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RMAF 2018 Show Report (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2018)

RMAF 2018 Show Report -- High-End Home Audio
Rocky Mountain International Audio Fest 2018
Show Report By Greg Weaver

 

Better
Andrew Jones, now of ELAC, must surely have attended Hogwarts, as he is able to wring unexpected degrees of musical magic out of every product he is associated with. In room 9028, he was showing ELAC's latest Discovery DS-S101G Music Server ($1100), the Alchemy Series DDP-2 Pre-Amp/DAC/Streamer ($2500), and the tiny, Navis ARB-51 powered speaker ($1999.98/pr.), sitting atop the ELAC LS-80 speaker stands ($400/pr.).

 

Andrew Jones holding court and stunning audiences with his usual brand of humor and exceptional sound.

 

While there, I got to hear a Benny Anderson piano recording, and it was simply staggering how such a tiny speaker, standing just 7.5" wide, by 13.5" tall, and 9.5" deep, using a 1" soft dome tweeter, concentrically mounted within a 4" aluminum midrange, paired with a 5" aluminum woofer, can present piano recordings, one of the most difficult things to correctly render, so articulately, with such clarity and purity, and with such dynamic ease and expressiveness. He followed this up with another amazingly dynamic track from Infected Mushroom. Had I not been able to see these tiny speakers on their stands, I could easily have been convinced I was listening to a much larger, considerably more expensive speaker.

As an aside, while in 9025 visiting with lead Alchemist Peter Madnick, I got to hear a test pressing of the upcoming Mobile Fidelity UltraDisc 1 Step release of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." If you are into LPs, you really owe it to yourself to get in on this new MoFi process, which is now upping the ante yet again by introducing new vinyl composition featuring a new carbonless dye in an attempt to produce the world's quietest surface.

 

 

If you've never had the pleasure of attending a show, you may not know that there are always after-hours listening sessions going on in many of the rooms. One of the most infamous is always held in the mbl room, hosted by mbl North America's Jeremy Bryan in 1130.

Sourced by either Greg Beron's new Ultima 4 tape deck ($22,500), with pure Class A electronics, fully discrete dual-mono tape head amplifiers, with a new DC outboard power supply ($6000), and all Synergistic Research internal wiring, or the mbl 131 DAC/CD player ($15,400), the electronics, like the 131 DAC/CD were all Nobel series, and included the N11 Stereo Preamp ($14,600), four of the N15 Mono Power Amps ($17,800/ea.), and the utterly unique 101 E MkII Radialstrahler loudspeakers ($70,500/pr.)

 

Four of the new mbl Nobel N15 monos driving the unique mbl 101 E MkII Radialstrahler loudspeakers.

 

The resultant sound here was even better that what Jeremy had achieved at AXPONA last spring. Whether it was the set up along the short wall (versus the long wall at AXPONA), the time of the day (I was there around 9:30, so most of the other systems in the hotel were not taxing the hotel's AC grid), or general serendipity, playing tapes or CDs (I really loved some of the early Cat Stevens on tape) really showed off the trademark mbl sound. Spooky real vocals, with a liquid presentation, very good transparency, and noteworthy dynamics. The 101 E Mk IIs ability to nearly vanish from the room left only the space, texture, shimmer, and sparkle of the music they were asked to portray, with very authentic and chesty body, and a get-up-and-walk-around 3-D, ethereal stage.

While visiting 8025, I listened to either the Oracle CD player or the VPI Signature, both fed to the VAC Master Linestage with phono preamp ($40,000), and the amazing VAC Statement 450S ($46,000), all connected with Nordost, driving the new Gershman POSH ($129,000) statement loudspeaker.

 

Gershman Acoustics has really upped their game with the introduction of their flagship POSH loudspeaker.

 

This presentation was somewhat better than what I had heard at AXPONA, and Eli Gershman and I concluded that it may have been due to the room here being a little deeper than the room at AXPONA. Regardless of reason, this system, fronted the new Gershman Acoustics POSH flagship speaker, offered remarkable transparency and excellent transients, resulting in effortless dynamics. This system was fast and detailed, but highly involving.

It has been wonderful seeing the resurgence of Denmark's Gryphon Audio Designs, now that "On A Higher Note's" Philip O'Hanlon is representing the line in the US. I have always been impressed with their performance, and this year was no different.

 

Almost as sexy looking as it is sounding, this all Gryphon system was mighty impressive.

 

Philip put together a stirring presentation with a full Gryphon system, from source to speaker, in the Long Peak room on the Mezzanine. Sourced from either the Scorpio S. CD player ($9,400), and the Kalliope DAC ($25,000), or the one non-Gryphon component in the room, a Sonoru S modified reVox PR99 deck. The electronics chain included the new Gryphon Zena preamp ($17,500), the Gryphon Antileon EVO stereo amp ($39,000), driving the Gryphon Pantheon speakers ($52,000), all resting on an Artesania Exoteryc rack ($7,000), and their Aire amp stand ($4,000), using all MIT Cables, interconnects & power cords and the Shunyata Research Denali line conditioner ($5,000).

They synergy was seductive, and listening to old favorites like Lyle Lovett proved how dynamic and extended this system could be. It presented an engaging, detailed, yet tremendous well fleshed-out sense body and space.

I always enjoy seeing Jim Thompson, owner and chief designer at Eggleston Works, showing in room 1103. Audio here was sourced from Tidal streaming over the Brinkmann Nyquist MkII Streaming DAC with MQA ($17,990), using a Brinkmann Marconi MkII Line Preamplifier ($13,990), and the Brinkmann Mono Amplifiers ($19,990/pr.). Speakers were the EgglestonWorks Viginti ($39,990/pr.), with all cabling from Audioquest, with all gear sitting on the HRS RXR 1921-4V rack ($5,245).

 

 

Even more so than usual, the system was very relaxed and involving, yet rife with detail and nuance. What stood out for me apart from its overall organic and natural spirit, was the distinct tonal balance and its wonderfully layered and spacious presentation. About the only weakness I could point to was a slight homogenization of dynamics, which could easily have been an effect of the smallish room.

High End by Oz was introducing a new line of speakers from Lithuania, Audio Solutions, in room 1014. Using all Vitus electronics, including the Vitus Audio Signature Series SCD 025 Mk II ($25,200), the Vitus Audio Signature Series SIA 25 MK II 25 Integrated Amp ($25,200), the new Audio Solutions Figaro M Speakers ($7,500) took the spotlight. All cabling and power distribution was Ansuz Acoustics A2 series.

 

High End by Oz introduced the impressive and affordable Audio Solutions Figaro M loudspeakers from Lithuania.

 

After I determined that the front row too close and moving back a row, I was treated to remarkable definition and space, and an amazing degree of vocal bloom. From that second row, these speakers were extremely coherent, especially for the price, with an unanticipated ability to reveal honest instrumental textures, realistic weight, significant impact, and accurate body.

Somehow, I have no photo from room 589, which is a shame, as it looked as beautiful as the sound it created. Sourced by either an Aurender A-10 streamer ($5500), or a Studer A810 open reel machine (N/A), both fed the Doshi Audio Line v3.0 preamplifier - and tape head preamp ($17,995). The Doshi Hybrid Stereo Amplifier, which was a bit of a reversal on the old standard, used a solid-state gain stage with tubed output ($19,995), served up some fabulous sound with the Joseph Audio Perspective loudspeakers ($12,999/pr.). Everything was wired with Cardas Clear series cables and resting on an HRS SXR-1921-3V rack ($5225).

The brief time I had in this room chatting with Nick Doshi was highlighted by a bit of the Lt. Kije Suite on tape. It was extraordinarily natural sounding, with an enormous stage and very good depth. The way it rendered solo piano was breathtaking. Overall, this was one of the more tonally neutral systems I heard at this year's event, consistently serving up vivid tone color and soaring strings with authentic pluck and snap. The system showed that it was dynamic as hell on an unknown "electronica" torture test Nick played for me as well. About the only thing to fault was that stage was somewhat limited in height.

Angie Lisi of American Sound of Canada never fails to bring something special to shows, and her setup in Room 7007 did not disappoint. During my visit, I listened to all digital, sourced by the Aurender A10 music server/DAC ($5,500). The Phasemation CA1000 preamplifier is a three chassis design with separate chassis mono analogue stages ($32,000). Next was the Phasemation MA2000 Mono SET vacuum tube power amplifiers using Parallel 300B's ($32,000/pr.), all cabling and power conditioning was from Transparent, and everything rested on HRS racks and platforms.

 

 

The big surprise in the room was the new Avantgarde Acoustic UNO FINO Speaker ($24,800/pr.) in its US launch. This newest model from Avantgarde is based on the UNO XD, with a 500-Watt amplifier / DSP controlled adjustable woofer amplifier that can be configured via rear controls or your computer connection. The woofer amplifier can be driven by either a speaker level input or directly by your preamplifier via XLR connections. This self-powered option for the ported woofer, combined with the horn loading of the Midrange driver and Tweeter, give the UNO FINO a sensitivity of 104dB/W/m at 8 Ohms, enabling it to be driven by very low power amplifiers.

This system had an amazing bottom end, with superb clarity and explosive dynamics. My issue with many of the older Avantgarde systems was an obvious disparity in speed and phase relationship between the horns and the cone woofers. None of that here. This system was astonishingly coherent, lightning fast, and as you'd expect, delivered chills with both microdynamic shading and macrodynamic scaling.

 

 

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