The big news in Soundsmith land, besides the fact that Peter Ledermann’s fastest top-of-the-line Hyperion cartridge with its cactus spine and diamond tip was making wonderful sound in multiple rooms at RMAF, was the introduction of the Hyperion Mk.II ($7500). Boasting great channel separation, its 10-year warranty includes retipping for the original owner.
Was it divine retribution that inspired Zu Audio’s Sean Casey to play The Evens intoning “Shut Up! Shut Up!” just as I entered the room? All I know is that, while I have been critical in the past of Zu Audio’s incisive sound, I never fail to find the room full of people digging it. More than that, Sean surprised me by playing Ella Fitzgerald, later in life, performing “Good Morning, Heartbreak,” and I too was digging it. Clearly Zu speakers, cabling, and cartridges are suited to jazz as much as raucous rock.
Vanatoo is certainly giving other companies a run for their money with their Transparent One powered loudspeakers ($499$549/pair, dependent upon finish). Deferring to Michael Lavorgna’s recent review on Stereophile’s sister publication, AudioStream.com, I can simply say that the bass and sheer energy coming out of these small speakers was extremely impressive. In fact, it was so impressive that the folks running the demo felt the need to frequently tell the large crowd that everything was coming out of the two speakers, without aid of a subwoofer or any other hidden device.
Vapor Audio’s Rick LaFaver had reason aplenty to smile. Playing MA Recordings’ fabled CD of Sera Una Noche: La Segunda, his system nailed the timbre of instruments spot on. I was amazed at the depth he achieved from his small speakers, and took special note of the realistic decay of the sound of brushes on cymbals and bells being struck. “The hollow resonance of the percussion seems real,” I wrote in my notes.
Squeezed into a small hotel room were the towering Gbell Epoque loudspeakers ($70,000/pair), driven by Artemis MK II monoblock amplifiers ($120,000), Stahl-Tek’s Opus DAC ($40,000) and Opus CDT ($37,000), with connections courtesy of Purist Audio Design 25th Anniversary cabling. How all this would have played out in a larger room, I do not know, but here, both period instrument and modern violins sounded edgy on different recordings, and bass was out of control on a third recording of a Mahler symphony.
If there’s anything that will grab this whistler’s attention, it’s the sound of another whistler who knows what she or he is doing. Given that the first thing I heard when I set foot in the room from Pro Audio Ltd. of Tower Lakes, IL was the delightful sound of whistling on Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” I was primed for a good experience. And so it was, with the system’s genuinely lovely if somewhat light-bodied sound distinguished by a captivating sense of air that is the mark of good analog.
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).