More Audio Highs on RMAF Days 2 and 3

Have JVS's critical faculties failed him? Judging from his recently penned performance reviews, and his most recent recording review for, no. But when room after room at RMAF yields fine to superb sound, he doesn't hesitate to wax ecstatic.

Hurriedly returning to the first person before the dreaded men in white coats come to carry me away, I ended Day 2 carried away by the sound in the Musical Surroundings room, located on the Marriott's mezzanine. There I discovered a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence: a system that contained four products that were reviewed or used in reviews in the October 2018 Stereophile, plus a somewhat more expensive sister of one of the two products that appeared on the cover: Audio Research Ref 160M mono amplifiers ($30,000/pair) and Reference 6 line stage ($14,000), Sonus Faber Aida loudspeakers ($130,000/pair), DS Audio Master1 optical phono cartridge and EQ ($22,500), and Hana ML MC cartridge ($1200).

There was a lot more in the system, but first, let's focus on the stunning sound of the LPs I auditioned until well past Saturday's closing time. "Beautiful, simply beautiful sound" I wrote about Chet Baker's rendition of "Someday my Prince Will Come." "Simply magical mesmerizing sound…lovely warmth…a simply magical expanse…fucking amazing dynamics" I wrote about the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields' performance of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. "Superb expanse, amazingly smooth, weight of percussion astounding" I scribbled while auditioning the March to the Scaffold from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. And finally, thanks to Mike Fajen, I was treated to a bit of David Bowie narrating Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf on an LP from Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, about which I enthused, "The strings are so beautiful, and Bowie is perfect and understated."

True, the sound was warmer than what I heard from the Audio Research combo in my listening room. But who cares when it was so alive, dynamic, and musically all-encompassing?

Now for the long list. We went between two turntables and multiple cartridges: (A) an all-Clearaudio lineup including Clearaudio Innovation turntable in piano white lacquer with the company's 9" tonearm in silver ($17,250), turntable stand ($15,500), Goldfinger Statement phono cartridge ($16,000), Statement clamp ($1000), Outer Limit peripheral record clamp ($1350), and Absolute Phone Inside ($15,000); and (B) a mixed-brand line-up of AMG Viella V12 Doppio turntable complete with AMG 12J2 and 12JT Turbo tonearms ($29,250), AMG Turbo tonearm cable ($2250) and AMG Reference tonearm cable ($1500), DS Audio Master1 optical phono cartridge and EQ ($22,500)—the sound of this one was something else—and Hana ML MC cartridge ($1200).

Electronics, in addition to those already mentioned, included the Audio Research Reference Phono 3 phono stage ($14,000) and Audio Research Reference CD9 CD player/DAC ($13,000 and not auditioned). Racks were HRS SXR with M3X isolation bases, and cables Kubala-Sosna. Descriptors, as you have already seen, were all superlative.

I'm not sure how I managed to cover more rooms during the 6 hours of Day 3 than the 8 hours of Day 2. All I know is that I started my Sunday in the Nordost demo room on the Mezzanine, where I discovered a system with many components familiar to me: YG Acoustics Sonja 2.2 speakers; Nordost Odin 2 cabling and Valhalla 2 USB cable plus Nordost Sort-Lifts and Sort Kones, QB8, QX4 (3), QKore (2), and grounding wires; dCS Rossini CD player and Rossini clock; VPI Avenger turntable with outboard power supply plus two Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridges mounted on 2 VPI tonearms wired with Nordost internal Reference wire; CH-Precision I1 integrated amplifier (in for review) and M1 Reference power amplifier in bi-amped configuration, 2 Sanus equipment racks, and a MacBook Pro running Roon.

The sound was alive, open, and intriguing. I don't recall the first track that was playing, but the delicacy and beauty on Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" pulled me in. Wonderful, totally musical sound, flowing with the ideal combination of strength and ease to start the day.

I can't speak for RMAF's huge CanJam and Marketplace—I left the former to Rafe Arnott to cover for, and the latter to consumers to rummage and pillage—but in terms of hallway exhibits, my hotly contested RMAF 2018 Static Display Award goes to Clearaudio.

Philip O'Hanlon of On A Higher Note, on the other hand, chalked up three RMAF 2018 awards: Most Dapper Outfit, Most Refreshingly Original Playlist, and One of the Best-Sounding Rooms I visited.

Addressing the latter two—those who didn't enter the room will have to catch Philip's outfit next time around—the system included, from Gryphon, Pantheon speakers ($52,000/pair), Antileon EVO stereo amp ($39,000), the world premiere showing of the Zena preamp ($17,500), Scorpio S CD player ($9400), and Kalliope DAC ($25,000). Other products included a vintage, NFS Revox/Sonorus PR99 tape deck, Artesiana racks and stands, MIT cabling, and a Shunyata Denali line conditioner ($5000).

First up, my Sony CD of Murray Perahia playing Handel's Harpsichord Suite in E, HWV 430. The piano's highest notes were perfect, with ideal tonality and chime. Timbres were extremely neutral, and the depiction of the piano's own resonance ideal. Perhaps there was a bit too much mechanical emphasis on notes during runs, and a slight lack in the delicacy department, but the sense of space was excellent.

I adored the sound of Linda Ronstadt & the Nelson Riddle Orchestra on "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)" from What's New, played on two-track tape, 15 IPS. Switching to an entirely different emotional world, the system nailed the nastiness on Tom Jones & Jeff Beck's "Goin' Down Slow" from the CD Red, White & Blues. Really, really fine.

Visiting the Classic Album Sundays/Aberdeen Audio room was definitely a different experience. When I entered, some of the show's many young visitors were getting off on an LP whose sound was so raucous, bright and vicious that I didn't dare align my ears with the tweeters. Yes, I am one of those people who always stuck tissue paper in my ears during rock concerts.

I did hear Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon' from Head Hunter and, even if the music was rather repetitive, thought the sound really solid, with excellent slam and perfectly controlled bass, although it was a mite dry for my taste. Doing the honors: Grand Prix Parabolica turntable ($16,500) with Tri-planar MK VII arm ($6200) and Lyra Etna cartridge ($8995)—an extremely musical and anything-but-dry combo; Grand Prix Monaco amp stands (2 x $6370/each) and Classic Stand ($10,250)—both of which I use—with Apex feet (ditto); Formula shelves (4 x $2620/each—I only have one of these, and wish I had more); Jeff Rowland Corus preamplifier ($14,900), Conductor phono preamplifier ($9850), PSU ($8200), and Model 535 bridged amps ($11,800/pair); YG Acoustics Hailey loudspeakers ($42,800/pair).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Higher Love" ............ Steve Winwood :-) .............

DetroitVinylRob's picture

Glad to hear you highlight this one Jason, I have found the Audio Research Reference and Sonus Faber loudspeakers, strung with Kubala-Sosna Elation (if memory serves correct) compo to be a real show favorite of mine in the last several years. If I could only tell them to pack it up and ship it! All the tonal colour, excellent dynamics, simply beautiful... and would want for little more.