RMAF 2018 Show Report -- High-End Home Audio
The Denver Chronicles Part 1
Taking the stairs down to the eleventh floor I found myself at the door of Audiologic in 1002. Making their North American debut, the speakers here were the new attention grabbing Sigma Acoustics 2.3 Orchestra model ($38,750) with a very shapely design and outstanding high gloss finish. Made in Cremona, Italy, it is no surprise that it has a shape reminiscent of a fine string instrument. It takes two to four weeks to build the cabinet and then it is sent out to be finished. The driver includes an AMT Heil air motion tweeter that is mounted in an open baffle on top of the cabinet enclosure that houses an Accuton ceramic midrange and a Seas Revelator woofer. The CD / SACD player was an Esoteric K03-X ($12,000), feeding an Aavik U-300 Unity integrated amplifier ($30,000) with built-in DAC and with a very obvious volume control.
I love the unique architecture of this amp. It's for the person who wants something different and has the means to acquire it. The DTC units on amp stands to either side of the main rack were an Ansuz unit for the active shielding of the speaker cables and interconnects (on the right) and power conditioning unit (on the left). The Ansuz D2 Speaks speaker cable is $27,000 so that tells you these cables from Denmark were in the Big League. The stands were said to be new from Music Tools and cost $2450 per shelf or amp stand. The music here was transparent, open and inviting, but what baffled me was why the two guys from Audiologic were both named Aldo Zaninelo according to their name tags.
Over in room 1000 I encountered the Benchmark room where they had their new DAC3 B ($1695) on display for people who wanted a straightforward DAC without headphone or preamp features built in. Driving Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A electrostatic speakers ($9995) with a pair of their AHB2 power amps in monoblock configuration putting out 385 watts ($2995 each) the music was crisp and a bit hissy on the "S's". Nonetheless, it piqued my interest enough that I might just drive down the Thruway and borrow a review sample from them in Syracuse. It could be a whole different result in a tube-based rig with dynamic speakers. The preamp here was their new LA4 Line Amp ($2495) offering both single ended and balanced inputs and outputs — a very versatile unit boasting a S/N ratio of 135dB (unweighted). The source was an Aurender music server.
The Technics room in 1007 was chaotic. I snapped some photos and moved on. I will say I think the power amp looks very clean and should certainly put some ambient light in a dark listening room. The turntable carries on the modern styling of their mid-century designs, probably taking performance to the next level or two. The reel-to-reel...? Well, first I'll dig out my old cassette deck since I've got a couple of boxes of cassettes somewhere under the bed.
Across the hall in 1006 Focal Sopra No. 2 speakers ($15,000) were being driven by an Aesthetics Romulus CD Player/DAC with a pure tube output stage ($7000), followed by their new Mimas hybrid integrated amp with tube input stage and solid state output stage providing 150 Wpc into 8 Ohms ($7000) with an optional phono stage ($1200) with dual inputs, mm/mc capability and adjustable gain and loading. The other front end was a German Acoustic Signature Wow XL turntable ($2950) with a TA 700 9" tonearm ($1599) and a MC-2 Cartridge ($949). And yes, that's a headphone jack on the Mimas! Cables were from Tara Cables. Overall, this was a very good sounding system. On silent display was the relatively new Acoustic Signature Primus turntable with a DC motor, external power supply and a high quality Tidorfolon bearing, all for $2000 — a very nice looking package that represents a new, lower entry level for this well-known German brand.
Moving on to the Boulder room in 1009 the black Tech DAS Air Force 3 turntable was sporting a beautiful Graham Phantom Elite tonearm with a magnetic azimuth control that costs in the neighborhood of $13,000 to $14,000. Together they were dragging the new Ortofon MC Winfeld Ti cartridge through the grooves to great effect. On a side table on silent display was a white Air Force 5 which, like its big brothers still has a separate power supply and vacuum hold-down but the motor has been moved within the plinth. But for "only" $19,000 this fine turntable speaks to a lot more vinyl enthusiasts. The vacuum motor and power supply of the AF 3 were in a separate chassis on the bottom of the rack. I particularly liked the controls of both models which were mounted on a "front porch" attached to the plinth.
A Boulder 508 Phono preamplifier was elegant in its subtle design with a gradually widening beveled edge across the top as it moved from left to right. I particularly liked the mute button in the half-pipe next to the power switch in the adjacent half-pipe. Tactile and tactical differences between the mute button and the power switch are evidence of superior industrial design, as are the contour lines milled into the faceplate of the amplifier. At $5000, the 508 phono stage seemed to be at the head of the class in spite of being the least expensive link in the chain. Someone lowered the tonearm and turned on the blues. The music coming from the Rockport Atria loudspeakers put the first (and only) goosebumps of the show on my spine. Being a tube lover, it never occurred to me that this was a solid state rig. It did everything I ask of tube gear and more, making it easily one of the Best Sound At RMAF 2018.
Moving down a league into more affordable gear in room 1013 I encountered the new Audio Physic Virgo III speaker in gloss black (or gloss white, $17,995) and also available for a thousand bucks less in Cherry or Walnut wood veneer. Here, too, vinyl was playing on the EAT (European Audio Team) Forte S turntable with C-Note 10" tonearm and EAT Jo No. 5 moving magnet cartridge. Mind you, at $8495 this entire front end was less than 2/3 the cost of just the cartridge in the previous room. Even so, part of the qualitative difference seemed to be in the use of the mm cartridge here. The EAT E Glo tube phono stage ($6995) can handle both mm and mc cartridges, and adjust gain and loading. It led to a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium preamp ($3199) and their Dialogue HP power amps running in mono ($3899 ea.).
On silent display I noted the EAT The "Massive" record weight with 800 gr. of damping ($195) listed as the Permanent Reference weight at Positive Feedback. The Jo No. 5 was listed at $1295, but it gets special pricing when combined in a turntable package. Unfortunately, my lack of familiarity with my camera caused me to lose some photos here, but I salvaged the above photos of new EAT E Glo Petit hybrid tube phono preamplifier ($1495, on the right in the photo) with its LPS dual linear power supply ($1295) that are offered as a package for $2545. The other item of great interest photographed here was the EAT Prelude turntable package with A-Note 9" tonearm, Ortofon 2m Red cartridge, lp clamp and dustcover for $1195. This should make a big splash at entry level, maybe by Holiday time? It looked great!