Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016 – Day 3 Coverage
Two interesting headphone amplifiers from Wells Audio. For the more well heeled, there is the $7000.00 “Headtrip” amplifier which is described as a true dual-mono design that can drive the most inefficient of headphones. Interestingly it also has individual left and right polarity switches. A little more attainable is the $1699.00 “Milo” amplifier which was a prototype and designed to be a stripped down version of it’s table partner. Both amps sounded very good driving the connected Abyss and HiFiMAM headphones respectively.
The Schiit Audio table was constantly busy each time I passed by and with good reason. When I finally got a chance to sit and listen to something, it was the Gungnir Multibit DAC played through the Mjolnir 2 Headphone amp with swappable tube and solid state modules. Music sounded great through this combo and it paired well with a few different headphones that were available there. Attainable too at $1249.00 for the DAC and $849.00 for the amp.
If you like Scandinavian design, Eames chairs and good sound then you should check out some speakers by Davone. The Davone Solo model that was being demonstrated uses Scanspeak drivers in an elegantly sculpted enclosure that helps eliminate standing waves. They sounded clean and precise with enough warmth to make them easily appealing to listen to for long stretches.
Price is $9000.00 for the pair.
Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A driven by two Benchmark AHB2 amplifiers bridged into mono. Bass response for the less than stellar room was corrected by the ARC room correction system which is available as an extra cost option. The sound was very, very good.
Well Pleased Audio Video hosted a very nice sounding room courtesy of the Alta Audio Rhea Loudspeakers and the Aqua La Scala Mk II DAC.
Eclipse was showing off a smart looking 2.2 channel system comprised of their orb style speakers with either 8cm or 10cm full range drivers and a pair of subwoofers each with dual-opposed 20cm drivers. The eyeballs and subs sounded quite good being driven by more Luxman electronics.
These NOESIS 210RT from JTR Speakers surely get your attention in the looks department but the sound doesn’t disappoint either. The bass from the two 10s in the vented enclosure was legitimately room-shaking on some tracks, while the coaxial compression driver in a horn wave guide kept everything else clean, clear and controlled. With a sensitivity of 95dB, getting good volume out of these very red monoliths was not an issue. The amplification and DAC duties were covered by Cherry amps and “DAC DAC” digital to analog converters provided by The Digital Amp Company.
Now for something a little different. The Larson 8 Loudspeaker was designed to be placed against a wall. With it’s angled mid-range driver and three tweeters essentially firing up and into the room, the sound coming from them was unexpectedly large. It had the spaciousness of a good dipole speaker but the sound was more omni-directional if that makes any sense. Low piano notes and stand up bass sounded especially powerful. A really neat listening experience.
I look forward to any chance to listen to Joseph Audio speakers and the modestly sized Pulsars were no exception. They are beautifully crafted and threw up a big sonic image with a great amount of specificity to the instruments and a surprising amount of bass from such small boxes. Price is $7995.00 for the pair. Orchids will cost you extra.
I’ve had certain folks tell me that I needed to try the Mr. Speakers line of headphones as I’ve never had the opportunity. So try them I did. Of the ones I listened to, The Ether C closed back model ticked all the right boxes for me. Really spectacular sound! Price is $1500.00
NAGRA components always remind me of fine Swiss timepieces and the INDRA Diamond loudspeakers looked like fine pieces of furniture. The sound was pretty spiffy too!
While I have heard of, and about, Ultrasone headphones for many years I had never had the pleasure of trying a pair. The fine chaps at the Ultrasone table indulged me by letting me sample a few of their models and explained about their patented S-Logic system. In a nutshell, it’s an arrangement of their drivers within the ear cups that increases perceived spaciousness and helps guard against hearing damage. A few models sounded a little on the thin side for my taste while a couple of others sounded a little artificially diffuse for my liking. One model I did like was the $499.00 Performance 880. It was reasonably comfortable, had good bass extension and a nice balanced presentation. Then, just because, I got to sample the $6000.00 Jubelee 25 model which was made to celebrate Ultrasone’s 25th anniversary. It sounded exceptional and was finished to a high standard including exotic wood ear cups with sterling silver inlays. But for my money, the Performance 880 sound like it would be a good pick as it shared similar sonic qualities with Jubelees for a fraction of the cost.
Stopped at the Beyerdynamic table in the Can-Jam tent to check out their wares. While I had heard about the new DT-1990 headphones that had just been announced, and I had a listen to while there, I asked if there was anything else new that was coming out. From behind the desk, a rep cagily pulled out a little headphone case and said “this is something we are showing people here at RMAF to see what the response is.” They are called the Amiron and are a lightweight, open back headphone design. They were, indeed, exceedingly light and comfortable when I put them on and I confess to finding their sound more appealing to me than the DT-1990, in that environment. They will retail for $599. And will be officially introduced next month.
An interesting discovery made through my wanderings at RMAF was a room hosted by the Margules Group. I found out that Margueles is a Mexican Audio company that has been in business for over 30 years and does all of its design and engineering in Mexico as well. The room featured a number of their electronics but what caught my eyes, and ears, was the Margules Orpheus Loudspeakers. They were beautifully finished with an exotic, sustainable solid wood front panel. They are a 2.5-way design featuring ceramic drivers and a first-order crossover. They were being driven by a Margules SF220 Black Edition Preamp and a Margules U280 Black Edition Tube Amplifier. The entire ensemble sounded lush and as sweet as could be. I could have sat there for a good long stretch. Pricing is $12000.00/pair for the speakers, $3700.00 for the preamp, and $4900.00 for the amp.
Sonoma, the company that makes the professional DSD recording workstation, is bringing a new headphone and DAC/amp combination to market. The Sonoma One Headphone system uses proprietary electrostatic transducers for the headphones and an ESS Sabre DAC wiih a single ended discreet FET Class A amp section for the DAC/Amp. The build quality on both components was first rate and the combination sounded very clean and airy with very good bass reproduction to boot. Price for the package is $5000.00
Another pleasant discovery was some closed back headphones by E-MU with solid wood ear cups available in various species and finishes. The idea being that each particular wood variety imparts a different tonal quality to the headphones sound. Other than the different ear cups, all the headphones we tried here were technically identical. The drivers are 50mm with Neodymium magnets, impedance is rated at 25 ohms and they have a sensitivity of 106 dB. I don’t know how reliably one could gauge the sonic subtleties of each sample in this environment but, as a whole, the three different varietals I tried all sounded exceptionally good. I was initially expecting style over substance with these cans but they were very comfortable, had great bass response but also really nice mids and highs too. And the wood cups themselves, whether you think it’s a gimmick or not, were tastefully finished. E-MU, I later found out, is a subsidiary of Creative Labs. For $499.00 a pair, color me impressed!
Westone Audio offers a myriad of IEM models for seemingly every taste and application. At RMAF they were premiering their newest audiophile model the W80. The W80 uses a total of 8 balanced armature drivers per ear controlled by a passive 3-way crossover. Each pair delivers with 10 different sets of ear-tips to ensure proper fit. Using some Comply-Style tips, I found the noise isolation to be very good and the sound quality was right up there, with plenty of detail in the mids and highs, very solid bass and deep sound staging. They hit the market next month for $1500.00 a pair.
A few more from HiFiMAN. The Super-Mini and Mega-Mini portable players looked and sounded great. Both the HE-1000 V2 and Edition X V-2 headsets sounded fantastic through the EF-1000 headphone amplifier. The revised details and cosmetics to the updated headsets looked like good calls to me. The new ear pads on the Edition X, in particular, were a welcome improvement.
Popping back to HiFiMAN for a moment. Here are some more detail shots of the Shangri-La electrostatic headphones and amplifier. The last time I saw the prototype for this set was back at CES in January and this iteration looks completely, 180 degrees, different than what I saw then. I really like what they’ve done with the styling now and it truly looks like the statement piece that they want it to be. HiFiMAN will be taking online pre-orders soon I understand, and production is supposed to start next month. The sound was enjoyable but it’s hard to make a definitive statement in the noisy environment of the CAN-JAM tent.
Price for the set is $50,000.00.