These nice-looking standmounts are Salk Sound's Exoticas ($6000/pair), which use new high-performance drive-units from SEAS. Driven by an AVA solid-state amp (bottom in the rack), they produced a natural sound on a Kimber IsoMike cello recording. But when I first entered this room, the less-expensive, floorstanding Salk Sound Towers, which sell for less than $2000/pair, were producing a big sound on a Trentemoller track, driven by AVA's Ultravalve tube amplifier ($1995, above the solid-state amp in the rack), which gets 35Wpc from a pair of EL34s per channel. Preamplifier was AVA's new FET-Valve CF.
Bent Holter, founder of and designer for the Norwegian company Hegel, explained that his circuits are based on work he had done designing ultralow-noise preamplifiers for the European CERN laboratory. Hegel's new H80 D/A integrated amplifier ($2000) replaces the H70, which was introduced in 2010, and uses the low-noise preamp circuit from the $5500 H300 amplifier and Hegel's patented feed-forward "Sound Engine" amplifier topology. It has two single-ended analog inputs, one balanced analog input, and five digital inputs, including USB. Though this doesn't operate in the usual asynchronous mode, it uses a proprietary topology said to eliminate jitter. The H80 offers 75Wpc into 8 ohms compared with the H70's 70W.
Colorado Springs-based HiFi Imports were demming their system in one of the Marriott's very large ground-floor rooms. Speakers were the Venture Grand Ultimate Mk.IIs from Belgium ($98,000/pair), which combine Venture's proprietary 2" tweeter, which uses a graphite-pulp-composite diaphragm, with a 7" midrange unit and four 7" woofers. All the lower-frequency drivers use carbon-fiber/graphite-composite cones and the speaker's frequency range is specified as 22Hz60kHz with a 92dB sensitivity.
I had been impressed by the 5.1 speaker from the German Lansche company when I reviewed it in July 2012. In particular, I found Lansche's horn-loaded ionic tweeter produced superb treble sound quality. At RMAF, I photographed Aaudio's Brian Ackerman standing by the enormous, 900lb Lansche 8.2 ($266,000/pair in Macassar ebony veneer), which combines that ionic tweeter with four 8" mid/woofers, crossed over at 2.5kHz.
Denver retailer Gold Sound was featuring Focal's new tower speaker, the Aria 948 ($5000/pair), in its room at RMAF, in a system featuring a Cambridge Audio 851E preamp ($1799) and Cambridge 851W 200350Wpc amplifier ($2499), both also new at the show. Front ends were either a Cambridge 851C CD player or a VPI Classic turntable fitted with the 3D-printed tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge and amplified with a Parasound Halo JC3 phono preamp.
As had happened at the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, there were so many exhibitors wanting to show their wares at the 2013 show that there was some overflow housed at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tech Center. I'll be writing about the Scaena and Wilson exhibits at the Hyatt in stories to be posted later, but the first room I went into featured speakers from a company of which I had been unaware, Missouri-based Vapor Audio (www.vaporsound.com). The floor-standing Joule Black speakers ($12,995/pair) were being demmed with a BMC preamplifier and monoblock amplification, but beyond that I have nothing to write as no-one in this room seemed interested either in playing me music or giving me any information.
Zesto first made its name with its Andros PS1 tubed phono preamplifier that Michael Fremer raved about in his April 2013 "Analog Corner" column. Then they launched the $7500 Leto tubed line stage, which Bob Reina will be reviewing in our February 2014 issue. Now they have the Bia 120 stereo power amplifier ($12,500), which uses a pair of autobiased KT88s per channel to produce 60Wpc. In a system featuring a Merrill Williams Real 101 turntable mounted with a TriPlanar tonearm and Dynavector XX2 cartridge, and TAD Evolution One speakers ($29,800/pair), I auditioned Steely Dan's classic "Hey Nineteen," which not only sounded superb but also got me thinking that the young girl who "don't remember ('Retha Franklin) the Queen of Soul" would now be 52!
I first heard Rockport's Avior speaker ($29,500/pair) in the VTL room at the 2012 CES where both Stephen Mejias and I were impressed by their sound. They sounded as good in the Xact Audio room at RMAF, driven by Absolare Passion Signature, zero-feedback, class-A, single-ended power amps ($48,500/pair). But contributing to the sound was the intriguing room treatment that you can see on the wall, cardboard diffusors that Xact calls the MIO and sells for $99/12 square feet.
The KingSound King III electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) sounded superb at RAF, without the sweet-spot beaming I would have expected from their width. Amplifier was the 120Wpc, $6500 Innamorata from Wells Audio that I first heard at the 2013 Newport Beach Show, with an EAR 868 tube preamp ($7395) and Kaplan cables. Source was the latest Sound Science Music Vault M7 ($5595) with an Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC with Voltikus power supply ($5500). Analog source was a Townshend Rock 7 turntable ($3900) fitted with an Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge ($879).
Daedalus Loudspeakers has been a loyal exhibitor at RMAF, along with ModWright Instruments and WyWires. Their system showcased the Ulysses v.2 speakers ($14,950/pair) driven by a ModWright KWA 150 Signature amplifier ($8495), with the front-end a pre-production prototype ModWright Elyse DAC (price TBD) fed data from a ModWright-modded Oppo disc player, and ModWright LS 36.5 two-box preamp with tube-regulated power supply ($9995). Cables were WyWires PLatinum interconnects (from $1495) and Silver Series AC cords, with Daedalus/WyWires speaker cables. The Ulysses uses two full-range Fostex units for its midrange, combining it with twin tweeters and two proprietary 8" woofers with paper cones and corrugated surrounds originally designed by Daedalus 20 years ago for musical instrument use.