The active L’Ocean speaker from French manufacturer Cabasse is similar in concept to the huge La Sphère that Michael Fremer reviewed in June 2008, but is smaller, cheaper$159,000/system, compared to $205,000and its external digital crossover can now handle 24-bit datastreams up to 96kHz. L’Ocean was demonstrated at RMAF with Esoteric digital componentsCabasse is now distributed in the US by Esotericand Johnny Cash’s version of the The Beatles’ “In My Life” sounded palpably real. And in a Show dominated by black boxes, the Cabasse’s White Pearl finish was very camera-friendly.
When I entered the DEQX room and experienced a neutral, almost full-range sound, I assumed I was listening to the Gallo Reference speakers. But noit was the $80 pair of RadioShack PA horns in the room corners that were playing, corrected in the digital domain with the latest DEQX DSP processor, the DEQX Mate. This is an analog in-and-out (XLR and RCA), two-channel processor that goes between the preamp and power amplifier. Bypassing the DEQX Mate resulted in the squawky balance I would have expected from the horns, with no lows or highs. Switching the DEQX Mate back in-circuit gave a sound that was evenly balanced, with good HF extension and enough upper bass to sound convincing. Color me gob-smacked!
Styled to resemble Sonus Faber’s cost-no-object “The Sonus Faber” flagship design, the new Sonus Faber Venere range of speakers made its debut at RMAF. Costing $2498/pair, ie, around less than 2% of the big speaker’s price, the Venere 2.5 was demmed with an Audio Research DSI200 class-D integrated amplifier ($5995), a Wadia Model 121 decoding computer ($1299), a Pro Ject Xtension turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($3699) a Pro Ject Phono Box ($999), and Pro Ject’s new Stream Box ($1999). The LP of Jeff Buckley’s classic album Grace was reproduced with appropriate impact and a color-free tonal balance. Even considering the relatively affordable price of the system, this was still one of the better-sounding rooms I heard at RMAF.
Thiel’s long-awaited trickle-down speaker from 2008’s ground-breaking CS3.7, the CS2.7 ($9900/pair), made its North American debut in one of the Denver Audio Designs rooms. It combines the coaxial HF/MF unit that the late Jim Thiel developed for the ‘3.7 with a proprietary 8” woofer, reinforced with a passive radiator to give claimed bass extension to below 35Hz. Frequency response is specified as 35Hz20kHz ±2.5dB, and crossover filters, of course, are all first-order. (No impedance spec was given; Thiel speakers have always been current-hungry.) The CS2.7s were demmed with Aragon Iridium 400W monoblocks ($7998/pair), an Aragon Sound Stage digital preamp ($4499), an Arcam CD37 SACD/CD player ($2299), an Arcam FMJ D33 D/A processor, and Straight Wire Expressivo interconnects and speaker cables, and Straight Wire Blue Thunder AC cords. The sound of Ryan Adams’ “Dirty Rain” had extended lows, grain-free highs, and superbly stable, well-defined stereo imaging.
Anders Ertzeid, VP of Sales and Marketing for Hegel, introduces the Norwegian company’s new H300 integrated amplifier ($5500). This amp includes a 32-bit DAC, 5 digital inputs and 5 analog inputs, and uses a high-precision clock circuit said to eliminate jitter.
Legacy's Bill Dudleston stands by the new Aeris speaker ($16,900/pair), which combines an AMT tweeter/supertweeter module (see below) with a dipole midrange unit and upper wooferthese have corrugated surrounds for maximum inearityand two sealed-box subwoofers operating below 220Hz and driven by an internal 500W ICE-power class-D amp. With an AVM amplifier and CD player,the sound of Tchaikovsky's Italian Caprice was forceful and clean, though the big bass drum thwacks clipped the amplifier at the level I had chosen for the orchestral sound in the large room Legacy was using.
Austrian company Ayon was sharing the large room with Legacy, which led to some delicate choreography scheduling dems. A pair of Lumenwhite Artisan speakers ($25,000/pair) was being driven by Ayon’s Triton 3 tubed, class-A integrated amplifier ($12,500), with an Ayon S3 media server ($8500) providing the bits. Some dub-step/electronica/who-knows-what-genre tracks from Swiss band Yello rocked the house on this system!
Denver retailer Gold Sound’s room featured the Focal 836W speakers ($4500/pair), a three-way design related to the French manufacturer’s 826W Anniversary Edition speaker that Robert Deutsch enthusiastically reviewed in November 2010. Driven by a Cambridge Audio 851A integrated amplifier ($1795) and a Cambridge 851C CD player ($1795) and hooked up with Crystal cables, this relatively affordable system punched above its weight, producing a big, naturally balanced sound.
As someone who fell in love with the sound of Apogee full-range ribbon speakers in the early 1980s, I made a point of visiting the room featuring Analysis Audio planar ribbon speakers. Driven by Arion HS-500 amplifiers ($5995/pair), which combine a class-D output stage with a tube input and driver stage, via JPS cables, a track from Patricia Barber’ Companion album sounded sweet and rich on the Omega ribbons ($24,200/pair with external crossovers), but with a touch of color in the mind-bass that was audible on kick drum.
This room was the first I went into on Sunday morning of RMAF, drawn in by a superbly natural representation of the cellos, violas, and gambas on a recording of the fifth Bach Brandenburg Concerto. (An ensemble led by Antony Holstead, I was later told.) And the chile lights didn’t hurt. Speakers were the Daedalus Orpheus ($38,500/pair) with two BOW woofers ($6080 with handbuilt crossover), driven by the ModWright 150Wpc KWA150 Signature monoblocks ($8495 each), a ModWright LS 36.5 DM preamplifier ($9995), and a Modwright Elyse DAC (price TBD) fed data by a modified Oppo BDP 95 (two tubes poked through the top panel). Speaker cables were Daedalus; interconnects and AC cords were WyWires.