors 4 and 5 of the Atrium that was playing action DVDs or Blu-rays, the movie’s obligatory, super-hyped explosions were resonating far outside the door. In what I take to be a statement about popular culture and the American obsession with violence, the darkened room was so packed that there was no way I could even stand in the doorway.
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.
When I entered the DEQX room and experienced a neutral, almost full-range sound, I assumed I was listening to the Gallo Reference speakers. But noit was the $80 pair of RadioShack PA horns in the room corners that were playing, corrected in the digital domain with the latest DEQX DSP processor, the DEQX Mate. This is an analog in-and-out (XLR and RCA), two-channel processor that goes between the preamp and power amplifier. Bypassing the DEQX Mate resulted in the squawky balance I would have expected from the horns, with no lows or highs. Switching the DEQX Mate back in-circuit gave a sound that was evenly balanced, with good HF extension and enough upper bass to sound convincing. Color me gob-smacked!
Styled to resemble Sonus Faber’s cost-no-object “The Sonus Faber” flagship design, the new Sonus Faber Venere range of speakers made its debut at RMAF. Costing $2498/pair, ie, around less than 2% of the big speaker’s price, the Venere 2.5 was demmed with an Audio Research DSI200 class-D integrated amplifier ($5995), a Wadia Model 121 decoding computer ($1299), a Pro Ject Xtension turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($3699) a Pro Ject Phono Box ($999), and Pro Ject’s new Stream Box ($1999). The LP of Jeff Buckley’s classic album Grace was reproduced with appropriate impact and a color-free tonal balance. Even considering the relatively affordable price of the system, this was still one of the better-sounding rooms I heard at RMAF.
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.
In two adjacent rooms, GTT Audio & Video showcased systems dominated by much-admired YG Acoustics loudspeakers. In the smaller set-up, the diminutive YG Acoustics Carmel ($18,000) joined the excellent PS Audio PWT Memory transport ($3500), Devialet D-Premier all-in-one DAC/Phono Stage/Integrated amp ($16,000), and Kubala-Sosna Research Emotion interconnects and speaker cable ($3000/first meter) and power cables ($1100/first meter). The chosen material, Jascha Heifetz’s classic recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, sounded excellent, but the system’s clarity drove home to me that he was playing so fast that much of the soul of the music was lost.
No, I’m not talking about one of the young women who always seem to drive Stephen Mejias to distraction at shows. Rather, I’m speaking of Estelon’s Model XB loudspeakers ($32,900/pair). Designed for more modestly sized rooms, this Estonian speaker was producing realistic, full-range sound courtesy of Vitus Audio’s SM 010 monoblock amplifiers, SL 102 preamplifier, and SCD010 CD player. Power Conditioner was Silver Circle Audio’s Tchaik 6, cabling Kubala-Sosna’s Elation, and rack and feet from Stillpoints.
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.
I’ve come to expect three things from Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio: great music, great sound, and great set-up. The music came first. With the new Joseph Audio Pearl3 loudspeakers (introductory price $28,500/pair) singing their hearts out, the timbres of Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan’s saxophones were gorgeously conveyed. The same goes for the massed voices on Cantata Domine’s Scandinavian language version of “O Holy Night,” which was a favorite classical demo track at RMAF for exhibitors with analog rigs.