I ended Saturday's incredibly packed tour of the 15 rooms on the Marriott Tower's 10th floor with a stop in Musical Fidelity's room. It was a good choice. This was the first room at the show where I pulled out Channel Classics' superbly recorded hybrid SACD of the Ebony Band Amsterdam performing a unique arrangement of Revueltas' elemental, gutsy, phantasmagorical Sensemaya. The sense of air was immense, with amazing soundstaging that belied the small size of the room. I also loved the height of the soundstage, and the deep reaches of the bass. But as much as I savored the presentations' air and depth, this hardly laid-back system sounded a bit tipped-up in the highs, a common factor in many of the smaller rooms at the Marriott.
After building ModWright Instruments' reputation as a quality source for equipment mods, Dan Wright has expanded his business to include manufacturing his own components. Perhaps because his gear was called into play in a number of rooms, his own room was mobbed until Sunday, when crowds traditionally lighten up.
"Bring the concert home!" declared the Jones Audio brochure. The 18-month old company, whose products are "handcrafted" in Seattle, took advantage of RMAF to debut the Jones Audio PA-M300 monoblock amplifier ($24,000/pair). This 300W into 8 ohms, 560W into 4 ohms baby, which uses a 35 lb toroidal transformer, kept company with the Jones Pre-S2 preamplifier (approx. $11,000), the Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers I've lusted after on multiple occasions ($22,000/pair), a Benchmark DAC1 Pre, and Kimber cabling with WBT connectors (approx. $1000 worth).
Departure Audio seems to take their name seriously. In a system fine-tuned by Shakti Hallographs (the candelabra-like devices at the edges of the photograph) and the infamous you know whats from Synergistic, the Fort Collins dealership was showing Canton Reference 7.2 loudspeakers ($7000, presumably for the pair), Herron Audio's VTSP-3A preamplifier ($6550) and M1 power amps ($6850, presumably for the pair), Arcam CD 37 ($2295), Blue Circle Audio BC 507 DAC ($2095, with options available), Audio Magic cabling and Oracle power conditioning ($7500). The sound was clean and incisive, which means somewhat tipped up. I would have stayed to explore more, but constant conversation in the room led me to take Departure Audio's name literally.
You can always count on EAR's Dan Meinwald to be spinning some great platters. When I walked in, whatever jazz recording was playing sounded very alive and incisive. (EAR's electronics and Marten's speakers are not shy and recalcitrant). When Dan switched to an old classic LP, Meeting at the River, the Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's unique guitar sounded uncommonly beautiful and clear. Had I not had 18 rooms left to visit on Saturday, with a lot more screaming for attention, I would have stayed longer.
The sound in this room blew me away. When I walked in, Dr. John's "In a Sentimental Mood" was sounding as lovely and mellow as can be. Switching gears 180°, Reference Recordings' LP issue of Stravinsky's Firebird had absolutely amazing bass. "Amazing," I wrote twice in my notes.
We audiophiles can't resist pushing the boundaries of intimacy. Step on those cables, jostle them ampswe just gotta take a look at what's going on from all angles. Trying not to do permanent damage, here's what I spied on the back of Lowther America's Field-Coil EXR Open-Baffle loudspeaker (estimated price of $15,000/pair).
Having greatly enjoyed YG Acoustics' two-way Carmel loudspeaker ($18,000/pair) at the California Audio Show this past summer, I was eager to hear it in a different setting. This was the opportunity, paired with Veloce Audio's battery-powered set-up. The system also featured Kubala-Sosna Emotion cabling (price not supplied), the LS-1 Pure Tube linestage ($15,000)are there any impure tubes?and LP-1 Pure Tube phono module ($3000), and V-6 monoblock amplifiers ($14,000, presumably for the pair). Also doing the honors were the Amazon One turntable (price not available), and the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport/DAC combo (approx. $6000).
I confess. Ever since I heard Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show Las Vegas some years back, I have lusted after a pair. In fact, one of the big excitements on my trip to China a few months backstory forthcoming sometime before the Twelfth of Neverwas visiting the same Aurum Cantus factory that manufactures Evolution's tweeter. The combination of Evolution Acoustics MMtwo loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), darTZeel NHB-458 monoblocks ($135,000/pair), and darTZeel NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier with MC phono section ($29,000) earned my personal best of the show for the systems I auditioned at CES and T.H.E. Show 2010.