The Entry Level #25 Page 2

Ouch. That one stung a bit. I spun around in circles, wondering how to begin a response. Should I start with the strange idea of "musicality," or with the horrible perversion of my gear as "lo-fi"? Then again, should I begin by enumerating my qualifications? Should I remind everyone that I've spent significant time listening to some of the most expensive hi-fi products in the world, that I've listened to more gear in the last five years than most people hear in their lives? Or should I simply punch the computer screen?

Luckily, "Enophile" came to my defense: "'Musicality'? I don't buy it. Do you think non-audiophile music lovers are suffering from a lack of system 'musicality'? Could you enjoy the 'musicality' of your favorite records when you were a teenaged music lover, or did you think, 'Man, as soon as I can throw together a really decent system, I will finally begin to enjoy the "musicality" of this experience? I'll see you in a decade, guys.'

"I bet Stephen's system is plenty musical and he can relax and enjoy, and us audiophiles would ruin it as we sit and think there wasn't enough air around the second triangle to be able to really freaking enjoy the 'musicality.'"

While I appreciated Enophile's comments, they left me with much to consider: Does my ability to enjoy a relatively affordable system make me less of an audiophile? What does it even mean to be an audiophile? I love music, and I want my music to sound as good as possible. That makes me an audiophile, right?

Does it? Am I really an audiophile? Am I a weird audiophile? Is there something wrong with me?

Or am I merely normal?

The 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was held Friday through Sunday, October 12–14, at the Marriott Tech Center, in Denver, Colorado. There were over 400 exhibitors in nearly 200 rooms, plus miscellaneous vendors, daily seminars, nightly parties, and live music performances. John Atkinson, Art Dudley, Jason Victor Serinus, and I each took one wing of the hotel and set out to report on everything we saw and heard. You can find our complete coverage of RMAF here.

Of the small percentage of exhibitors I covered, three stood out for their ability to transform a sterile hotel room into a fun-filled listening room: Ayre Acoustics, Music Hall, and Peachtree Audio. More out of sheer pleasure than responsibility, I lingered in those rooms far longer than required.

Ayre Acoustics set up colorful, decorative wall panels to disguise the drab hotel walls and create an illusion of a larger, swingin' 1950s-era space that included an Eames Side Chair and a sunny ocean scene. To complete the mod mood, an interior decorator added vintage furniture, vases, lamps, ashtrays, a martini bar, and other perfect touches. Ayre debuted their AX-5 integrated amplifier, which, at around $10,000, has no place in this column. In fact, I can't even tell you what music, if any, was playing. What I do remember was that the room was still buzzing with happy people well past closing time.

Music was definitely playing in the large Peachtree Audio suite, which was outfitted with three very different systems: one built around Peachtree's 220 power amplifier ($1399), Nova PRE preamplifier ($999), and a pair of gorgeous Zu Audio Definition Mk.IV high-sensitivity loudspeakers ($12,800/pair); a more ambitious system in which Peachtree's Grand Integrated 440Wpc integrated amplifier/DAC ($4499) drove TAD's Reference One speakers ($78,000/pair); and a real-world system pairing Peachtree's Decco65 65Wpc integrated amp ($899) with the company's own handsome, stand-mounted D5 speakers ($999/pair), and streaming 320kbps MOG music files from an iPhone.

Attendees followed Peachtree VP David Solomon and sales manager Jonathan Derda around the room as the duo tried not only to sell their own products, but an entire way of listening and relating to music. Upon demming the Grand Integrated's ability to play high-resolution digital files, Solomon quipped, "Just keep in mind that the higher up we go in terms of resolution, the more pretentious the music gets."

While Solomon was quick to praise the enormous libraries of streaming services like MOG, Pandora, and Spotify, he also applauded the efforts of companies like Blue Coast Records and HDtracks, which serve high-quality music and sound. "These companies are working for you, you can be sure of that," he said.

Finally, while music was indeed being played in the Music Hall room, no one could possibly hear it amid all the traffic, conversation, and laughter. During my visit, just as one beautiful young woman walked out of the room and two more walked in, it occurred to me that, rather than trudging all over the Marriott attempting to track down stories, I could have simply stayed put in the Music Hall room and waited as the stories came to me.

A young blonde walked in, sat down, and almost immediately exclaimed, "Oh, I like those speakers!" She was talking about the Music Hall Marimbas ($349/pair), reviewed by Sam Tellig in our December 2012 issue.

"What do you like about them?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Their aesthetics."

"They come in any color you want," I said, "as long as it's black."

She laughed. That was all I needed to hear. Review samples are on the way.

Dayton Audio B652 loudspeaker
The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was a good show because it was a fun show.

Back home, I was ready to have some more fun, with Dayton Audio's B652 loudspeakers—the ones with the outrageously high price of $39.80/pair.

Available from Parts Express (catalog #300-652), the Dayton B652 is a simple two-way, sealed-cabinet design with a 6.5" polypropylene mid/woofer and a ferrofluid-cooled, 5/8" polycarbonate tweeter. The cabinet is clad in black vinyl and has a removable grille of black cloth. The B652s sounded pretty much the same regardless of whether the grilles were in place, but I preferred their looks with the grilles off, so that's how I listened. Better looks often equal better sound—at least in my home.

And as far as looks go, the Dayton's not so bad—neither excessively flashy nor terribly chintzy, but simple, modest, and fine. I would never feel embarrassed to have the Daytons in my listening room, which is much more than I can say about some of the overbuilt, honky components I saw at RMAF. The B652's rear panel is as clean and tidy as its front baffle: There's a discreet key-hole hanger near the top, and a pair of plastic spring-clip speaker terminals in the center.

The B652 measures 1113/16" (300mm) high by 71/16" (180mm) wide by 67/16" (165mm) deep and weighs only 5.8 lbs (2.6kg). Knocking on a side panel produced a clearly audible resonance. Dayton specifies the speaker's impedance as 4 ohms, its frequency range as 70Hz–20kHz, and its sensitivity as 87dB/W/m.

Believe it or not, music through the little Dayton B652s was always very enjoyable. Unlike the Klipsch Synergy B-20s ($279/pair; reviewed June 2011), which had an unnaturally bright and unforgiving top end, and the Energy Connoisseur CB-10 ($269.99/pair; reviewed November 2011), which had an upper-bass boost that I simply couldn't forgive, the Dayton B652 never got in the way of the music. Its sins were of omission: Though it could sound big and dramatic enough to fill my listening room, the Dayton lacked deep bass, high-frequency extension, and ultimate control, sounding a bit hard and bothered during the most complex passages of music and when pushed to high volumes.

Listening to "The Nightcaller," from Flying Lotus's excellent new Until the Quiet Comes (LP, Warp WARP230), I heard an impressively large soundstage, good image separation, and a very fine sense of momentum and flow, the up-tempo track moving steadily along with no hint of temporal distortions. High frequencies, however, sounded etched, instrumental colors muted, textures thin.

By comparison, my PSB Alpha B1 speakers ($299/pair) produced an even wider and especially deeper soundstage, with greater overall clarity, openness, and detail. High frequencies were far smoother and better controlled, bass was more forceful, and there was a greater overall ease to the sound—when the music grew in complexity, scale, or volume, the PSBs didn't break a sweat.

But still. You could buy seven pairs of Dayton B652s for the price of the Alpha B1s. Keep a pair in your dorm room, a pair on your desktop, a pair in your office. As long as your expectations are realistic and you're willing to have fun, the Daytons are sure to please.

Is this lunacy? Sheer.

earwaxxer's picture

Great article! - I think we 'audiophiles' are seeing some recent trends in audio, thanks to the recession, China, advances in technology, aging baby boomers, global warming, increasing waistlines - well you get the idea.

The point is, audio manufacturers are finally getting the point (except for maybe Klipch). We want kit that sounds good, and we dont want to pay huge sums for it. Figure that out and you have a business model.

There will always be th mega bux kit, and those who will pay for it. For the rest of us there is Emotiva, Schiit, Magnepan MMG, Dayton, Crown, Peachtree, W4S, M2Tech, PSB and hundreds of others. Great time to be an 'audiophile'!

smargo's picture

Makes me want to go out and purchase these speakers - great to see some passion in your writing - thats how it should be!

keep feeding the passion pipeline

R Browne's picture

If a hi-fi makes you think about music, it's good.

If it makes you think about sound, not so good.

That's it for me, pure and simple.

coruja's picture

It's always a pleasure to read your posts, Stephen.

You keep unearthing these wonderful pieces of equipment that help us 'weirdly normal' people to enjoy music within a reasonable budget.

I guess there a variety of 'audiophiles', some focusing on music and others more on technical aspects/equipment. Each gets their buzz different ways.

For me, there is so much music I want to listen to - and own, physically own! (how very perverse and 20th century of me) - that most of my money is spent on that.

stella's picture

For under $1,000 I have the best sounding system I've owned in 20 years. I sold my Rega rBrio, DAC and Amp and bought all this and had a lot of money left for music.

Now if I could just buy a turntable. But not willing to pay the cost for the new vinyl.

GearMe's picture

Seems to be a ground swell of support for this little speaker...

Steve Guttenberg wrote a similar review last year in his Audiophiliac 'column'.  Guess I'll have to buy pair with the Lepai amp for our upstairs PC.$70/