Mark Schifter is well on his way to becoming a legendary figure in high-end audio. From his small-box, low–price-point Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technology components, Mark has gone on to found one of the first genuine bargain high-end websites, AV123, and build speaker cabinets for many major players. Here he stands next to one of his extremely fine-sounding, amazingly low-priced speakers and subs, all sourced from renewable forests and finished with eco-friendly veneers.
Driven by the Triode Corporation Japan's TRV-M300SE 20W 300B parallel single-ended monoblocks ($4199/pair) and TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1799), and fed by a very-slow-to-cue dCS SACD player, the Cain&Cain Wall-O-Sound (W3) ($3300), designed by Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio, did a superb job reproducing the true timbre of a piano. Throwing a huge soundstage, with wonderful height and depth, this little system had me writing "really beautiful" in my notebook.
I've always wanted to win the lottery so I could buy a pair of Jed Barber's much-coveted Joule Electra tube amps. I've spent hours in the Joule-Elrod room at several CESes, always entranced by the sound, but have never before heard the Joule LA150 Mk.2 preamp ($7000) and VZN 100 OTL monoblocks ($19,000/pair) paired with Merlin VSM MXE loudspeakers ($10,500.pair) and the Audio Aero Prestige CD player ($14,000). Wired with Cardas Golden Reference, this system did a superb job of bringing out the lovely, warm, full-range sound and delicious richness of Gary Karr's double bass on his Cisco Systems Adagio d’Albinoni CD.
While being PC is always a bone of contention in the audiophile community, sonic correctness goes without question. In a nice-sized room in the Marriott Tower, Lyngdorf’s Steve Colburn held a series of extremely convincing demonstrations of the complete Lyngdorf room perfect correction system. Using Triad speakers, Colburn’s before and after treatment samples of a percussion CD with lots of low bass were eye-opening. Quelle difference! If only Steve could have corrected for the people in the far corner who insisted on blabbing through the entire demo as if no one else mattered.
The Manley Snapper monoblocks ($4250/pair) sure have snap. Playing one of those classic percussion demo CDs with drum thwacks galore, the combo of Manley amplification, Bel Canto DAC/preamp, Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers ($4400/pair), Apple iBook transport, and Cardas Golden Reference interconnects was as sharp and crisp as could be. But they were also far more. With the system playing an LP of La Fille Mal Gardée on the VPI Super Scout Reference Master Turntable (one of only two available) equipped with a Silversmith phono cartridge, the sound was beautifully warm and sweet, the soundstage all-enveloping.
Although he looks a bit burned from being asked to play one too many Columbia LPs, whose harsh string tone belies the myth that vintage analog recordings are de facto superior to CDs, Dan Meinwald has a lot to be happy about. The EAR Acute CD player ($5900), 890 Primary Drive 70W stereo amp, 868 preamp complete with phono stage ($6900), Discmaster turntable ($20,000 without tonearm), Dynavector XVIS cartridge, and debut 3-way, open-baffle dipole loudspeakers ($7000/pair—also available in a larger model) were creating a wonderful, magical soundstage on Stokowski’s monumental recording of Smetana’s The Moldau. It’s no wonder that so many dedicated audiophiles continue to be seduced for life by EAR’s vaunted sweetness and bloom.
Audio Note UK, shown at RMAF by its US distributor AudioFederation.com, chose the Denver Show for the world premiere of its first USB-input DAC. The DAC 0.1X, an entry-level product that features neither anti-alias filtering nor oversampling, and uses a teeny little 6111WA dual-triode output tube that is said to behave like a 12AU7 but last a staggering 100,000 hours, was making fine sound paired with a complete line of Audio Note components and cables.
Audio Federation doesn't play around. Its top-of-the-line, no-holds-barred system centers around the Marten Coltrane Supreme loudspeaker ($250,000/pair), Audio Note UK Ongaku amplifier ($85,000), EMM Labs/Meitner Design CDSD SE transport ($8400) and DCC2 SE DAC ($13,500), Brinkmann Balance turntable ($29,900), Lamm LP2 Deluxe phono preamp ($6990), and, for this system, modestly priced Lyra Titan cartridge ($5000). Cabling is no less than Nordost Valhalla, Stealth Indra, Jorma Design No.1 and PRIME, while power cords and distributors include Nordost Valhalla, Elrod Statement II and Signature III, and Acrolink Mexcel 7N-7100.
In Hebrew, the number 18 is called "chai," which also means "life." As my final (and 18th) blog entry from Day One at RMAF, I was happy to report how thrilled Jeff Wilson and I were with the sound in the Gill/Art Audio/Daedalus room.