Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings was so busy cueing up music for visitors on the three headphone amps in his room that he barely had time to talk. I’m a huge MA Recordings fan, finding their choice of music from all genresthere’s even a recording of music composed and performed by Stereophile Contributing Editor/Web Monkey Jon Iverson. Alternesiaand their sound quality on both CD and high-resolution discs unique and compelling. In the photo, Todd is listening to his latest CD, Résonance, on which Nina Ben David plays music from baroque to contemporary on viola da gamba.
As I entered the second floor seminar room, where I awaited the third of four installments of Stereophile editor John Atkinson’s “Just How ‘Absolute’ Is Recorded Sound?”, I happened upon an energetic exchange between Michael Fremer of Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com (right) and Roy Gregory, UK Editor of TheAudioBeat.com (left). Mikey was keeping it light, but the issue was real: how do you describe the sound of a component or system without telling listeners and readers what kind of sound they should prefer?
John DeVore, loved as much for his eagerly anticipated Monkeyhaus musical gatherings, where music new and old wins over hearts and minds, as for his speakers, had a surprise in store for me. After playing an LP of Indian drums, whose depth and resonance were captured wonderfully by the forthcoming high-sensitivity DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers ($7900/pair estimated cost), pictured on the outside of the soundstage, he pulled out a rare Vanguard LP of soprano Netania Devrath singing Yiddish songs. If that name sounds familiar, she’s the very same Israeli soprano who made the extraordinary, dialect-correct recording of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne that has become an audiophile favorite. In Yiddish, she sounds positively adorable.
Steve (Sze) Leung, a neighbor of Stereophile’s Wes Phillips and a joy to boot, made my day when he played a 45 rpm audiophile pressing of Elvis’ “Are you Lonesome Tonight.” As the great one began to intone the chapters of this teenage melodrama with tongue-in-cheek sincerity, the sound was so vivid and lifelike that images of the night I tried to ask Ellen Schmidt to go steady flooded through my mind.
At every dinner I attended with industry members during RMAF 2012, someone invariably asked, “How was the Magnepan demo?” As I soon learned, it seems that Wendell Diller’s decision to forego exhibiting at consumer showssince the last Stereophile show in San Francisco, in 2003, he has displayed product only at the annual CES trade event (not open to consumers)has only heightened buzz around the Minnesotan company’s fabled planar-magnetic loudspeakers.
Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts NYC had assembled quite an impressive system, most of whose components I had never heard before. Given the system’s price, one would reasonably expect something wonderful, if not extraordinary from Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair); Nagra’s new Jazz preamplifier ($12,250, with the input and output jacks now on the back instead of the sides), 300B power amplifier ($16,950), and VPS phono preamplifier ($6850); Metronome’s C8 Reference Asymmetrical USB DAC ($22,750) and Calypso Reference transport ($43,750); Holborne’s Analog 2 Mk.2 turntable ($7495), Dualpivot tonearm ($3475, MC1 cartridge ($1975), and rack ($3975); Van Den Hul’s Cumulus 3T speaker wire ($6995/pair) and The Cloud 3T interconnects ($695/set); and a Schopper Thorens fully restored 124 Mk.2 (“priceless”).
One of many Colorado retailers that displayed at RMAF this year, Fort Collins Audio hosted the debut of the TSG planar ribbon tower line array loudspeaker ($29,000/pair). Unfortunately, the speaker sat unplayed in the corner of the room when I entered, replaced by the excellent Totem Earth ($8995/pair). Connected to a Hegel H20 amplifier ($5740), Hegel HD20 DAC ($1995), and Quicksilver Audio preamp ($3900) via Kimber Kable Bifocal XL speaker cable and Kimber Select 1126 interconnects, the system was producing fine, solid sound with nice color.
Not to be outdone, Kent Loughlin of MIT (Music Interface Technologies) staged 5-minute cable comparisons in the MIT room on the 2nd floor of the Marriott’s Tower. Using a Cary CD player and Cary monoblock amplifiers, and Polk Audio monitors with Custom Sound Anchors stands, Loughlin initially chose the beautiful, albeit oft-played soprano solo from Reference Recordings’ superb version of Rutter’s Requiem to let people hear the difference that MIT’s AVT Speaker Module ($149), which added up to 10 poles of articulation, brought to MIT’s custom installation cable (80 cents/foot for 12-gauge cable with two conductors).
Ever since encountering KingSound electrostatic loudspeakers at an audio show several years ago, I’ve looked forward to seeing how their line would develop. This time around, KingSound was showing its King III Full Range ESL ($12,000/pair). Driven by Bob Carver Cherry tube monoblock amplifiers ($7400/pair), Purity Audio Design Statement 2 preamplifier (approx. $12,500), and an AMR CD777 ($12,000), all hooked together by Kaplan Cables from John Atkinson’s adopted hometown of Brooklyn, the system was a joy to listen to on Chet Atkins’ recording of “Mr. Sandman.”
Jim Rush of PTE (Precision Transducer Engineering) of Orange, CA explained that he was using the system in his room, headlined by PTE’s The Phoenix self-powered, bi-amplified loudspeaker ($5700/pair), to conduct 10 different blind tests with five sequences. The results of his experiments, which he said demonstrated that most people couldn’t discern differences with a high degree of accuracy, are slated to be posted to PTE’s website.