Squeezed into a small hotel room were the towering Gbell Epoque loudspeakers ($70,000/pair), driven by Artemis MK II monoblock amplifiers ($120,000), Stahl-Tek’s Opus DAC ($40,000) and Opus CDT ($37,000), with connections courtesy of Purist Audio Design 25th Anniversary cabling. How all this would have played out in a larger room, I do not know, but here, both period instrument and modern violins sounded edgy on different recordings, and bass was out of control on a third recording of a Mahler symphony.
There’s nothing like a good demo to change one’s opinion of what are now called Harman Luxury Audio components for the better. I had previously heard the pairing of JBL’s visually striking NDD66000 Everest loudspeaker ($60,000/pair) with Mark Levinson electronics at the speaker’s debut at CES a few years back. Although the buzz around the speaker was major, I recall thinking how dark and monochromatic the system sounded, and how it lacked the luminosity and color that I prefer.
Here, by contrast, the sound was some of the best solid-state sound I heard at the show . . .
There’s nothing like an active AB demo to convince that something major is going on with Synergistic Research’s increasing arsenal of mind-bending products. In one comparison, Ted Denney and Peter Hansen turned on and off the two Tranquility Bases ($1995/each including MiG supports) which were placed under their Computer Audio system and Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated amp ($2195). The difference in clarity, three-dimensionality, a lower noise floor, and image size was striking. Having a similar effect was turning on and off the Active Shielding on the company’s SR Active Firewire 800 cable ($595).
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings was so busy cueing up music for visitors on the three headphone amps in his room that he barely had time to talk. I’m a huge MA Recordings fan, finding their choice of music from all genresthere’s even a recording of music composed and performed by Stereophile Contributing Editor/Web Monkey Jon Iverson. Alternesiaand their sound quality on both CD and high-resolution discs unique and compelling. In the photo, Todd is listening to his latest CD, Résonance, on which Nina Ben David plays music from baroque to contemporary on viola da gamba.
Without, of course, wishing in any way, shape, or form for the title of his four seminars, “Just How ‘Absolute’ Is Recorded Sound?,” to be misconstrued as referring to a certain publication based on what I personally consider a dubious concept, Stereophile editor John Atkinson used everything from a drumstick to a cowbell, both sounded “live” and played back on the seminar room’s stereo system, to convey the message: “Nothing is real. How the recording art affects what you think you hear!” As John proceeded to point out that the brain combines information from separate left and right loudspeakers into a single stereo image, my own brain began to repeat the refrain, “30 or so more rooms in the hall, 30 or so more rooms, If one of those rooms should end up uncovered, your ass will be plastered far into the wall.” Hence I vamoosed, and now leave it to John to say more about the content of his seminar.
As I entered the second floor seminar room, where I awaited the third of four installments of Stereophile editor John Atkinson’s “Just How ‘Absolute’ Is Recorded Sound?”, I happened upon an energetic exchange between Michael Fremer of Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com (right) and Roy Gregory, UK Editor of TheAudioBeat.com (left). Mikey was keeping it light, but the issue was real: how do you describe the sound of a component or system without telling listeners and readers what kind of sound they should prefer?
Tone Audio’s founder, Jeff Dorgay, seated in the center of the photo, made sure to bring his lava lamp to set the tone in his publication’s hospitality suite on the 5th floor of the Marriott Atrium. Enjoying the ambiance were Shelly Williams of GIK Acoustics and John Derko of Digital Audio Review. Tone Audio celebrated its 7th anniversary at RMAF, Stereophile its 50th!
The big news in Soundsmith land, besides the fact that Peter Ledermann’s fastest top-of-the-line Hyperion cartridge with its cactus spine and diamond tip was making wonderful sound in multiple rooms at RMAF, was the introduction of the Hyperion Mk.II ($7500). Boasting great channel separation, its 10-year warranty includes retipping for the original owner.
The sound in the room from Arte Forma of Taiwan, represented in the US by Aire Audio, completely seduced me. Playing a wonderful recording of pianist Murray Perahia performing Handel, I was captivated by the presentation’s beautiful glow and air. It felt as though a light was shining from within the piano. This system portrayed the high treble delicacy of the piano’s strings like few others.
John DeVore, loved as much for his eagerly anticipated Monkeyhaus musical gatherings, where music new and old wins over hearts and minds, as for his speakers, had a surprise in store for me. After playing an LP of Indian drums, whose depth and resonance were captured wonderfully by the forthcoming high-sensitivity DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers ($7900/pair estimated cost), pictured on the outside of the soundstage, he pulled out a rare Vanguard LP of soprano Netania Devrath singing Yiddish songs. If that name sounds familiar, she’s the very same Israeli soprano who made the extraordinary, dialect-correct recording of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne that has become an audiophile favorite. In Yiddish, she sounds positively adorable.