RMAF 2014: When the Jacks are all back in their boxes . . .

Room 470: I have been reading and reading—all about the new Sony loudspeakers. John Atkinson rave-reviewed the Sony SS-AR2 (October 2012) and the SS-NA2ESs (September 2013)! Have I ever heard them? No. Well, finally on the last RMAF day I got to sit up close in a dem hosted by Sony's Motoyuki "Yuki" Sugiura (above) and see if I, too, thought the Sony SS-AR2s ($20,000/pair) were as neutral, lively, well-balanced, detailed, and transparent as JA said. Hmmmmm?

But first, I had to get my mind past those hotel plants with the white schmattas wrapped around their pots.) To do that, I just starred and chanted in silent envy at the Pass Labs X150.5 amp. Then the music took over! You guys may not know this but I am afflicted with a bit of the Goldilocks syndrome. I like my audio to always be "just right"—not too warm or too cold. Not too hard or too soft. You know what I mean? Well, having listened, I declare these moderately sized Sony floor standers to be about as well balanced, even-tempered and neutral as I have ever heard. "Ahhh, this loudspeaker is just right."

Room 472: I walked out of the Sony SS-AR2 room thinking that—just maybe—the Pass Labs amp contributed more than a little to that, sweet but not too sweet effect that really impressed me. Therefore, I was extra curious to experience the smaller, stand-mounted, Sony SS-NA5ESs ($6000/pair) driven by the Sony TA-A1ES integrated amplifier ($2000) sourced by the HAP-Z1ES file player ($2000). It took a little longer, at first the presentation seemed a little less tangible and palpable, but finally my inner Goldilocks came around. These NA5ESs were indeed neutral and well balanced—but maybe, just maybe, a few clicks shorter on fun factor. (This might be as good a time as any to mention that, I've noticed a few reviewers suggested that the SS-AR2's midrange and upper midrange were a couple of dB up and that the result is, an unnatural emphasis in that region. Well, me and Goldilocks think, the midrange on both Sony loudspeakers is just, simply—enjoyable!)

Room 569: Every day I think of more reasons to admire Nelson Pass. I love the First Watt, I think it is so cool the way he participates in the DIY amp-building scene, and I really like the design aesthetic that informs his engineering decisions. Most of all, I like the way loudspeakers sound when they are connected to his amps. The Usher Audio room was no exception. The Pass Labs XA100.8 mono amps ($19,300/pair) and XP-20 preamp ($8600) were driving the Usher Audio Dancer Mini 2 Diamond speakers, $4950/pair and the music was way on the enjoyable side. I should also mention that since the day that CDs appeared, I have dreamed of owning an Accuphase CD player. I have owned some very top shelf silver disc players, but every time I listen to a stereo with an Accuphase player I enjoy the presentation. Here the wise Usher folks were using the Accuphase DP-550 SA-CD player ($17,500) to extremely good effect! Bravo!

Room 484: Forget jet lag. When I get home from these shows I have words like beryllium, process server, she gives me fever, and air motion transformer rattling around in my head like popcorn. It takes days to go away. But there is also a part of my memory that is filled with and massaged by—beautiful music. Proof, that a lot of this expensive hardware actually does what it was designed to do!

The Lawrence Audio/Jeff Rowland Design Group room submitted a good part of this proof. The Lawrence Double Bass tower loudspeakers ($28,000 w/air motion transformers) played rich full hypnotizing music. The Rega RP10 turntable with Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge sounded like an LP front end a lot of audiophiles (like myself) could love. But! I finally got to meet Jeff Rowland (he's very tall and seems very smart) and getting to meet the cool humans behind the boxes is always the best reason to attend these shows. His amps are unquestionably beautiful in a very unique and titillating way. I only listened for a short time, but the Rowland Aeris DAC ($9800) and Rowland 825 power amp ($32,000) seemed to put a lot of heart and soul between the Cadenza and the Double Bass. Thank you guys.

Room 485: The Auralic North America room had this kind of minimal (but effective) aesthetic going on. The YG Carmel loudspeakers looked like they belong in a Chelsea art gallery and the Auralic Aries streaming bridge ($1599) struck me as a sexy ingénue with a big future in moving (audio) pictures. The sound was straight up, direct and to the point. The Aries sourced a Auralic Vega DAC ($3499), a Taurus line pre ($2199), and the modest looking Merak monoblocks ($5000/pair), with Kubala-Sosna cables.

Room 549: One of my art and writing heroes is American mythologist Joseph Campbell. He always reminds his readers that when we encounter an unfamiliar person, place or thing—the first part of our experience will always be mostly, "projections" based on our previous experiences with similar items. Flashing a wicked smile, he always adds "It may be years before an actual "fact" slips into our perceptions. (Hence the big divorce rate.)

Unquestionably, this applies to my experiences with audio—especially loudspeakers—and even more specifically with my listening sessions (mostly at shows) of the work of speaker designer, Albert von Schweikert. This year Von Schweikert Audio introduced the "all-new" midsized VR-55 Aktive loudspeakers ($50,000/pair) which "appear" to be a ceramic sandwich cone upgrade to the VR-4/VR-44 gene pool.

It was great to finally meet Mr. Von Schweikert and I listened—mostly while we chatted—and, it was the end of days at RMAF, so perhaps I should just say that I was tired, and virtually everything in the room was unfamiliar to me, but, what I heard seemed dynamic and well-formed. Besides being tired, I think my brain kept looking at that "V-logo" and trying to discern the "sound" of the white ceramic sandwich cones. (Anybody remember the Leak "Sandwich Speaker"??)

The associated gear included a YFS REF-3 music server, a EMM Labs DAC 2x ($15,000), a Constellation Audio, Virgo preamp ($30,000) and Centaur amp ($27,000).

Room 565: The end was near and I was already burnt, dazed and stupid. I entered the Mockingbird Distribution room and fell into this analogue LSD-dream world. All I could do was look around at all the super cool stuff. Phillip Holmes, the hyper knowledgeable proprietor, was trying to explain everything but my eyes and my brain kept drifting around to things I felt I needed. Phillip mentioned Michael Fremer at least twice (it seemed like more). I am staring at the beautiful Jakutis Black Stork turntable ($10,000)—it was playing with grace and gentle authority. I couldn't take my eyes off the porcelain-bodied Jasmine The Dragon cartridge ($2,800). It was the prettiest cartridge I've ever seen—and it was playing the hell out of the record. Phillip said that "Michael" name again. Then I noticed the new Abis, TA1L tonearm ($2300). Not far away was the Pyon Ultima Black Pearl turntable ($15,000) with a unipivot, Iris 12 Reference 12" tonearm ($5000).

Everywhere I looked I saw exotic analog creations that triggered my black-disc gear-head lust. The music was playing, but all I could do was mull about mumbling—looking at one excellent artisanal creation after another and listen to the words "Mikey, Mikey" over and over again. Those words were right, though—Mikey sure knows how to enjoy life! I am jealous, but I can't wait to read what he says about that porcelain-bodied, Delft-looking The Dragon. Sigh . . .

Allen Fant's picture

I concur HR!
the Sony ES speakers are on my short-list to demo as well. With only 6 dealers/retailers in the U.S. - it will be challenging.

I must audition this loudspeaker!

bornie's picture

Herb, whilst u were busy yawning in the VS room, TAS voted the VR55's, Best of Show! You snooze, u and your followers lose. Next time, head to the Starbucks on the lower level before sleepwalking your way thru a listening session and worst, writing about it.