Welcome to retro city. Not only did the Quad ESL2805 speakers ($10,000/pair), Classic II integrated amp ($6000) and QC24 phono stage ($2449) look from another era, but the equally classic-looking Merrill-Williams turntable ($4000), clamp ring ($649), weight ($249), and 33/45 power supply ($1150) was playing Frank Sinatra's "Days of Wine and Roses."
Some of my happiest sonic experiences at RMAF arrived in the last two rooms I visited: the Tidal Audio/Argento Audio Cables/dCS showcase put together by Doug White of The Voice That Is (Newton Square, PA), and the Simon Yorke/CAT/Synergistic/Lansche exhibit assembled by Tim Nguyen of Tone of Music (San Francisco, CA).
Elsewhere in this blog, Stephen Mejias enthuses about the Kaiser Kawero loudspeakers ($66,000/pair). I first encountered these loudspeakers at RMAF 2008's Kaiser/Echole exhibit extension in the nearby Hyatt, and have coveted them ever since. Optimally paired and internally wired then and now with Echole's excellent cabling, as well as with modded tube amps that had been re-wired with Echole, the sound of this system was so large, rich, and true that it blew me away. Stephen's summation"This system, more than any other I heard at RMAF, seemed to bring the musicians and instruments into the room with really impressive body and force"rings true.
It's always a joy to encounter Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings. Here he shows his latest audiophile quality CD, Nama. Also available as a 24-bit/176.4kHz hi-rez DVD-ROM format in a plain package that belies the beauty of its contents, the recording is the rightful successor to MA's Sera una Noche and La Segunda, and features some of the same superb Argentinean artists. I can't wait to take a listen, once I dig it out of my luggage.
Jolida of Maryland sure knows how to produce good sound for people with limited budgets. Playing Leonard Cohen's classic "Back on Boogie Street" through iTunes, with all the sonic compromises that Apple's music server imposes on a system, Jolida's Glass FX tube DAC ($350) and Glass FX 25 Integrated hybrid amplifier ($350) still sounded great. This was not toy hi-fi; it was an indisputable portal into the real thing, with a musicality that put to shame some much more expensive systems I encountered at RMAF.
I ended Saturday's incredibly packed tour of the 15 rooms on the Marriott Tower's 10th floor with a stop in Musical Fidelity's room. It was a good choice. This was the first room at the show where I pulled out Channel Classics' superbly recorded hybrid SACD of the Ebony Band Amsterdam performing a unique arrangement of Revueltas' elemental, gutsy, phantasmagorical Sensemaya. The sense of air was immense, with amazing soundstaging that belied the small size of the room. I also loved the height of the soundstage, and the deep reaches of the bass. But as much as I savored the presentations' air and depth, this hardly laid-back system sounded a bit tipped-up in the highs, a common factor in many of the smaller rooms at the Marriott.
Departure Audio seems to take their name seriously. In a system fine-tuned by Shakti Hallographs (the candelabra-like devices at the edges of the photograph) and the infamous you know whats from Synergistic, the Fort Collins dealership was showing Canton Reference 7.2 loudspeakers ($7000, presumably for the pair), Herron Audio's VTSP-3A preamplifier ($6550) and M1 power amps ($6850, presumably for the pair), Arcam CD 37 ($2295), Blue Circle Audio BC 507 DAC ($2095, with options available), Audio Magic cabling and Oracle power conditioning ($7500). The sound was clean and incisive, which means somewhat tipped up. I would have stayed to explore more, but constant conversation in the room led me to take Departure Audio's name literally.
The sound in this room blew me away. When I walked in, Dr. John's "In a Sentimental Mood" was sounding as lovely and mellow as can be. Switching gears 180°, Reference Recordings' LP issue of Stravinsky's Firebird had absolutely amazing bass. "Amazing," I wrote twice in my notes.
"Bring the concert home!" declared the Jones Audio brochure. The 18-month old company, whose products are "handcrafted" in Seattle, took advantage of RMAF to debut the Jones Audio PA-M300 monoblock amplifier ($24,000/pair). This 300W into 8 ohms, 560W into 4 ohms baby, which uses a 35 lb toroidal transformer, kept company with the Jones Pre-S2 preamplifier (approx. $11,000), the Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers I've lusted after on multiple occasions ($22,000/pair), a Benchmark DAC1 Pre, and Kimber cabling with WBT connectors (approx. $1000 worth).