On the cover of this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest official directory were the words “Remembering Al Stiefel”. In previous Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I could always spot show founder Al Stiefel walking the venue. He was among the taller of guys and you could always see him way down the corridor. That day when I recieved him and Marjorie at my home for the installation of his Red Rock Renaissance monoblock amplifiers doesn’t seem that far away, and I fondly remember how we talked afterward over the phone about how his wife enjoyed the music at my home. Even though he has left us, his figure was still being sought by my subconscious mind everytime I walked past the RMAF Office. “Al!” It would’ve been nice to be able to yell his name at him across the vast lobby again; Al would’ve been proud of all the support that friends of the family have given to Marjorie and their accomplishment.
This year, 7 Dagogoans, including myself, were present at the show. As the word has it that this year’s RMAF was more heavily attended, I witnessed more packed rooms and relatively less hallway traffic. I was planning to make only one round to the exhibits, and the packed rooms were exhibitors’ delight and a reviewer’s conundrum. I said my hellos and took some brochures and ran for the next exhibit, hoping for emptier rooms. What a phenomenon, you could actually walk faster due to the relatively empty hallways but when you arrive, the rooms are packed. It must’ve been all the seminars. I would love to attend them; but since I had to build up material for use in this show report, listening to exhibits was just what I had to do.
Turntable systems were used in a good majority of the exhibits this year surprisingly, and I wonder how many of us would bring our precious LPs through airports to shows. I would be curious to hear if the airport personnel at security checkpoints find the sudden emergence of LPs suspicious. On the digital end, I only found one exhibit featuring the Wadia iTransport as part of the main demo system, and the DAC connected to it refused to read the 16-bit/48kHz WAV files on my iPhone, which was a shame. I “import” my own CDs to my computer’s hard drive using the free iTune software that you can download from Apple’s website, via the CUSTOM option under IMPORT SETTING, which offers the 16-bit and 48kHz sampling rate. I prepared two custom CDs that were burned at 1x speed and uploaded the same files to my iPhone. At home, I also have an iPod that I use with the Wadia iTransport, connected to the Audio Note DAC5 Special, and I can attest to the fact that the 47 Lab PiTracer continues to be superior to the iPod/iTransport system in performance, but the iPod/iTransport system costs less than $500 together. The i-system should be on the top of everyone’s list for things to try. Still, I am keeping my PiTracer so as to experience Winston Ma’s Ultimate Disc (UD) series of music discs, especially the Direct-from-Master Edition UDMs (review in progress). To play these gems, I still need my pit-tracing PiTracer. But the iPod is for carrying from exhibit to exhibit, and with the excellent sound quality of 16-bit/48kHz, Wadia’s iTransports for my iPod would have been lovely at the show. My rant ends right now.
Bruce Brisson’s MIT Cables products are being offered in DIY form. Gavin of MIT performed a demo of the $1,200 Giant Killer Speaker Cable Kit (retail from $599 and up) against a generic, 14-guage, OFC 120-strand cable. McIntosh supplied the complimenting system consisted of the MCD 500 CD player and a pair of the MC12KW monoblock amplifiers. Speakers were the $8,000/pair Chapman T-8.
According to Gavin, each of the Giant Killer Speaker Cable Kit is equipped with a network module that can house up to 3 Multipole modules.
Every year, MIT tirelessly educates audiophiles on what its less expensive cable products can do, and I find the attitude refreshing and the efforts commendable. The difference was instantly audible to me and the other two show attendees in an A/B comparison. For every audiophile on a budget, the asking price of $1,200 makes the GKSCK an undeniable bargain.
Legacy Audio sported wide placement of its $16,500/pair Whisper loudspeakers. Possibily due to the multitude of drivers present, a sheer total of 8 per channel, center image was not only prevalent, but beautifully formulated and integrated. There was a lot to be said about Legacy’s implementation of the 8-driver Whisper, a feat not more successfully achieved by other specialty loudspeaker manufacturer I know of, and certainly not at the price point offered by Legacy. If you are in the market for large, uncompromising loudspeakers, you’ll miss out on a significant experience if you don’t audtion them.
It was just my kind of luck that Bill Duddleston changed the demo during my visit to the top-of-the-line Helix. Driven by three Coda stereo amplifiers, with the Ayon CD-2 that Dagogoan Doug Schroeder reviewed recently, the Helix, featuring 7 drivers, required tri-amping and the effects were undeniable: a denser soundstage than the Whisper with more 3-dimensional rendition of vocalists and ensemble, not to mention a most powerful and accurate bottom-end. All for $48k the pair. Wireword’s cable system provided impressive synergy with the Legacy, and most importantly, the digital format was mightily presented.
Wadia introduced their Reference Series 9 CD-only 971 transport; MSRP TBD. The unveiling of the much anticipated top transport coincided with Dynaudio’s official debut of its $70k/pair Ultimate Consequence, a reincarnation of the Consequence of old. Amplification was via the German Octave tube electronics.
The setup on Friday, the first day of the show, presented a very tightly grouped pair of the Ultimate Consequence. John Schaffer of Wadia entertained my very indulgent request of repositioning the speakers, and after a few experimentations, the Ultimate Consequences were about a foot more apart from each other and a few inches more against the front wall. Based on the available space, I thought that was the most optimized positioning, opening up the ambience of the recorded venue for a more involving spaciousness and 3-dimensionality. Although the German tube amplification of Octave was used, the sound was neither lush as effectuated by the tubes, nor was it soft at the spectral extremes. Instead, I thought Wadia hit the jackpot at this show with the support of the Dynaudio Ultimate Consequence. In previous shows, whereas the limited-porduction Dynaudio Sapphire was at the forefront, the larger UC did a much superior job at conveying the finesse of the Wadia in the large exhibit.
Each year, the Wadia exhibit impressed with its perfectly balanced suites of sonics, from the meticulous and yet smooth top-end, to the ocean of midrange that is rich and yet unpretensive, to the spectacularly layered lower-midrange all the way down to the bottom-end. This year, I heard the finest Wadia experience that is blunting my resolve to venture into analog.
Aaudio Imports (Acapella speaker)
Whereas Acapella’s $197,300/pair of the Triolon Excalibur was the main focus in U.S. Importer Aaudio Imports’ previous years’ exhibits, the Aaudio Imports Larkspur Suite exhibit this time demo’ed the $68,200/pair Acapella High Violon Mk IV. Amplification was via a pair of the Einstein “The Final Cut” MK60 Balanced OTL monoblock amplifiers.
The otherwise customary use of the Golden Acoustics acoustic panels in previous Aaudio Imports exhibits was no more in this show. According to Brian Ackerman, president of Aaudio Imports, while the panels were very helpful in managing room acoustics in previous shows, this year’s exhibit with the High Violon had very good results without any acoustic treatment. In my opinion, the sound could even have been more evocative had the panels been there, although the sound was already quite good.
While the Triolon Excalibur was 94dB efficient into 8 ohms, the High Violon MkIV was at 91dB, and one channel of the Einstein OTL monoblock amplifiers clipped during playback of my merciless demo track. Nonetheless, the Einstein/Acapella system was put in a venue meant for larger speakers and it performed flawlessly until I put in orchestral passages with sustained fortissimo. For a purist design such as the Einstein OTL monoblock to have performed to such heights was a tall order in itself; you simply can’t blame a person like me, who has taken a great liking to the Triolon Excalibur in previous years’ exhibits and thus was suffering from a tiny bit of reality detachment on my part on what I wanted to hear from the High Violons in the place of the TE.
Though endowed with only one horn, the High Violon still has the same mighty ion tweeter used on the Triolon Excalibur, and the effects were anything but ordinary. Being the boss of the exhibit, Brian fitted the High Violons initially with floating footers with ceramic bearing. That prompted a large and room-filling bottom-end that many in the seats applauded for; but then the boss of Acapella, Herman Winters came in, who didn’t like what he heard and wanted Brian to refit the speakers with spikes. The sound changed from room-filling to a more definitive bottom-end with superior details, albeit a leaner and more conservative bottom-end. For a normal listening room, I would not have it any other way; but for the large Larkspur exhibit, the less defined but room-filling bottom-end that Brian concocted was filling the room very nicely.
(Left) Brian Ackerman, President of Aaudio Imports, (Right) Herman Winters, President of Acapella
High Violon MkIV: $68,200/pair
Fondato Silenzio Base Isolation Platform (5): $3,100 each
Puck (3 per set), Couplers/Footers (4): $490 each
Big Block Resonance Control (4): $1,500 each
Reference LaMusika speaker cables, 3m spades: $25,000/pair
High LaMusika power cords, 2m (3): $5,700 each
The Source balanced tube CD player: $17,800
The Tube MKII balanced tube preamp with remote: $17,800
The Final Cut MK60 balanced OTL tube mono amp: $33,800/pair
80A3 filter with 6-position power socket, 80 amp: $4,600
PT-3030G IV power transformer (2): $4,500 each
SF3030 Super Focus cords for PT3030G, 2m (2): $2,300 each
Gryphon interconnects, 1.5m XLR: $7,950/pair
Zyklop power cord, 2m: $8,300
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