John Atkinson

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John Atkinson  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  9 comments
John Siau of Benchmark (right) and Laurie Fincham of THX (left) gave a provocative presentation on the final morning of the show, entitled "Why Most 24-bit Audio Systems Still Deliver 16-bit Performance." The thesis was that even with D/A processors capable of operating with a dynamic range >20 bits, there is still the resolution bottleneck imposed by the amplifier. As I have pointed out in Stereophile's reviews, amplifiers with a sufficiently low noisefloor and a sufficiently large maximum voltage swing to equal hirez audio's dynamic range are a) rare and b) necessarily expensive. Benchmark, using the unique, high-efficiency amplifier modules designed by Laurie Fincham, Owen Jones (the twin brother of TAD's Andrew Jones), and Andrew Mason, that I wrote about in my 2012 CES report, aims to address both those issues.
MBL
John Atkinson  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  2 comments
I always enjoy visiting the MBL room at a show. Not only I am addicted to the quality of the German company's "Radialstrahler" omnidirectional tweeter, which has a delicacy to its presentation that escapes conventional dome units, but MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan is obsessive about set-up. His RMAF system comprised the MBL 116f speakers ($29,000/pair) driven by a pair of MBL C15 amplifiers ($12,500/pair), a C11 preamplifier ($8800), and a C31 CD player/D/A processor ($9200), all hooked up with WireWorld Eclipse cables. (The electronics are all from MBL's Corona line.)
John Atkinson  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  4 comments
Ray Kimber always gets great sound at shows, but this year, although he was still using four Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers hooked up with Kimber Select cables and an EMM DAC to play his four-channel IsoMike DSD master files, there was something extra-magical happening in the room. Both pianist Fan-Ya Lin's album Emerging and the Romantic Album from violin and piano ensemble the Formosan Duo, sounded tangibly real. The key, it turned out were the gigantic, 300lb MTRX class-A/B monoblocks from EMM Labs, can be seen in my photo. This brute will output 1500W into 4 ohms and, in Ray Kimber's words, extracts "cheerful obedience" from the speakers it is tasked to drive.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  1 comments
Listening to Scaena's Silver Ghost speakers ($153,000/system) had been a highlight of last March's AXPONA in Chicago. At the Denver Tech Center Hyatt, the speakers had been set-up by Sunny Umrao (in photo) firing diagonally across a much larger room than in Chicago. With a system comprising a dCS Vivaldi digital source driving an Audio Research Reference 75 stereo amplifier for the towers and six inexpensive Crown class-D amplifiers for the six woofer modules operating below 120Hz, the sound of a live recording of Dave Brubeck's "Rondo a la Turk" did indeed sound live.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  1 comments
Wired with Transparent cables, the extreme audio system in the large room at the Denver Tech Center Hyatt—dCS Vivaldi digital source, VTL TL7.5 III preamp, VTL Siegfried power amps, Wilson Alexandria XLF speakers driven full-range and twin Thor's Hammer subwoofers driven by 250Wpc Parasound Halo A 21 amplifiers below 38Hz—worked its magic both on the disco-meets-EDM of Daft Punk's "Lose Yourself to Dance" and the delicate harmonic traceries of Dave Wilson's Debussy violin sonata recording transferred to DSD by Puget Sound's Bruce Brown. In both cases, there was a sense of loss when the music stopped. It is difficult to imagine how music reproduction could get any better than what I heard in this room the Saturday afternoon of the show!
John Atkinson  |  Oct 22, 2013  |  0 comments
Bel Canto's John Stronczer was excited. "The Powerstream amplifier's S/N ratio is 120dB measured at the speaker terminals!" I was impressed. This is equivalent to 20-bit digital audio, which means this digital-input monoblock, which costs $15,000 each, is one of the quietest amplifiers I have encountered. It offers 300W into 8 ohms, 1200W into 2 ohms. Audio data presented to the ST-optical inputs are reclocked and then converted to analog with a BurrBrown PCM1792. The analog signal is then fed to an output stage based on the well-regarded Hypex class-D modules, used in a proprietary low-gain configuration to maximize dynamic range.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 21, 2013  |  0 comments
Bent Holter, founder of and designer for the Norwegian company Hegel, explained that his circuits are based on work he had done designing ultra–low-noise preamplifiers for the European CERN laboratory. Hegel's new H80 D/A integrated amplifier ($2000) replaces the H70, which was introduced in 2010, and uses the low-noise preamp circuit from the $5500 H300 amplifier and Hegel's patented feed-forward "Sound Engine" amplifier topology. It has two single-ended analog inputs, one balanced analog input, and five digital inputs, including USB. Though this doesn't operate in the usual asynchronous mode, it uses a proprietary topology said to eliminate jitter. The H80 offers 75Wpc into 8 ohms compared with the H70's 70W.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 21, 2013  |  0 comments
These nice-looking standmounts are Salk Sound's Exoticas ($6000/pair), which use new high-performance drive-units from SEAS. Driven by an AVA solid-state amp (bottom in the rack), they produced a natural sound on a Kimber IsoMike cello recording. But when I first entered this room, the less-expensive, floorstanding Salk Sound Towers, which sell for less than $2000/pair, were producing a big sound on a Trentemoller track, driven by AVA's Ultravalve tube amplifier ($1995, above the solid-state amp in the rack), which gets 35Wpc from a pair of EL34s per channel. Preamplifier was AVA's new FET-Valve CF.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 21, 2013  |  0 comments
Denver retailer Gold Sound was featuring Focal's new tower speaker, the Aria 948 ($5000/pair), in its room at RMAF, in a system featuring a Cambridge Audio 851E preamp ($1799) and Cambridge 851W 200–350Wpc amplifier ($2499), both also new at the show. Front ends were either a Cambridge 851C CD player or a VPI Classic turntable fitted with the 3D-printed tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge and amplified with a Parasound Halo JC3 phono preamp.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 21, 2013  |  0 comments
I went into the SimpliFi room expecting to see the excellent Weiss MAN301 media player and effective DSPeaker room correction and D/A devices. Yes, there were there at RMAF but SimpliFi's Tim Ryan wanted to talk about the Swiss Klangwerk Ella active speaker ($15,000/pair) shown in my photo. This modest-looking floorstander uses DSP to make it work as a time-aligned virtual point source. A constrained layer-damped Corian front baffle supports an advanced Aerogel-dome tweeter from Audax and a 5.5" woofer; two more 5.5" woofers covering the same passband are placed on the speaker's sides, and all three are reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port. The advantage of this design is that it has a wide listening window on both vertical and horizontal planes, explained Tim, and indeed, on Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," I found that I could move up and down and from side to side without any significant change in the perceived balance.

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