Categories: Show Reports, Film Festivals and Concerts

Highlights from RMAF 2018

Summary

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

 

Hey Secrets readers! It’s October and that means the mellifluous sounds from Rocky Mountain Audio Fest will be tempting our ears later this week. Hosted at the Denver Marriott Tech Center from October 5th to the 7th, I’ve always found it to be one of the more enjoyable shows on the calendar to attend. There is always a wide variety of gear to sample, covering almost every conceivable desire and price point. Everything from Mega-buck systems to the affordable and practical, there truly is something for everybody at this show. If audio DIY is your thing, RMAF regularly has you covered with plenty of exhibitors to challenge a willing soldering iron jockey. The CanJam area just gets bigger each year with more headphones and personal audio products to listen to as well. There are sure to be plenty of product announcements this year so Cynthia Johnson-St.Denis and myself will be doing our level best to keep you all appraised of the goings on. Be ready to be inundated with more eye and ear candy than you can shake a stick at! Let us know if you have a question or if there is something that you are curious about.

See you in Denver!


 
 

Day 1
Revel

Continuing with Harman, Revel was showing off a version of their Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers finished in a tasteful, dark metallic blue automotive finish. While not slated as an official color, Harman was actively gauging consumer reaction on the floor so it may show up as an future option if enough people dig it. Sadly, I had to scat before the Salon2 could play me anything. You can be sure that I will make my way back later in the show and spend some quality time with them. I can never pass up a chance to listen to these when I see them at an event!

 

JBL

The Harman Luxury Audio Group was serving up a number of tasty treats in their RMAF display area. First, we have the thoroughly retro looking JBL L100 loudspeakers that were powered by an ARCAM SA20 integrated amp and fed with a CDS50 CD/SACD Network player. I got to hear these speakers for the first time in Munich and, while good, I had suspected that they may have been acoustically held back by the room they were in. Not so here in Denver! They sounded especially punchy here, with an authoritative low end and a very lush and appealing midrange quality. JBL claims that the initial speaker runs have proven popular enough to put the L100 on back order for a stretch. Undaunted, we are still looking to get a pair in for review once the customer demand has relented a little.

 

Bluesound

Bluesound was introducing their updated Gen 2i series of streaming products at RMAF. All Gen 2i gear now features full 24/192 playback capability and can stream uncompressed WAV, FLAC and ALAC music files over an existing Wi-Fi network. They also support Apple AirPlay 2, voice control via Amazon Alexa, AptX HD Bluetooth transmission and all Gen 2i product are now MQA certified. Ken Forsythe, Senior VP at MQA, was on hand to talk about the continuing adoption of the format and how MQA had deals in place with Sony, Universal and Warner music to remaster their content. To help celebrate the launch, Bluesound partnered with MQA to participate in a live music streaming event. Acclaimed UK jazz vocalist Zara McFarlane and her 4-piece band would perform a 6 song live set from a London studio. The performance would be encoded and streamed on the fly with MQA to listeners at 3 separate locations, New York, London, and here in Denver. The performance went off without a hitch and the assembled press were treated a very dynamic live music set relayed to us through a pair of PSB Imagine T2 tower speakers, powered by a Bluesound Powernode 2i Wireless Streaming Amplifier. A very interesting and effective demonstration.

 

VANA

VANA’s other room had a pair of EAT’s B-Sharp and C-Sharp turntables ($1595.00 and $4295.00) along with the company’s, just announced, E GLO Petite Hybrid/Tube Phono Preamp ($1495.00) with Dual Linear Power Supply ($1295.00). The rest of the system was comprised of the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium HP integrated amp ($4399.00) and a pair of Audio Physic Avanti loudspeakers ($8995.00). Pretty to look at and pretty to listen to as well.

 


 

Day 2
Auralic

Auralic had another fine sounding room at RMAF. The equipment lineup was pretty much identical to what they were showing in Munich. This consisted of the Ares G2 Streaming Transporter ($3899.00), Vega G2 Streaming DAC ($5699.00) and the Leo GX Reference Master Clock ($7899.00) all playing through two Auralic Merak G2 monoblock amplifiers. But whereas Auralic was using Ryan loudspeakers in Munich, today they were using a pair of Hailey 1.2 speakers from YG Acoustics ($42,800.00). Clean and articulate sound with a great sense of depth was the order of the day here. Visually and sonically, the speakers and the components looked like they belonged together.

 

Mark Levinson

Mark Levinson were planning to announce a new line of products which they coyly had placed under wraps when we first entered the room. Once we were settled in, they took the covers off and introduced us to the new 5000 series of integrated amplifiers. The goal of the new line is to bring a lot of the design and technology of the higher tier 500 series of components, down to a more approachable price point. The two integrated amps shown here, the 5805 and the 5802, both feature power output of 125 watts into 8 ohms with 250 watts going into 4 ohms. Both amps are Class AB and are stable into 2 ohm loads. Both units each have the same huge, custom wound toroidal transformers, 40,000 micro-farad capacitor bank per channel and ESS 9028PRO Sabre DAC. The 5805 ($8500.00) possesses both analog and digital inputs, AptX-HD Bluetooth connectivity, along with a MM/MC phono stage having adjustable resistance and capacitive loading. The 5802 ($7000.) has strictly digital inputs only. Built completely in the USA, availability will be first quarter of 2019.

 

VANA

VANA Ltd, the U.S. distributor for European Audio Team and Audio Physic, had two rooms at the show. In this room, they were showcasing the new Virgo III loudspeakers by Audio Physic ($17,995.00) along with the E GLO tube phono stage ($6995.00) from EAT. The source was an EAT Forte S turntable fitted with the “minty-green” Jo No. 5 Moving Coil cartridge ($8495.00), also from EAT. Rounding out the playback chain was a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium tube preamp ($3199.00) and a pair of matching Dialogue Premium HP monoblock tube amplifiers ($3899.00 each). Off to the side, EAT was also unveiling their new entry level turntable, the Prelude ($1195.00 with cartridge). The Prelude slots in just below the B-Sharp turntable that I reviewed recently. You can also read a review of the E GLO phono preamp on our website, done by Piero Gabucci.

 

GoldenEar

Dropped by GoldenEar where Sandy Gross had set up a surprisingly simple but insanely effective 2-channel rig for the show. A pair of Triton Reference speakers were configured, in an almost comically small room, with a Hegel H590 integrated amp (300 watts/channel) and a Hegel Mohican CD player. With the speakers toed in to converge directly on the sweet spot, the system threw a huge and detailed image with an almost endless dynamic reserve. The theory that you can overpower a room with too-large a choice of speaker was squarely being turned on it’s head!

 


 

Day 3
Benchmark Media

Benchmark Media was premiering their new high resolution analog preamp, the LA4. There is another version of this preamp with an integrated headphone amp called the HPA4 which I will mention later on. The preamp features relay controlled gain, input selection, balance and muting. The volume control has 256 steps in 0.5dB increments and each channel has it’s own independent attenuator. There is also good sized touch screen to access advanced input and operational controls. Spec-wise, it has a THD rating of less than -125dB (0.00006%) and an A-weighted SNR of more than 137dB. If accurate, that is about as “straight-wire-with-a-gain” as you are likely to find in a preamp. Mated with Benchmark’s DAC3 B, two of their AHB2 power amps and a pair of Martin Logan Impression 13A loudspeakers, there was an effortless and expansive sound to the room with a boatload of detail to hear. While the preamp can be used with any amplifier and source, it is designed to co-operate especially well with it’s Benchmark stablemates. I am very much interested to get this Benchmark stack in for review. MSRP for the preamp (with remote) is $2495.00, the DAC3 B is $1695.00, and the AHB2 amp is $2995.00.

 

Bryston

Bryston was showing off a fully active Mini T loudspeaker setup. It was very similar to what they showed in Munich, just with the smaller speaker here versus the Middle T that they had in Germany. These Bryston Active systems are always some of the most seamless and resolving 2 channel systems that I come across at shows. They aren’t the most minimalist systems out there, but if you have the space and the desire for elevated sound quality, it’s hard to do better. What surprised me about this particular room was how little the Mini T gave up to the Middle T in the bass department. Bass was potent, deep and tight, very comparable to what I heard in Munich. Keep in mind, much of this is room dependent, but with careful setup, these Active Mini T’s will take you quite far.

 

ELAC

The other ELAC room of note had none other than Andrew Jones presiding over a demonstration of the new Argo B51 wireless active speakers. The Argos are a 3-way design using a concentric driver for the treble and midrange and a 5.25-inch driver for the bass. And, although similar looking, these are completely different drivers than those found in ELAC’s Uni-Fi series. Each driver is assigned it’s own internal amplifier, 30 watts for the tweeter, 70 watts for the midrange and 150 watts for the woofer. Interestingly there are no DACs or digital inputs in the Argos. All the inputs (RCA and XLR) are line level because all the internal crossover filtering is done in the analog domain. The reasoning being that most active speakers with digital inputs limit you to the quality of the DAC and DSP that is embedded in the speaker without the possibility for improvement. The Argos allow a user to use whatever digital decoding solution, or analog equipment that they want, thus maintaining an upgrade path for an owner. The rear of the speakers also house controls for tailoring EQ, source and gain selections and selectable filtering for when a subwoofer is teamed up. The Argo also has wireless receiving capability which requires the use of an optional wireless hub called the Discovery Connect transmitter ($99.00). The wireless system used is proprietary and works on the 2.4 gHz RF band. Andrew was streaming content to the Argos via the new Alchemy DDP-2 DAC/Preamplifier/Steamer using Roon. The sound was pretty remarkable. Not only was the detail, texture and overall harmony that is typical of an Andrew Jones design all there, but also an almost absurd level of bass was emanating from these smartly-dressed little boxes. And even when the volume was cranked, I couldn’t hear any distortion or obvious compression to the sound. For $2000.00/pair, I’d say one gets a heck of a lot of value for the money with the Argos.
And on a amusing side note, ELAC seems to have gotten into the cable business as well. Simply called “Sensible” this new line of affordable and high quality speaker cable (14 gauge) will be available at brick and mortar retailers that sell ELAC speakers.

 

CanJam

CanJam room, as seen from my seat at the HiFiMAN booth.

 

Ayre Acoustics

Boulder Colorado based Ayre Acoustics had an impressive sounding room. The electronics were comprised of the Ayre CX-8 CD Player, the EX-8 Integrated Hub and the VX-8 Power Amplifier (100 watts/channel into 8 Ohms). The loudspeakers were the Kaya 45 by Vivid Audio. The speaker’s enclosure is made from a unique sandwich of composite material. It has a frequency response of 35 Hz – 40 kHz and an impedance of 6 ohms. Sound quality was smooth and articulate with plenty of detail.

 

ELAC

ELAC had a solid presence at RMAF and two rooms in particular caught my interest. This first room had Peter Madnick demonstrating the new Alchemy line of electronics that we saw display samples of in Munich. The three updated components are: the DDP-2 DAC/Preamplifier/Streamer, the DPA-2 Power Amp and the PPA-2 Phono Preamp.
Some of the top line features of each unit are:

DDP-2
– Dual 32 bit/384 kHz DACs operating in balanced mode.
– Configurable signal up-sampling up to 384 kHz.
– DSD decoding up to 4X.
– MQA capable.
– Discovery, Spotify Connect, Roon, Bluetooth, AirPlay.
– Home Theater bypass mode.
– $2499.98

DPA-2
– Select-able High/Low gain for better preamp matching.
– Fully Balanced design.
– Class D PWM output stage.
– 350 wpc stereo output.
– Bridgeable to 650 watts mono output.
– RCA and Balanced inputs.

The new Alchemy gear was hooked up to a pair of ELAC Adante AS-61 monitors ($2499.98) and a SUB3070 subwoofer ($2499.98). It made for a good looking and great sounding combination. The sound quality was compelling and easily comparable to much more expensive systems.

 

Klipsch

I was interested to hear the updated Klipsch La Scala speakers as a good friend of mine has a pair of Klipschorns in his basement that still sound impressive after all these years. While Klipschorns are designed to be placed in corners, the La Scalas are a little more flexible in their positioning. The updated La Scalas feature a 1-inch thick MDF construction all around and a beautiful book-matched walnut veneer (Cherry and Black Ash are also available), both inside the cabinet and out. They are a 3-way speaker system comprised of a 15-inch woofer mated to a folded horn, a 2-inch midrange compression driver and a 1″ treble compression driver, both horn loaded as well. The La Scalas have a sensitivity of 105dB and an impedance of 8 ohms which make them exceedingly tube-friendly. These speakers are not bass-monsters. In-room, they are solid down to 40 Hz and at the demo Klipsch augmented the bottom octave with a pair of their new C-310ASWi subwoofers. Each one having a front-firing 10-inch driver and two side-firing 10-inch passive radiators. The soundstage from these speakers was big, with a very wide sweet-spot. The La Scalas were easy to listen to for a prolonged stretch with a warmness to their overall sound that was very appealing. The twin subs mated fairly seamlessly with the La Scalas and seemed to make for a good match in the demo room.The MSRP on the La Scalas is $8000.00 for the pair and are hand built to order in Hope, Arkansas. The price on the subwoofers is TBD and they should become available in November.

I had heard another pair of the Klipsch HP-3 headphones in an adjoining room to where the La Scala loudspeakers were demoed. I had sampled them with the matching Heritage DAC/AMP and thought they sounded warm but perhaps a tad soft. Down at the CanJam booth, the Klipsch fellows just happened to have this Euphoria Stereo 45 tube amp from Toolshed Amps sitting, unambiguously, on the table. Listened to the HP-3 again through the Heritage DAC/AMP alone: yup, warm and soft. Same as yesterday. Re-routed the line output of the DAC into the Toolshed Amp and listened again: Hello there! This is more like it. Bigger sound, less warm and soft but still very smooth and appealing. Word to the wise, the Klipsch HP-3 likes the tubes. Perhaps that’s why this Toolshed amp features prominently in the glamorous pictures throughout the Heritage Series brochure! Klipsch HP-3 Headphones: $1200.00, Klipsch Heritage DAC/AMP: $500.00, Toolshed Euphoria 45 Tube amp: $3500.00.

 

Next Level Hi-Fi

Next Level Hi-Fi was sponsoring a room with some great sounding and unique looking equipment. The main components of interest are the new Aavik Acoustics C-150 preamp, the P-150 power amp and the Borresen 03 floor standing speakers ($66,000.00/pr). I found the Scandinavian design aesthetic of the products to be strikingly beautiful and the tactile quality of everything was top notch.

The P-150 has a Class-D amp section rated at 300 watts into 8 ohms and 600 watts into 4 ohms.The C-150 includes a phono stage with adjustable gain and resistance loading and a DAC section having DSD and MQA capability.

Unfortunately, there was precious little info on the Borresen 03 beyond the price and the fact that the lead designer, Micheal Borresen, was one of the original founders of Raidho.

The overall sound in the room was smooth, coherent and very enjoyable.

 

Bluebird Music

The UK audio scene was well represented at RMAF this year and Bluebird Music hosted a room that was pure Union Jack. All the electronics were courtesy of Chord, the turntable from SME and the loudspeakers were from Spendor. Specifically we have the Chord DAVE DAC, the Blu Mk II CD Transport, the CPM 5000 preamp, and a pair of SPM 14000 monoblock amplifiers. The turnatble was the SME Synergy.The Spendor speakers were the D9 model in a special ebony finish. The D9 have a frequency response of 27Hz – 25 kHz with an 8 ohm impedance and a 90 dB sensitivity rating. A very enjoyable sounding room with great dynamics!

 

Sonus Faber

In celebration of their 35th anniversary, Sonus Faber announced the new Electa Amator III stand mounted speaker. It has a gorgeous solid walnut enclosure with leather wrapped front baffle and rear panel. The driver compliment consists of a custom designed 6.5-inch cellulose/pulp woofer and a specially damped 1-inch silk dome tweeter. Sonus Faber also had their new Gravis VI subwoofer (with dual 12-inch drivers) on hand to fill in bottom octave duties. But to be fair, the Amitor III sure sounded like they were doing just fine without the sub in most cases! The bottom end reach of these little guys was nothing short of impressive. Paired with a McIntosh MA9000 integrated amp, the Electa Amitor III had fantastic imaging with a beguiling liquid quality to it’s presentation. I could easily listen to these for hours on end. The Gravis subwoofer was switched in when a very dynamic orchestral piece from The Dark Night soundtrack was cued up. Here is where Gravis VI made it’s bones, getting those powerful low bass drum hits across at the right magnitude and intensity. The Electa Amitor III will be available in December, priced at $10,000.00 for the pair including stands. The Gravis VI subwoofer will be priced at $7000.00. God love the Italians!

 

Legacy Audio

Legacy Audio and Raven Audio were sharing the same large ballroom as they have done in years past. The sheer volume of product both companies brought with them was eye-watering. Legacy looked like they had just about every speaker line that they carry along with Wavelet processors at each installation. Raven had probably every gorgeous amplifier and preamplifier that they make in this one room. I had great extended conversations with Bill Dudleston of Legacy and Dave Thompson of Raven about how they see the future of their product going. Rest assured that they both have some exciting stuff on tap for the future. In the meantime, enjoy the audio

 

NAD, PSB and Bluesound

NAD, PSB and Bluesound were sharing a room at RMAF and had some interesting pieces on display. The main audio system consisted of the PSB Imagine T3 tower speakers, the NAD C658 BlueOS Streaming DAC and the NAD C268 power amp. The combo made for and elegantly simple and compelling sounding system. I’ve heard the T3 towers in several different rooms over the years and they never cease to impress.

Off to the side was another little system that looked incredibly capable but took up just a modest footprint. It was centered around the NAD D3045 integrated amp, paired with the little PSB Imagine XB speakers and one of NAD’s turntables. The D3045 puts out 60 watts per channel into 8 ohms, has both digital and analog inputs, HDMI with audio return, AptX HD Bluetooth, Asynchronous USB and is MQA and DSD capable. This setup could be a panacea for an audiophile who has a limited amount of space to work with.

Rounding out the items on display, was the Bluesound Pulse 2i networked speaker. One speaker easily filled the room with sound when music was streamed to it. A nice touch is that you can pair two of them together for proper stereo if you choose. Really great sound and equally great ideas were happening in this room.

 

Harman

Another early CanJam stop was at the HiFiMAN booth. These guys always have a fistful of new and updated product at this show that it’s almost dizzying. What we have here is the updated Jade II electrostatic headphone and matching solid state amplifier. The idea with the Jade is to bring the experience of the Shangai-La Jr. to a more approachable price. I love the overall look of the pair and the shimmering green electrostatic driver skin, seen through the grille, is a nice touch. The sound quality was excellent with quick and effortless rendering of the music. Bass seemed ample but not overbearing either. Price for the system is $2499.99.

 

Fostex

Getting into the CanJam area, one of my first stops was at the Fostex booth. The Japanese company has garnered many accolades over the years for it’s headphone products and particularly in their use of light weight bio-cellulose drivers. I had, up until now, never had a chance to sample any of their wares and that was about to change. Fostex had a number of new and updated headphone models including a new flagship that was premiering at RMAF. Lets begin at the affordable end with the T20RP mk3, T40RP mk3 and the T50RP mk3. These are updated versions of their long running planar design that has seen wide use in professional applications. The only major difference between these three models is that the 20 is open-backed, the 40 is closed and the 50 is semi open. Each one is identically priced at $159.99, an almost unheard of price for a planar magnetic headphone just a couple of years ago. Take whatever listening impressions that I give you with a grain of salt as they were brief and done in a loud room with hundreds of people walking around. That being said, of the three models, I personally preferred the 50s. The semi-open design striking a good balance between spaciousness and impact overall. The T60RP is similar to the T50RP mk3 but it sports solid African mahogany ear cups. The T60RP have a decidedly warmer presentation than the previous three models and they retail for about $300.00.

The next two Fostex headphones are at the other end of the spectrum. The TH900 mk2 and the new flagship TH909, priced at $1499.00 and $1799.00 respectively, feature the latest version of Fostex’s bio-cellulose drivers. The 900mk2 is closed backed while the 909 is open. Both had a beautiful, rich presentation to my ears, but it was hard to make a proper comparison in the noisy CanJam environment, especially of the open 909s. I think I shall just have to pester Fostex for some review samples!

 

HiFIMAN

HiFIMAN has also released another update to the HE1000 headphone. This model is called the HE1000se. How does it differ from the HE1000 v2 you ask? Well the HE1000se has increased sensitivity (now 96 dB) to be more easily driven from a wider array of mobile devices. It also has new neodymium magnets allowing the driver to move even faster. And there are some minor cosmetic changes to round things out as well. How do they sound? At least as good as the v2 that I own. Are they any better than the v2? It would be impossible to tell the level of improvement over the v2s though without a direct comparison. And that may be something that we have to arrange!

MSRP is $3499.00.

Continuing with HiFiMAN, I got to sample the flagship Susvara for the first time along with the new HE6se. Both headphones were hooked up to an EF1000 amplifier so each had plenty of shove to move them along. And with each headphone having around 83 dB efficiency they needed it. With the Susvara costing over 3 times he price of the HE6se one might accuse this of being an decidedly unfair fight. But a fight is not what I was after. The HE6se is targeted to a specific audience, that being original HE6 owners. HE6 owners are said to be a die hard and committed lot and they are passionate about their cans. I’ve never been part of this club. The original HE6 never appealed to me in the slightest and the HE6se don’t change that impression. They just aren’t my ball of wax which means there’s a great chance original HE6 owners will thoroughly dig them. And be aware, that’s not a potshot, it’s just a difference in taste. The Susvara on the other hand, WOW! Just WOW! It’s everything I fell in love with in the original HE1000 but orders of magnitude more. Comparing it to the HE1000se that was on hand confirmed my suspicions. REALLY, really want to review these!

 

Kyron Audio and DEQX

The Aussies also got some loving here at RMAF. Australian companies Kyron Audio and DEQX combined forces to bring us what has to be one of the most striking looking loudspeakers I’ve ever laid eyes on. The Kronos is a complete open baffle (dipole) speaker with fully active equalization, bass management and room correction (courtesy of DEQX) baked into its hardware. Fans of the late Siegfried Linkwitz will recognize many of the concepts he championed in loudspeaker design (Linkwitz Lab Orion and LX521) applied to the Kronos and refined to the nth degree. Just look at the industrial design of the thing. It’s unreal! In this good-sized conference room, the Kronos were accompanied by a pair of matching Mercury 12-inch sealed subwoofers and a controller/amplifier unit that housed the six amps, DEQX boards and other “oily bits” that brought this whole Kronos array to life. The sound from these speakers was just so effortless and natural. It didn’t immediately knock my socks off the way some speakers at the show did. The Kronos just sounded normal and right. The longer I sat there more I appreciated rightness of its presentation. No blatant fireworks, just pure music. Everything placed where it should be with the correct size and scope and seamless too, with no tonal deficiencies that I could detect. I’m sure the Kronos would give an owner fireworks if they wanted it. DEQX’s capabilities could certainly allow for tweaking to the hearts content. The cost for everything you see on the floor? $140,000.00. For you super-car aficionados out there, the Kronos is probably akin to a Maclaren 720S for the audio world. What a beautiful, mad concoction. “G’day mate!”

 

Verity Audio

High Fidelity Services out of Massachusetts put together what could only be described as a statement room centered around flagship speakers from Canadian company, Verity Audio. The Verity Monsalvat speaker system is divided into two parts. The main tower features a 2-inch aluminum ribbon driver for the tweeter, a 6-inch driver for the midrange and four 9-inch drivers for the lower-midrange. Looking at the photos, you’ll see the second part of the system is in the rear corners, behind the towers. I initially mistook them for bass traps. They are, in fact, a stack of four 15-inch subwoofers on each side of the room, firing into the corners! The whole shebang is controlled by the Verity Audio PRO-6, a custom DAC/Preamp/Processor which feeds a trio of Verity Audio AMP-60 power amplifiers. The phono preamp, turntable and tonearm were from TW Acustic with an Ortofon MC Century cartridge. The music server was provided by Melco and all the cabling was from Signal Projects. Total price for the gear in the room was $1.1 million dollars. This room had to have some of the cleanest most distortion-free sound, top-to-bottom, that I have ever heard. The pressurization of the bass in the room was unreal. The organ music piece that was played had the volume, scale, detail and depth of the real McCoy. Softer jazz pieces were rendered with an un-erring accuracy and effortlessness and vocals were imaged beautifully. If this is what unbridled excess sounds like, sign me up!

 

Aaudio Imports

Local Colorado distributor Aaudio Imports had an impressive looking, and sounding, room featuring speakers from UK company, Wilson Benesch and electronics from Ypsilon Electronics of Greece. The loudspeakers were Wilson Benesch’s Resolution model sporting a gorgeous burl walnut veneer and, the company’s take on a subwoofer, the Torus Infrasonic generator with an 18-inch driver. Ypsilon was demonstrating their PST 100 MKII Valve Preamp, a pair of their Hyperion Mono Amps (370 watts into 8 Ohms and 1200 watts into 2 Ohms) and the DAC 1000 Valve R2R DAC. Cables were provided by Stage III Cables and the source was an Aurender N10 music server. The sound in this room had that lush, rich and liquid quality that I associated with the little Sonus Faber anniversary speakers that I mentioned earlier, just orders of magnitude bigger. The price for everything you see in this room is $356,200.00. A drop in the bucket!

 

Classe Audio

Now under the umbrella of Sound United, Classe Audio was making its presence known at RMAF this year. Classe was premiering their new Delta Pre preamplifier/DAC and Delta MONO power amps. The Delta Pre’s DAC section can chat with input signals up to 32-bit/768 kHz and also has a MM/MC phono section with adjustable gain and loadings via the front touch screen. The Delta MONO amps are rated at 300 watts into 8 ohms, doubling that figure into 4. There was also a static display of a Delta stereo amp, with it’s top off, rated at 250 watts into 8 ohms and 500 into 4. Prices for everything are TBD. The Classe equipment was hooked up to a pair Focal Sopra 3 speakers and, needless to say, beautiful music was being made. The transformer and heat sink from the Delta amps really are as heavy as they look. That’s forty pounds alone for the transformer. Don’t drop it, unless you want some broken phalanges!

 

Mr.Speakers

Dropped in to the Mr.Speakers booth at CanJam to check out their delightful headphone wares. I spent a little quality time listening to the AEON Flow (both open and closed models) the Ether Flow and the Ether2. All of these models are incredibly light weight and exceedingly comfortable around the ears. I honestly had a hard time zeroing in on a favorite of the bunch. They all ticked a lot of the boxes that I look for in headphone sound quality. I think I started to favor the Ether Flow after a few tunes, but when I put the AEONs back on I wasn’t sure any longer. Maybe, Mr. Speakers should send me one of each so that I can settle this once and for all…..or not!

 

HiFiMAN

HiFiMAN’s Shangri-La Jr. headphone and amplifier and original Shangri-La headphones.

Having heard the original Shangri-La headphones at previous shows with its bespoke “Jetsons” style tube amp, I already knew how lovely it sounded. The Shangri-La jr comes frightfully close to its “father’s” performance with its own matching amp. If you can’t afford to drop $50K on the original Shangri-La combo, consider this your opportunity to get along with a more approachable and, frankly, livable headphone and amp without much sonic sacrifice. Plus, the Jr. amp is such a pretty looking thing in its own right. MSRP is $8000.00 for the Shangri-La Jr. combo.

 

JWM Acoustics

Another one of my picks for some of the best sound at RMAF came courtesy of the JWM Acoustics Alyson AML II monitors. They not only looked gorgeous, with their baffles made of solid Hawaiian woods, but the sound coming from these speakers was just warm, alive and captivating. Joshua Miles, the company owner and engineer let me play a few of my own song choices from a USB stick, along with his selections from digital and vinyl. Male and female vocals were particularly outstanding. Piano was reproduced exceptionally well and electric guitar had great detail and edge to its sound. The associated electronics looked massive and impressive and reeked of quality workmanship. The tube preamp, Amplifier and DAC are from a company in Cyprus called Aries Cerat. Prices for the Alyson AML IIs start at $8250.00 per pair depending on the finish and choice of wood.

 

Anthem and Paradigm

The Anthem/Paradigm room was showing the new Anthem STR 2-channel preamp and amplifier combo which was connected to a pair of new Paradigm Premiere 200B Bookshelf speakers. The STR preamp is a digital processor as well as it incorporates a custom version of Anthem’s ARC room correction. It includes a full suite of digital and analog inputs, including USB and XLR and a full set of RCA and XLR outputs supporting up to two stereo subwoofers with bass management. It also has a built in MM/MC phono stage. The STR stereo amplifier is rated at 400 watts into 8 ohms, 600 watts into 4 ohms and 800 watts into 2 ohms. I currently have this pair of components in house for review, so expect to see that in the near future. The Paradigm 200B are a ported two-way design with a 1-inch X-Pal™ dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch polypropylene mid-woofer. Both drivers are equipped with the PPA lenses that have been seen on both the Persona and the Prestige series. As a system, it all sounded fantastic. I don’t know how much work ARC room correction was doing with the Paradigms, but the speakers sounded exceptionally clean with precise imaging and a not-insubstantial amount of bass coming from them. The price for the STR preamp is $3,999.00, the amp is $5,999 .00 and the speakers are $900.00 for the pair without stands.

 

Kii Audio

The Kii Three speakers from Germany with the optional BXT base (bass) stands were definitely on my list of must-sees at this show. I saw and heard them at the Munich show and came away impressed, but the selection of music there was largely unfamiliar to me. The jovial gentleman running the demo here was gracious enough to let me request a few tunes that I knew over Tidal and he just beamed them right to the speakers. The regular Kii Three monitors are fully active speakers with on board amplification, DSP and room correction that can tailor the output of it’s six drivers (each) to match the immediate listening environment. Adding the BXT base adds 8 more drivers per speaker and significantly augments the low frequency output. To say that this speaker sounded really good would be a gross understatement. It’s rendering of instruments, vocals, reverb was uncannily accurate but neither cold nor lifeless. Soundstage was both very wide and deep and vocals seemed as real as could be. For me, it was some of the best sound of the show. The price for all this Teutonic goodness is $38,000.00 as shown, with availability for the BXT base being 1st quarter of 2019.

 

Martin-Logan

Here we have the Martin-Logan Neolith speakers. They were sourced by an Aurender Media Player/Streamer, controlled by a Progression Preamp/DAC, powered by a pair of Progression Mono amps (both from Dan D’Agostino Audio) which, in turn, were run from a Stromtank S2500 battery source. What a way to live off-the-grid!

 

Focal CanJam

Stopped in to the Focal CanJam booth to try out the various headphones that they offer. The company was introducing the new Elegia model, which seems to be the closed back version of the Elear. Coincidentally, Secrets had just done a review of the Focal Clear, so I definitely wanted to get a listen to those as well. The build quality and overall comfort of each of these headphones is top notch. So, after doing a little back-and-forth with the three of them, I found that the Focal Elear best suited my musical tastes. Perhaps a little Goldilocks was going on. But for me, the Elears were just right. Focal Clear: $1100.00, Focal Elear: $700.00, Focal Elegia: $900.00.

 

PS Audio

PS Audio had a unique pair of loudspeakers playing in their room. They were a project that the late Arnie Nudell (one of the original co-founders of Infinity) had been working on with PS Audio’s Paul McGowan and amplifier guru Bascom H. King before his passing in 2017. While the speakers my look like a work in progress they sure didn’t act like it. There was a fine cohesive sound coming from these unusual speakers and, as I understand it, PS Audio will continue to actively develop them into a future line. Should be an interesting one to watch.

 

Eikon

Gayle Sanders, one of the co-founders of Martin Logan, was displaying his newest creation at RMAF, the Eikon Image 1. The Eikon Image 1 is a fully active loudspeaker with DSP control (see the trend here). The overall aesthetic of the towers is eye-catching and very modern. Looking at the DSP controller/DAC/Preamp. it seems suspiciously similar to the Legacy Wavelet processor that I reviewed a couple of years ago. A little digging on Eikon’s website confirmed my observations. Eikon’s DSP (like Legacy’s) is based on the work of Bohmer Audio and the Wavelet processor that they developed. This is a good thing as I found the Wavlet processor to do an excellent job of room correction and speaker optimization when I reviewed Legacy’s version with my own speakers. So how do the Eikons sound? Impressive. Big. Bigger than they had any right to sound for their size. Plenty of detail and transparency too, with bass that was powerful yet well controlled. Price is $24,500 as shown.

 

Accustic Arts

The room shared by Accustic Arts, German Physiks and Van den Hull was one of the more interesting experiences of the show. The German Physiks HRS-130 speaker is a 2-way omni-directional design based on the concepts of Lincoln Walsh and the bending-wave transducer developed in the early 1960s. The inverted cone driver at the top of the speaker is called a DDD (Dicks Dipole Driver) and it is made of carbon fiber. It is an extremely wide bandwidth driver and covers the bulk of the audio range. It crosses over to a 10-inch woofer at the bottom of the cabinet at about 220 Hz. I’ve read about Walsh speakers and their derivatives, but this would be my first time actually hearing one. The resulting output of the speakers is eerily dimensional and doesn’t so much paint a musical picture as opposed to them sculpting one. It really was quite holographic, and I got up and walked between the speakers and still experienced the sensation. I’m not smart enough to know whether the effect was just a gimmick or something more substantial, but I liked what I heard, and I could have sat there for a good long time. I’m also sure that the beautiful Accustic Arts Mono II amps, Tube Hybrid Line Stage, Phono Stage, CD Player, VPI Avenger Reference turntable with a Van den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius cartridge had a bit to with the enjoyment as well! This room was a lot of fun!

 

Tekton Designs

Tekton Designs was demonstrating a set of their Double Impact SE loudspeakers. Secrets reviewer Glenn Young reviewed the Tekton Pendragon loudspeakers back in 2016 and came away mightily impressed. After about 30 seconds listening to the Double Impacts, I could see why. These big red monoliths sounded scrupulously clean, absolutely devoid of distortion, and with a seemingly endless dynamic reservoir. Vocals were impeccably imaged and bass response was deep and hit hard when called upon. That cycloptic 7-tweeter array is especially configured to minimize any distortion in the treble and upper-midrange. If you’ve got the room, these are definitely worth a listen! Price: $6500.00 a pair, as shown.

 

Salk

Salk Loudspeakers have always had the one-two punch of being satisfying to listen to and beautiful to look at. The Song 3 BEAT speakers that were playing in their room were no exception. The veneering on those cabinets is just striking!

 

Sony

I had attended the Sony press conference on day one to catch the announcement of the Signature Series DMP-Z1 Headphone Amplifier/Player and now, at Sony’s CanJam table, I was able to try it out. The DMP-Z1 is obviously not your regular old Walkman. In the photos, you can see display samples of the milled aluminum substructure, the internal batteries that give it 9 hours of run time per charge, the Kimber Cable used for internal wiring and the gold-plated solid brass and copper potentiometer that must weigh 5 pounds all on it’s own. It has 256 GB of internal storage and 2 Micro SD card slots for additional room. The DMP-Z1 uses 2 AKM AK4497EQ DAC chips in dual mono configuration so it will accept up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and up to 11.2 MHz DSD playback. It will also re-sample any incoming PCM signal to 5.6MHz DSD before delivering to the DAC. And, as you would expect, it has a USB input allowing it to act as a sound card for your computer. I sampled the DMP-Z1 with some pre-loaded test tracks through the equally Signature, MDR-Z1R over ear headphones. The sound was predictably pleasing and surprisingly addictive. The headphones were eminently comfortable and had a beautiful command of the midrange. There is no question that this Sony Signature combo is more luxurious and overbuilt than is necessary or even practical. But sitting there with it reminded me why, in college, I saved up for 6 months to buy and hand carry home, via subway and buses, a Sony X7ESD CD player. At the time, I had never seen anything like it and I went through all the effort because it looked, felt and sounded glorious! Just like the new Sony pair in front of me. I’m very happy that Sony still makes this sort of stuff. Prices for the DMP-Z1: $8500.00 and the MDR-Z1R: $2300.00.

 

Lone Mountain Audio

Lone Mountain Audio is the official US distributor of ATC speakers from the UK. In this room we have the ATC SCM50SE Special Edition Active Towers fed by ATC’s CDA2MkII CD Player/Preamp/DAC. Active speakers are a burgeoning trend this year at RMAF and ATC, having been in the professional studio monitor business for many moons, has more experience in this trend than many of the late arrivals. Listening to these speakers made me feel like I was in a mastering lab. Impressive looking and impressive sounding too, with a minimal box count to boot. Slick! Price for the speakers: $66,000.00 for the pair. The CDA2 MkII is $4249.00.

 

Joseph Audio

Joseph Audio always has a great sounding room and their Perspectives loudspeakers ($12,999.00 per pair) did not disappoint. Supporting electronics were by Doshi, but the real reason I stopped in this room was to see and hear the Studer reel-to-reel tape machine that was being used as a source. How cool is that!

 

Nagra

Nagra. It’s as if Tiffanys and a lab equipment company had a child and named it Nagra. Thier equipment is like scientific jewelry and I love the look of the stuff! It was my last room of the show, 4PM on Sunday, and the Nagra electronics paired with the Cygnus Loudspeakers from Rockport Technologies made for a fantastic sounding capper to RMAF. I was the only person in the room and I would have killed for a glass of wine to enjoy with the beautiful sights and sounds around me!

 

Falcon Acoustics

Falcon Acoustics from the UK had teamed up with Primare of Sweden and put together two nice sounding rooms at the show. The first had Falcon’s faithful rendition of the classic BBC LS3/5a monitor. It surely was the prettiest looking version of this iconic speaker that I’ve laid eyes on. As I understand it, Falcon has gone to extraordinary lengths to procure or replicate every component and material choice used in the original speaker so that it is, for all intents and purposes, a match. The second room featured a larger tower called the Reference Series GC6500R. A much more modern looking affair than the LS3/5a, it’s a vented 3-way design that sports a custom ribbon tweeter, a 2-inch dome midrange and a 7-inch composite woofer. All that and it wears fine Italian clothing in the form of custom-made Italian cabinetry. Both sounded really enjoyable after extended listening. The LS3/5a retails for $3600.00 per pair with premium finish while the GC6500R goes for $26000.00 for the pair.

 

Sennheiser

I dropped in on Sennheiser at CanJam specifically to listen to, and compare, the HD800S and the HD820 headphones, but out of the corner of my eye I spotted the new HD660s open backed cans hanging there all alone. And after repeatedly sampling the first two headphones and coming away slightly indifferent, I reached for the HD660s just to see how much better the previous headphones had to be. Well surprise, surprise! I liked the feel and the sound of the HD660s more than either of the two 800 series. Now, to be fair, if I had all three at home and lived with them for a little while, I’m sure the virtues of the 800 series cans would make themselves more apparent and I might reconsider. But that being said, for $500 bucks, the Sennheiser HD660s are a heck of a nice sounding pair of cans and worth a closer look!

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