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.
I had been impressed by the 5.1 speaker from the German Lansche company when I reviewed it in July 2012. In particular, I found Lansche's horn-loaded ionic tweeter produced superb treble sound quality. At RMAF, I photographed Aaudio's Brian Ackerman standing by the enormous, 900lb Lansche 8.2 ($266,000/pair in Macassar ebony veneer), which combines that ionic tweeter with four 8" mid/woofers, crossed over at 2.5kHz.
Colorado Springs-based HiFi Imports were demming their system in one of the Marriott's very large ground-floor rooms. Speakers were the Venture Grand Ultimate Mk.IIs from Belgium ($98,000/pair), which combine Venture's proprietary 2" tweeter, which uses a graphite-pulp-composite diaphragm, with a 7" midrange unit and four 7" woofers. All the lower-frequency drivers use carbon-fiber/graphite-composite cones and the speaker's frequency range is specified as 22Hz60kHz with a 92dB sensitivity.
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.
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.
"That's a lot of bass!" I was listening to the audiophile version of Nine-Inch-Nails' "A copy of a copy..." on Bryston's three-way Mini-T stand-mounted speakers ($2695/pair). The speaker's woofer has a large half-roll surround, suggesting good linearity at large excursions, which was confirmed by the fullrange sound in the room. The rest of the system included Bryston 28B monoblocks, hooked up with StraightWire cables and with a Bryston BDP-2 file player and BDA-1 DAC as the source.
"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.
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."
I went into the SimpliFi room expecting to see the excellent Weiss MAN301 media player and effective DSPeaker room correction and D/A devices. Yes, there were there at RMAF but SimpliFi's Tim Ryan wanted to talk about the Swiss Klangwerk Ella active speaker ($15,000/pair) shown in my photo. This modest-looking floorstander uses DSP to make it work as a time-aligned virtual point source. A constrained layer-damped Corian front baffle supports an advanced Aerogel-dome tweeter from Audax and a 5.5" woofer; two more 5.5" woofers covering the same passband are placed on the speaker's sides, and all three are reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port. The advantage of this design is that it has a wide listening window on both vertical and horizontal planes, explained Tim, and indeed, on Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," I found that I could move up and down and from side to side without any significant change in the perceived balance.
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.)