big Gamuts - Gamut showed a system with their El Superiores 9 speakers in a
fairly large hotel meeting room, driven by Gamut electronics. These speakers
are quite large, and cost $140k/pr. They were very transparent with great
definition. At times they sounded a bit boomy but I think that was probably
Acoustics Anat Reference II - The ads for these speakers say
"the best speakers on earth". And they might be right! They're really fast, with lots of detail. They have deep, tight bass. Vocals have
wonderful immediacy and presence. They have remarkably little box coloration.
Emperor - These sound terrific, driven by Accuphase electronics. Are they as
good as the YGs? That's hard to tell. Different music, different room. Hansen
Prince - These are smaller than the Emperors. They sounded good, but a bit
boomy. That could be the room, though. They were in a the same room as the
Emperors, but it was a large room, and the Princes were in a different part of
the room, backed to a different wall.
Grand Utopia EM - Hmmm, maybe these
are the best speakers in the world! They're fast, have lots of punch when
needed, and they're very transparent. They were being driven by very high end MBL
electronics. I later heard a Focal rep say that he thought that they sounded
better than they did last year, because they had them dialed in to the room
better. (These speakers have lots
of adjustments.) I heard them last year, and I agree that they sounded better
- I heard a large pair, not sure of the model. They weren't bad, but I had
just come from the Grand Utopias, and the Legacys definitely aren't up to that
- This was the 3rd year that I've heard Vivid speakers at RMAF.
These were bigger and stranger looking than the others that I've heard. They
looked like aliens from a bad sci-fi movie from the 1950s. They sounded very
immediate and open. They disappear well for fairly large speakers. But when I
heard them they sounded a bit colored. These were used with the Synergistic
Research ART system. I heard a demo of this system with and without
the ART system. I have to admit that I was skeptical about that system. It
seems like something that couldn't possibly work, "snake oil", as
the objectivists would say. But it made a huge improvement in the bass. It was
hard to believe that removing a couple of small metal balls and metal cups
from the listening area could turn the bass from tight and controlled to boomy.
Eufrodite - These were used with Tron
electronics. They sounded really good at a price that wasn't astronomical. The
speakers are quite transparent and clean.
speakers - These speakers from
look like articulated lamps. They have an interesting design, with a ribbon
tweeter mounted between two metal cylinders that hold the midrange drivers. I
didn't listen very long. I thought they sounded colored. A friend of mine who
has been to a number of audio shows was quite intrigued with these, and
spend a good deal of time listening to them. He was impressed with their
spatial presentation. He may buy a pair when they become available.
Audio was showing Class A single ended power amps with multiple
output tubes per channel.
speakers - fairly large panels that look like electrostats. They have four
small dynamic drivers. Imported by Laufer Teknik.
Schweikert Unifield Three - $15k/pr. I think that I heard these
last year and liked them. I liked them again this year.
speakers by Gemme Audio.$12k/pair.
These sounded really nice. They were driven by Veloce
electronics in the first room where I heard them, although I later heard
them in at least one other room, and they sounded good there as well. Veloce
makes some interesting equipment. They make a battery operated tube preamp.
The power amps are Class D with a tube input stage. They are also battery
operated. They use lead-acid batteries. The electronics can run for 60 to 70
hours on a charge, and re-charge in 15 minutes. Because of this, the owner
doesn't have to worry about the batteries. You just use your equipment as you
would any other tube equipment, and turn it off when you're not using it. The
batteries will re-charge. You have to replace the batteries every few years,
but they're relatively cheap and widely available.
Audio - They were showing a preamp and solid state monoblocks. The
system sounded really good, with the electronics helping a mid-range pair of
B&Ws to sound much better than they usually do.
visited two rooms with the new Emerald
Physics speakers. I think that they were different models. Both
rooms sounded really good. These speakers are notable for their lack of box
resonances, which shouldn't be surprising, since they're an open baffle
- They were OK, but I wasn't blown away. The ones that I heard were the EOS
HDs, a two-way stand mount speaker that cost $5500/pr. I think that they have
a very low WAF. And from what I heard, they don't sound nearly as good as my
speakers. A two-way stand mount with ribbon tweeters, a bit bigger
than my Ushers. These have great sound, quick and detailed.
Audio - They had a pair of rooms. In the first one that I visited,
they were showing the new Pulsars, a smallish two-way with some of the
prettiest wood I've ever seen on a speaker cabinet. They sounded very musical,
not at all hi-fi. I could live with these easily, but they're $7k. If I had
$7k to spend on speakers, I'm not sure that I'd pick these over a pair of
Harbeth Super HL-5s or Reference 3A Episodes, for instance. But for a small
listening room, these might be ideal.
the other Joseph Audio room, they were showing the new
2 speakers. They are floor standers that look somewhat like Wilson
WATT/Puppies. They sounded really good, driven by Bel Canto electronics. They cost $28.5k, though. As with the
Pulsars, I'm not sure that I'd buy these if I were spending that much money.
- They were showing their new Ovator speakers, driven by their electronics.
The speakers cost $10.5k/pr, and have an interesting midrange/tweeter design
called a balanced mode radiator driver. There was a quality about the sound in
this room that's rare at RMAF. It was exceptionally musical, not at all hi-fi.
I wish I'd had the time to spend a couple of hours in this room just listening
to some nice
- This British company had two rooms. In the first room that I visited, they
had a pair of quite large speakers. They were quite tall and about 18"
wide, and cost $48k. I didn't spend much time listening to them. I think that
they were too big for the room. In the room next door, PMC was showing a pair
of small floorstanders for $11k. I didn't hear anything to convince me that
they were worth that much money, but my friend heard them later and liked
them. They also were showing a pair of mini-monitors, about the size of my
Spendor S3/5s. Amazingly, these use a transmission line, like all PMC
speakers. It's quite a trick to squeeze a transmission line into a box that
small. These sounded quite nice. They had more of a sense of ease than my
Spendors do. They cost $2k.
3A was showing their Episode, which fits in their line between the
Veena and the Grand Veena. They cost $5500/pr. They sounded very relaxed, easy
to listen to, but with quite a bit of detail. They are exceptionally coherent.
Canto was showing their new DAC3.1, an improved version of the DAC3
with what they call a virtual battery power supply. From what I read in their
literature, this is an AC-powered switch mode power supply that's designed to
be exceptionally quiet and well isolated from power line noise.
electronics. This room sounded really nice. There was good depth to the sound.
Korato makes tube electronics in
The Lotus Group
was introducing their
speaker. This is a fairly large open baffle design. It uses a 5-inch Feastrex
field coil driver. This is normally a full-range driver, but in this design it
is augmented by two woofers. The speaker is bi-amplified with an active
crossover. This system sounded very good, with a very open sound.
was showing their King full range electrostats. As one might expect from ESLs,
these sounded very transparent and detailed. They retail for $8000 per pair.
was showing their new Strada stand-mounted speaker. The Strada seems to be
essentially the mid-range and tweeter units from Gallo’s successful
Reference 3 floor standing speaker, packaged as a stand mounted speaker. They
sound very open, but to my ears they sounded somewhat “hi-fi” with the
music that was playing when I was in the room. They were being used with a
sub-woofer, and the combination had quite good bass.
introduced their Bolero Supreme speakers, which sell for $12,000 per pair.
This marks a move upscale for Silverline, which has a line of well-regarded
speakers selling for much lower prices. The Bolero Supremes sounded very
promising, although at that price there is some strong competition.
showed their Model One electrostatic hybrid speaker. This is a 3-way design,
with electrostatic tweeters and midrange units, and a pair of 8-inch dynamic
woofers per speaker. They cost $27,000 per pair. I wasn’t blown away by
these, but they may not have been working well in the room.
was showing their System II, which is an active speaker system with power amps
matched to the speakers. The speakers are small two-way design mounted on top
of larger sub-woofer units. This system sounded very good, with a lively
sound. Cymbals were particularly well reproduced. The system also had good
depth. This system is currently in pre-production. The cost is expected to be
$16,000 for the speakers and matching amplifiers.
was showing a prototype of their new DX-5 universal player with support for
Blu-ray discs, and with USB audio input.
was showing their ID-115 speakers These are large floor-standers which cost
$16,000 per pair.. I liked these quite a bit. They have a very relaxed sound
with a natural midrange, and are easy to listen to.
had their new Sasha speakers on display, driven by an Ayre preamp and Ayre monoblocks with Transparent cables. The Sashas replace the venerable WATT/Puppy
line. I was very impressed with this system. It sounded exceptionally coherent
In another room a prototype pair of Snell
Protégé speakers was being driven by a Marantz
SACD player, preamp, and power amp. This system sounded quite good, but
perhaps a bit too “hi-fi”.
had their ADC1 USB, a stereo 24-bit/192kHz analog to digital converter with
XLR, coax, optical, and USB outputs.
was showing their Genesis 7.1 floor standing speaker, a new model in their
entry level 7 series. This is a three-way system with a ring-ribbon tweeter
and a servo-controlled bass driver in a sealed box. These speakers sounded
quite good when I was in the room, but they were playing acoustic guitar
music, so it was difficult to evaluate how their performance would be on music
with more dynamic range and low frequencies.
was introducing their SG-200 strain gauge phono system, which they claim
offers the same audio circuitry and sonics as their higher-priced SG-400
system. They were also showing the Sussurro phono cartridge, a new top of the
line moving iron design. In addition, they had a new MCP-2 phono preamp.
their new Dancer mini two, a small floor-stander with drivers that look
similar to those in the Tiny Dancers. However, the tweeter in the mini two is
a metallic-ceramic dome rather than the beryllium dome used in the Tiny
Dancers. The mini twos have dual 7-inch woofers. There’s also a mini one
with a single woofer. The mini twos sounded fairly similar to the Tiny
Dancers, but with a larger presentation and more bass.
One interesting piece of equipment that I noticed in several
rooms was a Korg MR1000 portable
DSD recorder. This little unit sells for about $1200. It looks like just the
thing to convert your LPs to digital with minimal sound degradation.
A new addition to RMAF this year was Harman
International’s High Performance AV truck. This was parked in the parking
lot of the hotel, with its own power generator. Inside there were two rooms.
One room had the Revel Ultima
Salon2 speakers driven by Mark Levinson
electronics. Unfortunately, the room had very limited seating, so it was
difficult to evaluate the system. The other room had a pair of JBL
horn speakers. This system wasn’t playing, since the two rooms were not
isolated from each other.
I was able to hear JBL
horns in another room, the Kimber Kable
surround sound demo room. This year they were using a very large pair of JBL
speakers in the front, with dual 15-inch cone woofers and horn loaded midrange
and tweeter. These were the Project Everest DD66000, which cost about $60,000
a pair. The rear speakers were the smaller K2s. This system sounded terrific,
very natural, with no evidence of the colorations that are sometimes
associated with horn drivers. These are true high-end horns.
Another fine sounding but very expensive pair of speakers
with horn drivers was in the Acapella
room. In previous years Acapella has shown huge horn speakers that cost well
into 6 figures per pair. This year they showcased the High Violon MKIV, which
sell for $68,200. They’re a thee-way design with an 11-inch cone woofer, a
horn midrange, and an ion tweeter. They were being driven by an Einstein
tube preamp and dual tube monoblocks. The sound had a distinct family
resemblance to the larger models, quite transparent and uncolored, with great
past years Analysis Audio has
shown their large planar ribbon speakers. This year, perhaps because of the
economy, they were showing their smaller Omega model. It’s still a
fairly large speaker, and it’s not exactly an entry level model, with a list
price of $22,000. I liked the sound of the larger models when I heard them,
and the Omegas sounded quite nice as well. They were being driven by a Sonus
preamp and two Arion Audio MK
1000 monoblock power amps, with JPS cables. The source was a PS
Audio Perfect Wave transport with the matching DAC, a combination
that was in several other rooms at the show.
their new P3ESR mini-monitors on display ($2195/pair). This is the first model
in the P3 series with a RADIAL2 midrange/woofer. They sounded very musical, as
one would expect from Harbeth, and more transparent than other monitors that
size. Also on display were the Super HL5s, an oldie but a goodie. It seems
like the English have a knack for making great speakers. The Harbeths were
driven by Perreaux electronics,
. Fidelis AV, the Harbeth distributor, is re-introducing Perreaux to the US
market. They were showing a prototype of a new transport in their high end éloquence
series, as well as the 150i and 250i integrated amplifiers in the same series.
I can attest to the quality of Perreaux electronics, as I own one of their
was showing their CS 3.7 speakers, driven by a pair of McIntosh
MC2301 300 watt tube monoblocks. I heard these speakers two years ago at RMAF,
and was very impressed. They sounded very natural and coherent. But when I was
in the room this year the system sounded rather “hi-fi”. I’m quite sure
that the problem wasn’t’ with the speakers, and it doubt that it was an
amplifier problem. It could have been in the musical material that was being
played, in component matching, in the room setup, or with any number of other
things. That shows the perils of trying to evaluate equipment at a show. Even
very good equipment doesn’t always sound good at a show, and there usually
isn’t time to return and see whether the situation has improved.
Another example of this occurred in the Pioneer
TAD room. In previous years TAD has had a large room upstairs in
the hotel. But this year they were on the main floor, in a large room with a
high ceiling. They were showing the TAD Reference One speakers, driven by Bel
Canto electronics. I heard those speakers two years ago, and loved
their relaxed, musical sound. But this year the sound was not as good,
probably because of the room.
was showing their Crescendo speakers ($14,000/pair), driven by electronics
from Triode Corporation of Japan
(Tri). The amplifiers were TRV-M88PP monoblocks ($13,900, per pair I believe). These
put out 200 watts in an ultra linear configuration and 125 watts when used in
triode operation. This system sounded very good. Triode Corporation of Japan
makes a fairly extensive line of tube amplifiers, preamps, and a CD player.
This equipment looked exceptionally nice, and is fairly modestly priced. TRI
has China do the highly labor intensive parts to make such things as the chassis, faceplate, knobs, footers, back plate, transformer covers and wood sidings. The
transformer and the hardwiring and final assay are done in Saitama, Japan. Major components inside are A-1
are made in Japan too.
had their new Consequence Ultimate Edition, a fairly large five-way floor
standing speaker. It uses an inverted driver arrangement, with the woofer on
the top and the tweeter on the bottom. They were being driven by Octave Audio
electronics. Octave Audio is a German manufacturer of high end tube
electronics. Octave Audio is now being imported into the USA
and Canada by Dynaudio North America.
was showing their VSM-MXe speakers driven by Joule-Electra
VZN-100 OTL tube monoblocks. The preamp was a Joule-Electra LA-300 Electra
Memorial Edition, and the source was an Audio
Aero Prestige CD player. Cables were by Cardas. It seems like the Merlin room always has good sound,
and this year was no exception.
A fun room was the J-corder
room. This room was full of high quality tape decks. I don’t think that
I’ve ever seen so many tape decks in one room before. J-corder specializes
in upgrades and restoration for vintage tape decks.
was showing their Classic Series single driver loudspeaker, which uses a
single 3” driver in a slim tower enclosure. These speakers do a great job of
creating a sound field that includes the whole room, without a “sweet
spot”. One of the people manning the booth did an interesting demo in which
he turned one of the speakers to face the side wall. The sound changed very
little. The introductory price on these speakers is $2450 per pair.
had their Model 10B hybrid electrostat, with a 10-inch dynamic woofer.
($12,995/pair) These were driven by a Sanders power amp, a solid state unit
which is optimized for driving electrostats. I heard this system last year,
and liked it very much, so I didn’t spend much time in this room. The
speakers are very transparent with lots of detail, but they have a narrow
sweet spot. Roger Sanders sets up his room with a single row of chairs, one
behind another, aligned on the axis between the speakers, so that no one is
listening off axis. This year Sanders introduced a smaller model, the Model
11, with a retail price of $9,995/pair.
In a different room from the top-of-the-line Focal
Grand Utopia Ems were two pairs of more affordable Focal speakers. I heard the
Electra 1038 Be, which is a 3-way floor stander with three 7-inch woofers, a 6.5-inch
midrange driver, and a 1.25-inch beryllium inverted dome tweeter. These were
driven by the Pathos T.T.
integrated amplifier, a hybrid tube/solid state design. The source was a
Pathos Endorphin CD player. This system sounded very good. The sound of the
Electra 1038 Be’s bore a definite family resemblance to that of the Grand
Utopias. Also on display was a pair of Focal Chorus 826V speakers. These are
smaller than the Electra 1038 Be’s, but are also a three-way floor stander.
I did not hear these. Pathos had various models of their electronic components
and a CD player on silent display in this room. Their equipment always looks
was showcasing their full line of disc players, electronics, and speakers.
They had both their MG-10 stand mounted speakers and their MG-20 floor
standers on display. Their C-03 line stage preamp was driving their new A-03
class A power amp. Source equipment included the G-03X master clock, X-05
CD/SACD player and the new E-03 phono stage. The SA-50 combines a 32-bit DAC,
a digital preamp with four sources, a re-clocker, and a CD/SACD player. Even the
cables in this system were made by Esoteric. There were also some small format
TEAC electronics on display in this room.
was using their LS 36.5 tube linestage and their solid-state KWA 150 power amp
to drive a pair of Daedalus Audio
DA-RMa monitors. They were also showing their new KWA 100 power amp, which
will be available in December for $3295. This room had very fine sound.
was showing their new all wood Concerto 3, a small two-way floor stander with
a ribbon tweeter. ($4195/pr) These were driven by a five watt/channel Glo-Amp
One, an SET design using EL84s. ($648). This system sounded quite good,
especially considering the relatively modest cost of the equipment.
This year’s show will be memorable for a series of events
on Saturday afternoon. First there was a power failure. Nothing shuts down a
hi-fi show faster than a power failure. After 10 minutes or so the power came
back on. Then perhaps 15 or 20 minutes later the power went out again. This
time, about a minute later, the fire alarm went off. Most people evacuated the
building, or at least made their way to the lobby. The fire fighters came and
checked things out. They fairly quickly determined that there wasn’t a fire.
Apparently when the power went off, the kitchen fans stopped and smoke from
cooking set off the smoke detectors. Someone said that before the first power
failure, the line voltage in the hotel was 103. That sounds like a good
argument for regenerative power conditioning, at least for audio shows.
I attended an interesting presentation in the Nordost
room by Roy Gregory, who is now marketing director of Nordost and Steve Elford
of the British cable company Vertex AQ.
They weren’t selling anything, but were reporting on work that they’ve
been doing for the past year, trying to come up with a way to measure the
effects that cables, power conditioners, and vibration isolation can make in
an audio system. They’ve been working with Acuity, the audio division of the
British defense contractor Avansys. Acuity has done extensive research
involving measurement of radar and sonar signals. Acuity has been working with
Nordost and Vertex AQ in an effort to come up with better measurements for
audio equipment. They started by recording the output of a high quality CD
player which was playing a music CD, and comparing that to the original analog
music signal. This resulted in a difference signal, which is the distortion
introduced by the system. Then they replaced the stock power cords with high
quality audiophile cords, added a power conditioner, and a vibration isolation
platform. They repeated the tests with each step. The difference signal was
reduced with each change, and was the smallest when all three upgrades were in
place. These differences only show up on musical signals, not on steady-state
signals, which is why no one has been successful in measuring these effects
before. This is very much a work in progress, but it seems to be the first
objective evidence that power cables, power conditioning, and vibration
isolation can make a measurable difference in audio equipment. Hopefully it
will lead to a better understanding of the causes of these differences, and
better ways to measure those differences.
new feature at this year’s RMAF was CANJAM. This was a large room with
manufacturers of headphones and headphone amplifiers, held in conjunction with
the headphone web site head-fi.com. I listen to headphones at work, so I spent
some time here. Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser
were showing an assortment of their headphones. I tried the new top of the
line Sennheiser HD 800s ($1400), which sounded very nice, similar to my HD
600s but better. Headroom had their line of headphone amps and DACs, as well as
a collection of headphones by different manufacturers. I was particularly
impressed with the Audio Technica
ATH-ESW9A, a closed back design with wood earpieces. Headroom sells them for
$295. Ray Samuels was also
showing his line of headphone amps and DACs, both portable and desktop. He had
several pairs of headphones on demonstration, including the very rare wood
bodied Sony MDR-R10, which sells
for $2500, if you can find a pair for sale. I listened to these briefly. They
may be the best headphones I’ve heard, although I can’t claim to have
heard all of the high end headphones. They also seemed quite comfortable. Woo Audio had their line of tube headphone amps on display.
These range in price from $470 to $4990. CEntrance
was showing prototypes of a nifty little DAC/amp called the DACport. It
combines a 24-bit/96kHz USB DAC with a headphone amp in a small package that’s
powered from the USB connection. Pricing has not yet been established. JHAudio
was demonstrating their custom in-ear monitors, which range in price from $399
to $1099. You get an ear mold made by an audiologist, then JHAudio will make
the IEMs from those molds. They sell a lot of these to professional musicians,
who use them on stage. There were a few other vendors at CANJAM, but
unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit them all. There were also some
Head-fi members who were showing their personal systems.