At every dinner I attended with industry members during RMAF 2012, someone invariably asked, “How was the Magnepan demo?” As I soon learned, it seems that Wendell Diller’s decision to forego exhibiting at consumer showssince the last Stereophile show in San Francisco, in 2003, he has displayed product only at the annual CES trade event (not open to consumers)has only heightened buzz around the Minnesotan company’s fabled planar-magnetic loudspeakers.
Vanatoo is certainly giving other companies a run for their money with their Transparent One powered loudspeakers ($499$549/pair, dependent upon finish). Deferring to Michael Lavorgna’s recent review on Stereophile’s sister publication, AudioStream.com, I can simply say that the bass and sheer energy coming out of these small speakers was extremely impressive. In fact, it was so impressive that the folks running the demo felt the need to frequently tell the large crowd that everything was coming out of the two speakers, without aid of a subwoofer or any other hidden device.
Ever since encountering KingSound electrostatic loudspeakers at an audio show several years ago, I’ve looked forward to seeing how their line would develop. This time around, KingSound was showing its King III Full Range ESL ($12,000/pair). Driven by Bob Carver Cherry tube monoblock amplifiers ($7400/pair), Purity Audio Design Statement 2 preamplifier (approx. $12,500), and an AMR CD777 ($12,000), all hooked together by Kaplan Cables from John Atkinson’s adopted hometown of Brooklyn, the system was a joy to listen to on Chet Atkins’ recording of “Mr. Sandman.”
Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts NYC had assembled quite an impressive system, most of whose components I had never heard before. Given the system’s price, one would reasonably expect something wonderful, if not extraordinary from Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair); Nagra’s new Jazz preamplifier ($12,250, with the input and output jacks now on the back instead of the sides), 300B power amplifier ($16,950), and VPS phono preamplifier ($6850); Metronome’s C8 Reference Asymmetrical USB DAC ($22,750) and Calypso Reference transport ($43,750); Holborne’s Analog 2 Mk.2 turntable ($7495), Dualpivot tonearm ($3475, MC1 cartridge ($1975), and rack ($3975); Van Den Hul’s Cumulus 3T speaker wire ($6995/pair) and The Cloud 3T interconnects ($695/set); and a Schopper Thorens fully restored 124 Mk.2 (“priceless”).
When I walked into the Robyatt Audio room, I discovered that Robin Wyatt had come all the way from New York City to show people what a lovely, airy sound he could get from Jacintha’s “Here’s to Life” and other LP selections. “The man who recorded that LP used the same stereo Miyajima Kinsui cartridge that I’m using for playback,” he explained.
Jim Rush of PTE (Precision Transducer Engineering) of Orange, CA explained that he was using the system in his room, headlined by PTE’s The Phoenix self-powered, bi-amplified loudspeaker ($5700/pair), to conduct 10 different blind tests with five sequences. The results of his experiments, which he said demonstrated that most people couldn’t discern differences with a high degree of accuracy, are slated to be posted to PTE’s website.
One of many Colorado retailers that displayed at RMAF this year, Fort Collins Audio hosted the debut of the TSG planar ribbon tower line array loudspeaker ($29,000/pair). Unfortunately, the speaker sat unplayed in the corner of the room when I entered, replaced by the excellent Totem Earth ($8995/pair). Connected to a Hegel H20 amplifier ($5740), Hegel HD20 DAC ($1995), and Quicksilver Audio preamp ($3900) via Kimber Kable Bifocal XL speaker cable and Kimber Select 1126 interconnects, the system was producing fine, solid sound with nice color.
If there’s anything that will grab this whistler’s attention, it’s the sound of another whistler who knows what she or he is doing. Given that the first thing I heard when I set foot in the room from Pro Audio Ltd. of Tower Lakes, IL was the delightful sound of whistling on Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” I was primed for a good experience. And so it was, with the system’s genuinely lovely if somewhat light-bodied sound distinguished by a captivating sense of air that is the mark of good analog.
I ended Day 1 of RMAF with my first visit ever to the MC room. Although the MC-501A CD/USB player ($3995) and MC-701 integrated amplifier ($4595) were initially driving MC’s RL-21 loudspeakers ($3495/pair) too loud, generating an unwelcome host of small room interactions, the system did an exceptional job, at more realistic volume, playing a recording of a traditional jazz trio. Not only did the music sound very alive and in the moment, but the piano also had a special illumined quality absent from many systems that cost far more than this one.
Nordost’s Lars Christensen has become an industry legend of sorts for the enthusiasm with which he launches into cable comparison after cable comparison. At RMAF, he notched his demos up several steps, inviting people to hear the effects that cabling, power distribution, and resonance control products from Nordost and other companies can have on system sound.
“The bottom line is, despite the science involved, if you can’t hear it, it matters not,” Nordost’s West Coast distributor Michael Marko told me outside the demo room...