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Got camera? A first-timer's trip to RMAF

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Notes to self:

 

First, if I ever get lucky enough to escape for another trip to RMAF, go early and stay late. Day One is a bewildering zoo but Day Three is (by contrast at least) almost bereft of attendees which makes it an ideal time to button hole hung over designers.

 

Second, rent a car. Denver is a great town, but unless I want to eat hotel-food, the Tech Center area isn't a great place to get stuck. Besides, cab rides from the airport to that area are $65 each way, so renting a car is almost a wash. Okay, it's not, but the flexibility is worth it.

 

Third, go to demos not to seminars. Every seminar I went to was very lame (missed yours, Chris, because I had to bolt early on Sunday and was too overwhelmed on Friday -- but I'm sure yours just rocked it) and I managed to miss some interesting stuff. Like the discussion and demo for Stein (seems like voodoo), LessLoss Blackbody (totally seems like voodoo) and Nordost cabling (absolute voodoo). The talks with Harry Pearson, Steven Stone or Mike Mercer I could easily and happily replaced with a trip to the head (which I did). My apologies to the esteemed panel people.

 

Fourth, go with or meet up with other 'philes. Got to meet Chris, Ted_B & Barrows, which was fun. Giving Barrows the beat-down live and in person was just great (I'm totally kidding) -- it's a shame Clay wasn't there! But in that 45 minutes, I managed to pick up an entire agenda for the following day -- going after stuff they'd seen and heard. And swapping stories with the folks in the Super Shuttle on the way back to the airport was hilarious. Man, we are an OPINIONATED bunch.

 

Fifth, take a better camera. Maybe a 'pod of some kind. I have a couple hundred photos from the trip, but that little pocket cam is annoying. Bad lighting everywhere meant I needed to use a flash and direct-flash from a compact is just awful. And holding a camera utterly still for a half second is WAY harder than it sounds.

 

Sixth, and lastly, take notes. There are a lot of rooms at the Marriott and all are jammed full of cool gear. But three days is a lot of time to get through it all (or most of it) and so there's really no reason to only stay in a room for 17.6 seconds (time for a quick snapshot).

 

Ok, some disclaimers: I went to this show looking for vinyl playback. So, if the focus tends to fall on that side of the spectrum, well, it's on purpose. Besides, vinyl photographs better than DACs, so there. Also, the photos on 'Bucket are all uncropped, so they're big, which seems to make this blog have some kind of fit -- which means they might get chopped. Click through for the fullness of the glory if they look a little abbreviated. Also, I didn't touch any of these up -- so, no parallax correction, no color correction, no highlights, nada, nothing, zip. If I ever get paid to go, maybe I'll fiddle more. Until then, you get what you get, you ingrate.

 

Another side note: "they" say that sound quality at shows is often hit-or-miss. At RMAF this year, this was definitely true. Most rooms sounded "good". Very few sounded "great" or "bad". A finer distinction than that was really hard! Some rooms were absolutely packed with bodies. Many had room treatments or EQ of some kind. Some didn't. I didn't get hung up on it. It was all good ... until it wasn't. ;-)

 

So, after walking in the door and getting myself all square with The Man, I went in search of music. Acoustic Sounds and May and a couple of used vinyl shops had a big room on the main floor. I went in ... and promptly remembered that getting to Denver was a total PITA. TSA happily confiscated my toothpaste, shaving cream & shampoo and the Delta flight attendants were SO eager to charge me $30 for the privilege of letting me fly with my bags .... Anyway, adding a big bag of vinyl was out of the question. But a few CDs ... oh why not. I picked up some K2HD & DXD recordings, including "We Get Requests" and "Getz/Gilberto". Simply OUTSTANDING sounding recordings. Much thanks to the forum members who turned me on to FIM mastering. Stupendous!

 

I've never seen a Triplanar tonearm live and in person before. Nice piece of work. The "look" is rather industrial for me, but the sound was great. The big speakers, I think from Classic Audio, were insanely imposing and sounded great. Burl wood, anyone? The Kuzma Stabi Reference and Atma-Sphere rig very handily rounded out the room.

 

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I think earflappin' might recognize these:

 

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I think I might have liked the Empirical Audio room more if I hadn't been forced to grab my skull and some towels to clean up the blood that kept flooding out of my ears every time I went in there. It was as if Steve was deliberately trying to kill me, the SPLs in there were so high. Sound was good, but asking Steve questions was totally impossible. The big Salk speakers were definitely lookers.

 

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Acapella put together a beautifully sounding room. I'm a big horn fan ("straight ahead and strive for tone") and for that, this room couldn't be beat. That is, until one of the plasma tweeters blew. Whoops. Still, the speakers make very pretty sculptures.

 

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Color me a fan of Aesthetix. Their room with Hansen Audio was just great. That Clearaudio table is absurd (but fun!). Sound in here was some of the best at the show.

 

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Peachtree was running guided demos all weekend. I guess that kept down the question as to why the were running their new $1k DAC (based on the Nova) into a Simaudio Moon W7/P7 driving a pair of Sonus Faber Stradivaris. What is that, like $70k worth of gear? Crazy. Unfortunately, I think the sound in this room could have been better. Wasn't bad, but not up to the quality I'd expected from the gear. Was it the fault of the DAC? The room? Barrows & Ted_B chatting about op-amps and HDMI diverters? Who's to say. But those speakers sure were easy on the eyes.

 

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Here's another oddity. I went up to the Towers to specifically hunt down Walter Liederman's (Underwood Wally) newest venture, Spatial Computing. Spatial is all about Mac-based room EQ, speaker crossover & audio playback. The Emerald Physics 2.3 (or was it 2.7?) speakers were driven bi-amp by Wyred4Sound (low) and Modwright (high) with the Orpheus Prism doing DAC/EQ/crossover duties.

 

Just down the hall, the EP speakers (either the 2.3 or the 2.7, whichever wasn't in the Spatial rom, oh, and the 2.7 is a 2.3 but with upgraded tweeters for an additional $2-3k or so) were being driven by Wyred amps, but the DAC duties this time were handled by a Wyred DAC2.

 

In a "compromised environment" like a hotel room, Walter told me years ago, the EP speakers would shine. And given the fancy room-EQ and "better" DAC that the Prism offered over the Wyred, the Spatial room should have been head-and-shoulders better than the companion Wyred room.

 

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It didn't happen. At all. Oops. All I can say is that if I were looking for a DAC, I'd be looking up Wyred4Sound.

 

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While the Quad room wasn't the "best in show" in terms of sound quality, it was pretty high up there. Either that, or I'm a Quaddie. Anyway, I thought the Quad ESL 2805s driven by Quad IIs was just wonderful. I think I sat in that room for a full 5 minutes, which given that my average length of visit was under a minute, says quite a bit.

 

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There were two Daedalus/Galibier rooms, stacked right on top of each other (literally). In the "top flight room", the new Stelvio II from Galibier was on display I think there was a Durand Talea arm ($8k) on there for half the show, then a Schroder Reference ($6k) got put on there on Saturday night (which was something of a drama, apparently, as Frank decided to setup his arm during the after-hours party (and took an hour to do so). Artists, what can you do.

 

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Interestingly, Green Mountain Audio had a pair of Calypso speakers in that room too. In a corner, disconnected, with a sign offering an apology as to why they were not going to be played. Apparently, the Atma-Sphere amps they had on hand simply couldn't drive them well. Whoops. Pity, that, because I've never heard GMA speakers, and I've heard nothing but good things about them. Now, I hear they're pigs to drive. Good to know ....

 

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Oh, and I don't care what Roy says. Marigo Mystery Feet are just plain weird.

 

The Stelvio & Stelvio II are honking big tables, all chromed to hell and gone, and run from $15k for the "original" to just shy of $30k for the new II. At that price, I don't really get it, but maybe that's me.

 

I talked to Thom Mackris a bit on Sunday and got some understanding of what's going on at Galibier and learned that the affordable Serac is going to go bye-bye. Shame, really. His entry-level offering will now be the $9k Gavia. Also, stay tuned for some new tweaks from Thom -- he's got a mylar-replacement in the works.

 

Sound in this room was "good", but not great. I'm going to give the Galibier the benefit of the doubt and lay some blame at the feet of the Ulysses speakers from Daedalus, which sounded pretty much the same in both of their rooms: uninspired. Interesting to see the Alana from Art Audio in there (nice pre). But the Modwright amps with the Daedalus is supposed to be a potent combo (or so Lou Hinkley claims), but as I mentioned -- for whatever reason -- the magic wasn't there.

 

Quick note about the woodworking of the Daedalus speakers. Everyone I talked to about the Ulysses (prior to the show) has raved not only about the heavenly sound of these speakers but also at their being marvels of woodworking. I am going to have to be one of the outliers, I guess. I think they look nice, but I suppose I'd have preferred to see the wood and grain match even a little from panel to panel. Oh well.

 

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The biggest surprise for me came from a rather unassuming room playing the LSA 1 monitor speakers. I think the mojo missing from the Daedalus/Galibier room had gone on break and wound up spending some time in here. The sound was big and open and immediately put a grin on my face. My second thought, right after the "hey hey!" was that more non-speaker manufacturers should do these cramped-quarters shows with monitor speakers. They not only fit better in the room, they have less that will fight with it, and hence, have a better chance of sounding better. Great room, but since I didn't take any notes, I have no idea what else was in here. ;-)

 

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Aside from the oddball speakers, the PS Audio room was a snoozer. Sound was good, but IMO, not exceptional.

 

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The Eficion room sounded nice. Again, not remarkable in the show conditions, but nice nonetheless.

 

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The Acoustic Zen / Triode Corporation room was interesting for a variety of reasons. First, the Crescendo speakers are really nice for their price. The fit and finish is great, they're imposing and actually do throw big-speaker sound. And being driven by Triode's amps amply showed how a middlingly efficient (90dB) speaker can be very well handled by a mid-power tube amp. Oh, and Triode's gear was very posh. Got a chance to chat with Robert Lee a bit, which was fun, and I got to tell him I'd bought piles of cables from him (which I've since sold in favor of Blue Jeans Cables, but I didn't mention that for some reason).

 

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I'm sure someone can tell me why building speaker cabinets out of acrylic is a great idea, but to me, it seems ... well ... silly. Waterfall Audio's speaker line, driven by an all-Cary Audio lineup, sounded good but looked great. Definitely a show piece, but as to being something more than eye-candy, well, another time, another place, and one without it being body-to-body in the listening room.

 

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Playback's room was another must-see (apparently), and was accordingly in demand. SQ was good in here, but I wasn't so taken aback that I felt compelled for a further look.

 

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"The Beat" looked neat -- and at such stratospheric price, it damn well better sound better in real life than it did at the show.

 

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The Ayre room was another rather boring disappointment. The Vienna Acoustics speakers sounded fine, but didn't "fill the room" -- the imaging was all lateral and very flat. The gear was interesting, though. Got to fondle the new DX-5 and the DPS turntable with the DPS arm -- very nice.

 

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This show was also the first time I got to hear Zu speakers. And seeing the Zu Crew dressed up like Al Capone's henchmen was pretty cool. And cool was the sound in their main room, with the green Superfly on aural display. Very good sound in here. Great speakers? Great gear? Great room acoustics? Or the pair of shot glasses next to the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black on the rack? Hard to say. But it worked.

 

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Wood Artistry had a pair of their reskinned Linkwitz Lab Orions on display. Having heard these before in someone's home, I will say that they sounded much much better here at the show -- perhaps the kit version you can get just isn't up to the quality you'd get from a woodworking pro -- a surprise, I'm sure. And these speakers will surprise you -- that hand-built crossover and amp is something else. I'm enthusiastic.

 

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Best sound in show? Hard to say, but Vandersteen's 7's are on my short list. While the "sweet spot" isn't that big -- Barrows thought it was more than a head-in-a-vise, but not much -- the sound was spectacular. Love these. Want them! Or a new BMW. One or the other. Which brings me to another rant -- speakers over $20k are silly. Speakers over twice that are stupid. Even if they are nice.

 

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One of my main motivators for going to the show was, as I've mentioned, to check out the vinyl scene. One of the rooms I was most looking forward to, therefore, was TTWeights. Their direct drive turntables are said to be some of the most finely machined pieces available today, but the question remained -- worth it?

 

I visited this room each of the three days, and each day, the sound in the room was good. Not great, but good. The room was jammed full of 3 tables, the mid-tier Onyx, the entry-level Gem, and the upgraded Gem. All three were of superior workmanship and after visiting with Joel & Stephen, I am convinced that these guys are true enthusiasts -- they so obviously love what they'd doing and explaining every little thing about the tables. It was great, but I'm looking forward to some reviews by folks that can hear them in a much quieter venue.

 

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I think my favorite sound at the show came from the Genesis room. I'd never seen nor heard the G5.3s before, which is a shame, because these monsters just sounded spot on each time I swung by. Great sound. Clean, uncluttered mids, extended treble, great seamless deep bass response. Wish they were cheaper. Oh well.

 

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The Soundsmith room was like walking into vinyl heaven. There was so much here to see and touch and play with. The new Cartwright should solve just about every setup problem simply (VTA, azimuth, &c), but it's a bit costly at $800. Peter was showing off his Strain Gauge system on the second arm on both the VPI HRX and the Teres Certus he had on display (the glowing blue bits). After an a/b switch, I clearly preferred the Sussuro, though.

 

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Another favorite of mine was Still Audio (?) showing off his brand new 45-driven amps pushing a huge 1.5wpc into some baby Rethm speakers. These little guys with their oddball shape and Lowther drivers sounded fantastic. Great bass, effortless everything else. Very surprising. The amps and pre are all new from Still -- and Still is itself very new. Very impressive freshman showing and I'm looking forward to seeing more of them in the future.

 

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Von Schweikert Audio had a couple of their new more moderately priced VR-33 speakers in a couple of rooms. One of those rooms had a Kronzilla amp! Good sound in here, and easily on par with rooms 3x the price.

 

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My favorite room was the Highwater Sound suite. For our aural pleasure, Jeff built us a sauna. I mean it -- with all those Tron and Thoress tube amps going, I was sweating my balls off. On one side of the room, he had a pair of Horning speakers driven by Tron and fronted by a TW Acustic Raven AC and a Raven One. On the other side, he had a pair of Aspara speakers fed by Thoress and fronted by the new TW Raven Black Night. All of the TW turntables are excellent -- and according to TW himself, the audible differences between them are not huge. Want to save yourself some cash? Buy the Raven One and never look back, says he. Fascinating. And refreshing!

 

If you've not seen one, the TW Tonearm is a nice piece of kit, but even more interesting (to me at least) was that the cart driving that $45k Black Night was the Ortofon Cadenza Black. Our man TW isn't shy about sharing his opinions. And apparently a $2300 cart isn't out of place on a table 20x the price. Very interesting indeed.

 

Did I mention that the sound in here was fantastic? On either end? It was!

 

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Legacy Audio is one of those companies that I've been interested in for quite a while. The Whisper xD (upgraded xover) is big, new, and dead-sexy. I love the speed of the open-baffle design, but while I was very happy with the wall-of-sound it generated, I was left wanting something.

 

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I'll admit it -- I've never heard an Avalon that I actually liked. Until the Transcendant. This is a very nice speaker -- even in show conditions. Definitely made the best-in-show class.

 

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Not being press, I didn't get invited to the VTL thingie on Friday. So, out of spite, I waited till Sunday to go. And I'm glad I did -- it was a great way to end the show. Like the Avalon, I've never heard a Wilson sound like it was worth it's price. But ... the Saschas driven by the new VTL amp did sound very nice. Again, best-in-show class. Worth the price? Hard to say. But that dCS rack was pretty neato.

 

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Another room I could live with: Red Wine Audio driving some Zu Essence speakers. The Zus, a wonderful pea-green with a matte finish that begs to be touched, sounded easy and wonderful. Last word on detail? No. But they sure did boogie. And all that RWA gear is so quiet ... Isabella + 70.2 monos drove the Zus to deafening levels all off of the Lithium batteries.

 

Vinnie, the RWA man himself, was there groovin to the tunes. He told me that not only are there beefier amps on the way (100+wpc) in the new year, there's going to be a tube-based phono stage too. Given how great the sound was in this room, I'm going to keep an eye on RWA and I suggest you do too.

 

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After all the Stereophile reviews of the great big Revel speakers, I've always wanted to hear them. So I did at the show. First off, they're huge. Second off, they sound huge. And I mean HUGE. I get what all the fuss is about. And those Mark Levinson amps are hilariously big, too. Note to Harman -- next time, find a bigger room.

 

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I stumbled on CanJam totally by accident as it was tucked away in a corner like some kind of embarrassing step child. Got to hear some great headphones, like the new Sennheiser HD 800s, but nothing that could touch my beloved Stax. Heh. But, maybe, possibly, I'd consider switching if I got to have one of Ray Samuels' new Emmaline head-amp rigs. Though, at $5k, that's a bit much for a headphone-only setup. But it sure was nice! Also got to try the Cary SEI 300 as a head-amp, which at a mere $3k, doesn't seem like much of a bargain.

 

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On Barrows' advice, I looked up the EAR room on Sunday morning -- and sat down very happily for a few minutes before reluctantly slinking off to go in search of my ride to the airport. Yes, Barrows -- that CD player is very nice! But the real marvel was the turntable. It had this really interesting arm -- wish I could remember what it was. ;-)

 

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Gordon had a nice little setup in the Wavelength room. Got to fondle the Wavelink, a Brick and a few other odd bits. His amps sound very nice.

 

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And I don't care what anyone says. LessLoss' Blackbodies are reedonkulous.

 

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I can't remember who these guys are, but their speakers were nice. And HUGE. Interestingly, it's the same speaker -- the smaller of the two is simply housed inside the bigger one, in it's own isolated and buffered chamber. With the additional two giant over-under subwoofers, of course. Gotta say, totally ballsy. But I can think of no possible universe where I'm gonna be able to swing the biggies -- even in my home theater rig.

 

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Tyler & Silver Circle had a good sounding room, as did Coincident. Neither stood out, but both were better-than-average.

 

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On a lark, I went in search of Jeff Joseph's room to see what he was showing off. I'd caught his Pulsars & Pearls at the DC show in June and had been very happily blown away. I'm happy to report that at RMAF, the Pulsars were just phenomenal. I really want these speakers! He apparently just raised the price on these to $7k, but based on what I heard, they were a steal -- and in those cramped conditions, easily on par with the best at the show.

 

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Another fun discovery was Gallo's new mystery speakers. As yet unnamed, these feature his latest tweeter, but now constrained to a mere 180 degrees from the 270 of his Reference 3.5s. More interestingly -- the woofers all fire forwards! No more side-firing craziness. Show conditions were not great for Tony, though, so I expect to see or hear some more before launch. I thought they sounded pretty good for a prototype though ... more to come in the New Year, says Gallo.

 

On an earlier visit, I got to talk to "Mr Spectron", John Ulrick, too. Great, funny guy. And his amps kick ass. On that visit, I got to hear the now famous Reference 3.5s -- some great stuff, if muddled. I want to say "room" as those side firing woofers really had nowhere to go in that tiny space.

 

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I got to hold a Sonicweld Diverter in the Sonic Studios room -- this thing is a weapon!

 

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BTW, Amarra 2.1 is coming "very soon" (like 2 weeks). More goodies! Oh, and BTW -- got the skinny on some product futures. Amarra will be going 384 in 2011 and at that time Amarra Mini will be getting 24/192! Woohoo!

 

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Dr Feickert's Blackbird is a very nifty table. I found it in the AMR room, and it was every bit as awesome as I remembered. One distracting thing -- the guy running that room needed two, maybe three less cups of coffee. NO ONE needs to move their whole body that much when "tapping their toes". Freaky.

 

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To close out this great show, I visited Jumping Cactus. Honestly, the name put me off (how can they be serious? I don't have time for trivialities!) and it wasn't until the last day that I found myself in here. At 9am on Sunday, almost none of the rooms were open (yet), but the halls were strewn with beer bottles. ;-) Anyway, the Jumping Cactus room was open and something awesome was playing, so why not? In I went. I'm glad I did! They're great! At $9500 per pair with the optional active crossover, they're no bargain -- but they're no joke, either. A healthy 94dB efficient, they were just great -- and even when driven by cheap gear, too. Does make you wonder why some of those "big boys" had so many problems even when backed by gear that cost quite a bit more than the $2k or so they were running with. Good show, Jumping Catcus!

 

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And that's it. My first RMAF! No idea if I'm going to make this a "thing", but I'm up for a rematch next year. Anyone else in?

 

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Hi Scot - First, it was great meeting you at the show. Second, thanks for the awesome coverage. You got to many rooms I couldn't make it to over the three day event. I agree with much of what you said as well.

 

I spent about 15 minutes in the Quad room. The seductive sound was so pleasant. My only complaint was the selection of music. I asked them to play something that would show me what the limitations of the speakers are, but the only music they had was right up the Quad Alley (heavy on the mid range). I certainly see the point in showcasing a speaker at it's best, but people must know what a speaker can't do just as much as they must know what it can do.

 


Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing Polestar | Quick Community Reviews and Ratings

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I think I just found a rather good reason to go visit my friends in Boulder next year. Not seen them since '82, so it's about time I caught up.

Why oh why cant we do a show as good as that in the UK?

Last time I saw that much stuff on show was - err, oh yes, CES, and my guess is that this show rather out does that one.

Brilliant review - thanks for that.

 

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looking at those pictures reminds me of a thought I put together at the end of our last show in Manchester UK (well at least it was called a hifi show) - and the national show earlier this year.

HiFi seems to be going through a real 'looking for the next one' at present. Cd is most deffinitely dieing, very quickly. Yet digital / computer audio is almost apparently still just going from junior to secondary school, so what is happening - a huge resurgence in what I term 'legacy' hifi, ie turntables and vinyl.

I get the whole 'vinyl' and valves thing, especially when it's done right, but is it so difficut to put together a digital front end that totally out does it? Surly not - but looking at those pics, unless vinyl spinners are more photogenic, vinyl wins out big style.

I just find it weird at this moment in time.

 

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Great review, I really the way you stated your impressions and reactions to each room along with the pictures. I echo many of your sentiments.

 

I also thought in I would fill in the gaps regarding the LSA room as I also thought it was great sound for great value. They were running the LSA speakers, LSA amp and Exemplar (John Tucker is the designer of both) modded Oppo BDP-83 player and cables.

 

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@Scot: Great stuff you have there! And don't worry too much about the pictures. As it is, they already did a great job in telling the story. If only my schedule (and wallet) can allow me to hop over to have a look (and listen) for myself!

 

@Chris: Modern bassy tunes for a start, that's pretty much very dangerous waters for these electrostats. When I have the chance I want to pop by my local store to have some time with its bigger sibling as well. But from my limited experience with these fellas, I can tell you for certain that it doesn't quite sparkle on the topside and, in confined spaces like the tiny dem room there, fast bass notes/percussions will cause the lower end to muddy up quite a bit. A track like Kajiura Yuki's "Red Rose" will quickly reveal this. Something recurring I keep hearing about these speakers is that copious amounts of room space is required for them to perform well.

 


My rig is not an oil rig. I sometimes wish it was.

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meeting you, Barrows and our leader, Chris.

 

But HEY!! The E.A.R./Marten room, with Acute cd player, was my recommendation, not Barrows. I mean, he gets all the credit. You always liked him best. LOL.

 

Thanks for the coverage. Very nice.

 

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Great meeting you, and Ted et al. Thanks for the detailed report. I love the Quads at what they do well, but they do have their limitations, same with maggies (different limitations). But at what they do well they are superb.

I do have to disagree with this though:

 

"Like the discussion and demo for Stein (seems like voodoo), LessLoss Blackbody (totally seems like voodoo) and Nordost cabling (absolute voodoo)."

 

So first you admit to not hearing the demo, then claiming things are voodoo! Next year you have to hear one of the Nordost demos (I would make a wager with you, but would not want to create "expectational bias" LOL). One switch from one of their mid level speaker cables to Odin will forever change your mind about cables. This year I heard Lars switch from Heimdall (mid price) to Odin (extreme price) speaker cables and the difference was astonishing, as if the entire system had been upgraded. No one could ignore the difference. Note, that the system in use was mid level Sim Audio Moon Series (not Evolution) electronics as well. I was surprised by the difference the Quantum power units made as well.

Nordost demos clearly show audible differences, and they are not afraid to do A/B comparisons, and now they have third party scientific measurements that show the differences.

 


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO/ESS 9038--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.                                                               Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

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Ted, Barrows -- the pleasure was all mine, I'm sure. ;-) And no, Ted -- I love all of you equally.

 

Barrows -- all of the voodoo comments were very much tongue in cheek. As I was writing it up, I remembered a bit of what we were talking about (though, obviously, not which one of you was the big fan of the EAR room -- sorry Ted!), and one of the things I successfully pulled from the quagmire was that you'd gone to the Nordost demo and had been impressed by the clear and obvious differences. Hence, my nose-tweaking. ;-) But that was one of the demos I'd have loved to have gotten over to.

 

I'm very curious as to the cable thing, specifically. Mainly because my own (admittedly amateurish) attempts at discerning differences between major brands was such a dismal failure. Doesn't mean its not possible, but I do have some serious doubts -- which I think we've explored elsewhere on this site -- which is why I now go with cheap (but great spec'd) cables from BJC.

 

Ok, that said? Stein and LessLoss are still totally nuts. And no, Quads have no limitations -- except AWESOMENESS.

 

I think we should organize the trip for a CA tour next year. Setup a list of rooms and items to learn about, as well as a checklist of things to keep track of about each product. That way, we're all arguing from a common set of experiences. It'd be like a field trip. We can wear matching shirts.

 

;-)

 

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Scott. If you are at RMAF next year, just be sure to put aside some time to listen to the Nordost demos. When I first started working for PS Audio, many years ago, I was skeptical about the level of effect that cables had. I knew that quality mattered to a point, but found it hard to accept that factors other than resistance, capacitance, and inductance were relevant. Then my first time at RMAF I heard a Nordost demo, and this changed my view of cables' importance forever. The problem with the cable industry is that there is definitely a lot of profit taking going on, and there are some high priced cables that really have nothing special to offer except fancy jacketing/audio jewelry. Nordost is an exception though-their cables are scientifically designed, and their performance backs up their design. Very little fluff either (OK, Odin has the wood blocks...) Yes, they seem to cost more than they should, but the mid level ones are not too bad (Heimdall, Frey) and offer big performance advantages over most other stuff.

Wish I had gotten to hear EAR/Marten, I really like the Marten speakers, and the EAR stuff is always good as well. I did hear a pair of Martens in one of the Audio Federations rooms, with an EMM CD/SACD player and Audio Note UK tube integrated, great sound in that room, slightly soft on the edges, but fantastic midrange and superb presence.

Back to business stuff and cable prices-I believe the audio industry is analagous to high end outdoor sporting goods (bikes, skis) where the profit margin on hardware (bikes/skis/electronics) is relatively low, and the profit margin on accessories (clothing, cables, tweaks) is relatively high. In both cases I suspect dealers make a lot of their profits from the accessory purchases-selling these is what keeps them in business and allows them to take home a paycheck. As such, most dealers are willing to "deal" on price with cabling, as the margins allow for a little more room to move.

Stein/Blackbodies-I have not tried them... and do not have the budget for expensive tweaks these days. But there is no reason to believe that they could not be effective, the science behind the Blackbody is real. Jason Serinus (of Stereophile) a reviewer whose ears I trust, swears the Steins make a significant difference in his system. Of course, Jason has Nordost Odin cabling, maybe one needs that extra resolution to get to the point where tweaks like this are significant.

 


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO/ESS 9038--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.                                                               Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

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Barrows, I'll do that -- I'm curious as to how much of a difference there can/will be. Like I said, I'm skeptical due to my personal experiences -- and one of the "fancy cables" I'd had on hand for my non-rigorous a/b "testing" was two sets of Nordost Valhalla. I'll do my best to be open minded, though.

 

I am curious about this "we're not measuring the right thing" when it comes to cables, though. The EE in me (admittedly, only 3 years before switching over to Philosophy -- try and explain that one to my Dad) wants to say that such an explanation is spurious -- it feels like an abject appeal to a higher authority because we're not happy with our test results. The tests are fine -- we just need different tests! In that vein, I talked to the guy who makes Kaplan cables for a bit and he ended up quickly taking refuge by repeating the same mantra -- "we're testing the wrong things, and we don't know what the right things are" -- that it's starting to feel like the Party Line.

 

Anyway, I don't feel that the Ghost In The Machine is required. All the cables in Nordost's product line do in fact have different capacitance & inductance measurements. So, I suppose it's not unreasonable to expect that those variations result in different performance, and that some of that variation might result in audible performance.

 

Going further, my expectation is that cables with similar (or the same) measurements will sound the same -- an interesting test for me would be finding two such cables with different (relevant) measurements and then two with the same (but with other things different) and see where that lands us. And then do that on a different system too, just to make sure the cables aren't correcting known system deficiencies or mismatches.

 

Anyway, the Nordost demo will be on my list of To Do's.

 

Side note: As I was walking around, I got to meet quite a few of the pro reviewers out there. A great many of these guys are ... uh ... not young. Not knocking their skills, nor their knowledge, nor their expertise, but the harsh physical reality is that there is no way that their hearing is what it used to be. Could be that they're medical miracles, true, but I'm guessing not. Let's just say that I'm going to be paying WAY more attention to the graphs and measurements sections of the Stereophile reviews than I have been to date.

 

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One quick edit - the Rethm speakers you listen to don't actually use Lowther drivers. The two bigger models (the Saadhana and Maarga) use Lowthers, but the baby Trishna you saw uses a new, custom-designed full-range driver.

 

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A dear friend of mine visits a famous reviewer's home a few times a year, and always marvels (trying to be kind) at the immense SPL's and overall sonic signature of his reference setup.

 

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Its all about time and amplitude. Frequency response measurements do not cut it, there are many speakers which sound great, that when measured in room have wide variations in frequency response. Psychoacoustics backs up the fact that humans are extremely sensitive to variations in time when it comes to sound perception, on the other hand, humans are not very sensitive to frequency variations. On to reviewers: the part of hearing that fails us as we age is only the ability to hear frequency (which is not what humans excel at anyway) not our ability to hear time-so I do not have a problem with older folks hearing, also, listening is a learned skill, which improves with practice. The differences we hear in (good) high end audio systems are mostly not related to frequency response (it is pretty easy to get this close enough to right these days) but is related to performance in the time domain.

Now, think about this:

1. All electrical signals are delayed in time

2. Signals of different amplitudes can be delayed more or less

3. Signals of different frequencies are delayed more less

So now we have a complex music signal, comprised of many different amplitudes and frequencies, each of which is being delayed by different amounts. The result is time smear, different parts of the music not arriving at the time they should be.

Conventional measuring methods (single frequency) do not measure for any of these time smear effects. The new measurement paradigm being jointly developed by Nordost, Vertex AQ (a competitor), and Gareth's military contractor team is all about measuring using real music signals, and measuring the response in the time and amplitude domains. Note here that performance in the time domain is the main design criteria for Nordost's cables, with their emphasis on speed of propogation, and attempting to make speed of propogation equal for all frequencies. Cardas' new "Clear" series of cables is also designed to address these time issues (by a very different approach).

My feeling is that time is the current frontier that high end audio is dealing with, in all categories of development (electronics, cables, speakers). The frequency domain is solved for the most part, the noise domain is also solved, but the time domain is where the improvements in performance are coming from these days.

 


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO/ESS 9038--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.                                                               Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

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Barrows -- I think all this is time-stuff is terrifically interesting. Seriously. I look forward with rather great relish to all of these kinds of research and what nifty new product may fall out of it.

 

But.

 

I've looked at the Nordost paper on this stuff. And honestly, it's a lovely blend of vague guesswork and total crap. In their own paper, they admit that the tweaks and changes are system dependent and do not have either a linear or systematic impact. That is, a change to a particular system by "upgrading" the speaker cables has, say, a numeric contribution of +20 (I'm making these numbers up) to the total weighted value being measured (it doesn't matter what that is). That same cable, when added to a different system, might only bring +12 to that system. But add that same cable to the first system, but after a vibrational dampening shelf has been added, and it's contribution is now only +14. Add more tweaks and the value of any given tweak goes down non-linearly (and dramatically). Which means that after a certain point, upgrades become imperceptible. That is, after all your cables are upgraded, new footers are a waste. Or vice versa. Maybe. For this given system. Um. How is this helping again?

 

I mean, seriously, about Nordost. The speed of light? We're time aligning to LIGHT? Human beings are completely unable to differentiate between discrete events that are less than 2ms apart, and a couple hundred (>500) microseconds is about as fast as any of us can go -- on the absolute best of days and in the absolute best of conditions -- to perceive anything aurally at all (I think these are called "grains of sound") -- yet we're supposed to be sensitive to nanosecond variation in arrival times of that audio signal? That is, we ought to care about jitter with impact on a time scale greater than 100k times finer than the theoretical threshold of human aural perception?

 

Said another way: in what way is that NOT snake oil, err, marketing?

 

Sorry. You may be quite right -- time and amplitude may well be very important, and they may be compromised by cable design. But propagation speeds as measured against the speed of light isn't going to be one of those impactful measurements. That said, I'm all about GMA and the time-alignment of speakers. It's important and audible, I get that. But I'm going to need more help before I'm going to be able to grasp what a wire might have to do with it, though. At least from a perspective of delays in the time domain.

 

But getting back to the freq-response thing in our hearing though. If you're right, and time-sensitivity isn't what decays, it's freq-sensitivity, then why do we have old reviewers talking about bass solidity or treble extension? The deafening SPL levels is not a surprise here, but I can't believe that helps enough to get even a remotely accurate review.

 

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I would ask: What is not system dependent?

 

Everything we change is system dependent, of course. I would not suggest that someone with a Bose wave radio should cut it open, add Nordost Odin cables, and Magico speakers!

I do not understand how this is a valid criticism of improving one's system by choosing better cables? No one is going to be able to put a numerical value on how much improvement a cable upgrade might bring to every system.

And certainly there are also diminishing returns: as we improve our system to a certain point, it does get more and more difficult to make significant improvements (and more expensive)-but this does not make the improvements possible any less significant.

 

"Human beings are completely unable to differentiate between discrete events that are less than 2ms apart, and a couple hundred (>500) microseconds is about as fast as any of us can go -- on the absolute best of days and in the absolute best of conditions"

 

The above stats are not relevant to what I am referring to. Take a complex music signal, and then imagine that many different elements that need to be aligned in time are shifted out of that alignment. Now what will happen is that the interaction of the different elements has fundamentally changed-ie intermodulation effects between the different elements are now also different-this is audible.

 

The measuring system being discussed is totally scientific in nature, and when they repeat the test, the results are totally repeatable (and quantifyable). The papers on this at Nordost's site are not totally clear on this, and they have advanced the techniques involved in the year since those (introductory) papers were published. One really needs to see the full presentation, and ask questions, to fully grasp what they are doing with this new measurement technique.

 

Scott, are you not using Alan Maher's products? Maybe I am mistaken in this? Little boxes filled with quartz powder or tourmaline powder placed around your system, and perhaps at your breaker box... As far as I know, Alan has no scientific background himself, or any measurements whatsoever to back up his claims for these products. I am curous why you would embrace something like these products, as your use of them would seem out of character with the point of view expressed here? I mean, at least the music signal actually travels through cables, it is easy to believe they could affect a signal travelling directly through them in comparison to some minerals sprinkled about the system? Or I am I missing something here?

 


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO/ESS 9038--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.                                                               Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

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RE: Alan Maher -- yep, you got me. But it was a lucky shot! And yes, I have no idea how or why the work -- or even if all these little widgets are having the effect they're purported to. Nothing definite at all -- just some suspicions. LOL.

 

Does that undermine my argument? Maybe a bit. ;-) Not fatally, but I take your point -- and I'll happily grill the hell out of the Nordost folks next chance I get. Perhaps RMAF 2011!

 

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Scot, nice write-up and pictures! Someday I'll get to one of these events...

 

Bill

 


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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Just to be clear-I have nothing against Alan's products. I have used Shakti Onlines to occasional good effects, and they use quartz as an RF damper. In fact, I am considering experimenting with some RFI damping devices of my own design, and am trying to source materials now. I am a big believer in reducing the effects of RFI on audio playback.

I really want to figure out how the Quantum boxes Nordost distributes work-I figured they were very subtle in their operation, but after hearing the demo I am very curious about them...

I hope we can meet up next year at RMAF and compare notes again!

 


ROON: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModule-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO/ESS 9038--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY AC cables, Iconoclast XLR, Iconoclast speaker, cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.                                                               Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                       

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Hey Scot,

 

Would you care to elaborate on the differences you heard between the Spatial HD and the Wyred4Sound systems with the Emerald Physics? I am considering buying one or the other and would like a good honest opinion. Is the W4S better sounding or was the Spatial HD just disappointing?

 

Regards,

 

Mike

 

 

 

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The GMA Calypso HDs are not pigs to drive.

 

The Atmasphere M60 OTL tube amplifiers they had in that room,

just can't put out much power into 5 ohm load.

 

Mahalo for your report.

 

 

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Kana -- you are quite right. A poor choice of words, but FWIW, it was a paraphrase of Roy's words.

 

But weren't they to be shown with a pair of old Atma-Sphere MA-1 (maybe Mk II.2) amplifiers? Yes, there were M-60s there, too, but I think the Daedalus speakers were being driven with the ModWrights.

 

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Others have commented that the Spatial room sounded clearly better than the Wyred4Sound room.

 

My experience was opposite that. When I visited, the sound was muddled and felt as if it were veiled. This was in comparison to the Wyred room, which was driven by their DAC. In that room, the sound seemed much more open, clear, clean and coherent across the bandwidth. It was quite striking and I went directly from one room to the other and then back to verify. Unfortunately, I did not go back on Saturday or Sunday to verify my earlier impressions.

 

Were it up to me, and I was shopping for either the Prism Orpheus or the Wyred4Sound DAC1/2, I'd choose the latter with no hesitation based on this experience. As for the speakers, I'm not sure I'd go with either the 2.3 or the 2.7 at this point -- I'd need to hear them both in another setup. I do know, that for the price of the EP speakers (at either price point), there are some other spectacular speakers on offer that I heard at RMAF I'd choose first:

 

Joseph Audio Pulsar: $7k

Rethm Trishna: [not sure, but I think it's below $8k]

Gallo Reference 3.5: $7k

Zu Essence: $3.6k

PSB Synchrony One: $2.5k

LSA LSA1 Statement: $2.5k

 

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Roy told me all they tried were the Atmasphere M-60 OTL amps

and they couldn't get proper dynamics with those amps.

 

The M-60 worked better on the Daedalus speakers which have a much higher sensitivity 94dB vs 88db for the Calypsos.

 

I've tried the Modwright KWA-100 on my GMA EOS and it was wonderful. If they had Modwright KWA-100 or KWA-150 it would have worked great with the Calypsos.

 

 

 

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