I experienced a fascinating comparison in one of the RMAF rooms featuring systems from Colorado dealer ListenUp. With Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa speakers (review forthcoming) driven by a combination of Musical Fidelity X-T100 integrated amplifier "supercharged" with MF's 550K monoblocks, and Shunyata AC conditioning and power cables, CDs played back on MF's new top-loading CD player were being compared with lossless-encoded files of the same recordings played back over WiFi via a Sonos ZP80 that fed its S/PDIF digital output to the MF player's DAC section. The data were the same, so other than the WiFi connection, there was no reason for the sound to be different. And I did indeed find it very difficult to hear any consistent difference between the two presentations. Perhaps the low frequencies were a little better-defined and extended via CD, but I don't think I could have identified that without knowing which was which. Interesting.
After my final hi-rez seminar on Sunday, and triggered by my very positive experience with the inexpensive Avalon NP2 speakers, I went across the hallway to the room Denver dealer HD Home Cinema & AV Design was using to debut Avalon Acoustics' new $9300/pair Ascendant loudspeaker. This combines the composite-dome tweeter from the NP2 with a pair of Kevlar-composite woofers in the angled, faceted enclosure that has become a de facto trademark of the Colorado company's high-end speakers. With Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Ayre C-5xe universal player, K-5xe preamp, and P-5xe power-line conditioner, and wired with Cardas cable, the Avalon system proved one of the best-sounding of the Show.
As well as the excellent-sounding Avalon NP2 speakers, the system I used to play back 24-bit AIF files from my laptop consisted of (from top to bottom): Metric Halo ULN-2 to convert the Firewire output of my Apple PowerBook to AES/EBU; Bel Canto DAC 3 (which I enthusiastically review in the forthcoming November issue), sitting on cylindrical wooden footers from a new company Waipuna Sound and connected to the Metric Halo box via a DH Labs AES/EBU link; Conrad-Johnson CT5 preamp and ET250S hybrid power amplifier; and Nordost Thor AC conditioner. Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables were used throughout. Equipment rack was the attractive and effective Stillpoints, which suspends the acrylic shelves from four steel cables.
Roy Gregory, that is, editor of HiFi+ magazine from the UK, who had chosen and set-up the system I was using for my high-resolution demonstrations. And my thanks also to Roy's wife Louise, who was signing up attendees for my dems at the Show's front desk.
Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable strongly believes that audiophiles need to be exposed to live music. He arranged for one of the ensembles he records with his Isomike system, the Fry Street Quartet, to perform a series of concerts at RMAF. After the players finished a Haydn Quartet in the Marriott's lobby, the audience went into the Kimber listening room across the corridor to hear the same piece on Ray's $500k reference surround system, described earlier in the blog.
So read the flyer promoting YG Acoustics' dem in room 446 I picked up in the Marriott's lobby. So I went by room 446. Twice. Neither time could I get in, such was the throng inside. But I did manage to hold my camera above the avid listeners' heads to take a shot of the Colorado company's Anat Reference speaker, which had very much impressed me when I heard it at the 2006 CEDIA Show. I am going to try to get a listen on the Show's final day, but the news that YG has hired veteran sales manager Dick Diamond away from Kimber is a sign that this new speaker manufacturer is aiming high.
Musical Fidelity/Era Design distributor SignalPath's David Solomon is also interested in the desktop and enthusiastically demmed the new Peachtree Decco for me. The $700 tubed D/A processor/60Wpc integrated amplifier has a rear-panel bay that will accommodate the popular Sonos ZP80 WiFi media player and will take either digital or analog signals to its own, higher-quality DAC circuitry and output stage. It also has a USB input. The revolution is here.
Audioengine is making a name for itself with its extremely affordable powered speakers. But rather than photograph the speakers being demmed at RMAF, I concentrated on the Apple iBook running iTunes being used as the source. "What's that?" I asked, pointing to the dongle.