Hawaii-based Emerald Physicsa company I hadn't heard of until RMAF 2012demonstrated their own US-built loudspeakers and electronics with a Peachtree Audio novaPre preampD/A converter playing music files from a laptop computer. Emerald's CS2P open-baffle loudspeaker ($2990/pair) works as a dipole below 1000 Hz, with a 15" woofer and a horn-loaded 1" tweeter. The retail price of the system I heard, including the Peachtree unit; the Emerald Physics CS2P loudspeakers; Emerald's DSP2.4 active outboard crossover/EQ unit ($850); and the company's EPI100.2 100Wpc digital amplifier ($1600) was under $7000, not including computer and playback software. While far from perfectthe bass wasn't especially taut, and there was little in the way of the sorts of texture and tone I cravethe performance was clean, spacious, and satisfying.
At the end of the first day of RMAF, veteran audio journalist Ken Kessler moderated a seminar titled "High-End Audio: Regaining the High Ground." Some such eventsI would go so far as to say most such eventsmake me feel more like a reporter for Whine Spectator than Stereophile, but this one wasn't bad, and some of the observations expressed on the relationship between education (as in: music appreciation) and industry (as in: us) could actually prove useful. Ken Kessler stimulated the conversation with his own passionately held opinions, and many in the audience responded in kind (if with a little too much wind, in one case). Seen above are panelists Peter McGrath (Wilson Audio), Kathy Gornik (Thiel), Michael Fremer (Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com), and Roy Hall (Music Hall).
As a card-carrying member of The Insecure, I tend to clam up when I'm around people who are considerably more intelligent or well-informed than I. Consequently, I had embarrassingly little to say in the presence of Bricasti Audio's Brian Zolner, whose understanding of the various digital-filtering choices offered by his company's M1 D/A converter ($8495) was as deep as it was generously and at times even humorously offered. In any event, the Bricasti sounded fine at the front of a system in which a pair of Harbeth HL5 loudspeakers ($5690/pair) was driven by the undeniably beautiful Dan D'Agostino Momentum Stereo amplifier ($25,000).
Robert Kelly of German Physiks strikes a pose worthy of a Kraftwerk album cover while showing off the company's newest loudspeaker, the Unlimited Mk.II ($13,500/pair). With the company's omnidirectional DDD driver handling everything above 200Hz, the Unlimited Mk.II had an unsurprisingly open and spacious sound, with the same sort of near holographic imaging I heard in the Nola room: very impressive.
Electronics designer and manufacturer Ron Sutherland, who is surely one of the nicest and most upstanding people in our rather motley trade, brought to the show a sample of the brand new Sutherland Insight phono preamplifier ($1400). Essentially, an AC version of the battery-powered Sutherland Ph3D ($1000), the beautifully made Insight uses a well-screened switch-mode power supply, and offers a battery (sorry) of options with regard to gain and loading values, all selectable by means of gold-plated jumpers and pinswhich, according to Ron Sutherland, are far better-sounding and more reliable than DIP switches.
I've heard TAD's high-tech CR1 loudspeakers ($42,000/pair) on other occasions, at other shows. But they've never sounded as good as they did at RMAF, where they were demonstrated with electronics from a new company called Zesto (a great, un-self-conscious name that sounds like an affiliate of Slusho, the imaginary Japanese soft-drink company created for the 2008 film Cloverfield). The source was a Merrill-Williams REAL 101 turntable ($7200) with Triplanar arm ($5800), Dynavector XX2 MkII cartridge ($1985), and Zesto Andros phono stage ($4300) and Leto preamp ($7500), plus GamuT D200 amp ($6000) and WyWires cabling which, like the Zesto gear, comes from Thousand Oaks, CA. On selections by Illinois Jacquet and others, this system sounded richly textured and very involving.
Among the many delights in the Audio Feast room: a prototype of an autoformer-based volume control called the Finemet TVC (price TBD). The real attraction, of course, was the fact that Audio Feast played real music in their room. (They were playing a Miles Davis disc when I was thereand I don't mean one of the umpteen audiophile reissues of Kind of Blue.) I look forward to getting to know Audio Feast in the months ahead.
It was that rarest of rare occasions in audio-show reporting: I entered the demonstration room of a brand that was unfamiliar to me, and was impressed at once by a sort of musical rightness I seldom hear from modern playback gear. Sure, I was familiar with the company that made the CD player, preamp, and monoblock amps in useElectrocompaniet, whose solid-state amps are among the few I consider worthy of comparison to the best tube designsbut the Austrian loudspeaker manufacturer Brodmann Acoustics was new to me. Their stand-mounted Festival S ($4500/pair), driven by a pair of Electrocompaniet AW180 monoblocks ($5425 each) allowed the solo violin in a Paganini work to have far greater than usual texture, tone, and presence. Based on my experience at RMAF, the pairing of these two brands is something you should go out of your way to hear.
Strange that I should travel 1800 miles to hear products that are designed and manufactured less than two hours from my home. Happily, the McIntosh experience at RMAF was worth the effort, especially inasmuch as the hallowed brand distinguished itself by playing real music as opposed to audiophile chestnuts. (Think of it!) I especially enjoyed some selections from the Beatles' Anthology 3 collection, played via JRiver software on an HP laptop, through a McIntosh C50 preamp ($6500) and MC452 amp ($7500), along with the McIntosh MEN220 room-correction system ($4500, which includes the microphonebut not the standseen in this photo). Rounding out the system were the company's recent XR100 speakers ($10,000/pair): certainly the best McIntosh loudspeakers I have yet to hear.
The three-way, 220 lb Avior loudspeaker from Rockport Technologies ($29,500/pair) uses the same beryllium tweeter as the company's $225,000 Arrakis, complemented with all-new midrange and bass drivers that are built around Rockport's proprietary carbon-fiber sandwich/composite cones. The Avior sounded truly impressive with a Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player/DAC ($17,000), Electrocompaniet EC4.8 preamplifier ($5129), BAT VK-655SE amplifier ($14,000), and cabling from Transparent Audio. A representative from the Omaha, Nebraska dealer The Sound Environment demonstrated the system with humor, charm, candorand good music.