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2008 RMAF Coverage 7

Commentary

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This portion of Dagogo’s 2008 RMAF Coverage by Fred Crowder

As I approach 60 years of age, lose a little more hair and put on a few more pounds, I have begun to realize that in some ways the world is passing me by more rapidly each year. Part of this is a result of having been born in a time when computers and audio systems were powered by tubes and change was a little slower in coming. This is not intended as a complaint or even a longing for things to return to what they once were, but rather an explanation for what follows, no pictures, no fancy diagrams or complex explanations of the technology, only a few comments on those systems that caught my interest at RMAF.

The number of exhibitors was significantly larger than last year; attendance about equal to that in 2007; and the number of rooms with good sound somewhat less. The exhibitors who were most successful were often those who had shown in the past and were returning to a room with which they had some familiarity. Given that RMAF is dealer focused rather than manufacturer focused, there were clearly some odd pairings of equipment. Although the show did not officially start until noon on Friday, a number of the rooms were open to visitors on Thursday evening. In general, the sound tended to improve dramatically over the course of the weekend as systems were allowed to warm up and as the exhibitors applied further tweaks. For this reason, I tried to revisit the better rooms on Sunday in order to hear them at their best.

Analysis Audio Speakers, VTL 450 monos, VPI turntable and arm: these speakers are similar in looks and technology to the Apogees. Typically, listeners either really loved or hated the sound. On a recording of Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms, the imaging and top octaves were nice, the bass tight and well damped. The speakers had good detail.

Concert Fidelity electronics, Stillpoint equipment stands and supports, Audience line conditioning, VPI Aries turntable, Connoisseur phonostage. I continue to be impressed by how musical the solid state Concert Fidelity electronics sound. This was one of the better sounds at the show.

EAR 890 amplifier and 868 preamplifier, Jorma No. 3 cabling, Marten Forum Floor speakers and subwoofer, Sounds of Silence isolation platforms. Again, excellent sound from a small system well set up in a mediocre room.

Gershman Audio Black Swan speakers, VAC electronics, Magnan cabling, Critical Mass Isolation. This system had good bass and extension at the frequency extremes, was warm but not lacking in detail, created a nice soundstage, had good leading edge and did a nice job with male voice.

Avalon Indra speakers, VTL 450 monoblocks, Ayre Acoustics K-1 preamp, Cardas cables, Finite Element amp stands. This system had good tight bass, good depth, a nice extended top end and a wall to wall soundstage. I have thought for some time that ceramic drivers can be problematic. They do many things very well, but there can be trade-offs. In this instance, Avalon has done an excellent job.

Audio Note M-9 preamp with phonostage, Audio Note TT, Kegon balanced amps, AN 4.1x D/A, AN Io One S4 step up, AN Sec Signature (alnico magnets). The preamp arrived new from the factory on Thursday, otherwise the system was broken in. This system had excellent center fill and was extremely transparent. Female voices were particularly nice and the system had an uncanny ability to unravel complex passages. This was one of the systems that benefited most dramatically from being played during RMAF and sounded its best on Sunday afternoon just before the show closed.

Marten Coltrane Supreme loudspeakers, Lamm L2 preamp and ML3 amps, Brinkmann TT, EMM Labs digital, Harmonic Resolution Systems isolation and stands, Jorma Prime and Nordost Odin cabling. Audio Federation has now shown the Coltrane Supreme speakers for three years at RMAF and this year was certainly the best sound overall that they have gotten from the speakers. This system excelled in the areas of finesse and nuance. With the right program material, this system could and did create magic.

Acapella Triolon Excaliburs, Einstein electronics, Stage 3 power cords and selected cables, otherwise Acapella and Isoclean wires, room treatment by Golden Sound. This is another instance where the exhibitor, AAudio Imports had shown a similar system based on the Triolons at RMAF last year with mixed reactions from listeners. The room which is on the first floor of the Marriot is designed for meetings and has sheetrock walls and a dropped in ceiling. Untreated, the room has significant acoustical problems that severely compromise the sound of any system played there. Golden Sound provided the room treatments (here read extensive) last year and for the most part tamed the room except, perhaps, in the bass. This year, they scored a resounding success. Last year, the Triolons had very limited break-in prior to RMAF; consequently, the bass in particular was much better this year. The importer also credits the Stage 3 cables for a portion of the improvement. This year the Triolons had excellent transparency and leading edge definition, good control of the bass, and good depth. The system particularly excelled at the recreation of male voice whether Johnny Cash or Luciano Pavarotti. For me one of the two best systems at RMAF.

Mbl 116 speakers, Aesthetix Eclipse preamp and Atlas amps, mbl 1531 CD player, Audioaero SACD player, reel to reel tape. The sonics were very nice with both CD’s and reel to reel tapes with nice voices and a great deal of air and space. Note that I have not in the past been particularly taken with the mbl sound but apparently with the right ancillary equipment, the speakers are capable of excellent performance.

Lindemann 820 CD player, 830 control amplifier and 855 dual mono amplifier; Nordost Odin cabling; Raidho Acoustics Ayra C-1 speakers. I listened to selections from the Reference Recordings performance of the Turtle Creek Chorale and was amazed at how well this system preserved the tonal balance of the recording. The speakers and electronics were a nice match for each other and were very musical. Given my normal prejudice with respect to ceramic drivers, I did ask why the ceramic drivers used by Raidho worked so well and was told that they manufacture their own drivers essentially fusing a ceramic material to an aluminum foil substrate which moves any resonances beyond the range of human hearing. Note that the baffle is machined from an aluminum billet and is quite inert.

Kharma Ceramique 3.2.2 speakers, Mbl electronics: again very nice sound with excellent imaging and air.

Symposium Panorama 2.0 loudspeakers, Emotive Audio electronics, Siltech Emperor Crown cabling, Symposium platforms, Abbingdon CD player: this was one of the most impressive systems that I saw at RMAF. The speakers have been shown at RMAF for the last three years in various states of development and comprise four modules, one containing a ribbon tweeter and multiple planar magnetic midrange units. A second module is comprised of three woofers, each in a separate enclosure, at least one of which is smaller than the other two. There is also an outboard highly complex passive crossover which allows significant adjustment. Electronics included an Emotive Audio Epifania tube preamp and their 50 watt Vita push pull e-linear amp. A system of this complexity requires a great deal of experimentation in set up and choice of associated equipment. Massed voices were ethereal and the system had good imaging and depth with excellent detail and accurate tonality. The system also had extremely low distortion and noise levels, but at times could lack bass impact (probably an effect of the room) and did subtly soften leading edges. One of the two best systems at RMAF even though the performance was variable. At its best when everything was right, superb

Esoteric MG-20 speakers, Mexcel cabling, Isotek AC filtering, Stillpoint stands and supports, Esoteric tubed stereo amp and the Esoteric P03/D03/G0 digital combination: again one of the better rooms at the show, highly musical, an oasis.

Red Rock Renaissance amps, Wadia 781i/170, Artemis Labs TT and phonostage with Schroeder arm, and Red Rock speakers: although I am familiar with the Renaissance amps, I was unaware that Red Rock was working on a speaker. The speakers use three very different drivers: high frequencies are covered by a 2” ribbon with a conical wave guide into a rectangular horn; the midrange by an 8” planar magnetic driver compression loaded into a rectangular tractrix horn; the bass by a 15” driver in a bass reflex enclosure with box tuning of 23 HZ. 1 watt produces 97 db at 1 meter. None of this techno babble would really make much sense but for the fact that the speakers sounded very natural with a large rectangular soundstage, and good transparency. Given their efficiency, dynamics were not a problem.

This portion of Dagogo’s 2008 RMAF Coverage
by Fred Crowder

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