More First Day Adventures from Sasha

Continuing my tour on the first day of this year's RMAF, let me just say in the first sentence that the beautifully matched system I found up and running in room 9026 fit me like a glove. I have had direct experience over the years, as have many others, with several of the fine audio brands represented in the room hosted by The Audio Alternative, a retailer out of nearby Fort Collins. On show was excellent gear from Audio Research Corporation, Vandersteen Audio, AMG, AudioQuest, and Harmonic Resolutions Systems. Noted speaker designer Richard Vandersteen himself had just arrived when I did.

I did not get to hear this time the fine AMG Giro G9 Turntable with 9W2 Tonearm ($9900) fitted with an AMG Teatro MC Cartridge ($2750). However, I have heard and really enjoyed AMG vinyl playback elsewhere. I did hear an Audio Research grouping of electronics: their CD6/DAC combo ($9000), into the Galileo GSPre ($15,000), followed by the AR Galileo GS 150 Power Amplifier ($20,000). The gear was sitting comfortably on a Harmonic Resolution Systems RXR Audio Stand ($4595), which included several Harmonic Resolution Systems M3X 2123 Isolation Base(s) ($2895 each). All cabling was from AudioQuest (varied prices), with the power supplied via an AudioQuest Niagara 7000 power conditioner ($5000). Final stop music-wise: a handsome pair of Vandersteen Quatro Wood CT loudspeakers ($13,900/pair), with optional Vandersteen M5-HP Balanced Crossovers ($995).

As noted, I immediately felt this was an extremely well set-up and matched system, and this was confirmed for me by listening to one selection from my own recent Cooperstown—Jazz Opera in Nine Innings (Albany/Troy 1553/54). I realize this is a self-referential situation, but when I really want to check some music reproduction out, to hear music that I was involved with every step of the way gives a very clear idea of what may or may not be going on sonically. Vocals were warm, clear, and floating beautifully where they should be in the soundstage, the drum set was placed realistically in the band, and the acoustic bass was providing a strong foundation. All the musical re-creation elements were pulling together in super-fine musical way.

RMAF has happened enough times now that traditions are starting to form. And hands down, it would seem that Ayre Acoustics from Boulder, are going to keep taking the Best Room Décor honors; each year a different concept. There was a jazz club last year, and a record store the year before. This year it was the Ayre Recording Studio. And not only were all the walls decorated with great graphics, but the room was actually fitted out with equipment you would find in a smallish studio; an active board, monitors, tape deck, and guitars for the Boys from Ayre to play; you can see two of them posing for the camera in the photo. That is Ayre's Alex Brinkman on cowbell on the left. But there is a reality factor too. Ayre was featuring their new Codex D/A headphone amplifier ($1795). This is a small studio-friendly box that has inputs for USB and optical S/PDIF, and contains a digital preamp with a volume control. Like all Ayre electronics it can run in a fully balanced mode for one set of headphones, or can run two sets of phones unbalanced. And for monitoring, there on a shelf below the mixing board was an Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amplifier ($12,950). Another piece of gear featured, not from Ayre, was the Melco N1A Music Library ($1995). This baby is an all-in box that allows you to set aside any computer interface. It contains four Terabytes of storage. This was described to me by David Carr of Melco as a "plug and play music library", with USB and Ethernet inputs, allowing for easy interface with the growing number of music streaming content providers. Rock on Rocky Mountain High Ayre!

Prior to the start of the show I got a heads up that the GamuT company would be showing their new Lobster Chair ($5990). So I had to be there, as some years ago I composed the music score for the film "Lobster Man From Mars." Yes, that is your truly reclining in seafood-like luxury. The clever thing here is there is a functional component to the whimsy. The little cutout areas at head-level are not only thematic, but they address the problem of not having reflective surfaces right by the ear when seated. Even the orange section is functional, as it is a non-reflective cloth surface, with the rest of the chair finished in nice black leather.

But it wasn't all about shellfish in the GamuT room. I was also introduced to a mostly GamuT system that included the GamuT RS7 floorstanding loudspeakers ($39,990/pair), GamuT M250 mono amplifiers (12,900 each), the GamuT D3i Dual-mono preamplifier (8,290), and a set of GamuT cabling including their Reference speaker cable ($5990, length not specified), and GamuT interconnect ($2,990, again not sure of the length). This almost one-stop audio system was topped off with a Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas Cornet 2 turntable and tonearm combo ($9990 for both).

I spent some time being briefed in particular on the amplifier by designer Benno Melgaard. The GamuT D3i utilizes very few transistors in the circuit; one MOSFET for positive and one for negative but utilizing both as negatives. Proof is in the pudding of course, or was that seafood gumbo? I heard off of a fine LP, Louis Armstrong doing "St. James Infirmary" and boy did that hit the sweet spot. Remember, the Lobster Man is not of this earth!

Venturing down to the packed fifth floor at the Marriott, I made a beeline for a room that was chock a block full of great gear distributed by GTT Audio & Video from Long Valley, New Jersey. Kronos, Audionet, Kubala Sosna, and YG Acoustics, were all pulling together to create a powerhouse system. Breaking it down more, in that same order I heard for LP source components the Kronos Limited Edition Pro turntable ($38,000), fitted with a Kronos 12" Black Beauty tonearm ($8500) and an AirTight PC1 Supreme cartridge ($11,000). Electronics lineup included the Audionet PAM G2 Phonostage with EPX Enhanced Power Supply ($20,200), an Audionet PRE G2 Preamp ($23,350), and the Audionet MAX Mono Amps ($30,500/pair). All cabling was from Kubala Sosna, their Elation! Line. Interconnects ($6000 for first meter/$1200 additional meter), and Power Cords ($1800 for first meter/$500 additional meter). And a powerhouse endpoint for musical signal in this chain, the YG Acoustics Sonja Loudspeakers ($72,800/pair)

. There is a lot more to talk about in describing these components than space here allows, but I should point out that four sets of the Audionet MAX monos were utilized to bi-amp the Sonjas! And as the Sonja is rated as a 4 ohm load, these class A/B amps would have been putting out 750Wapiece. The 1.2 designation for the Sonja refers to two separate cabinets, which can actually be ordered as individual units. (The Sonja 1.3 that JA reviewed a couple of years back adds a third module.)

This was a powerful assemblage of first-rate gear, and it sounded like it too. I heard off of LP, Thelonius Monk and Ray Brown doing "Round Midnight." Gorgeous as all get out, this track features as extended bass solo from Ray Brown that seemed to boom and overload the room a bit; one of those typical average queen-bed-size hotel rooms. We discussed this, and I think it may well have been the recording itself—the way it was miked or mastered? At any rate I stayed on to hear, again from LP, a recent recording of contemporary R&B singer Vanessa Fernandez doing the Bill Withers tune "Use Me." And this track was rockin' and tight, with no overload now, but plenty of kicking foundation from the bass and drums. Plus the vocals sounded marvelous, and the amount of texture and air coming out of those Sonjas was simply amazing.

The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest has a reputation for being an inclusive Big Tent. Well, right next to the Bearded Lady booth, I came upon the Synergistic Research room. Designer Ted Denney acknowledged that some of his concepts and products are controversial. "Right on," I say, because I grew up in Berkeley in the 1960s. However, my dad was a Professor of Philosophy at UC Berkeley and a heavy rationalist; logic and all that. Another clue was the dark blue room lighting. Okay I said to self, time to go into another dimension of the audio/music dialectic. (Yes, this could turn into a grad-student philosophy essay, bear with me.) I am a composer; I don't know one end of a soldering iron from the other, and that can hurt. But this also means I don't have a lot of preconceived ideas about the proper behavior of electrons, and so forth.

Here on Planet Earth this was a fine actual functioning audio system. In addition to the myriad of Synergistic products deployed around the room—literally on the walls and ceilings as well as with the gear—there were several well-known pieces of hardware up and running. The McIntosh MC 452 Stereo Amplifier ($8500) was one of them, as well as a fine pair of Magico S-3 Loudspeakers ($22,600/pair).

The timing of my visit happened to be fortuitous, as shortly after I walked in designer Ted Denney presented a full A/B demo of several Synergistic product categories. Time/Space here do not permit anything nearing a complete description of what is going on here, not even a complete product list and pricing. So let me focus in on two product categories that were actually demonstrated for me while I was in the room. I then encourage readers to follow up via the extensive list and links on the Synergistic Research website, to others who have written at greater length. (I am not the first to wrestle with the design concepts at work here.)

The Tranquility Base XL ($3250), of which there were a number under components in the system, is an active platform. In plain English, this means it has an on/off switch. I did not get a lot of detail beyond this, but what I did get was an active A/B demo of music being played while the power to the Tranquility Bases was being cut in and out. We heard a recording of Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme played several times, with designer Ted Denney flipping one power cord switch. Wow! With the Tranquility Base powered up, there was obviously more breath and texture present, across the frequency range. Ted then did the same A/B comparison with Count Basie's "88 Basie Street," a recording I know well. Bingo! Similar readily apparent contrasts. Particularly on the impact and particulars of the Count's piano sound, so well recorded here.

Ted Denney then moved on to brief us on another Synergistic component in the system, the Atmosphere Acoustic Wave Generator ($2495), which physically is a narrow little tower, which was situated equidistant in the middle between the Magico speakers. Ted Denney described this invention as a "stereo RF generator." Again, performing simple on/off sampling of the same Count Basie recording, I heard with the Atmosphere engage more reality to Basie's piano. This also applied to the sense of the Fender bass, and the swingin' horns as they ratchet up in the arrangement. This was some heavy voodoo stuff going on here—designer Denney even spoke in his remarks about the combination of scientific and intuitive aspects involved in his thinking. Fascinating, musically interesting and intriguing; what the High End is all about!

Moving on from the strong vision of a single designer, I came upon a room in which a number of fine high-end manufacturers were collaborating on a very fine system, with a lot of varying design elements. In room 1117 I heard quality work from Merrill Williams Audio, Zesto Audio, WyWires, Kharma International, and others. I tend to think of audio systems a little like I think of fly-fishing; it's a stream, and it flows downwards to the ocean, to ground. Upstream I heard music from a Merrill Williams Audio REAL 101.2 Turntable ($7200), fitted with a Tri-Planar US Classic 10" tonearm ($6,200), and a Dynavector XX2 Mk.II cartridge ($1985). Down the next waterfall into a Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 vacuum tube phono stage ($4700), a Zesto Audio Leto 1.5 vacuum tube preamp ($7500), and a pair of Zesto Audio Eros 300 class-A mono power amplifiers ($19,900/pair). Cabling was from WyWires and their Diamond and Platinum Series (varied pricing). And that river entered the bay via a handsome pair of Kharma Elegance Double Nine Signature (DB9-S) Speakers ($37,500/pair). The Kharmas features include a double set of 9" woofers, with an "Omega 7" driver for the mids, and a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter.

From LP playback I heard some more Ray Brown; "Exactly Like You." There was great snappin' and poppin' walkin' bass from Ray. (I know, a lot of missing letter "Gs." But it's jazz, and sounded like it too.) Great sound overall, and creating systems that have collaborative synergy under difficult show situations in hotel rooms isn't a given. Fine stuff!

Allen Fant's picture

Kharma speakers are looking pretty sweet!

jporter's picture

To see the faces of the other people in the room when you put on your jazz opera...Priceless.