There was a lot of talking going on when I entered room 8012 in the Marriott’s Tower, but Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter sounded very mellow through Funk Audio powered loudspeakers ($19,875/pair) David Berning ZOTL Pre One preamplifier ($12,360), Silver Circle Audio Juice Box One w/Vesuvius power conditioner, and Luminous Audio cabling. Although I don’t know if the RCA LP of tenor Jussi Björling I heard next was inherently bright, it sure sounded such through a VIP Classic 1 turntable with 3D-printed arm ($4400) outfitted with a Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($7500), which I know is not inherently bright, and a Dynamic Sounds Associates Phono II phono preamp ($12,000).
Mated with B&W 804D speakers and Cardas Clear cabling, Simaudio’s Moon 180 MiND network player ($1250), new Moon Neo 260D CD transport w/optional DAC ($2000 + $1000), Moon Neo 380D DAC ($4350), Moon Neo 350P preamp ($3650), and Moon Neo 400M monoblock amplifiers ($4300), I was struck by the very clear, crisp, and solid sound of Jefferson Airplane’s “Come Back to Me,” sourced from an original Japanese pressing. The Neo 260D, released September 4, includes an optional asynchronous 32-bit DAC with four digital inputs that allows direct streaming and Blu-ray playback.
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.”
At last, Nordost has augmented its four-level Sort Kone equipment support line with the threaded Sort Füt ($350/each). A mechanically tuned resonance control device designed to replace the standard spikes and stabilizers supplied with loudspeakers and racks, it boasts aluminum and bronze hybrid construction, a filial dome to minimize effects of vibration, and three internal ceramic balls that minimize contact surface area while providing physical stability. The “Premium Package” includes four Sort Füt units (which together support speakers up to 800 lbs), an adjustment tool, laser leveling, and both 8mm and 6mm threaded adaptors.
Ah, Zu Audio, ever the chameleon, albeit with a distinctive color. At the California Audio Show last August, Zu paired their loudspeakers with gray-tinged tube electronics that toned down their sometimes metallic leading edge; at RMAF, with Peachtree Audio’s Grand Integrated ($4500), whose design let the true nature of Zu’s Druid Mk.V loudspeakers ($5200/pair), Submission sub ($3995/each), and Zu Event cabling, emerge in the best possible light.
Hardly ones to shy away from the big stuff, the folks at Apex Audio Denver filled the mezzanine’s large Blanca Peak room with an I-dare-not-do-the-math system that, for starters, paired Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers ($95,000/pair) with Soulution’s 500 monoblock amplifiers ($55,500/pair), 530 integrated amplifier ($49,000), 520 preamp ($26,000), and 540 CD/SACD player ($32,500). Those still breathing can add in a Transrotor Rondino Nero turntable ($14,000), Graham Phantom Supreme ($6800), and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme Cartridge ($10,500).
Every music lover/audiophile with vision longs for the same thing: those magical moments when the system disappears, the time-space continuum parts, and we find ourselves mystically transported to a place where only the transcendent wonder and beauty of musical creation exists. For me, one of those unexpected listening experiences that make life worth living occurred on the Marriott’s mezzanine, when Kevin Hayes of VAC (Valve Amplification Company) played my JVC-XRCD of Sarah Vaughan and the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.”
Naim Audio has just introduced three new great-sounding products in its NAIT (Naim Audio Integrated Series). The entry-level NAIT 5si Integrated amplifier ($1800) outputs 60Wpc into 8 ohms, and has four analog inputs (including DIN, which they think sounds best), a headphone output, and unity gain inputs for AV pre/pro or receiver. Climbing up the ladder gets you the 70Wpc Naim NAIT XS 2 integrated ($2900) and "audiophile version" 80Wpc Naim SuperNAIT 2 integrated ($4900). In addition to more inputs and features, these higher-level products include upgradeable external power supplies, which counts for a lot in Naimland.
The Danish speaker manufacturer Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI) should have a winner in its new wireless Kubik Free+Xtra Loudspeaker System. Available in black, white, or red, the optional two-part system consists of the Kubik Free ($1295), an active single-stereo speaker that can be used by itself in tight quarters, and the Xtra passive second speaker ($695) for those who want a wider soundstage and better imaging. Demmed by Thomas Knudsen in wireless aptX Bluetooth 3.0 modethe Kubik Free can also be played via USB, optical, and analog connectionsthe speaker's 100W class-D amplifier delivered lovely sound. The drivers are composed of the same proprietary DALI wood-fiber cone drivers used in DALI's big babies.
PMC’s Fact.12 loudspeaker ($19,500/pair), the English company’s new reference 3-way floorstander, includes two 6” coated aluminum-cone woofers, a 2” hand-built soft-dome midrange, and 0.75” soft-dome SONOMEX tweeter co-developed with SEAS. With a somewhat low 84dB sensitivity and 8 ohm impedance, the speaker claims a 26Hz30kHz frequency response. Paired with four new Rega componentsthe Rega Elicit-R 105Wpc integrated amplifier ($2995), Saturn-R DAC + CD transport ($2995), RP8 turntable with Apheta MC cartridge ($3995 w./cartridge), and Aria MC/MM phonostage ($1495)the system sounded quite solid playing Kraftwerk's “Autobahn.”