RMAF 2019 Show Report Part 5
On the 8th floor rooms 153 and 154 were far to the opposite direction of most of the rooms on most of the floors. Even worse, after a zig-zag, even farther down this hall was 175 which I suspect many people might have missed had they not been seeking out Vivid Audio, Jeff Rowland Designs or Grand Prix Audio. Room 175 was also site of the Classic Album Sundays, which would have been a destination for some, if not many.
I started out down the hall in 154, home to Bluebird Music and Jay Rein whom I've known for years at the Canadian shows. He is the North American distributor for Chord electronics, Spendor speakers, SME turntables and Jadis electronics. In the outer room of this suite was the new Jadis Orchestra Black, based on the Orchestra Reference and tailored to North America with black end caps. They've upgraded it with 6CA7 tubes, cleaned up the internals a bit and with the remote it is $3995.
In the inner room was the new Spendor D9.2 ($11,900), an upgrade to their top D line (along with the D7.2, one of Spendor's best-selling models). Upgrades include a more rigid cabinet than the original D series and the tweeter which is a soft fabric dome behind the silver faceplate. The faceplate is perforated and equalizes the pressure front and back while the white dot in the center acts as a phase plug. The result is the sound exits the tweeter as a flat plane rather than a curved array. Their preference with this design is to not toe the speakers in. For a speaker of this fit and finish, it sounded like a very good value.
It was also the first time the new SME Model 12 ($10,900 with separate power supply and tonearm) has been played in the USA.
The Chord M Scaler ($5k) separates out the scaler built into the Blu Mk II DAC ($12k) and allows it to be used with any DAC — even their little Cutest model ($1800). Jay says Chord is the first company to offer a stand-alone upscaler. It upsamples the signal 16 times to 705kHz and can be used with DACs that have dual BNC data inputs, including the Cutest. With DACs with only a single input you can still get 8x upscaling. The advantage of upscaling brings analog smoothness, improved bass definition and instrumental timbre to digital playback while maintaining all the other advantages of digital. And yes, there is USB input. If you're into digital in any manner, I'd say this product is huge. The music here, was very good.
Across the hall in 153 was the familiar combination of CH Precision electronics with the Swiss Stenheim Alumine Five ($60k) that I heard at AXPONA 2019. Cabling was by NVS this time, who is also a dealer for Stenheim. A one-meter RCA interconnect goes for $750. Among the CH gear was their X1 power supply for the D1 SACD/CD drive, a C1 DAC/Controller and an A1.5 150 Wpc stereo amplifier. Neil Young was singing "Harvest Moon" with which I'm very familiar. The sound of this high price rig is extraordinarily detailed, much as I heard at AXPONA, though they used different cables and power conditioning.
The speakers are rated at "94dB, half space" and 8 Ohms, with a minimum of 3 Ohms. (I'm not sure what "half space" means, but they claim it can be driven by fine quality low powered amps.) Music with this much detail and transparency is not for everyone, so at this price level, I suggest an in-person audition. Likewise, it would be interesting to hear how these speakers sound with a high quality low power tube amplifier.
Hiking way down to the furthest end of the 8th floor to room 8175 where the Classic Album Sunday event would take place, I found a large display of most, if not all things by Jeff Rowland Designs. This is simply beautiful gear.
The rig for actually playing music was pretty fine, too, with a Grand Prix Audio turntable as the source and Vivid Audio Kaya 90 speaker which is larger, but not by much, than the Kaya 45. Call it just under 4' tall. A second pair of 5" woofers in the 90 perhaps gives it a fuller bass, but only takes it down a couple of Hz in response.
These speakers are not terribly heavy either, coming in under 85 pounds due to a lightweight glass reinforced sandwich composite. Unfortunately, I can't comment on the sound due to a room full of conversations. The photo here shows but half of the bad hombres.