A reader complained recently that exhibitors at audio Shows tend to demonstrate cost-no-object systems. He was rightthey do. As Stephen Mejias has explained, exhibiting at a show is an expensive proposition and most companies go for broke with the systems they show, wanting to get the maximum “Wow factor,” hence return, on that investment.
Colorado retailer Audio Limits was no exception, its large room off the Marriott’s atrium featuring Venture Ultimate Reference loudspeakers ($135,000/pair) driven by FM Acoustics 115 monoblocks ($108,200/pair), an FM Acoustics 245 preamp ($25,800), with the source either a PC laptop running XX High End software, a Weiss Jason transport ($22,7070), or a Weiss Man301 network player ($9083 without DAC), Weiss Medea+ FireWire D/A converter ($21,799) . . .
Not listed in the Show Guide but providing the power in the Fidelis room was the Bully Sound Corporation’s 60S class-A amplifier ($7900). BSC is a new company founded by Brett D’Agostino, son of one Dan D’Agostino, and with the Harbeth Monitor 30.1 speakers ($5995/pair) so beloved by Sam Tellig, JD Souther’s “New Kid in Town,” played with J River Media Center sending the data to Bricasti’s superb M1 DAC ($8495) via USB, sounded sweet. Until I noticed the Stein Harmonizers sprinkled around the room. (You can see one sitting on top of the speaker.) Would the system sound so good without the Steins? I didn’t dare ask, though Mikey Fremer swears they made his system sound worse!
This room was the first I went into on Sunday morning of RMAF, drawn in by a superbly natural representation of the cellos, violas, and gambas on a recording of the fifth Bach Brandenburg Concerto. (An ensemble led by Antony Holstead, I was later told.) And the chile lights didn’t hurt. Speakers were the Daedalus Orpheus ($38,500/pair) with two BOW woofers ($6080 with handbuilt crossover), driven by the ModWright 150Wpc KWA150 Signature monoblocks ($8495 each), a ModWright LS 36.5 DM preamplifier ($9995), and a Modwright Elyse DAC (price TBD) fed data by a modified Oppo BDP 95 (two tubes poked through the top panel). Speaker cables were Daedalus; interconnects and AC cords were WyWires.
As someone who fell in love with the sound of Apogee full-range ribbon speakers in the early 1980s, I made a point of visiting the room featuring Analysis Audio planar ribbon speakers. Driven by Arion HS-500 amplifiers ($5995/pair), which combine a class-D output stage with a tube input and driver stage, via JPS cables, a track from Patricia Barber’ Companion album sounded sweet and rich on the Omega ribbons ($24,200/pair with external crossovers), but with a touch of color in the mind-bass that was audible on kick drum.
Denver retailer Gold Sound’s room featured the Focal 836W speakers ($4500/pair), a three-way design related to the French manufacturer’s 826W Anniversary Edition speaker that Robert Deutsch enthusiastically reviewed in November 2010. Driven by a Cambridge Audio 851A integrated amplifier ($1795) and a Cambridge 851C CD player ($1795) and hooked up with Crystal cables, this relatively affordable system punched above its weight, producing a big, naturally balanced sound.
Austrian company Ayon was sharing the large room with Legacy, which led to some delicate choreography scheduling dems. A pair of Lumenwhite Artisan speakers ($25,000/pair) was being driven by Ayon’s Triton 3 tubed, class-A integrated amplifier ($12,500), with an Ayon S3 media server ($8500) providing the bits. Some dub-step/electronica/who-knows-what-genre tracks from Swiss band Yello rocked the house on this system!
Thiel’s long-awaited trickle-down speaker from 2008’s ground-breaking CS3.7, the CS2.7 ($9900/pair), made its North American debut in one of the Denver Audio Designs rooms. It combines the coaxial HF/MF unit that the late Jim Thiel developed for the ‘3.7 with a proprietary 8” woofer, reinforced with a passive radiator to give claimed bass extension to below 35Hz. Frequency response is specified as 35Hz20kHz ±2.5dB, and crossover filters, of course, are all first-order. (No impedance spec was given; Thiel speakers have always been current-hungry.) The CS2.7s were demmed with Aragon Iridium 400W monoblocks ($7998/pair), an Aragon Sound Stage digital preamp ($4499), an Arcam CD37 SACD/CD player ($2299), an Arcam FMJ D33 D/A processor, and Straight Wire Expressivo interconnects and speaker cables, and Straight Wire Blue Thunder AC cords. The sound of Ryan Adams’ “Dirty Rain” had extended lows, grain-free highs, and superbly stable, well-defined stereo imaging.
Styled to resemble Sonus Faber’s cost-no-object “The Sonus Faber” flagship design, the new Sonus Faber Venere range of speakers made its debut at RMAF. Costing $2498/pair, ie, around less than 2% of the big speaker’s price, the Venere 2.5 was demmed with an Audio Research DSI200 class-D integrated amplifier ($5995), a Wadia Model 121 decoding computer ($1299), a Pro Ject Xtension turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($3699) a Pro Ject Phono Box ($999), and Pro Ject’s new Stream Box ($1999). The LP of Jeff Buckley’s classic album Grace was reproduced with appropriate impact and a color-free tonal balance. Even considering the relatively affordable price of the system, this was still one of the better-sounding rooms I heard at RMAF.
When I entered the DEQX room and experienced a neutral, almost full-range sound, I assumed I was listening to the Gallo Reference speakers. But noit was the $80 pair of RadioShack PA horns in the room corners that were playing, corrected in the digital domain with the latest DEQX DSP processor, the DEQX Mate. This is an analog in-and-out (XLR and RCA), two-channel processor that goes between the preamp and power amplifier. Bypassing the DEQX Mate resulted in the squawky balance I would have expected from the horns, with no lows or highs. Switching the DEQX Mate back in-circuit gave a sound that was evenly balanced, with good HF extension and enough upper bass to sound convincing. Color me gob-smacked!
The active L’Ocean speaker from French manufacturer Cabasse is similar in concept to the huge La Sphère that Michael Fremer reviewed in June 2008, but is smaller, cheaper$159,000/system, compared to $205,000and its external digital crossover can now handle 24-bit datastreams up to 96kHz. L’Ocean was demonstrated at RMAF with Esoteric digital componentsCabasse is now distributed in the US by Esotericand Johnny Cash’s version of the The Beatles’ “In My Life” sounded palpably real. And in a Show dominated by black boxes, the Cabasse’s White Pearl finish was very camera-friendly.