I always enjoy visiting the MBL room at a show. Not only I am addicted to the quality of the German company's "Radialstrahler" omnidirectional tweeter, which has a delicacy to its presentation that escapes conventional dome units, but MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan is obsessive about set-up. His RMAF system comprised the MBL 116f speakers ($29,000/pair) driven by a pair of MBL C15 amplifiers ($12,500/pair), a C11 preamplifier ($8800), and a C31 CD player/D/A processor ($9200), all hooked up with WireWorld Eclipse cables. (The electronics are all from MBL's Corona line.)
Ray Kimber always gets great sound at shows, but this year, although he was still using four Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers hooked up with Kimber Select cables and an EMM DAC to play his four-channel IsoMike DSD master files, there was something extra-magical happening in the room. Both pianist Fan-Ya Lin's album Emerging and the Romantic Album from violin and piano ensemble the Formosan Duo, sounded tangibly real. The key, it turned out were the gigantic, 300lb MTRX class-A/B monoblocks from EMM Labs, can be seen in my photo. This brute will output 1500W into 4 ohms and, in Ray Kimber's words, extracts "cheerful obedience" from the speakers it is tasked to drive.
Listening to Scaena's Silver Ghost speakers ($153,000/system) had been a highlight of last March's AXPONA in Chicago. At the Denver Tech Center Hyatt, the speakers had been set-up by Sunny Umrao (in photo) firing diagonally across a much larger room than in Chicago. With a system comprising a dCS Vivaldi digital source driving an Audio Research Reference 75 stereo amplifier for the towers and six inexpensive Crown class-D amplifiers for the six woofer modules operating below 120Hz, the sound of a live recording of Dave Brubeck's "Rondo a la Turk" did indeed sound live.
When Jason Serinus visited the room shared by DeVore Fidelity, Tone Imports, and Oregon dealer Eugene Hi-Fi, the $12,000/pair Orangutan O/96 speakers that are Art Dudley's new reference and are shown in Jason's photo were playing. But when I visited the room, the smaller, floorstanding Orangutan O/93s ($8400/pair) were playing, and sounding very good indeed on a favorite Stephen Mejias album from Jenny Hval. (However, don't ask me about my reaction to the lyrics, which involved Ms. Hval applying an electric toothbrush to a body part other than her teeth.)
"Together, We Make Beautiful Music" proclaimed the one-sheet that was handed to me in this room. "You are listening to a complete audio system that cost under $15,000," it continued, adding that "we put together this relatively modest playback system to better demonstrate the musical purity and refinement produced with products manufactured by: Mojo Audio, Atomic Audio Labs, VH Audio." $15,000 doesn't sound "relatively modest" to me, but the sound in this room was surprisingly good considering that the speakers were a DIY design using a full-range 8" unit and the amplifiers were vintage Allen organ tube models, based on the Williamson circuit.
Bent Holter, founder of and designer for the Norwegian company Hegel, explained that his circuits are based on work he had done designing ultralow-noise preamplifiers for the European CERN laboratory. Hegel's new H80 D/A integrated amplifier ($2000) replaces the H70, which was introduced in 2010, and uses the low-noise preamp circuit from the $5500 H300 amplifier and Hegel's patented feed-forward "Sound Engine" amplifier topology. It has two single-ended analog inputs, one balanced analog input, and five digital inputs, including USB. Though this doesn't operate in the usual asynchronous mode, it uses a proprietary topology said to eliminate jitter. The H80 offers 75Wpc into 8 ohms compared with the H70's 70W.
Denver retailer Gold Sound was featuring Focal's new tower speaker, the Aria 948 ($5000/pair), in its room at RMAF, in a system featuring a Cambridge Audio 851E preamp ($1799) and Cambridge 851W 200350Wpc amplifier ($2499), both also new at the show. Front ends were either a Cambridge 851C CD player or a VPI Classic turntable fitted with the 3D-printed tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge and amplified with a Parasound Halo JC3 phono preamp.
At the 2012 RMAF, Ayre Acoustics had decorated their room in the Marriott's tower to resemble a 1950s bachelor pad, complete with lava lamp. This year, the theme was Charlie's Records, complete with racks of bargain LPs offered for sale. It was great to see Ayre founder Charlie Hansen (left, above) back in action at a show, after a long hospitalization. The system featured JBL K2-9800SE speakers driven by Ayre's VX5 power amp and KX5 preamplifier, with source either an Ayre DX5 universal player or an Ayre/Bauer DPS turntable amplified by an Ayre P5 phono preamplifier.
Michigan retailer Paragon Sight & Sound's room on the Marriott's ground floor featured the Wilson Alexia speakers $48,500/pair. I was familiar with the Alexia, having just finished reviewing it for the December issue of Stereophile, as I was with Audio Research's CD9 CD player ($13,000), but not all with the Doshi Jhor 160 tube monoblocks (projected price of <$36,000/pair) that were driving the Alexias via Transparent Audio Reference XL cables, or the Doshi 3.0 tubed line stage and Doshi 3.0 tubed phono stage, both of these projected to sell for <$20,000 each. Michale Fremer was playing a Acoustic Sounds 45rpm test pressing of a Beach Boys album on the Pro-Jekt HL Signature turntable, fitted with a Koetsu Azule Platinum cartridge, when I entered the Paragon room, with all the equipment mounted on impressively engineered HRS racks and stands. "Midrange magic!" I wrote in my notebook as the Beach Boys launched into "In My Room."
These nice-looking standmounts are Salk Sound's Exoticas ($6000/pair), which use new high-performance drive-units from SEAS. Driven by an AVA solid-state amp (bottom in the rack), they produced a natural sound on a Kimber IsoMike cello recording. But when I first entered this room, the less-expensive, floorstanding Salk Sound Towers, which sell for less than $2000/pair, were producing a big sound on a Trentemoller track, driven by AVA's Ultravalve tube amplifier ($1995, above the solid-state amp in the rack), which gets 35Wpc from a pair of EL34s per channel. Preamplifier was AVA's new FET-Valve CF.