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.
When I walked into the On A Higher Note room at RMAF, Philip O'Hanlon was playing Doug McLeod's There's a Time LP, our May 2013 "Recording of the Month," and very good it sounded too. Turntable was a Brinkmann Bardo fitted with a TriPlanar 12" tonearm and a Brinkmann Pi cartridge, with a Luxman L590X integrated amplifier ($9500) driving the superb Vivid B-1 loudspeakers ($14,990/pair) that I reviewed in October 2011. Cables and power conditioning was by Shunyata.
The very first room I visited at the 2013 RMAF was Sony's, where they were demonstrating the HAP-Z1ES hi-rez file player ($1999) that I reported on in September. This neat device features a 1TB internal drive, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, and can be controlled by an app running on a tablet or phone. It will upsample any format to double-DSD as well as handling native single-DSD and double-DSD files. It comes preloaded with 20 hi-rez albums from Sony, Warner, and Universal and the goal was to make file playback as easy and as fast as playing a disc. It doesn't, therefore, allow playback from a computer or NAS but a rear USB port allows the internal storage to be supplemented with an external drive.
Taiwanese speaker manufacturer used an 400Wpc/8 ohms Jeff Rowland Design Group 825 stereo amplifier and Aeris DAC to demonstrate its new Double Bass loudspeaker ($28,000/pair), with audio data sourced from a Bryston BDP-1. The Double Bass combines an MTM ribbon array with an 8" sandwich-cone mid-woofer and 12" sandwich-cone woofer in a vented enclosure that resembles, yes, a double bass.
My sleeping room at the Tech Center Marriott was next to the Jeff Rowland Design Group's sound room. The night before the show started, though I wasn't kept awake, I was puzzled by the low-level, low-frequency noises coming through the wall. When I went into the room after the show had begun to take a listen, JRDG's Lucien Pichet, who for many years had been a stalwart at Avalon Acoustics, explained that they had been breaking in the system. This comprised Raidho D1 speakers, driven by the Continuum S2 400Wpc integrated amplifier ($9800) via Cardas Clear cables, with source the Aeris D/A processor ($9800) hooked up to a Bryston BDP-1 file player. The components were supported by one of the impressively built Harmonic Resolution Systems racks.
John Wolff's Classic Audio company has been a fixture at audio shows the past few years, always showing his beautifully made speakers, combining hornloaded midrange and highs with big paper-cone woofers, most recently using field-coilenergized drivers. This year John was demming the T-3.4, which combines a field-coilenergized midrange unit, with a 4" beryllium diaphragm loaded by a wooden horn horn with a 2" throat, with a pair of 15" woofers operating below 500Hz, one firing forward, the other at the floor, and a "Ultra-High-Frequency" supertweeter operating above 12.5kHz.
Daedalus Loudspeakers has been a loyal exhibitor at RMAF, along with ModWright Instruments and WyWires. Their system showcased the Ulysses v.2 speakers ($14,950/pair) driven by a ModWright KWA 150 Signature amplifier ($8495), with the front-end a pre-production prototype ModWright Elyse DAC (price TBD) fed data from a ModWright-modded Oppo disc player, and ModWright LS 36.5 two-box preamp with tube-regulated power supply ($9995). Cables were WyWires PLatinum interconnects (from $1495) and Silver Series AC cords, with Daedalus/WyWires speaker cables. The Ulysses uses two full-range Fostex units for its midrange, combining it with twin tweeters and two proprietary 8" woofers with paper cones and corrugated surrounds originally designed by Daedalus 20 years ago for musical instrument use.
The KingSound King III electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) sounded superb at RAF, without the sweet-spot beaming I would have expected from their width. Amplifier was the 120Wpc, $6500 Innamorata from Wells Audio that I first heard at the 2013 Newport Beach Show, with an EAR 868 tube preamp ($7395) and Kaplan cables. Source was the latest Sound Science Music Vault M7 ($5595) with an Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC with Voltikus power supply ($5500). Analog source was a Townshend Rock 7 turntable ($3900) fitted with an Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge ($879).
I first heard Rockport's Avior speaker ($29,500/pair) in the VTL room at the 2012 CES where both Stephen Mejias and I were impressed by their sound. They sounded as good in the Xact Audio room at RMAF, driven by Absolare Passion Signature, zero-feedback, class-A, single-ended power amps ($48,500/pair). But contributing to the sound was the intriguing room treatment that you can see on the wall, cardboard diffusors that Xact calls the MIO and sells for $99/12 square feet.
Zesto first made its name with its Andros PS1 tubed phono preamplifier that Michael Fremer raved about in his April 2013 "Analog Corner" column. Then they launched the $7500 Leto tubed line stage, which Bob Reina will be reviewing in our February 2014 issue. Now they have the Bia 120 stereo power amplifier ($12,500), which uses a pair of autobiased KT88s per channel to produce 60Wpc. In a system featuring a Merrill Williams Real 101 turntable mounted with a TriPlanar tonearm and Dynavector XX2 cartridge, and TAD Evolution One speakers ($29,800/pair), I auditioned Steely Dan's classic "Hey Nineteen," which not only sounded superb but also got me thinking that the young girl who "don't remember ('Retha Franklin) the Queen of Soul" would now be 52!