More on Jason's RMAF Day 2

I almost missed the huge EMM Labs exhibit on the ground floor until John Atkinson told me that he had visited it, and the sound was exceptional. Don't quote me on the adjective, please. Instead, I'll own it for myself. When a system makes a recording of a 9' concert grand—in this case, Murray Perahia's instrument—sounds like it really is a 9' grand, color me very, very impressed. As one should be, given a system price tag of near $1,000,000.

When I entered the room, a recording of Dave Brubeck's Take Five delivered an extremely neutral presentation, ideal life on top, and near-ideal bass save for a bit of room-related booming. On Murray Perahia's recording of Handel's joyous Harpsichord Suite in E, HWV 430, the system not only presented amongst the most timbrally-accurate renditions of piano I've heard, but also conveyed the relaxation and delicacy of this wonderful music's initial passages. "Microdynamics" was no longer some audiophile concept; it was an organic component of a brilliant performance that ended with astoundingly fast, perfectly executed runs up and down the keyboard that reminded me of the smile on the exquisite Ms. Daisy Mae Doven's face when she runs down the beach after a ball.

Because I couldn't play high-resolution files—I had a ton of those on hand, stored on three 256GB solid-state USB drives—we fell back on my Channel Classics SACD of Mahler's Symphony 2, performed by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The sound was tremendous, simply tremendous, in every respect. If you were to hand me one of the audiophile checklists that some reviewers use, there would be a 10 next to every one of them.

While I did not hear EMM Labs' new Ed Meitner-designed, MQA-capable DV2 Integrated DAC with high-resolution volume control ($30,000 and shipping soon—review forthcoming), I did hear the new PRE reference preamplifier ($25,000, available now), DA2 reference DAC ($25,000), TX2 CD/SACD Transport ($25,000), MTRX2 1kW class-AB amplifiers for the main stereo pair of speakers ($85,000/pair), MTRX reference 1.5kW amplifiers for surround ($130,00/pair), and PRE2 stereo preamplifier for surround channels ($15,000). Kimber Silver Select cabling and four Focal Grand Utopia EM Evo 4 speakers ($229,000/pair) for stereo and surround completed the chain. And what a chain it was!

Raidho Acoustics joined with Moon by Simaudio's 780D D/A processor, 740P preamplifier, and 860 power amplifier for the world premiere of Raidho's new Scansonic brand MB-5 loudspeaker ($7500/pair). Made in Denmark, the specs of the three-way, ribbon-tweeter-equipped speaker include a frequency response of 29Hz-40kHz, 4 ohm impedance, and 90dB sensitivity. Compared to the old model, internal construction has changed to include a ported cabinet, modified woofer and midrange drivers, and a completely redesigned crossover that aims to time-align all drive units at listening distance.

Connected by Nordost Valhalla 2 cabling, the speakers created an immersive soundstage in which Pink Floyd sounded really, really fine. (I suspect the electronics and cabling had more than a little to do with the system's success.) Judging from my short time in this room, this is definitely a speaker to consider if it's within your price range.

Although Nagra and Musical Artisans were forced to make do after the new DeBaer Saphir turntable with 9" Onyx tonearm ($77,000 with all the trimmings) plus Top Wing Red Sparrow MC cartridge ($16,500) were lost in transit, Nagra's recording and remastering specialist, René Laflamme, was still able to wow yours truly with a number of recordings, including his own, that he managed to cobble together. Of all of them, a hi-resolution 2xHD Storyville Records remaster of either Sonny Boy Williamson's The Blues or The Sky is Crying, the latter recorded when he was perhaps 66 years old, blew me away. The intimacy of the recording, the huge contrast between the man's aged speaking voice and still intact, surprising sweet singing voice left me breathless.

I also loved the full-range reproduction of Matthew Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's sometimes curious take on Shostakovich Symphony 5, and the sweetness of the solo violin. Air and life at the top of the range were special standouts. A track from a DSD-only release of Carmen Gomes Sings the Blues also sounded superb. And if that were not enough, a beautiful sounding 1948 recording of Peggy Lee, rescued from acetate masters on which the noise level was unacceptable until René stepped in, left me in a state of wow.

Heard: the debut Nagra HD-DAC-X ($65,000, shipping in September) along with Nagra's HD preamplifier ($59,500), HD monoblock amplifier ($86,000), IV-S/QGB open reel (N/A), and Seven Hi-Fi recorder ($5100); Rockport Technologies Cygnus loudspeakers ($62,500); Argento Audio FMR cabling; and Box Furniture equipment supports.

A "preliminary" listen to DeVore Fidelity's forthcoming four-box Orangutan Reference System loudspeakers ($85,000/set estimated price) presented a first opportunity to hear John DeVore's newest design. The system has two components. The first, the O/Ref/A, has a 10" paper-cone woofer with a new motor using a pure AlNiCo magnet; a 1" silk-dome tweeter loaded by a cast and machined bronze horn, also containing an all-new motor; and 3/4" silk-dome super tweeter. The second box on each channel, the O/Ref/B, has a 10" paper woofer that is naturally reflex-loaded to below 20Hz in-cabinet without the use of equalization, a custom-designed 300W class-AB amplifier with linear power supply, and an all-analog signal path with user-adjustable EQ at 20Hz and 35Hz. Preliminary specs include a bandwidth of 16Hz-45kHz, 98dB sensitivity per watt @ 1 meter, and 12 ohm impedance.

Connected to a Brinkmann Spyder turntable ($14,900) with Air Tight Opus-1 MC cartridge ($15,000), SME V-12 tonearm ($8995), additional Brinkmann extended arm base ($2700), and Air Tight ATH-3 step-up transformer ($3000); TotalDac d1-tube-mk2 DAC ($11,000); Air Tight ATC-5 preamplifier ($9500) and ATM-211 mono amplifiers ($22,000/pair); Box Furniture Company equipment stands; and Auditorium 23 cabling, I thought the sound a little wiry but filled with sweetness. Ultimately revealing, the system let me hear the rumble on the old LP of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream with the LSO under Peter Maag, as well as extremely detailed treble and beautiful warm colors. Unquestionably addictive, it felt a bit as though I was listening under a microscope.

From here we went to a recording of François Carrier's saxophone. Again, thanks to Air Tight electronics, the presentation was warm, with excellent, in-tune bass. Once again, the top was a mite wiry. Spying no power conditioning in the system—maybe there was—I'm inclined to think that the wiriness was not caused by the Orangutan Reference.

Parasound's system sounded exquisite on a 16/44.1 recording of voice and drums, but boomed some on bass. I can't remember who was singing "She's so Wonderful," but I heard fine bite on highs, and mellow loveliness lower in the accompanying saxophone's range. Switching to a redbook file of soprano Arleen Auger's incomparable rendition of Fernando J. Obradors's "Del cabello más sutil," on her exquisite Love Songs recital, I greatly admired the beauty, but missed the last iota of time-held-still magic. That, of course, may have had little or nothing to do with the electronics.

Components were the John Curl-designed Halo JC 5 stereo amplifier ($5995), new Halo P6 preamplifier ($1495) with ESS Sabre32 DAC and support of PCM 384/32, DSD256, and DoP DSD, and Halo JC 3 Jr ($1495); Marantz turntable TT15-S1 turntable with Clearaudio Virtuoso MM cartridge ($1495); Oppo 105 Blu-ray player ($1000); Aurender A10 network music server/player ($5500); and Tekton Electron SE speakers ($4000/pair).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Speaking about Pink Floyd, the album "The Dark Side of the Moon" is available in all different forms, reel to reel analog tape, analog cassette tape, vinyl LP, CD, SACD and hi-res ........ It is also available in surround-sound ......... It was originally recorded on analog reel to reel tape(15 ips I believe) .......... copy(s) of analog reel to reel tape may be hard to get hold of ......... It sounds great, especially the track "Money" ........... That album would be great for evaluating audio equipment :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Amazon has CD and vinyl LP of "The Dark Side of the Moon" :-) ..........

Anton's picture

I enjoy comparing pressings, so, nerd. But, love that album, as well.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you already have this album, give it another listen ......... This album was originally recorded nearly 50 years ago in 1973 ......... What were you doing in1973? :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

We were all "Cool Kids" ........... Echosmith ........ Weren't we in 1973? :-) .........

dalethorn's picture

"What were you doing in1973?"

Running a black-bag operation for Nixon.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Brain Damage" ............ Pink Floyd .......... The Dark Side of the Moon :-) .............

dalethorn's picture

"Who Are The Brain Police" - Mothers of Invention, 1966.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Brain Games" (various re-mixes) ........... Indiano :-) .............

dalethorn's picture

"If I only had a brain" -- Scarecrow, Wizard of Oz.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Po-Jama People" ......... Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention :-) .............

dalethorn's picture

Don't wear your po-jamas to a high school drinking party.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hugh Hefner used to wear po-jamas all the time :-) ...........

dalethorn's picture

I wrote a poem some years ago with Hugh Hefner in mind, and I even sent him a copy by first-class mail, to which he didn't respond. Perhaps it was the content?


I love you Janie
Like a bottle of glue
I'm stuck on your looks
And your rich daddy too

If you give me your hand
I'll give you my heart
We'll get this thing off
To a profitable start

We can travel together
From Winter 'till Fall
We'll fly to Sao Paulo
And build a new mall

We'll love and laugh
And have a great time
And thanks to your daddy
It won't cost us a dime

Now Janie my darling
My beautiful dame
The years have been hard
And you don't look the same

So we'll order a facelift
Get a tummy-tuck too
And while we're at it
Another bottle of glue

dalethorn's picture

The less aggressive songs like Us And Them are a good system test for treble extension and air.

Ortofan's picture

... trade in his Wilson speakers for a set of the Focal Grande Utopia EM Evo?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

for JVS to amass the money to renovate the current music room, which also involves digging up the driveway and reconfiguring the deck, and then convincing the husband that the hassle is worth it. (Whether the Supreme Court will eventually relitigate same-sex marriage and annul JVS's inviolate spiritual bond with DJB is another issue.)

Of course, if JVS does somehow amass the funds, he might instead opt for Wilson's Alexx or speakers from Sonus Faber or Tidal. Hey, he might even construct a space large enough to store multiple speakers in the hallway. Given the size of the Focals, he might instead buy a vacant lot in the middle of nowhere and build a new house with a storage shed for the audio equipment forklift. But given that there's no pot of gold or secret inheritance awaiting, and therefore no known source for that money, and worldwide ecological catastrophe may occur before that money comes in, poor poor JVS will just have to content himself with the superb Wilson Alexia 2s.

Anton's picture

As far as awards go, Wilson gets one for "Most Improved" over the past 15 years. They are truly up to snuff now!

As the the SCOTUS, please know that my first voting criteria for any candidate is that person's stand/record on civil rights. What you said is a scary thought.

Cheers to you and DJB.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Yes, a very scary thought. Much better to focus on the strides Wilson Audio has taken since Dave discovered the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic in their own hall, and determined to reproduce it through his loudspeakers.

Shall now return to the music - far more uplifting than thoughts of politics - and write more blogs.

dalethorn's picture

(Hopefully not off topic. Not too far anyway) The supremes should not have the 'right' to interpret our rights, if those rights are generally accepted and don't interfere with other people's rights. The tricky part is when you grant them a power 'x' because you want something, and they grow that power into something unexpected.

Ortofan's picture

... various Wilson speakers at a local dealer - and this would extend back to the early WATT/Puppy days - they've never struck me as being especially "timbrally accurate." That dealer usually has a set of Martin-Logan electrostatic speakers set up at the opposite end of the same room and those have always seemed to me to be more timbrally accurate.

I've generally attributed this to Wilson's use of paper driver cones. The speakers I listen with at home use some form of plastic cones and seem capable of matching the timbral quality of the piano also in the room.

If you believe Harbeth's Alan Shaw, the particular formula of plastic he has developed exhibits the ideal properties for a speaker cone. Did you have an opportunity to audition the Harbeth Monitor 40 speakers being used to demo Vinnie Rossi's electronics?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Almost all of the electrostatic speakers do not have cross-over between midrange and tweeter audio frequencies .......... This is a difficult area for dynamic speakers, where there are different types of drivers are used for midrange(s) and tweeter(s) and a cross-over is employed ......... Of course, electrostatics have problems in the bass region ......... That is the reason why Martin-Logan uses hybrid electrostatic driver for upper frequencies and dynamic drivers for bass frequencies .........That transition can have problems too, if not done well ...........

Jason Victor Serinus's picture


Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Room with a view" .......... The Interrupters :-) ..........

Allen Fant's picture

Excellent coverage as always- JVS.

RH's picture

Thanks Jason.

I always appreciate your descriptions of the sound. It used to be, it seemed, that Stereophile shied away from descriptions of the sound at audio shows under the not unreasonable justification that it may be seen as a mini-"review" under conditions unfavourable to the component in question.

However, I think we are all aware of the circumstances involved in demonstrating equipment at a show and can add that large grain of salt to any report. People giving their impressions of the sound in different rooms is nice to read for those of us not able to make such shows (or even to compare notes when we do).

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

There is no set Stereophile policy on how to write show reports. My approach is simple: Not only do I want to share my impressions of what I heard, but I am also aware that, with the rise of internet forums, if I "make nice," everyone will know that I'm writing with fingers crossed behind my back.

Far more to the point, I want to validate for readers with similar opinions that they are not alone. For those who disagree with me, equally cool. There are many different flavors in this one-size-does-not-fit-all world, although, as I think about, that mixed metaphor makes it sound as though I'm advocating for an ice cream cone filled with shoe leather. Which gets us back to the sound of some systems...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One of the many great things about your show reports is, your mention of the different recordings they are playing in different demo rooms ........... That helps some us to explore those different recordings ...... Thank you JVS :-) .........

vclements's picture

I thought QoBuz was supposed to be THE streaming service for RMAF??
I have yet to read ANYTHING about QoBuz.
Suspecting they were MIA and will be ANOTHER delay.

OffordTimperley's picture

You won't hear much about Qobuz here ... this is an MQA magazine don't you know ? :)

I heard the launch will now be mid November. Patience.

vclements's picture

I may get attacked for this, but I'm indifferent and solidly sitting on the fence with MQA, but this constant waiting, delay, waiting, delay, waiting routine with QoBuz is making me start to lean to MQA.
I'm just getting bored with delay after delay.
I think we should all tell Qobuz, "we'll sign up in a month", and then "sorry, we'll sign up next month" etc etc.

OffordTimperley's picture

Im also indiffernt to MQA, as for Qobuz I would guess launching in a giant market like the U.S can be complicated technically ...maybe they just want to do it right instead of rushing it and having problems with launch ? Im in Europe ...we have had Qobuz over here for may years now ...woohoo ! :)

vclements's picture

Yes, it might indeed be complicated launching, but why do they threaten to be available "next month" for month after month after month.
Why not just say, "we will be available next year"...ohhh wait, they did that and MISSED.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

That's like saying that anyone who reports on a speech by Barack Obama, or who fact checks Donald Trump, is a leftist. Of course, you did add a smiley.

In my reviews, I have twice compared the sound of the same recording on Tidal and Qobuz. One comparison can be found in the LG V30 smartphone review.

If any of the rooms I visited mentioned that they were streaming Qobuz, I reported on it. I don't recall any that did. A lot of company's music server/streamers have not yet added a Qobuz portal.

When Qobuz does launch officially in the US, I am poised to write a news story on it.

BTW, in terms of internet access and speed, I believe that much of Europe is way ahead of the U.S. The gap may only widen with the destruction of net neutrality.

vclements's picture

Yes....while I am admittedly a Republican ( come some nasty replies), the destruction of Net Neutrality is something that I strongly oppose, it makes no sense. However, this is NOT a political forum, so we should probably squash that discussion before it gets out of hand :-)

Anton's picture

Partisan affiliation has gotten crazy.

I have some liberal and some conservative leanings, probably like most of us.

Now, it has become a requirement to walk in lockstep with one party or the other or be considered an enemy of freedom.

Does favoring net neutrality make one an automatic liberal?

I'm with you, I favor net neutrality, and I'm a Democrat!

It used to be we'd tease Democrats as the pro-spending, rising deficit party, now it's been the opposite for 40+ years. How do we keep track of all the flips and flops our parties do?

So, sir, you and I can begin political detente by both being in favor of net neutrality.

Cheers, man.

dalethorn's picture

I've read some powerful arguments for net neutrality, then read some powerful arguments against it, which presumably say that the official story *for* net neutrality is not what it seems to be, or something to that effect.

I may be too cynical, but I'm not optimistic that the deciders will make a video of their decision, which features clear and unambiguous and objective arguments for all sides, expressed by persons we can clearly trust.

dalethorn's picture

Regardless, if it walks and quacks like a duck....

OffordTimperley's picture

Hi Jason . Got it. All good . And I am glad you got the smiley ... that is important :)

I will be honest . I enjoy your reviews very much ...a great way to discover new music . I did become a bit suspicious though when I noticed you would often not mention that a recording was also available in regular Hi-Def on Qobuz, but you always point out it is available in MQA , ( your Pappano/Bernstien review for example ) . Even though Qobuz is not in the U.S yet , and this is a U.S based publication I believe .... we also do read it over here across the pond , and many of us do use Qobuz . Some nuts like me also use both Tidal and Qobuz ;) More more more !

Appologies if my attempt at humour come out the wrong way .... and I will look forward to your next reviews ... and of course your Qobuz story :)

Now I will return to the court of Isabella of Castile in the 15th Century ... It is a Jordi Savall night ... in high-rez ...and the internet is indeed speedy here ... but I wont mention which streaming service :)


( and I am a total lefty by the way ! :)

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

My dCS gear does not currently have a Qobuz portal, and neither does Roon. When I play a recording through Roon, it shows me if it's also available in Tidal, and if there's an MQA version. When that changes...