RMAF 2016: Day 2's Rad Revelations

Rad, man! Rad…as in Raidho. (Well, okay—maybe it's pronounced Rye-dough, but I trust you get my bleary-eyed, blogged-out drift.) Using the exact same equipment that delivered extremely enticing albeit ultimately unbalanced sound in a much larger, unquestionably problematic room in Munich, Raidho blew me away with the great depth, excellent highs, ideal depiction of guitar, and lovely midrange it shared via a recording of Suzanne Vega's "Luka."

The sound was exceptional. On my own Chesky CD of bassist Ron Carter and bossa nova great Rosa Passos—yes, you could actually play your own recordings in this room, which was not the case in most rooms I visited at RMAF 2016—bass control was ideal, beyond reproach, supreme. Passos' voice was conveyed superbly, and drums depicted with excellence. I heard subtle inflections in Passos' delivery that are usually smudged by systems far costlier and more imposing in size than this one. I have never, on any other system, heard this excellent recording deliver so much musical information and emotionally satisfying artistry.

Raidho's Lars Christensen told me that the Raidho D4.1 loudspeakers ($110,000/pair) in the room are not room-dependent. If so, why did this setup not sound as good in Munich? Be that as it may, the system, which also included a Nagra CD player used as a transport, Aavik 300 amp/DAC ($30,000) which outputs 300Wpc into 8 ohms and can handle PCM up to 192, and, most likely, the company's Ansuz cabling, was eye- and ear-opening. I loved it.

A company new to me, Seaton Sound of Morton Grove, IL, demmed their Catalyst 8C loudspeaker in black maple finish ($6440/pair with stands), F18+ 18" sealed subwoofer ($2,295, with additional F18-slave units $1095/each), and MiniDSP Dirac Series 24/96 hi-res audio processor ($799 with all the trimmings). With PC playback from the Baetis Audio Revolution II using JRiver Media Center, Lake Street Dive's "I Want You Back" yielded nice, clean sound, albeit with a distinct lack of transparency.

Very solid, clear sound, with gray tonalities that I found less than totally engaging, came from the Fort Collins Audio room, where a younger, earplug-wearing man determined to retain hearing acuteness, played a track from the Dire Straits LP, Brothers in Arms. Doing the honors were Spendor D9 loudspeakers ($9950/pair) driven by an Ayre AX-5 integrated amp ($12,950) and QX-5 streamer ($8950). The source was a Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable ($1500).

My lack of engagement may have been room overdamping, as in....

For the brother who, in a comment to my first blog, asked about room treatment in the various rooms, how's this—which I discovered in the Fort Collins Audio room?

American company Swan Song Audio, which was established in 2013, paired their Black Swan Phono Updated ($2700, due in December) and Transformer Based preamp ($5500-$7200, due in December) with their 300B Parallel S.E.T. amp ($40,000-$60,000 est., due next spring). Using a Sumiko Palos Santos Presentation cartridge, SME 20/3A arm, Zu Druid 4.5 loudspeakers, and SSA shielded silver cables, the exhibitors attempted to regale me with a recording of Ray Charles' "Hide Nor Hair." Alas, I could not hide from the totally distracting guy next to me who, first, sniffled like crazy and, second, unapologetically ran out of the room to answer an annoying telephone ringtone. I quickly recovered, albeit in not enough time to note the name of the next track, on which strings sounded wiry.

BTW, I have a question. Given that swansong usually refers to someone's farewell performance or professional activity before retirement or death, and that a swan's song sounds like this, is Swan Song really the best name for an audio company?

One of my big regrets is that, after I traveled to China in 2009 to judge an International Whistling Competition, and capped the trip with visits to the Aurum Cantus loudspeaker and Jolida Corporation factories, a non-stop series of assignments for something like 11 publications prevented me from writing up those visits. I was deeply impressed with the attention to detail and commitment to quality in both factories—the Aurum Cantus folks tested every single driver—and regretted that I never had the opportunity to say so in print.

Happily, Audiophile Direct is now importing into the US at least nine Aurum Cantus models, ranging from the new V2M monitor ($1700/pair) to the Grand Harmony floorstander ($7500/pair). Heard in their room at RMAF were the V3M 2-way stand-mounter ($2000/pair), with its "pure aluminum ribbon tweeter." The speaker was paired with a Wells Audio Majestic 150Wpc (8 ohms) integrated amplifier ($3599), Sound Science Music Vault Diamond music server ($4995), Benchmark DAC2 DX ($1995), and assorted levels of Dana Cable.

After visiting a few dreary sounding rooms, I was relieved to discover the presentation of "That's All Right" from Road To Memphis filled with life. A Red Book file of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.1 on period instruments exhibited good control on bass instruments and laudably clear lines. Best of all was the musical presentation of Shota Osabe's "Willow Weep for Me," which was distinguished by plenty of life on top. It's good to see Aurum Cantus back in the USA. Herb Reichert, please take note: Definite review material.