As expected, Bel Canto Design's complement of components fully lived up to their reputation for affordable excellence. The top-of-the-line e.One CD2 CD transport/player ($2995), prototype DAC 3.5 (price not yet set), two REF500M Balanced mono amplifiers ($1995/each), REF VBS1 Virtual Battery Supply, which can power up to three front-end products ($1495), USB Link 24/96 USB to /SPDIF link ($495), and new USB Lightlink High Speed Optical ST glass-fiber link (price not supplied) were fed by an Airport Express-equipped computer server. As Bel Canto President Michael McCormick explained, "The DAC 3.5's excellent jitter rejection is at the center of the system." A Running Springs Power Conditioner completed the chain… except for one major component, the speakers.
John Atkinson was one busy camper at RMAF. In addition to blogging the show and moderating Saturday afternoon's information-packed, standing room only Computer Audio Panel, John presented four hour-long seminars entitled PC AudioSqueezing the Music Till the Bits Squeak, playing all his music examples from his MacBook laptop via a Metric Halo FireWire interface. The setting was Evergreen E, the large, excellent-sounding exhibit (Sony and JBL speakers, Mark Levinson amplification, EMM Labs preamp and digital source components, Kimber kables) assembled by Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable.
Bless Ray Kimber's heart. For at least the last three years, Kimber Kable has transported live musicians to RMAF so that we could always have a fresh, live reference in our heads as we traipsed room-to-room listening to canned performances.
Having just heard a Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) demo of the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport ($2999), Perfect Wave DAC ($2999), and Power Plant Premier ($2199), all hosted by the ever-engaging Paul McGowan, I was very eager to hear PS Audio's front end powered by an early prototype of PS Audio's forthcoming class-D Perfect Wave amplifier. Using Focus Audio Master 2.5 speakers ($20,000/pair), two MartinLogan Descent subs, and a complement of Perfect Wave AC12 power cables ($699/meter) and older PS Audio speaker cables not currently on the market, the system delivered the kind of clean, impressively full range sound that has made PS Audio a legend in the industry.
After several years without distribution in the US, Peder Beckman of Norway's Electrocompaniet (kneeling on the left, next to company head Mikal Dreggevik) has quickly established a revitalized US dealer network that should number a good 10 by CES 2010. Without a long-standing reputation for affordable excellence, this would have been next to impossible to achieve in the current climate.
I first discovered the Eficion F300 loudspeaker ($14,800/pair) at RMAF 2008, where its full-range sound deeply impressed for the price. Since then, the speaker has undergone numerous refinements. Split into two separate compartments, separated by Stillpoints, this is a 3-way 4-driver vented box with a frequency response of 25Hz40kHz, 89dB sensitivity, and 8 ohms impedance, with a minimum of 6.4 ohms. The front tweeter is an Air Motion Transformer, its rear-firing super tweeter a Heil ESS aluminum ribbon, and its 7" midrange and 12" woofer both from Aurum Cantus. All this has produced a more controlled and detailed sound. Other refinements are identified on the Eficion website.
At least two people I know came up to me in the hallways of the Marriott to urge me to check out Intuitive Audio's new Gamma Summit speakers ($10,000/pair). As soon as I walked into the room, the fabulous bass on Patricia Barber's rendition of "Keep on Using Me Until You Use Me Up"I'm guessing at the titletold me why. The system's riveting presentation also featured the kind of musical highlights for days that audiophiles love. Next I heard the same Mahler Symphony 2 recording I've been playing a lot at RMAF 2009. The speakers did an extremely fine job of controlling and highlighting the bass line, and also sounded very vibrant on top. Congratulations to designer Dale Pitcher for a job well done.