Ayre and Vandersteen are two companies whose products have achieved an enviable reputation for excellence. I was, in fact, blown away by my listening experience in the Ayre room at RMAF 2006, and looked forward to an equally enveloping experience this year.
The sound in the large PS Audio room was impressive. Despite, at one point, my trying to listen to music over three conversations at once, the system on display,—all PS Audio save for the Avalon Ascendant speakers and JL Audio subs—was distinguished by its full midrange and inviting warmth. The sign on the poster behind the system—"Perfect Power Without the Box"—refers to the company’s forthcoming rack, which will have a power conditioner built into the bottom, additional power filters for every component, and the power itself carried by the tails of the rack. The initial plan is for an 11" wide rack designed for smaller, "lifestyle" components. (I’m one of those folks more concerned with having a life than displaying a lifestyle, but a chacun son gout). A desktop version is also planned.
Barrows Wurm urged me to "take a picture because it’s beautiful." This is PS Audio's as-yet-unnamed, forthcoming transport. A replacement for the aged PS Audio Lambda used in their RMAF rack display, it should cost under $2000. Other components included the Power Plant Premiere ($2195), GCC250 class-D Control Amplifier ($3495), and DL3 DAC ($995).
I really enjoyed the mellow sound created by the USB-input Benchmark DAC 1 and the Studio Electric T3 loudspeakers. The speaker, with its 87dB sensitivity and 4 ohm impedance, is distinguished by the 6.5" broad-band drive-unit, encased in a stainless-steel sphere, that handles frequencies from 50Hz to 4kHz. Although you can see the diminutive silk-dome tweeter in the photo, the side-firing 8" woofer, which handles the single octave from 25–50Hz, is missing from view. Very, very nice.
In Hebrew, the number 18 is called "chai," which also means "life." As my final (and 18th) blog entry from Day One at RMAF, I was happy to report how thrilled Jeff Wilson and I were with the sound in the Gill/Art Audio/Daedalus room.
Audio Federation doesn't play around. Its top-of-the-line, no-holds-barred system centers around the Marten Coltrane Supreme loudspeaker ($250,000/pair), Audio Note UK Ongaku amplifier ($85,000), EMM Labs/Meitner Design CDSD SE transport ($8400) and DCC2 SE DAC ($13,500), Brinkmann Balance turntable ($29,900), Lamm LP2 Deluxe phono preamp ($6990), and, for this system, modestly priced Lyra Titan cartridge ($5000). Cabling is no less than Nordost Valhalla, Stealth Indra, Jorma Design No.1 and PRIME, while power cords and distributors include Nordost Valhalla, Elrod Statement II and Signature III, and Acrolink Mexcel 7N-7100.
Audio Note UK, shown at RMAF by its US distributor AudioFederation.com, chose the Denver Show for the world premiere of its first USB-input DAC. The DAC 0.1X, an entry-level product that features neither anti-alias filtering nor oversampling, and uses a teeny little 6111WA dual-triode output tube that is said to behave like a 12AU7 but last a staggering 100,000 hours, was making fine sound paired with a complete line of Audio Note components and cables.
Although he looks a bit burned from being asked to play one too many Columbia LPs, whose harsh string tone belies the myth that vintage analog recordings are de facto superior to CDs, Dan Meinwald has a lot to be happy about. The EAR Acute CD player ($5900), 890 Primary Drive 70W stereo amp, 868 preamp complete with phono stage ($6900), Discmaster turntable ($20,000 without tonearm), Dynavector XVIS cartridge, and debut 3-way, open-baffle dipole loudspeakers ($7000/pair—also available in a larger model) were creating a wonderful, magical soundstage on Stokowski’s monumental recording of Smetana’s The Moldau. It’s no wonder that so many dedicated audiophiles continue to be seduced for life by EAR’s vaunted sweetness and bloom.
The Manley Snapper monoblocks ($4250/pair) sure have snap. Playing one of those classic percussion demo CDs with drum thwacks galore, the combo of Manley amplification, Bel Canto DAC/preamp, Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers ($4400/pair), Apple iBook transport, and Cardas Golden Reference interconnects was as sharp and crisp as could be. But they were also far more. With the system playing an LP of La Fille Mal Gardée on the VPI Super Scout Reference Master Turntable (one of only two available) equipped with a Silversmith phono cartridge, the sound was beautifully warm and sweet, the soundstage all-enveloping.
While being PC is always a bone of contention in the audiophile community, sonic correctness goes without question. In a nice-sized room in the Marriott Tower, Lyngdorf’s Steve Colburn held a series of extremely convincing demonstrations of the complete Lyngdorf room perfect correction system. Using Triad speakers, Colburn’s before and after treatment samples of a percussion CD with lots of low bass were eye-opening. Quelle difference! If only Steve could have corrected for the people in the far corner who insisted on blabbing through the entire demo as if no one else mattered.