Big does not mean five figures in Jolida's book. The most expensive equipment in their main exhibit on the second floor of the Marriott Tower were the Phase 6 Tape Deck from United Home Audio ($15,000) that was playing master tapes from The Tape Project, the Von Schweikert factory-direct VR33 loudspeakers ($3750/pair), and the Fosgate tube phono preamp ($2500).
Jolida of Maryland sure knows how to produce good sound for people with limited budgets. Playing Leonard Cohen's classic "Back on Boogie Street" through iTunes, with all the sonic compromises that Apple's music server imposes on a system, Jolida's Glass FX tube DAC ($350) and Glass FX 25 Integrated hybrid amplifier ($350) still sounded great. This was not toy hi-fi; it was an indisputable portal into the real thing, with a musicality that put to shame some much more expensive systems I encountered at RMAF.
Welcome to retro city. Not only did the Quad ESL2805 speakers ($10,000/pair), Classic II integrated amp ($6000) and QC24 phono stage ($2449) look from another era, but the equally classic-looking Merrill-Williams turntable ($4000), clamp ring ($649), weight ($249), and 33/45 power supply ($1150) was playing Frank Sinatra's "Days of Wine and Roses."
Here's an up-close look at the Merrill-Williams Audio table featured in the Quad room. The base is made of Rubber Elastomer Acoustic Laminate (aka R.E.A.L.got it?), and the platter of Bakelite resin composite. tHE outboard power transformer, clamping ring, etc. are not pictured. Despite its English-sounding name, the company is based in Memphis.
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.