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!
The Marriott's lobby area was packed with booths, with exhibitors actively engaged with showgoers all weekend. Shown here is the booth shared by The Cable Company and sister company Ultra Systems, which was opposite the Nordost Sort Füt booth Jason Serinus wrote about below. Ethan Wood is helping an audiophile through the process of using his computer as a high-end audio source while Robert Stein looks on.
Mytek Digital's Michal Jurewicz (facing camera) was busy all weekend, demonstrating both his company's new Stereo 192-DSD DAC FireWire D/A converter (see "Music in the Round," July 2013) and his 8-channel DSD A/D converter. The latter was being used with an Ampex open-reel recorder just out of shot.
One of the joys of audio shows is the unexpected encounter. I wandered into the Positive Feedback Online hospitality room toward the end of the first day, drawn by the rumor that they had some high-end coffee on offer to ear-weary showgoers. And there, sipping on some truly first-rate, hand-roasted java, I bumped into Swedish recording engineer Jan-Eric Persson. Persson, a Blumlein-miking purist, has been responsible for some of the most gloriously natural sounding recordings on his Opus 3 label, first on LP, then on SACD. PFO had a system set-up in their room, courtesy of Jonathan Tinn of Blue Light Audio, comprising Evolution MMMicro One speakers ($4000/pair) and a Playback Electronics IPS-3 D/A amplifier ($13,000). I took a listen to some of Jan-Eric Persson's recordings, transferred to double-DSD from analog tape and was, in a word, gobsmacked by the sheer beauty of what I was hearing.
"I don't want you to talk about the nuts and bolts of computer audio, FLACs and DACs and files, etc, but to talk about the impact the computer has had on high-end audio," said AudioQuest's Steve Silberman when he asked me to be on the Saturday lunchtime panel session he was organizing for RMAF. Titled "Computer Audio and Beyondthe Ever-Shifting Landscape of Hardware, Media, and Content Providers," the session featured (from right to left in my photo), as well as Silberman, Joe Harley of AudioQuest and Music Matters, Chris Connaker (ComputerAudiophile.com), Matt Ashland (J River Media Center), Gordon Rankin (Wavelength), and Matt Green (Logitech/Ultimate Ears).
I mentioned in my coverage of Steve Silberman's Computer Audio Seminar that I had been frustrated by the inability of the otherwise superb Marantz Reference NA-11S1 network player that I reviewed in October to handle every file format I sent to it. Following the seminar, I bumped into Steve in one of Colorado retailer Listen-Up's rooms where he just happened to have the Marantz players, hooked up, of course, with AudioQuest cables and with a Marantz integrated amplifier driving Sonus Faber speakers.
I have listened to Legacy's Aeris loudspeaker at earlier shows this year, but this impressive tower ($17,750/pair) sounded better at RMAF. Driven by an AVM SA8 stereo amplifier ($13,880) an AVM PA5.2 tube preamp ($5650), and AVM CD5.2 tube CD player ($6995) and wired with Morrow cables, the system reproduced the Crash Test Dummies' "Superman's Song" with authority.
"Gauder?" I pondered as I went into the room shared by German electronics manufacturer AVM and speaker manufacturer Gauder Akustik, "I know that name." And when I met speaker designer Roland Gauder, I remembered why the name was familiar. Roland Gauder was the designer of the Isophon Europa II loudspeaker that Larry Greenhill had favorably reviewed for Stereophile in April 2004.
"What is this music?" asked Jason Serinus (above).
We were sitting in the VTL room, where a pair of Wilson Alexia speakers ($48,500/pair) were being driven by VTL's S-400 stereo amplifier ($33,500), TL-7.5 Series III preamp ($20,000), and TP-6.5 phono preamplifier ($10,500 with transformer).
"It's 'Lose Yourself to Dance,' my favorite track from Daft Punk's Random Access Memories LP," I whispered...