As expected, Bel Canto Design's complement of components fully lived up to their reputation for affordable excellence. The top-of-the-line e.One CD2 CD transport/player ($2995), prototype DAC 3.5 (price not yet set), two REF500M Balanced mono amplifiers ($1995/each), REF VBS1 Virtual Battery Supply, which can power up to three front-end products ($1495), USB Link 24/96 USB to /SPDIF link ($495), and new USB Lightlink High Speed Optical ST glass-fiber link (price not supplied) were fed by an Airport Express-equipped computer server. As Bel Canto President Michael McCormick explained, "The DAC 3.5's excellent jitter rejection is at the center of the system." A Running Springs Power Conditioner completed the chain… except for one major component, the speakers.
Having just heard a Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) demo of the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport ($2999), Perfect Wave DAC ($2999), and Power Plant Premier ($2199), all hosted by the ever-engaging Paul McGowan, I was very eager to hear PS Audio's front end powered by an early prototype of PS Audio's forthcoming class-D Perfect Wave amplifier. Using Focus Audio Master 2.5 speakers ($20,000/pair), two MartinLogan Descent subs, and a complement of Perfect Wave AC12 power cables ($699/meter) and older PS Audio speaker cables not currently on the market, the system delivered the kind of clean, impressively full range sound that has made PS Audio a legend in the industry.
Nothing convinces more than a fabulous recording wonderfully reproduced. Wilson Audio scored big time when it engaged recording engineer Peter McGrath as its marketing VP. McGrath's recordings are legendary. When sourced from master hi-res computer files, played back using the superior Amarra Music Server software, they're pretty riveting.
Thanks to a first-time alliance between RMAF and Head-Fi.org, the Denver Marriott Tech Center's large Event Center was ringed with exhibits and displays from headphone component manufacturers and Head-Fi community members. Strategically positioned at the show's entrance, for example, was JH Audio's custom in-ear monitor booth, which proclaimed, "We call it the JH|13 ProYou'll Call it Aural Sex." Thank God they didn't come right and say, "We give you know what."
Until I encountered the world premiere of the imposing Wharfedale Airedale Neo loudspeaker ($20,000/pair), I hadn't run into speakers from the 70-year old company in many a year. The wait was worth it. This wonderful-sounding speaker, which weighs over 125 lbs and can handle up to 400W power, boasts point-to-point wiring, frequency response of 25Hz45kHz, and 88dB senstivity.
It's always nice to see yourself, or at least the vehicle for your thoughts, in the spotlight. That's certainly what happened in the Peachtree-Zu room, which paired the Peachtree Audio Nova ($1200) integrated amplifier, which was featured on Stereophile’s August cover, with Zu Essence speakers ($3500/pair). Add in the Apple TV and $500 worth of Zu cables, and you have quite a nifty system that delivered excellent sound.
Okay, boys and girls, does size really matter? Certainly in the case of Legacy Loudspeaker Systems. These $46,000/pair behemoths, which dwarf Legacy President Bill Dudleston, possess tremendous authority below the belt, and project an image big enough to do justice to a full symphonic orchestra. It was hard to get all the details down amidst the din leaking in from other rooms, but I'm pretty sure their lower 15" sealed woofer is driven by its own 1000W module, while everything else, including the open-air top 15" woofer, is driven by external amplification.
Cable manufacturers Nordost and Vertex AQ had good reason to present their joint seminar, "New Approach to Audio Measurement: Why Cables Really Matter," no less than five times during the show. As Art Dudley will report at length in his December "Listening" column, their groundbreaking new approach to measurement, developed by Nordost and Vertex AQ in collaboration with military electronic-engineering consultant Gareth Humphrey Jones, has produced an entirely new method for measuring the audible effects of components on sound. We're talking not only cables, support platforms, and the like, all of which can now be unequivocally shown to affect a system's sound quality, but also CD players, amplifiers, and speakers.
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings (right) has built an enviable reputation as one of the finest producers of quality audiophile recordings on the market. The repertoire is remarkably diverse. From performances of Bach organ music and the Chinese GuZheng to such one-of-a-kind gems as Buenos Aires Madrigal and the fabulous Será Una Noch albums, MA Recordings are as notable for their diversity of instrumentation and repertoire as their full range sound.