One of my first stops on day 1 at RMAF was at the Sonus faber room. The Italian company had just launched the Olympica Nova line of speakers and they were holding a full-court-press to spread the news. The new line consists of the Nova I monitor along with the Nova II, Nova III and Nova V towers. For those wanting a full SF surround system, there is also the Nova W on-wall speaker and two center channel speakers, the Nova CI and Nova CII.
The first generation Olympica speakers turned out to be some of Sonus faber’s most popular and according to Paolo Tezzon, Sonus faber’s chief of R&D and Acoustics, the Olympica Nova builds upon all the lessons the development team learned when making the originals and they have made significant updates to the cabinet structure, the crossovers and the drivers. It’s essentially all-new, hence the Nova name.
The company had a pair of Nova V set up in the room and playing various cuts of music. The speakers were powered by Audio Research electronics with an Aurender digital front end. Besides being a downright gorgeous looking pair of speakers with incredible attention paid to the aesthetic details, they produced a big, beautiful lush sound, with great dynamics and lots of detail. There were also a pair of the reference grade Sonus faber SE17 in the room that I came back to hear later in the day. And while while the Nova V didn’t recreate the same sense of scale as the SE17, they weren’t shamed by them either. They more than held their own to my ears!
MSRP for the Nova V is $16,500.00 per pair and are available now.
Next stop was to AURALiC where the company was showing off their ALTAIR G1 Wireless Streaming DAC/Preamp and the VEGA G1 Streaming DAC. The ALTAIR G1 features an upgraded processor and upgraded DAC chip (ESS 9038Q2M). Functionally, it will act as a server, streamer, DAC, and preamp. It can access an external hard drive or NAS and has room inside the chassis for an internal hard drive too, It is Tidal and Qobuz friendly and Roon will happily greet it as an endpoint. And…it comes with a headphone jack to boot. MSRP is $2699.00 and it ships in mid-September.
The VEGA G1 takes a lot of what’s in the more expensive G2 at streamlines it down into a simpler chassis. It’ll accept inputs from a variety of sources including a DLNA music server, Tidal, Qobuz and internet radio. It also plays nice with Roon and Spotify Connect. It will decode up to PCM 384 and DSD 512, it has a digital volume control for use as a preamp and sports 2 headphone jacks. AURALiC is currently running a promotion (ends 12/31) where if you purchase a VEGA G1 you will get a free 9.7″ Apple iPad.
MSRP is $3999.00.
AURALiC had an ARIES G2, a VEGA G2 and a LEO GX in play, mated up with Ayre electronics and DALI Epicon 8 loudspeakers. Lovely sound!
Stepping into the Sony room, I asked them what was new and exciting. The reps led me into an adjacent room where I was introduced to an unusual and unique looking active desktop speaker system. Called the SA-Z1, the chassis shape of these speakers remind me of stage lights that you might find hanging in an auditorium. But, aside from that, there is some delightfully oddball thinking going on in the design of these things. Each unit has two horizontally opposed woofers firing front and back. The intent is to reduce vibration and distortion in the bass region but the behavior of the rear firing woofer can be altered, via onboard controls so that it becomes rigid and acts like a sealed cabinet wall. The front of each speaker feature a vertical array of 3 tweeters. The center tweeter is given it’s own internal 20 watt amp, while the top and bottom tweeters share another 20 watt amp. The woofers get 30 watt amps each. The internal amplifiers themselves were described to me as being a hybrid Class A-B/Class D implementation. The internal electronics and DAC are in-house designs and the DAC uses an FPGA to help it along. There is an array of analog and digital inputs, including USB and a direct wired link with Sony Walkmans. A remote control is included.
No Bluetooth streaming is to be found on these. Too many sonic compromises, says Sony. Sitting near-field and listening to these things I was greeted with a surprisingly wide and spacious soundstage that extended well beyond the speakers themselves. They had impressive bass for their size but it didn’t sound bloated or overly loose. It was a really fun sounding experience listening to these and a great curve ball by Sony’s engineering team. Available in January 2020 with price TBD.
There is just something about the warm glow of a Mcintosh amp…
Just some more random close up goodness from the McIntosh room at RMAF.
Popping into the Wilson Audio room on day 1 of RMAF could have ruined the rest of the show for some people. In the listening area were a pair of Wilson Sasha DAW loudspeakers along with a pair of their Watchdog subwoofers. Power was supplied by a pair of VTL Siegfried II Reference amplifiers. The stereo amplifiers were vertically bi-amping both the speakers and the subs. Just completely powerful sound from top to bottom. And also a bit of theater sprinkled in for good measure!
And speaking of theater, in the adjoining room to the Sasha DAW was a static display of what I can only describe as pure audio overindulgence! A white Wilson Chronosonic XVX, a champagne colored Wilson WAMM Master Chronosonic, and a pair of Subsonic subwoofers, one white and the other in champagne of course. Two speakers and two subs of either would comprise a stereo pair. The XVX is new and was made as a version of the Master Chronosonic for smaller rooms. It will be available in Q4 of 2019. While there was nothing to hear with these speakers, they were honestly just a feast for the eyes. Whether you find them attractive or not is a personal thing. As simply an engineering exercise, I have never seen more attention-to-detail paid to the design aesthetics and build of a speaker. It’s obsessive in the extreme. I am happy they exist!
The Tekton Design room had a new flagship pair of speakers called the Moab. Controlled and powered by an enviable array of Parasound Halo gear, these almost 6 foot tall blue monoliths put out some simply fantastic sound. They conveyed great clarity, imaging, dynamics to spare and deep bass wallop. $4500.00 for the pair will net you a ton fun with these speakers. Seriously good!
In case you were wondering what RMAF’s new digs looked like, here are some pictures of the new Gaylord hotel.
EMM Labs had a great sounding room that was loaded to the gills with their own branded amps, streamer, preamp, and DAC. The speakers on hand were the Focal Utopia Scala V2. They were spinning some vinyl that sounded extraordinarily good. The noise floor was exceptionally low. My attention turned to the SME model 15 turntable with the 309 tonearm. It was using what is known as an optical phono cartridge made by a company called DS Audio. Apparently the technology has been around for a few years but it was certainly new to me. As I understand it, the cartridge itself has no magnets in it at all. In place of them, an electronic circuit translates the information from the stylus and cantilever to an analog signal that does not require the same level of gain as a traditional cartridge and uses a simpler form of RIAA correction. It therefore requires a specialized phono preamp. The cartridge was the model W-2 with a Micro Ridge stylus whose output was being fed to a custom designed EMM Labs phono preamp for optical cartridges. I felt that there was just this very obvious lack of noise to the phono playback which helped all the music sound more real and alive. The MSRP for the DS Audio W-2 is $4500.00. The EMM phono pre price is TBD.
Meet the Manger P2 speakers hailing from Germany. An interesting design featuring two passive radiators in back, while in front we have an 8″ woofer along with what Manger refers to as a “Bending Wave Driver” that takes care of the mids and highs. Described as sounding very “ESL-like” this driver has a bandwidth from 80 Hz – 45 kHz, although in the P2 it is crossed over to the woofer at 360 Hz. The system was powered and controlled with a stack of electronics from Primare along with a Volare turntable from Dr. Feickert Analog. The sound was very cohesive and lifelike with powerful bass output when the material demanded it. MSRP is $22,000.00 per pair in the wood finish as shown. A little less for a standard satin paint finish like the smaller orange static display.
ATC Loudspeakers from the UK, who are active in both the consumer and pro audio worlds, had brought their SCM50SE Active towers which were connected to a CDA2 Mk II CD Player/Preamp/DAC. It made for an elegantly simple but outrageously powerful system. Each speaker driver has it’s own dedicated internal amp (200 watts bass, 100 watts mid, 50 watts high) governed by active crossover filters with phase correction. This was one of the most dynamically capable systems that I heard at the show. After the usual female jazz vocal and Nils Lofgren demo which sounded perfectly lovely and “audiophile approved”, the ATC folks indulged me by playing Van Halen’s “Mean Street” at a perfectly scandalous volume. It blew the cobwebs right out and left smiles all around.
Can be yours for $65,999.00.
The Raidho Acoustics room was making delightful sounds via their new TD2.2 loudspeakers powered and governed by a full stack of gorgeous looking Moon electronics. The source during my listening was a VPI HW-40 Signature Direct Drive turntable with a Van Den Hul Black Crimson cartridge. FYI, this turntable showed up in the equipment stacks of a few rooms during the show. Everything sounded sweet, clear and effortless.
The speakers will set you back $46,000.00 per pair while the turntable is $15,000.00 with no cart.
So, after gorging a little on all that expensive and rich “audio food,” let come down to earth a little and look at something much more approachable. ELAC was introducing their new Debut Reference bookshelf speakers to a regularly packed room. The line will ultimately add a tower and a center channel speaker as well but the sound coming out of the bookshelves during the demo was consistently wowing people, myself included. The new speakers are based on the ELAC Debut 2 model B6.2 speaker but with improvements made to the tweeter waveguide, the woofer basket, cabinet bracing,a new slot port, crossover and overall finish. The speakers were powered by ELAC’s updated integrated amp, the Discovery DS-A101. The Discovery now possesses streaming capabilities and ROON compatibility instead of a USB input and has now also gained a subwoofer output with crossovers and filtering. The price for the speakers is $500.00 for the pair and the integrated amp is $750.00. For $1250.00 one gets a turnkey audio system that was astonishing show attendees with it’s wonderful “alive” sound quality and phenomenal bass performance. Be on the lookout for a video interview I did with Andrew Jones where he goes over the demo system in more detail along with touching on other audio subjects.
Apparantly, the Acoustic Sounds booth in the Marketplace area couldn’t keep selling these reel-to-reel tape releases fast enough! I’d not seen modern re-releases on RTR tape before but I was watching as people were buying them. All that was old is new again it seems!
The fine folks at Anthem and Paradigm had set up a potent 2.2 channel system anchored by Anthem’s STR preamp and power amp. The speakers were the Paradigm Persona 7F augmented by a pair of Persona Subwoofers. The system was tuned using Anthem’s recently released ARC Genesis room correction system. Genesis can do a few interesting tricks like equalizing up to 2 subs, in a configuration like this, to run in either mono or stereo along with automatically optimizing the phase of the system. I confirmed that this demo system was indeed running stereo sub bass and the whole shebang was EQ’d up to 5 kHz. And the sound? Outstanding. A very cohesive and detailed sound-field with with a subterranean bass reach in this room.
VANA, the US distributor for EAT, Audio Physic and Atlas cables were introducing a few new products at RMAF this year. First, from EAT was the E-GLO I Class A Integrated Tube Amplifier. The E-GLO I is a beautiful looking all tube, dual-mono design integrated amp using KT-88 tubes for the power stages. It’ll put out 35 watts per channel in Ultra-linear mode and 18 watts per channel in Triode operation. Build quality looked to be top-shelf and the price is $9995.00 with Electro Harmonix tubes and $11495.00 with EAT tubes.
EAT was also introducing their new Jo N° 8 flagship Moving Coil cartridge. Featuring a solid chestnut body with a Shibata stylus mounted on a boron cantilever, the internals are said to be shared with top line Ortofon carts.
Also on display was the Fortissimo turntable which is a upgrade to EAT’s Forte table. This elegant beast sports a 50 lbs platter that uses two fully isolated motors to spin it.
The price for the Jo N° 8 cartridge is $2495.00 and the Fortissimo table is $13,495.00 w/o tonearm.
Audio Physic had a static speaker display in the VANA booth and were premiering their new MIDEX tower speaker at RMAF. An elegant and interesting looking 3-way design, the cutaway speaker showed the great lengths Audio Physic goes to in reducing internal resonances while increasing internal volume and structural rigidity. Rated at a 4 ohm impedance, the modestly sized speaker is said to produce bass down to 30 Hz.
MSRP is $12,495.00 per pair.
Atlas Cables hails from Scotland and these jovial folks were showing off their diverse portfolio of cables and actually custom making complete cable sets by hand at the show. They claim to not use any solder and stick to strictly crimped physical terminations throughout their lines. Their products hit a wide variety of price points ranging from affordable to precious. They were even helping other show exhibitors repair or remake broken or defective cables.
A genuinely nice bunch of people.
Alsyvox Audio Design from Spain had a large ballroom space occupied with a pair of their full range ribbon panel loudspeakers, the Botticelli X. These were undoubtedly beautifully hand crafted showpieces complete with external crossover boxes. The equally aesthetically pleasing electronics and cabling were from Omega Audio concepts from Italy. While the overall sound may not have been my personal cup of tea, it certainly was to many of the other listeners who shared the room with me. That’s part of what makes this hobby interesting and fun!
Troy Audio was occupying a conference room with these gorgeous looking Hellena MkII loudspeakers with external crossovers. The bass section of these speakers features a 16″ woofer with an alnico magnet in a ported enclosure. The midrange section is handled by a similar 16″ unit but sporting a horn loaded compression driver plonked in the middle of it in a coaxial configuration. The highs are handled by a horn super-tweeter, also using alnico magnets. Big, beautiful sound was coming from these beasts as the vinyl spun. Just made me smile!
Dropping in on Bryston, who was sharing a large room with Sound Organization, I was immediately greeted by their Model T Active speaker system. The system consisted of the speakers of course, two model 21B Cubed power amps, a BAX-1 Digital Crossover, the BIT20 AVR Power Isolation Transformer and the just announced BDA-3.14 DAC/Streamer/Digital preamp.
I reviewed the BDA-3 a couple of years ago and found it to be a superb DAC. The 3.14 has essentially the same DAC and analog section as the 3, but sweetens the pot by adding a digital volume control and streaming capabilities. It works with Tidal and Qobuz and is now a Roon endpoint. Bryston has also developed it’s own player and control software to work with the BDA-3.14.
I’ve heard the smaller active Bryston system at a past show and loved it. This one was all that and a bit more. it had no trouble filling the huge suite we were in and the dynamics and transparency were outstanding. Buying this whole system, as shown, would set you back just shy of $35,000.00. To my my ears however, you could easily spend a lot more at this show, if you had the means, and not do nearly as well!
One of the other brands in the Sound Organization room was a Scottish company called Fyne Audio. Made up of ex-Tannoy engineers and personnel they have just entered the US market with a number of different speaker models, some of which use concentric drivers as part of their makeup. The model F702 tower was being demoed in an adjoining room so I sat down with the genial Fyne Audio reps and bent an ear to listen. In that environment, they were an easy speaker to listen to and get drawn in the music. I’ve heard Tannoy pro monitors with the concentric drivers plenty of times in my previous life and there was a lot I liked about them. These elegantly understated towers are even better to my ears. UK price on these is roughly 6000 pounds for the pair. With an 8 ohm impedance and 92 dB efficient, tube lovers might want put these on their audition list. Really great sounding stuff!
The Conference room where PS Audio had taken up residence was chock-a-block with equipment, pretty much showcasing a large swath of their offerings. Of particular interest at this show were two items. First is the new Stellar Phono Preamp (as modeled by the affable Scott McGowan). The Stellar is an all discrete FET design, so no ICs in the circuits. The MM input has fixed loading values of 47 Kohms and 100 picofarads, while the MC input has both fixed and adjustable resistance loadings via a pair of dials in the rear. The Stellar has both RCA and XLR outputs and 3 different output gain settings (44 dB, 50 dB and 56 db MM. 60 dB, 66 dB and 72 dB MC). It retails for $2499.00 and is available directly from PS Audio now.
The AN3 speakers were the other big news at PS Audio. The smallest in a planned line of 3 speakers, the AN3s looked and sounded production-ready. The tweeter and midrange use planar magnetic drivers that are book-ended by a pair of more conventional mid/bass drivers. The bass is handled by a side firing 12″ active woofer. Fit and finish looked lovely. The sound was open and had great detail but it didn’t totally grab me. I would be curious to hear how they would sound in a more conventional space. Price is TBD.
HiFiGuides and ZReviews had a room displaying loads of affordable gear to listen to. They had a full array of speakers, headphones and headphone amps to sample. It was a great idea and seemed very popular. It’s where all the “young-ens” were hanging out!
Another great sounding “turnkey” system combination. The NAD M10 BlueOS Streaming Amplifier and a pair of DALI Rubicon 8 loudspeakers. 10 Grand and it’s yours, done. People who are thinking of spending significantly more for a system should seriously listen to this combo first and see if it doesn’t realign your thinking.
Harman Luxury Audio introduced the Revel F226Be loudspeakers at RMAF. As the middle child of the Performa Be line, they share all the same technologies as the F228Be and the M1226Be just in a more “Goldilocks” friendly size. Demo material had the same family sound signature too (which was good) but the room was not being helpful. $7000.00 per pair.
The new Klipschorns. The AK6 to be exact. You could play a big sweeping classical music number on them and nod your head in approval and appreciation of all the spatial nuances in the performance. Or you could bag all that and play cuts from the new Tool album at obscene levels and giggle like a little school girl. We did both! $14998.00 per pair.
One of the rooms that sticks out most in my mind is this one that featured the Alta Audio Alec loudspeakers, the Krell Illusion II preamplifier, Krell’s DUO 300 XD stereo power amplifier, a VPI HW-40 direct drive turntable and an Audio Technica ART1000 MC cartridge with matching step-up transformer, and cables from ZenSati. I listened to this system for a good stretch and just kept thinking about how alive it sounded. Everything just seemed to flow seamlessly. The Chesky vinyl pressing of Fritz Reiner and the CSO performing Scheherazade sounded otherworldly. Brilliant, brilliant system.
Polk audio used RMAF to launch their new Legend line of speakers to the general public. While they had static examples of the entire line on display, the speaker that was doing “all the talking” in this demo was the flagship L800 SDA. The SDA in the name stands for Stereo Dimensional Array which was invented by Matthew Polk in the early 1980s. SDA’s purpose is to minimize the interaural crosstalk that occurs with all stereo speaker by using specially configured driver arrays to help cancel the effect. Anyone remember those full page audio magazine ads, back in the day, with Mr. Polk standing in front of some pretty imposing speakers? Same principle at play in those speakers back then has been refined and is at play in the new L800 SDA. For SDA to completely work it’s voodoo, you need to sit precisely between the speakers, hence the seating arrangement you see in the photos. When I moved off center during the demo the L800 SDAs sound like a very good pair of conventional speakers. When I sat myself down in the money seat however, sonic imagery came into super-tight focus. I was able to pick out exact positioning of performers in the jazz ensemble piece that was playing. Not just from left right but from front to back as well. It was eerily precise. The L800 SDA had plenty of dynamics and great overall sound that you would wish for in a pair of speakers. But that experience in the center seat was more than just some gimmick, it’s addictive. MSRP is $6000.00 for a pair. Availability should be later this year.
Stopped into the KLH room to take a listen to the Albany monitors and the Kendall towers. These speakers have gotten a good deal of press raves (from us included) on their sound quality and value. I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing them yet so I wanted to rectify that situation. I can see now why our reviewer, Yonki Go, was so pleased with them. They sounded positively great in that room. Big full sound with great imaging and detail along with some serious bass reach in the Kendalls. They’d be an easy recommendation to make to someone looking for great speakers without breaking the bank. MSRP for the Albany is about $950.00 per pair while the Kendall’s are $1300.00 for a pair.
Hegel from Norway had both their H390 and H590 Integrated amps along with the C53 customizable multichannel amp on display in their room. The integrated amps are both dual mono designs and and each channel bank of the C53 has it’s own transformer too so no power limitation excuses apply here. The H390 puts out 250 watts per channel, the H590 does 300 watts per channel and each one of the C53 banks is rated at at 150 watts. All of these figures are into 8 ohms but all of these products power sections are stable into 2 ohms. Everything about any Hegel gear that I’ve seen exudes a sense of overbuilt, bullet-proof quality in an understated package. The H390 and H590 both have full DAC and streaming sections and are Roon friendly. The H590 was streaming from Roon and hooked up to a pair of Sonus faber Electa Amitor II speakers. It goes with out saying that the Hegel kept solid reins on those speakers and showed no hint of breaking a sweat when the levels were pushed hard. MSRP on the H590 is $11,000.00 while the H390 is $6000.00.
Technics was showing a wide swath of their product line at RMAF. Of particular interest was the SL-1500C turntable and the SL-G700 Networking CD/SACD player. The SL-1500C is a more home user oriented turntable as it does away with the DJ-centrc pitch controls of the SL-1200 series tables and has an on board (but defeat-able phono preamp). I was also chatting with CTO and Chief Engineer Tetsuya Itani and he was explaining how some of the electronic motor control and accuracy improvements that the team developed for the Reference SP-10R turntable had trickled their way into the 1500C.
During the room demo I was at, the SL-G700 was in play with the SU-G700 integrated amp and SB-G90 loudspeakers. Smooth, warm and musical was the impression I was left with. Also, I love the general aesthetics of Technics gear. A fun place to be.
Jim Salk makes some gorgeous looking and beautiful sounding loudspeakers and the SS 9.5 towers that he brought to RMAF were no exception. The SS 9.5 are a 3-way design with dual passive radiators in the base section and an open-backed midrange section that can be adjusted, or even sealed, to control the amount of room ambience. Crossover design was done by long-time Salk collaborator Dennis Murphy. The speakers were connected to a rack of Schitt (heh!) equipment and sourced through a Salk Streamplayer. I personally own a pair of Salk Songtowers so I’m freely admitting a little bias here, but I just had a huge smile on my face listening to these! Lush, detailed and with imaging to spare! They are rated to reach down to 25 Hz in-room and I believe it from the demo. And the King-wood veneer looks superb. Well done Jim!
Prices range from $9900.00 – 12,500.00 depending on finish and options.
The Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo. A completely active, wireless music speaker system that is built for streaming. That’s the nutshell description of this minimalist looking system but there is a lot more to it than just that. 24/96 streaming through it’s own built-in mesh network that runs independently of your home network. Two built-in 125 watt amplifiers per speaker, carbon tweeter from the 700 series, Continuum woofers from the 800 series and no digital or analog inputs to speak of. Streaming (or Ethernet) only, via network or Bluetooth. The company sells a separate box if you want to connect something as anachronistic as a turntable or a CD player, but only if you must. This is a system for people who want no boxes and are not bound by the quaint concept of physical media collections. You also may think that spending $4000.00 for such a singularly focused pair of speakers is nuts. That is….until you hear them. To a person, everyone in the demo room with me was incredulous to the quality of sound and depth of bass that the Duos were putting out. People were asking “where’s the subwoofer?” Nope. None of that here. Just two speakers, a dude with a tablet, and beautiful music.
The premise of the Boulder/Vienna Acoustics room (we were told) was to illustrate the successful integration of subwoofers into a two channel system. Uh-huh, right. It was more like the exercising of sheer, unadulterated acoustic power. What else would you call the combination of 6 stacked REL S/812 subs with Vienna Acoustic Liszt speakers and enough Boulder amplification to power half of Denver! But my goodness what a sound! This room had to be right up there with being King of dynamics, along with the ATC room. Sweeping sound that was incredibly musical along with being extremely resolving. And, of course, bass to die for.
If you are into vinyl, cleaning your LPs is a necessary evil, especially if you like to buy used records. Kirmuss Audio was doing a hands-on demonstration of their cleaning regimen which used a series of hand applications of their specialized cleaner and runs through their ultrasonic bath machine. The main ideas in the Kirmuss method are, besides removing general grime, to remove the release agents left in the vinyl from manufacturing along with removing and preventing static buildup. A show attendee had brought along some records that had a number of pops and static in them that he claimed he had not been able to clean out. Mr. Kirmuss cleaned one of his old records using his system and 25 minutes later the clean record was played with no pops, ticks or static whatsoever. This is a lot more involved than I have ever gone into when I’ve clean my own LP’s, but at a price of $900.00 for the cleaning system, undercutting most other ultra sonic LP cleaners out there, it might be worth some consideration if you really love your vinyl.
Benchmark Media and MartinLogan had assembled a relatively diminutive but decidedly potent demo system consisting of the Benchmark DAC3 B D/A converter, the LA4 preamp, the AHB2 power amp, a pair of MartinLogan Motion 35XTi bookshelf speakers and a pair of ML Dynamo 800X subwoofers. Really enjoyed the sound of this setup. the Little ML speakers and subs had some great bass punch and the overall sense of fidelity was top notch from this combo.
More Benchmark Media goodness. Benchmark HPA4 Headphone/Line amp and a DAC 3B D/A converter driving a pair of Focal Utopias. As transparent and musical a combination as you are likely to find. Looks good on me, no?
I wasn’t familiar with ZMF headphones out of Chicago but the beautiful wood ear-cups on their display table caught my attention and I’m glad they did. I got to listen to their Verite headphones, both open and closed versions, and came away impressed. Both felt very comfortable and sounded very smooth and spacious with a little more low end punch, I felt, on the closed back versions. Both use 50mm Beryllium drivers and were driven by a ZMF Pendant tube amp. Price is $2499.00 for either version while the amp will set you back $1999.00.
Astell & Kern had a good sized display at the RMAF “Headspace” area and they were featuring a few new items of note at the show. First was the new SP2000 DAP using twin AKM AK4499EQ DAC chips. The player is capable of 32-bit/768kHz native PCM playback and DSD512 playback along with having 512GB of internal storage and a MicroSD card slot. AK says that the SP2000 has 8-10 hours worth of playback on a full charge and can drive 600 ohm impedance headphones without issue.
Next are third generation Layla AION in-ear monitors. Made in conjunction with Jerry Harvey Audio these IEM’s have 12 Balanced Armature drivers per side and have a little control box mounted in the wire with two adjustment pots that allow fine tuning of the bass level to taste. The Laylas are terminated with a 2.5mm balanced audio jack.
Another new IEM is the AK T9iE which is handmade for Astell & Kern by Beyerdynamic in Germany and uses Beyer’s Tesla drivers but voiced to AK’s specifications. They use a a silver and OCC copper hybrid cable and will be available in October.
Also made by Beyerdynamic for Astell & Kern are the second generation AKT5p closed-back headphones. These also use Tesla drivers that are voiced for AK and again are terminated with a 2.5 mm balanced connection.
I took a quick listen to all three earphones with the SP2000 player and found them all to be agreeable to my ears but I will give little extra love to the AK T5p. They were the most my speed sound and comfort-wise.
Prices are $3500.00 for the SP 2000 DAP, $3500.00 for Layla AION, $1299.00 for the AKT9iE, and $1199.00 for the AKT5p.
Here we have the affable Dan Wiggins of Periodic Audio. Dan had a fun display set up featuring all four his “bullet” style earbud models: Magnesium, Titanium, Beryllium and Carbon (each named for the element used in the driver diaphragm) along with a pocket-able analog in-line headphone amp called the Nickel. I took a quick listen to each model, which are made to be easily driven by portable phones or tablets. All sounded great, particularly for the asking prices, but I found the Beryllium model made me smile the most. Clear, rich sound that instantly got my attention. The little Nickel amp also did wonders for the volume put out by the Kindle tablet Dan was using as an audio player. Music still sounded clean and clear, just louder and without any noticeable noise. With great sounding headgear seemingly getting more and more expensive these days, it’s exciting to found really good sounding stuff for not too dear a price.
Magnesium $99.00, Titanium $199.00, Beryllium $299.00, Carbon (pictured) $399.00. Nickel amp is $299.00.
The Fidelice Head-amp/DAC/preamp by Rupert Neve designs. Uses dual AKM AK4497 DAC chips in balanced mode. Will natively play up to DSD512 and PCM 32-bit/384 kHz PCM signals. Besides having standard unbalanced and 4-pin balanced headphone connectors, it also has a balanced Pentaconn jack in front as well. Filter choices are select-able via DIP switches in back. $5000.00 buys you this beautiful looking piece of industrial design come November.
Etymotic Research was showing three sets of relatively identical looking in-ear monitors. The ER2, ER3 (shown) and ER4 IEMs each have two versions available, the SR (Studio Reference) and XR (Extended Response). The SR versions of each model are tuned for a more neutral response while the XR are tuned with an added little bump in the bass response. The ER3 and 4 use Balanced Armature drivers while the ER2 uses dynamic drivers.The ER4 also benefit from being more tightly channel matched than the others. In my brief listening of each model, I found a lot to like in all three. In a nutshell, I found that I consistently preferred the XR versions of all of them. I liked the little extra bass kick. The ER2 did really well with hard rock and electronica, for everything else, I personally preferred the other two. During my listening I wasn’t able to pick out any big differences between the ER3 and ER4. Perhaps with more time. All three are super-light and seal out noise brilliantly. Prices are: ER2 $159.95, ER3 $179.00, ER4 $349.00.
Fostex was highlighting their TM2 Wireless stereo Earphones at RMAF and I found them to be ingenious little things. So much so that I forgot to take photos at the demo! So here are some off the Fostex website for illustration. The TM2 operate on the Bluetooh 5.0 standard via the latest Qualcomm chipset and each side uses a 6mm dynamic driver. But what is really intriguing is that you can remove the stock Fostex earphone section from the arm and receiver and attach any other IEM with the same MMCX type round connector to it. What’s more, Fostex has two other optional arms with different connectors (FitEar 2-pin and CIEM 2-pin) that can be used with other comparable IEMS. So you can use the TM2 to make your favorite IEM’s wireless if you choose. I did find the stock Fostex drivers to be plenty musical and satisfying on their own, but it’s nice to have option!
MSRP is $299.00
Good morning from Denver! With RMAF in the rear view mirror it’s time to start roaming the halls of CEDIA today! Over the next couple of days we will be posting about all the new home theater related offerings that grab our attention. Keep an eye on the Secrets FB feed for updates! Talley Ho!