I mentioned in my coverage of Steve Silberman's Computer Audio Seminar that I had been frustrated by the inability of the otherwise superb Marantz Reference NA-11S1 network player that I reviewed in October to handle every file format I sent to it. Following the seminar, I bumped into Steve in one of Colorado retailer Listen-Up's rooms where he just happened to have the Marantz players, hooked up, of course, with AudioQuest cables and with a Marantz integrated amplifier driving Sonus Faber speakers.
"I Want to Take You Higherthe Present and Future of Digital Music Delivery and Playback" was the title of a workshop chaired by Michael Lavorgna (right), editor of Stereophile's sister site AudioStream.com. Michael's panel included (from left to right), Andreas Koch (Playback Designs), Larry Ho (Light Harmonic), Rob Robinson (Channel D/Pure Vinyl/Pure Music), and David Chesky (HDTracks). The hour-long session dispelled much of the technofear surrounding the subject of how to turn a PC or Mac into a true high-end music source.
I bought a Slim Devices Squeezebox network player in the spring of 2006 and my life changed. Having audio files on a server and being able to play them through my high-end rig via the Squeezebox's S/PDIF output liberated my music from the tyranny of a physical medium. As I wrote in my review, "physical discs seem so 20th century!" After Wes Phillips reviewed the Squeezebox's big brother, the Transporter, in February 2007, I bought the review sample and lived happily ever after in the world of bits rather than atomsat least until the summer of 2010, when Slim Devices' new owner, Logitech, brought out the Squeezebox Touch. The Touch did everything the Transporter did, with a full-color display, at one-eighth the price!
After my final hi-rez seminar on Sunday, and triggered by my very positive experience with the inexpensive Avalon NP2 speakers, I went across the hallway to the room Denver dealer HD Home Cinema & AV Design was using to debut Avalon Acoustics' new $9300/pair Ascendant loudspeaker. This combines the composite-dome tweeter from the NP2 with a pair of Kevlar-composite woofers in the angled, faceted enclosure that has become a de facto trademark of the Colorado company's high-end speakers. With Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Ayre C-5xe universal player, K-5xe preamp, and P-5xe power-line conditioner, and wired with Cardas cable, the Avalon system proved one of the best-sounding of the Show.
"Boy, that's flat!" I whistled. I was looking at a quasi-anechoic TDS response Avalon Acoustics' Charles Hansen had produced for his latest brainchild, the two-way Eclipse loudspeaker that he was setting up in my listening room.
After a year spent exploring the best that can be obtained from minimonitor loudspeakers, I embarked on what will be an equally long examination of what floorstanding towers have to offer. I began with the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa ($20,800/pair) in December 2007, followed in 2008 by: in February, the KEF Reference 207/2 ($20,000/pair); in April, the PSB Synchrony One ($4500/pair); and in May, the Magico V3 ($25,000/pair). For this review, I've been listening to a speaker aimed at those with shallower pockets than are required even for the PSB: the Avalon NP Evolution 2.0, which costs just $1995/pair.
Boulder-based retailer Blu Note Design had a passive display in the Marriott's loby, but its active room on the second floor of the Tower was debuting the Avalon Transcendent speaker ($15,000/pair). One of my best sounds at the Show, the 2-way, 3-driver speakers were being driven by a Jeff Rowland Design Group 625 amplifier, a Jeff Rowland Corus preamp, an Ayre C-5XEmp disc player and QB-9 DAC, with Cardas Clear cabling.
"Gauder?" I pondered as I went into the room shared by German electronics manufacturer AVM and speaker manufacturer Gauder Akustik, "I know that name." And when I met speaker designer Roland Gauder, I remembered why the name was familiar. Roland Gauder was the designer of the Isophon Europa II loudspeaker that Larry Greenhill had favorably reviewed for Stereophile in April 2004.
The German AVM company has been around for a long time, but its products are new to the USA. AVM's Udo Besser was instrumental in bringing Burmester products to the US and now intends to do the same for AVM. Shown in my photo is the PA8 modular preamp (starting at $10,000), which can have various options, including a tubed output stage, added. Also on show was the ML8 Music Library, which has either 2TB of hard-drive storage or 600GB of solid-state storage, the CD8 CD player, and the 450Wpc SA8 amplifier.
Since the demise of of its own Show, Stereophile has been supporting North American audio Shows, which was why you can find us at RMAF in Denver and SSI in Montreal. Next March, we are partnering with the Axpona Show in Florida, which had a booth at RMAF. The booth was manned, er, personed by two beautiful girls but, of course, when I went back with my camera, they had left for the day.