RMAF 2018 Show Report -- High-End Home Audio
The Denver Chronicles Part 2
As we left off I was descending the stairway from the 10th floor to 9 about 4:30 pm on Friday. The prayer on my lips was that the door to 9 would not be locked. It's happened before — trapped in a stairwell, forced to descend all the way to ground level and exit to the outdoors in winter-like weather. Probably, that was Montreal in the early days. With another hour and a half to go, I was worried I would cover more ground than I could remember with the still camera malfunctioning and the camcorder completely dysfunctional. All I could do was give it my best.
At the corner in 928 was the Elac Americas room with an expected combination of Elac speakers and Alchemy electronics but everything had changed. The Elac Adante AS-61 stand mounted monitors ($2500) in gloss white were a cut above any previous Andrew Jones / Elac speaker I'd heard. The top driver was a coincident tweeter/midrange with a woofer below, as I recall. The cabinet was elegant enough for an apartment or first home, but way too nice for a dorm room. An Adante Sub 3070 in gloss black with a 12" woofer (also $2500) was finally noticed against the side wall beside the left speaker. White has really gained traction as a speaker color, but as a listener in the dark, I still prefer black or a dark wood veneer to make speakers disappear more completely when using a reading spotlight aimed at my lap. But choice is good.
The Alchemy products included their DDP-2 preamp / DAC / streamer ($2500), DPA-2 stereo/mono amplifier and PPA-2 phono stage ($2500). The Turntable was the new Mobile Fidelity UltraDeck ($2000) using a Koetsu Rosewood standard cartridge ($3500). Using an expensive (or relatively expensive, in this case) cartridge seems to be more and more common at shows today as it is an inconspicuous way for presenters to show off their speakers and electronics in the best light. I don't mean to imply that the Rosewood was overkill for gear at this level; rather that it is an appropriate way to step up the performance of the rig. We haven't reached the point, yet, where cartridge importers or manufacturers sponsor a room and put on comparison demonstrations like say Nordost or Synergistic Research has done with cables and tweaks, but this is not a bad idea. There is a lot of momentum in the LP arena.
Also present in this room was a Discovery DS S101-G music server ($1200), and a 512 Engineering Marutani Consulting Mains (power) Conditioner ($19,000) and cables. The slim chassis design of the new Alchemy products will surely appeal to the younger crowd. Top to bottom in the tall stack photo are the phono stage, power amp and preamp (which also has a headphone amp). This was a very nice sounding room, in my opinion.
Moving into 9030, the big room at the end of the hallway was sponsored by importer/distributor Bluebird Music. Jay Rein, president and familiar acquaintance from the Montreal and Toronto shows had set up a very nice rig comprised of Chord electronics, including their very highly regarded DAVE DAC ($12,500), SME's new Synergy turntable ($27,900) with Nagra single crystal (?) cable and Ortofon Winfeld cartridge, and the stunning limited edition Spendor D9 in ebony veneer ($13,495). (The smaller D7 is also said to be available in this limited edition veneer.) This British rig is a big step above the previous room in price, and also a step up in being able to handle this much larger room. Equally important, each brand is visually unique and stunning, further justifying the heady expenditures. Not so much to be seen, but equally appreciated was the collection of Kubala Sosna cables tying the rig together (about $20,000). Total for this system was about $139,000.
A second system comprised of an Aurender N100 streamer/server ($3500) and new Chord electronics (MScaler, $5000; Hugo TT2 da/preamp, $5795; Toby power amp $5000) driving Spendor A7 speakers $5000 provided a very high quality and much more affordable sound for about $24,000, plus cables. Good show, Jay!
Andrew Jones was having a lot of fun in 9025 with a much smaller Elac / Alchemy rig that included the new Elac Navis ARB-51 powered speakers ($2000) controlled by the Alchemy Series DDP-2 preamp/DAC/streamer ($2500) and the Discovery DS S101-G music server ($1200). The speaker was very attractive, looking somewhat like the Spendor in the previous room, though obviously in a different class and intended for a different audience and room size. As I faintly recall, I liked this less expensive rig better than the larger rig in 9028. Maybe that's the power of powered speakers? Again, that's a coaxial driver unit on top with a woofer below. And I noted the perforated metal cover for the tweeter on this speaker.
This was an outstanding entry level room, which explains why Mr. Jones was having so much fun. That he started his tenure with ELAC by introducing a very affordable entry level series that attracts newcomers to the hobby, rather than starting at the top with a trickle-down approach, is a prime reason I like this man so much. It's not like the high end can afford to wait for the offspring of audiophiles to mature. It doesn't work that way, genetically speaking. We need to grow our own from scratch, starting at the entry level, and probably kidnap some from the realm of headphones.
Nothing stimulates growth like competition, and next door in 9021, Kanto Audio provided plenty with TUK, the Eskimo, (my nickname for their powered white active monitor, though it is also available in Seal Black). From the front we can tell it has a Heil AMT tweeter above a modest aluminum cone woofer. We also see a small knob that is probably a volume control... and the little dots on the lower left corner? A power indicator (?) and a 3.5 mm headphone jack! And beside the volume knob are indicator lights for phono, RCA and a few more inputs, but the real story is on the back side. There we find RCA inputs for line level and phono (including ground for phono). There is an RCA output for subwoofer, and USB and optical inputs for a built-in DAC as well as a convenient USB output for charging. There are also binding post outputs if you wish to run cable from the master to the slave speaker instead of using Bluetooth. For those who use the TUK at a distance rather than at an arm's length on a desktop, there is a remote control. These guys will hit the streets running in early 2019 with a price of $799 if you're willing to hold off on spending for the holidays.
Kanto, based in Vancouver, British Colombia, sneaks into the high end arena here after getting their toes wet with three smaller monitors with similar flexibility but using silk dome tweeters and Kevlar woofers of varying sizes, the YU2, YU4 and YU6. Amplification in the YU series is Class D, and I suspect the same with TUK. Kanto is well established in the TV wall-mount sector, so this is not a small, fly-by-night operation. The form-factor here is compact, requiring only turntable and streamer for a modest Old School/New School system. Small, active speakers with options such as the TUK are becoming a hotly contested arena for a generation that chooses to remain mobile and may still be saddled with education loans. Old Schoolers may find this a welcome add-on to their TV or computer, or for a system at the cabin. The sound is outstanding for such a real-world price.