Directly across the hall from Musical Surroundings, Garth and Jim White, owner and designer of Aesthetix Audio Corporation, played the same French jazz recording I had just heard. This time, the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable ($10,000) with TT2 linear tonearm ($9500) and daVinci v2 cartridge ($5500) did the honors. Handling the rest were the Aesthetix Rhea Signature phono stage ($7,000), part of the Saturn series and named after one of the moons of Saturn; and the same Aesthetix Atlas power amp ($8000) as used across the hall. Vandersteen Quatro Wood speakers, HRS equipment stand, Kubala-Sosna cables and Running Springs Audio power products completed the chain.
There were so many exhibitors at this year’s RMAF that it was not possible to go back to rooms. One of two wonderful rooms in the Marriott Tower that I most regretted not having time to revisit, Apex Audio’s mezzanine set-up of equipment mainly distributed by Musical Surroundings produced warm, gorgeous sounds and a “midrange to die for” on Reference Recordings’ LP version of Doug MacLeod’s There’s a Time (Stereophile’s May 2013 Recording of the Month). Managing to let the brightness of the latest CD transfer of Mercury Living Presence’s stereo version of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra come through while remaining a joy to listen to, the system inspired me to scribble, after listening to a track from an LP of guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, “one could listen for hours without fatigue.”
All the wire used in DH Labs's products is manufactured in the USA; cables are manufactured in the same facility that manufactures for NASA. At least 11 major recording studios use the company's cables, and others will soon join the list. This, along with the nice sound albeit not ultimately detailed sound they were getting from their modest display system certainly suggests that they're doing something right.
Using as his source a MacBook Pro playing iTunes/Pure Music, Dusty Vawter of Channel Islands was using his Transient MK II asynchronous USB converter ($699) with the VDC-5 Mk.II upgrade power supply ($399), PLC-1 Mk.II preamp ($899), D-500 Mk.II monoblock amplifiers ($5000/pair), and speaker prototypes that, perhaps a year from now, will yield Channel Islands loudspeakers. Playing a cover of "Sounds of Silence" on an Usher sampler, the sound was invitingly warm. The system also did a beautiful job of transmitting the natural sound of cymbals, which is no easy task.
As I walked into the Emotiva room, a blast from the distant past greeted me with a smile. It was the Eagles, live, welcoming me to Hotel California. Resisting the temptation to declare, "But I've just come from there," I instead noted the solidity of the bass line, the powerful slam, and the sonic warmth that really did feel like a welcome. "Welcome to Emotiva land," the system seemed to sing.
Although he looks a bit burned from being asked to play one too many Columbia LPs, whose harsh string tone belies the myth that vintage analog recordings are de facto superior to CDs, Dan Meinwald has a lot to be happy about. The EAR Acute CD player ($5900), 890 Primary Drive 70W stereo amp, 868 preamp complete with phono stage ($6900), Discmaster turntable ($20,000 without tonearm), Dynavector XVIS cartridge, and debut 3-way, open-baffle dipole loudspeakers ($7000/pair—also available in a larger model) were creating a wonderful, magical soundstage on Stokowski’s monumental recording of Smetana’s The Moldau. It’s no wonder that so many dedicated audiophiles continue to be seduced for life by EAR’s vaunted sweetness and bloom.
Kara Chaffee has every reason to smile even wider than she's smiling here. Her DeHavilland GM-70 50W SET monoblocks ($11,000/pair) and Ultraverve remote preamp ($2995) were creating one of the most wondrous, air-filled soundstages I have heard. "We aim at the heart of the music," she told me after I had spent a while listening to some of my favorite CDs.
At the same time that AIX Record's Mark Waldrep was in the Omni Ballroom B giving the first of two keynote seminars, "Realizing the Dream of Perfect Music Reproduction: Are we There Yet?", the large salon two doors down was presenting his new AIX Records Real HD-Audio sources Blu-ray discs using Dolby TrueHD Encoding. I confess that I find wearing 3D glasses awkward, and don't know if I'll ever become accustomed to the neck of a guitar beaming out at my gut like a foreign projectile while I'm listening to beautifully played classical music. Nonetheless, the quality of the picture could not be faulted, and the sound, especially when discomfort was erased with eyes closed, was very fine.
Sometimes, wonderful things go unnoticed. Thus did Stereophile miss that, in June 2007, at its 31st annual conference, in London, UK, the International Audio Engineering Society issued two Awards of Excellence in the category of Professional Engineering. One, which we learned about from a Minnetonka Audio press release, went to Dorian Records (see the May 2008 issue of Stereophile, pp.14–15). The other went to AIX Records of Southern California. The award is for John Gorka's The Gypsy Life, one of more than 50 high-resolution recordings available from AIX in DVD-Audio/Video surround sound and on two-channel CD. Most interesting is that both AES awards were for DVD-Audio projects.