I finally got to meet one of my audio heroes, John Tucker: founder of Exemplar Audio and co-designer of the legendary Exemplar Horn loudspeaker system. Tucker, who spent the early part of his career working for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, is an engineer and software designer who keeps a distinctly open mind when it comes to the audible effects of seemingly anomalous mechanismsfrom acoustic resonators to powered cables. (John is also featured in an article of mine that will appear in the Autumn, 2012 issue of The Fretboard Journal.) These days, Exemplar's products include a heavily modified version of the Oppo 95 disc player ($3500, including base Oppo unit) and a line of active interconnect and speaker cables called Portals.
Cardas Clear Skythe sample to which VP of Sales and Marketing Andy Regan is pointing in this photois the latest and most affordable of the company's "Matched Propagation" speaker cables, and is said to be ideal for owners of high-efficiency loudspeakers. The retail price is $775 for an 8' pair, terminated with Cardas spade connectors. (I have requested a review sample, and hope to report on the Clear Sky cables within the next couple of months.)
It was that rarest of rare occasions in audio-show reporting: I entered the demonstration room of a brand that was unfamiliar to me, and was impressed at once by a sort of musical rightness I seldom hear from modern playback gear. Sure, I was familiar with the company that made the CD player, preamp, and monoblock amps in useElectrocompaniet, whose solid-state amps are among the few I consider worthy of comparison to the best tube designsbut the Austrian loudspeaker manufacturer Brodmann Acoustics was new to me. Their stand-mounted Festival S ($4500/pair), driven by a pair of Electrocompaniet AW180 monoblocks ($5425 each) allowed the solo violin in a Paganini work to have far greater than usual texture, tone, and presence. Based on my experience at RMAF, the pairing of these two brands is something you should go out of your way to hear.
Danny Richie of GR Research, which supplies drive-units and other components to the DIY community, designed and assembled these panel loudspeakers using push-pull planar-magnetic drivers from BG Corporation. The loudspeaker, which hands over to a servo woofer at 200Hz, sounded open and detailed with all-battery-powered tube electronics from Dodd Audio. (There was also, on static display, a gorgeous one-off Dodd preamp using 6C33C tubes for voltage gain!)
Strange that I should travel 1800 miles to hear products that are designed and manufactured less than two hours from my home. Happily, the McIntosh experience at RMAF was worth the effort, especially inasmuch as the hallowed brand distinguished itself by playing real music as opposed to audiophile chestnuts. (Think of it!) I especially enjoyed some selections from the Beatles' Anthology 3 collection, played via JRiver software on an HP laptop, through a McIntosh C50 preamp ($6500) and MC452 amp ($7500), along with the McIntosh MEN220 room-correction system ($4500, which includes the microphonebut not the standseen in this photo). Rounding out the system were the company's recent XR100 speakers ($10,000/pair): certainly the best McIntosh loudspeakers I have yet to hear.
Speaking of McIntosh, there was lots of Binghamton bling on display in the Totem room, where showgoers enjoyed the world introduction of the Totem Forest Signature loudspeaker ($6000/pair). Driven by a McIntosh C50 preamp and MC452 amplifier and fed by an Apple laptop running Amarra software, the Forest Signatures sounded like great all-around-ers, combining thoroughly impressive spatial performance with surprisingly good color and "body," plus a very natural top-to-bottom tonal balance. As with the Brodmann/Electrocompaniet, Wilson/VTL/dCS/Spiral Groove, Audio Feast, and MBL demonstrations, having to leave the cocoon of this room was a drag.
There's pretty much only one way to hear Rammstein at a hi-fi show: Visit the demonstration room of Swedish-based, American-built Sjöfn HiFi. (As close as I can tell, the name is pronounced hoofin, although you have to do something funny to the H.) Sjöfn 's Managing Director, Lars Erickson, approaches the selection of demo music with a adventurousness and whimsythis is the man who turned me onto the great Israeli trance duo, Infected Mushroomand the sound of his new two-way loudspeaker, The Clue ($999/pair, direct, including shipping) was up to the task. As with earlier Sjöfn designs, I have no idea whatsoever how he manages to wring such enormous scale, clarity, and impact out of such a tiny box. But he does.
Michael Lavorgna, editor of our sister site AudioStream.com, moderated a computer audio seminar on RMAF’s first day. Participants, from left to right: David Chesky (HDtracks.com), Andreas Koch (Playback Designs), Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), Rob Robinson (Channel D Software), Mark Waldrep (AIX Records), Steve Silberman (AudioQuest), and Michael Lavorgna.
Barring the unlikely resurrection of either the summertime Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago or this magazine’s own fondly remembered movable feasts of the 1990s, there is only one hi-fi event for which I would board an airplane: Welcome to Denver. And while this non-flyer is already considering renting a car and driving home Monday, I’m glad as hell to be here: I think this is going to be fun.
Until recently, my favorite shirt was one I'd found on a clearance table at Macy's: a red paisley thing with long sleeves and a button-down collar, not unlike the ones seen in photographs of Peter Holsapple or the young Syd Barrett. When I first found it, this shirt was dusty, and appeared to have been marked down at least a half-dozen times before bottoming out at a price that wouldn't buy a six-pack of Mountain Dew at the local stop-and-rob. Maybe it was on the verge of being discarded, but I suspect that the people at Macy's had simply forgotten it was there.