For those of us with DACs that lack USB and/or FireWire inputs, getting uncompromised, full-range sound out of our computers is a bit of a challenge. There are a number of interfaces on the market, but most are slaved to the computer's inferior clock. I've tried one of these, and it conveys neither the bass nor the clarity of my transport.
It's hard enough to take a good photo when your subject is rapt in conversation. But when your subject is Michael Fremer, and his subject is Turntable Set-Up, the challenge is immense. Standing before a packed house of analog devotees, Michael was so animated, and so filled with information, that even my camera had a tough time staying still.
Is that Billie Holiday singing, I asked? No, it turned out to be Madeleine Peyroux, to these ears a Billie copycat who learned her lessons well. Singing "Don't cry baby" on the vinyl Original Masters release of Careless Love, the performance was as clear and colorful as could be. I just loved the sound of the Aesthetix Audio Atlas mono power amps ($16,000/pair), Reah Signature phono preamp ($7000) and Calisto Signature line stage ($7000), paired with Benz's new flagship LP S phono cartridge ($5000), Clearaudio Innovation Compact Wood turntable ($7000), Helius Design's new Scorpio IV tonearm ($950$1100 depending upon length), and the solid-looking Hansen Prince speaker ($48,000/pair).
Accustomed as I am to the beauteous sound of mbl gear, nothing prepared me for the combination of mbl speakers and electronics, hghi-resolution files played back on a Macintosh G5 tower equipped with the latest Amarra music server software, and Wireworld cabling. Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" was gripping when downloaded from a 24/96 Rumours DVD-A. The depth was "this" short of unbelievable, the bass and clarity astounding, and the tonal envelope very well represented. Even FIM's 16/44 version of Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen sounded hi-res due to the amazing depth of this system's images.
There was a time when Harry Pearson, founder of The Absolute Sound and one of the high-end's true living legends, rarely ventured from the confines of his kingdom at Seacliff, Long Island. Rather than trolling for equipment at shows like countless other audio reviewers, he invited manufacturers to come to him. Flock they did, hoping that their equipment and set-up expertise would warrant a sales-insuring rave or Golden Ear from HP.
It's hard to resist the pairing of Avalon Indra speakers ($19,900/pair) with the superb VTL MB 450 Series II Signature Monoblocks ($15,000/pair). Demmed by Luke Manley of VTL (left) and Lucien Pichette of Avalon (right), the duo was mated with the VTL TL 5.5 Series II line stage ($6000) and TP 6.5 phono stage ($8500), Ayre C5xe MP ($6900) and justly praised QB9 USB DAC ($2500), Cardas Clear Cables, Rega P5 Turntable ($2200 and unheard by moi), and beautiful Finite Elemente Pagoda Master Reference Rack. This set-up from Blu Note audio & home theater especially excelled for its spacious presentation and timbral beauty. The system seemed devoid of boundaries. It was also capable of notable and rewarding low extension. A winning combo.
First introduced at RMAF 2008, where their ability to fill a HUGE (and I do mean HUGE) conference room in the Hyatt with a full Mahler orchestra blew everyone away, the Kaiser Kawero speakers ($55,000/pair), sound better than ever. And for good reason. Newly revised, and slated for import into the US, the speakers boast the marvelous, some would say incomparable Raal 7020XR double-ribbon tweeter. With 14 sq. cm of area, this tweeter seems to have no boundaries. The cabinet is of so-called bulletproof tankwood, and the special tuning feet contain more than their fair share of ebony.
That the Sixth Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is even taking place at the Denver Tech Center Marriott this year is something of a miracle. Just as preparations for the show were getting underway, its universally loved founder, Al Stiefel, died at the age of 66. Knowing how much the show meant to her husband, his co-show producer and greatest fan, Marjorie Baumert, vowed to preserve Al's legacy to the audiophile community. Thanks to Marjorie's dedication, perseverance, and love, and the able assistance of everyone from Marcie Miller and the Colorado Audio Society to several members of Marjorie's family, the show continues as a tribute to Al.
The sixth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is about to get underway at the end of this week. Scheduled to take place October 24, at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, the largest high-end audio show in the US that's open to the public will offer 150 exhibit rooms packed with products from 479 companies. Despite the economic slowdown, at least 3500 audiophiles, the same number as last year, are expected to attend.