For the qualities I most value in a music systemimpact, substance, texture, color, and, above all, the ability to play lines of notes with a realistic sense of momentum and flowthe venerable Garrard 301 and similar well-made turntables with powerful motors and idler-wheel drive are the sources to beat. Unfortunately, good-condition samples of the Garrard 301 and 401, the Thorens TD 124, and any number of exotic EMTs have become scarce and ever more expensive.
Loudspeakers have been commercially available for nearly a century, yet those whose drive-units are mounted to baffles of intentionally limited width didn't appear in significant numbers until the 1980s. That seems a bit strange, given that the technology to transform large boards into smaller boards has existed since the Neolithic era.
Apart from a 2004 column in which I made cruel fun of the angriest (footnote 1) complaints I'd received to that pointan entertaining if lazy template I hope to re-use before longI've done little to acknowledge the mail I receive every week, most of it thoughtful and positive. I'm especially grateful for the nice letters I get every time I write about vintage audio, as I did in Stereophile's August issue ("Five vintage loudspeakers you should hear before you die"): The art of music is best served by an open-minded approach to playback gear, and I'm encouraged to think that some Stereophile readers actually understand that.
I can imagine the gaiety and mirth that filled the halls of the electronics industry in the 1950s, as engineer after bespectacled engineer realized that the transistor would soon consign to the outposts of oblivion those ancient technologies that had preceded it. Before longsurely no more than a decadethe hated vacuum tube would vanish from the Earth, along with the tube socket, the tube tester, the tag board, the high-voltage rail, and that lowest rascal of them all, the output transformer. What a jubilant time!
The next-to-the-last demonstration I heard at RMAF 2012 was among the two or three most impressive. Doing business as Volti (it means to move forward) Audio, Maine resident Greg Roberts builds horn loudspeakers that seem to embody both the superb craftsmanship and musical impact of America's finest vintage-audio products. His newest, the Vittora ($15,000/pair), is a three-way loudspeaker with a horn-loaded 15" bass driver, horn-loaded 2" compression driver for the midrange, and horn-loaded 1" compression driver for the treble, with passive crossover networks, stepped attenuators for the mids and trebles, and an all-plywood cabinet in a choice of veneers. Based on a brief audition with EMM Labs digital source components and a BorderPatrol S20 single-ended 300B amp ($13,750), I can only say that the Vittora is, if anything, underpriced. My first question to Mr. Roberts was, "Who do I have to kill to borrow a review pair?"; we're still working out the details. . .
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.
The German manufacturer ADAM Audio, whose high-frequency drive-unit technology is descended from that of Oskar Heil's Air-Motion Transformer, introduced their new Gamma loudspeaker ($22,000/pair), which is built around a 25mm-thick aluminum baffle: a departure from the honeycomb material used in elder ADAMs. Demonstrated with a pair of Cary SA 500.1 solid-state monoblocks ($4995 each), Cary SLP 05 preamp ($8495), and Cary CD 303T CD player ($6995), the Gammas were clear and distinctly articulate, with a pleasant balance overallalthough I wouldn't have wanted them to be an iota lighter.
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).
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.
Perhaps I don't spend enough time at my local Apple storewhich is, after all, only 70 minutes awaybut I confess that I'd never heard the word thunderbolt in a high-tech context before RMAF 20212. Now, having attended the computer-audio seminar moderated by my friend Michael Lavorgnaof sister site AudioStream.comI know that Thunderbolt is now the preferred interface for connecting a music-storage drive (or NAS) to a current iMac or MacBook. Seen here are panelists Rob Robinson (Channel D), Mark Waldrep (AIX and iTrax), Steve Silberman (AudioQuest), and Michael Lavorgna (left to right).