Nordost’s Lars Christensen has become an industry legend of sorts for the enthusiasm with which he launches into cable comparison after cable comparison. At RMAF, he notched his demos up several steps, inviting people to hear the effects that cabling, power distribution, and resonance control products from Nordost and other companies can have on system sound.
“The bottom line is, despite the science involved, if you can’t hear it, it matters not,” Nordost’s West Coast distributor Michael Marko told me outside the demo room...
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.
I ended Day 1 of RMAF with my first visit ever to the MC room. Although the MC-501A CD/USB player ($3995) and MC-701 integrated amplifier ($4595) were initially driving MC’s RL-21 loudspeakers ($3495/pair) too loud, generating an unwelcome host of small room interactions, the system did an exceptional job, at more realistic volume, playing a recording of a traditional jazz trio. Not only did the music sound very alive and in the moment, but the piano also had a special illumined quality absent from many systems that cost far more than this one.
As I was heading out of the Sony room, which John Atkinson is covering separately, I spied an open door. Like a cat to a paper bag, I dove inside to discover the sensational recording engineer and producer Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records. A strong proponent of DSD, with which she records many of her projects (including free hi-rez downloads), Marenco was hanging in Sony’s storage area/hospitality suite prior to delivering one of her four guest demos in the adjacent Sony room. (Gus Skinas of Sonoma Systems presented three other demos, and Chad Kassem of Analogue Productions the remaining two). I promised Cookie, when snapping the photo, that I would say nothing about the tantalizing, not-yet-released products intentionally hidden from view.
When I walked into the Robyatt Audio room, I discovered that Robin Wyatt had come all the way from New York City to show people what a lovely, airy sound he could get from Jacintha’s “Here’s to Life” and other LP selections. “The man who recorded that LP used the same stereo Miyajima Kinsui cartridge that I’m using for playback,” he explained.
Visual aesthetics were clearly not the main priority in room 431. Pictured is Polk Audio's LSiM 707 loudspeaker ($4000/pair), driven by an unseen Oppo 83 SE used as a transport, the excellent Peachtree DAC/Pre ($4700), and, on the computer end, a Macbook Pro running Amarra 2.4.2 via an Audioquest Carbon USB cable. Audioquest Rocket 88 cabling, PS Audio P10 power conditioner, XLO-10 power cords, and room treatment completed a system that, on George Benson's classic recording of "The Ghetto"a song that doesn't sound remotely like the predominantly Mexican, multi-ethnic and multi-national ghetto in which I livesounded like solid hi-fi.