JA's First Report from the 2018 RMAF

I was hosting a seminar on the Friday afternoon of the show—"50 Years of Being an Audiophile," where I examined how my system and tastes in music and sound quality has evolved since I bought my first audio components five decades ago—and was starting my drive home to Brooklyn Sunday morning, which left me Saturday to visit exhibitors' rooms. My apologies, therefore, to those I wasn't able to get to.

I started my tour in the ground-floor room next to the restaurant hosted by Colorado dealer ListenUp. There I did a double-take—wasn't that a JBL Century L100 three-way loudspeaker, with its distinctive Quadrex foam grille? No, this was the L100 Classic ($4000/pair), released by JBL Synthesis to celebrate the 48 years since this speaker was first released. "A modern take on a time-honored legend," said the press release, which is just as well because I was never a fan of the original, even though it was the bestselling loudspeaker in JBL's history.

The classic features a 1" titanium-dome tweeter with a waveguide, a 5" pulp-cone midrange unit mounted vertically in line with the tweeter, and a 12", reflex-loaded white pulp-cone woofer.

But I didn't get a chance to listen to this reborn classic JBL, because my attention was drawn to the other system in the room, which featured Revel's Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers ($22,998/pair). This Revel has been a favorite ever since Larry Greenhill reviewed it in June 2008, and I still fondly remember how well it sounded in my room. Can't believe that was 10 years ago! The Revels were set-up facing across the short wall of the ListenUp room and driven by Mark Levinson No.536 monoblocks, a Mark Levinson preamp, and a Mark Levinson No.519 Audio Player streaming audio files from Qobuz.

Kitty corner from the ListenUp room on the other side of the restaurant was the ballroom featuring Legacy Audio loudspeakers and Raven amplification. There were several systems set-up, the primary one featuring Legacy's very promising V Loudspeaker System, in a beautiful rosewood and black-pearl finish ($51,500/pair). The V includes Legacy's Wavelet DAC/preamp/room correction and I wanted to hear the effect of this. Unfortunately, no-one in this room seemed interested in playing music, being more involved in conversation. But I was impressed by the build quality of the Raven amplifiers that were being used in this room. Shown in the photo is the Raven Silhouette Mk.2 amplifier, which offers 120Wpc, is hand-wired with silver-plated PTFE-coated conductors, uses Raven's own capacitors, and is built to order in the USA for $25,995.

The reason I wanted to audition the effect of Legacy's Wavelet system was my experience of the Kii Audio Three loudspeaker, which also makes use of digital signal processing to optimize its performance. Kal Rubinson reviewed the Kii Three in September 2017 and was our 2017 "Product of the Year." Kii is now distributed in the US by The Sound Organisation and in their room at RMAF, the German company was demming a pair of Threes ($11,500/pair) with the BXT woofer modules/bases ($20,000/pair, to be available in Q1 2019) that Kal enthused about in his report from Munich High End 2018. When the BXT, with its 8 woofers, is plugged into the Three, the Three recognizes it and readjusts its operating parameters to now give a system that extends to 12Hz! The phat bass on Boz Scaggs' "Thanks To You" was superbly well-defined and deep.

The Australian DEQX company was a pioneer in the use of DSP to optimize both loudspeaker and room behavior, and at RMAF they were demming a system that incorporated DEQX's DSP engine in the controller/preamplifier/amplifier for Kyron Audio's three-way active Kronos open-baffle loudspeaker system ($110,000/system). Also in the system were a pair of Kyron's Mercury sealed active subwoofers ($19,900 pair) operating below 40Hz, a PS Audio P20 Power Plant ($9900) and an Antipodes DS-GT media server ($4900).

I thought the speakers looked familiar when I went into the Constellation Audio room on the Marriott's ground floor. They were the Rockport Technologies Avior IIs ($38,500/pair), which I had reviewed in our August 2017 issue. Not the actual speakers, mind, though the sample of the Constellation Centaur 500 amplifier I reviewed in September 2018 was in Constellation's other room in the Marriott tower.

The amplifiers in this room were the Constellation Taurus monoblocks ($39,000/pair), with a Pictor preamplifier ($18,000) with a DC Filter ($5000), an Andromeda phono preamp ($18,000) with another DC Filter ($5000), a Cygnus Media Player/DAC ($38,000) with DC Filter ($6000) and a Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian Turntable ($35,000) fitted with a Viper Tonearm ($10,000) and an Ortofon A-95 phono cartridge ($6000). Cabling was all Transparent Audio Ultra, and room treatment comprised Stillpoints Aperture Panels.

An admittedly expensive system but the imaging was palpable—you could reach out and touch Gregory Porter singing "God Bless the Child" or José Carreras singing "Misa Criola," and the subtle ambience to the sides and behind these singers was beautifully present.

Peter Ledermann, aka the Soundsmith, was demming his Gen8 strain-gauge cartridge, shown at the back of my photo mounted in a Schröder tonearm, and the Zephyr moving-iron cartridge ($2000, front of photo), which, like all the Soundsmith models, has a new body material, said to more easily transmit vibrational energy into the tonearm, where it can be dissipated rather than affecting the relative motion of the stylus. I listened to some baroque choral music in an all-Soundsmith system featuring a pair of Monarch stand-mount speakers ($8000/pair) and HE150 MOSFET amplifiers bridged for mono operation ($43,000) and was impressed by the seamless sound quality. I asked why the amplifier was so expensive. Peter builds each one by hand!

VTL introduced their new TP2.5 phono preamplifier ($3750). This features shunt power supply regulation, with improved RF filtering compared with its predecessor, a power transformer with a lower radiated magnetic field compared with a typical toroid—this important in light of the use of step-up transformers for MC cartridges, which can be seen at the top left in my photo—and uses a 12AX7 tube for the MM stage and a 12AT7 for the output buffer.

The TP2.5 was compared with the VTL TP-6.5 Signature phono preamp ($12,000) in a system put together by The Audio Alternative of Denver, comprising Vandersteen Seven Mk.II speakers driven by a VTL S400 Mk.2 power amplifier and TP6.5 preamplifier, with AudioQuest cabling and power conditioning and an AMG LP player fitted with a Lyra Atlas cartridge—see Jason Victor Serinus's report here. Yes, the '6.5 was slightly more transparent, when we listened to a baroque piece for soprano and cello with an orchestra; backing, but the '2.5 acquitted itself very well.

Snapped in the corridor outside the Evergreen ballrooms, record-cleaning maven Charles Kirmuss was demming his controversial machine—Michael Fremer titled his recent report on the Kirmuss cleaner If Charles Kirmuss's Record Cleaning Machine and Regimen Are Correct, Are Everyone Else's Wrong? But as Michael wrote and I witnessed at RMAF, Kirmuss's presentation is convincing and his ideas credible.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

No comment about the sound of the "modern take" JBL speakers ....... Can we get a review? :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It would be nice to see a review of the Legacy Wavelet too :-) ...............

Anton's picture

An audio buddy grabbed a pair of those and runs them with home built silver interconnects, a gorgeously restored Lenko table with a Jelco arm, that gold Dynavector needle, and a Rogue something or other integrated and the system kills! He uses it in a 12 X 15 bedroom turned into Hi Fi room.

They are worth a listen.

Kinda like the new Technics 1200 GAE not being the same as a vintage 1200!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"What goes around comes around" ............... Justin Timberlake :-) ..........

"What goes around comes around" ............. Lenny Kravitz :-) ............

tonykaz's picture

Wearing a Lab Coat helps create "Higher Authority" .

Of course the Kirmuss "Restoration" System is the optimum solution to the vinyl Collector's "Gigantic" problem of maintaining a ( 30,000 Plus ) lifetime collection of old/stale 33.3s that never sounded any good because of the dirt clinging to the record grooves.

Now, finally, the studious & responsible Vinyl Record Collector can devote the next year's spare moments to bringing back ( Restoring ) their ever expanding Library of valuable treasures.

It's only $850.00

Vinyl has never been better, despite being Obsolete.

Tony in Michigan

ps. how long does it take to properly restore an entire collection?

ps.2 I'll pass on the Jubilee speakers but the Revels are nice.

ps.3 Were there any youngsters ( under 40ish ) in attendence?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Youngsters under 40 are listening to Beats and AirPods with Blueteeth and smiling, singing along and dancing on the streets :-) ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Follow-up review of Kii Three with BXT woofers would be nice too :-) ...........

Kal Rubinson's picture

When I spoke to Chris of Kii at Munich, he said they would be available for review in early 2019.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Great ....... Looking forward to a followup review :-) ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Kii three with BXT woofers may be a better value for the money (relatively) compared to, over $50k and over $100k passive speakers, which require additional expense of external power-amp(s) and speaker cables :-) .......

JoeinNC's picture

But I didn't get a chance to listen to this reborn classic JBL, because my attention was drawn to the other system in the room, which featured Revel's Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers ($22,998/pair).”

I didn’t get a chance to read the remainder of the article, because my attention waned at the mention of yet another pair of speakers priced well into five figures.

[Puts flame-retardant suit on.]

Axiom05's picture

Indeed, this speaker is 10+ years old, was there any mention of an updated version coming along?

Kal Rubinson's picture

New colors and finishes!

Anton's picture

I remember that episode of the Simpsons: "But she has a new hat!"


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hi-hat :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

All hat, no cattle :-) ..........

Fruff1976's picture

I posted this on the Steve Hoffman Forum Also:

I’ve had a pair of the L100’s for a little over 2 weeks now. I can say that in all of my 30 years of chasing speakers that wow me, these are it. I have a review (non professional) on the music direct web site. I could care less if they’re not a sanctioned “high end” brand or what not. In my honest opinion, 4K is a bargain compared to what other “high end” speakers sell for. I’ve had the following. Gallo, Magnapan, ProAc, totem, audio physic Virgo, usher, elac, Thiel, golden ear and the list goes on. In my listening room, these are a vessel into the recording studio or live event. The first day we got them, my wife came home from work and I played them for her, she just started laughing. They sounded so good to her she just stated laughing and smiling. We ended up listening to them all night. This past weekend we were out listening to live music. We left early because both of us wanted to get home to listen to the new JBL’s. I don’t care what the price tag, heritage, name on the front says, no speaker has been this enjoyable to listen to. On Saturday I put on joy division unknown pleasures. I love the album, but never listen to it because I think the recording isn’t all that great. I can say it was like I was sitting in the recording studio with them. This is not a speaker that you have to explain to people why it sounds good, or what to listen for. I recently heard a pair of Uber expensive focal and top of the line paradigms. I’d take these over those, any day.

dcolak's picture

I was comparing Revel Salon2 to JBL Array 1400's.

Salon2's were unbelievably boring, JBL's moved me in a second.

I got home with Array's and I'm still happy with them.

Decibel's picture

The only reason I clicked on this article was for the JBL L100, Too bad the rest of the article was of zero interest.