John Atkinson

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John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  4 comments
After hosting three hour-long seminars on Sunday (following five on Friday and Saturday), I spent the final hours of the 2007 RMAF racing around rooms I really wanted to hear before the Show closed at 4pm. At 4:30pm, I stopped by what would be my last room, the one featuring a new name to me, Salagar Speakers. This Illinois company is aiming high: its first product is a beautifully finished, physically large two-way active design, the Symphony S210, that combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with a 10" woofer in an unusual curved enclosure. Power is provided by internal ICEpower class-D modules, and the integral X-ACT crossover operates in the digital domain and includes the facility to adjust the speaker's balance to cope with room acoustics problems. The Symphony S-210 costs $7,999/pair complete with crossover, and showed promise, even in the less-than-optimal hotel room.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  0 comments
After several years of collaboration with Lew Johnson and Bill Conrad with McCormack Audio, Steve McCormack went it alone a year or so back with SMc Audio. He was demming SMc's first product at RMAF, the $6800 VRE-1 line preamplifier ("VRE" stands for "Virtual Reality Engine"). The solid-state design uses Lundahl and Jensen coupling transformers and uses J-FETs in a zero-feedback circuit. Unusually, it dispenses with the otherwise ubiquitous solid-state voltage regulators in its power supply. Instead, it uses a choke-smoothed voltage rails, which Steve feels eliminates any trace of "transistor" sound. Next to come will be a matching phono stage.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  0 comments
The penultimate room I went into on the RMAF's final day was being shared by SMc Audio and Audience. I was assuming the latter company was demonstrating its well-reviewed AC conditioner and cables, which indeed it was. But I was not expecting to see and hear loudspeakers from the Californian company. The ClairAudient LSA 16 (LSA for "Line Source Array) was designed by the late Richard Smith, cofounder of Audience, and features 4, 8, 16, 24, or 32 50mm drive-units, used full-range, with no tweeters or crossover (something I have not seen since the Ted Jordan designs of the late 1970s). A separate subwoofer handles the low bass and with a very high claimed sensitivity, the ClairAudient design will produce very high spls in-room, but with great clarity. The sound of the 16-driver version in the RMAF room was a little lacking in top-octave air, but was otherwise very detailed. The rest of the system comprised a McCormack Audio UDP-1 universal player, McCormack monoblock power amps, and a preproduction example of Steve McCormack's new SMc VRE-1 line preamp.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  5 comments
Of the many speakers I have reviewed over the years, the one I now regret the most having had to return to the manufacturer was the mbl 111B. No other tweeter has so efforlessly floated high-frequency sounds into my listening room like the German manufacturer's unique, omnidirectional "Radialstrahler" design. At RMAF, mbl was demming the larger 101E speaker, which Michael Fremer reviewed in October 2004. The sounds of Brian Bromberg's solo double bass on "Come Together" and Nils Lofgren's Ovation guitar on his Live Acoustic CD, played on mbl's new digital gear, were to die for.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  0 comments
I experienced a fascinating comparison in one of the RMAF rooms featuring systems from Colorado dealer ListenUp. With Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa speakers (review forthcoming) driven by a combination of Musical Fidelity X-T100 integrated amplifier "supercharged" with MF's 550K monoblocks, and Shunyata AC conditioning and power cables, CDs played back on MF's new top-loading CD player were being compared with lossless-encoded files of the same recordings played back over WiFi via a Sonos ZP80 that fed its S/PDIF digital output to the MF player's DAC section. The data were the same, so other than the WiFi connection, there was no reason for the sound to be different. And I did indeed find it very difficult to hear any consistent difference between the two presentations. Perhaps the low frequencies were a little better-defined and extended via CD, but I don't think I could have identified that without knowing which was which. Interesting.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  4 comments
After my final hi-rez seminar on Sunday, and triggered by my very positive experience with the inexpensive Avalon NP2 speakers, I went across the hallway to the room Denver dealer HD Home Cinema & AV Design was using to debut Avalon Acoustics' new $9300/pair Ascendant loudspeaker. This combines the composite-dome tweeter from the NP2 with a pair of Kevlar-composite woofers in the angled, faceted enclosure that has become a de facto trademark of the Colorado company's high-end speakers. With Ayre MX-R monoblocks, Ayre C-5xe universal player, K-5xe preamp, and P-5xe power-line conditioner, and wired with Cardas cable, the Avalon system proved one of the best-sounding of the Show.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  1 comments
As well as the excellent-sounding Avalon NP2 speakers, the system I used to play back 24-bit AIF files from my laptop consisted of (from top to bottom): Metric Halo ULN-2 to convert the Firewire output of my Apple PowerBook to AES/EBU; Bel Canto DAC 3 (which I enthusiastically review in the forthcoming November issue), sitting on cylindrical wooden footers from a new company Waipuna Sound and connected to the Metric Halo box via a DH Labs AES/EBU link; Conrad-Johnson CT5 preamp and ET250S hybrid power amplifier; and Nordost Thor AC conditioner. Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables were used throughout. Equipment rack was the attractive and effective Stillpoints, which suspends the acrylic shelves from four steel cables.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 16, 2007  |  0 comments
Roy Gregory, that is, editor of HiFi+ magazine from the UK, who had chosen and set-up the system I was using for my high-resolution demonstrations. And my thanks also to Roy's wife Louise, who was signing up attendees for my dems at the Show's front desk.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 14, 2007  |  First Published: Oct 15, 2007  |  0 comments
Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable strongly believes that audiophiles need to be exposed to live music. He arranged for one of the ensembles he records with his Isomike system, the Fry Street Quartet, to perform a series of concerts at RMAF. After the players finished a Haydn Quartet in the Marriott's lobby, the audience went into the Kimber listening room across the corridor to hear the same piece on Ray's $500k reference surround system, described earlier in the blog.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 14, 2007  |  1 comments
I made myself comfortable. The system—Linn Unidisk universal player, Meridian digital active speakers—was obviously working well: "For unto us a Child is born..." pum pum pum pum...