Publisher Profile

2009 RMAF Coverage 5

Aaudio Imports (Tidal speakers), Lotus Group USA, Lowther America, Janszen Loudspeaker, Soundsmith

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Aaudio Imports (Tidal speakers)

A most bizarre show-going experience occured to me at Aaudio Imports’ Acapella (Larkspur Suite, see Coverage 1) and Tidal exhibits (Room 2004), in which the company’s dealers congregated. I mean his dealers are so supportive of the importer, their enthusiasm is a rarity in the industry.

The Tidal speaker exhibit was adorned with Bergmann turntable system, Stage III cable system and Ypsilon electronics, with the new Ypsilon prototype DHT monoblock amplifiers. Per audience request, the Bergmann Sindre airbearing turntable/airbearing tonearm system was repeatedly preferred over the Ypsilon CDT 100 and DAC 100 digital front-end. I only got 15 minutes out of my 60-minute-plus custom CD, and in that 15 minutes, I found the Ypsilon digital most encompassing in recreating a lifelike musical experience. I put such music as complex orchestral passages, JVC XRCD trumpet jazz and solo vocal through it and found the presentation with the trumpet and solo vocalist to be resplendent with bite and finesse, with the solo vocalist sounding especially evocative. Had the room been larger, it would have accommodated the speaker’s high output capacity during my favorite complex orchestral passages more amiably with its multiplicity of powerful woofers.

On the other hand, the vinyl presentation was soft and tender, especially with smooth jazz being the consistent music of choice in the 30-minute stay I had in the exhibit. I love cymbals and double bass and piano, but not all performances of similar combination are of the same stature as the best among the genre, such as those by the jazz giants of previous generations. I just can’t see myself listening to this kind of music LP after LP, which was exactly what show-goers were playing. But that’s just me.

Bergmann Sindre airbearing turntable/airbearing tonearm: $20,000
Stage III Cables
Analord Prime phono cable, 1.5m RCA x 1: $3,480
Chimaera digital cable, 1m XLR x 1: $5,300
Gryphon interconnects, 1.5m RCA x 2 pairs : $7,500/pair
Mantikor speaker cables, 3m spades x 1 pair: $19,800/pair
Zyklop power cords, 2m x 3: $8,300 each
Vortex Prime power cords, 2m x 2: $2,680 each
Vortex power cord, 2m x 1: $2,020

Tidal Contriva Diacera SE full-range speakers: $71,100/pair

Ypsilon
CDT 100 CD transport/player: $25,000
DAC 100 stereo valve DAC: $29,000
VPS 100 valve phono stage: $25,000
MC 10 step-up transformer: $2,700
PST 100 stereo valve preamplifier: $36,000
DHT monoblock valve power amplifiers: $75,000/pair

Additional products: Acapella Platforms, Couplers, Isoclean Power Filter, power cords, Lyra Titan i cartridge.

Lotus Group USA

Joe Cohen of Lotus Group USA (not the same as the new Lotus Audio Import also of northern California), having imported the one-and-only Feastrex Makoto loudspeaker system that I reviewed, now has gone one step further and introduced an upper model under the Lotus Group USA brand and utilizing a Feastrex driver, the Lotus Group Granada UB II. Continuing with what the Feastrex Makoto can do, the LG Granada UB II features Feastrex’s Type II 5-inch Field Coil Driver with Phosphor Bronze frames and 20 coats of traditional Japanese urushi lacquer. The Granada models start at $69,500 the pair, while the top model, the UB II, complete with 2 dual voice coil twelve-inch woofers and active crossover retails at $115,000 the pair.

This pair of LG Granada UB II supposedly conveys the sub-40Hz region missing on the Makoto, and was in fact reaching into the 30Hz region with finesse and magnetism in the large exhibit at Room 550. Joe crossed the 2 twelve-inch woofers at 200Hz to complement the Feastrex via a digital signal processing scheme. To facilitate a uniform output, the Feastrex’s efficiency was set at 92dB. Playing my custom CD, the fusion of the woofers to the sound of Feastrex was immaculate, and the woofers never manifested themselves ahead of the Feastrex, providing a much inducive and musically involving fundation.

The choice of two 30-watt Pass Labs XA30.5 stereo amplifiers ($5,500 each) in vertical bi-amping configuration was most forthcoming, for I have also obtained impeccable results using a pair of XA100.5 monoblocks in reviewing the Feastrex Makoto. In the case of the Granada UB II, the Pass Labs were a godsend not only for its ultra-pure midrange and top-end, but also for the finessed-entrenched powerful bottom-end they induced from the twin woofers.

Long live field-coil!

The new Feastrex SET that arrived at the show for static display.

Lotus Group Granada UB II loudspeaker: $115,000/pair
Pass Labs XA 30.5 stereo amplifiers x 2: $11,000
Lamm Industries LL2.1 linestage: $5,990
Hanns Acoustics CD-20 16x Digital Filtration 24-bit/705.6kHz upsampling CD player: $2,200
Hanns Acoustics PA-60 two-chassis tube phono: $5,000
Hanns Acoustics T-60 turntable: $6,200
Hanns Acoustics HR-404 Equipment Stand: $2,500
PranaWire Avatar RCA interconnects: $10,975/pair
PranaWire Avatar speaker cable 1.5 meters: $12,150/pair
PranaWire Nataraja XLR (2pairs, 1.5 meters): $4,185/pair
with more PranaWire power cables, Acoustic Revive, Sound Mechancis, Yeil M&C and Audio Replas accessories
Total system cost: $252,395

Lowther America

Pass Labs also had a presence in the Lowther America exhibit, in which the latest Lowther speaker was driven by Nelson Pass’ amplification. Colin Pass, Nelson’s son, co-exhibited with Jon Ver Halen of Lowther America. In this latest driver configuration, Jon mated a single 12-inch woofer to the lone Lowther DX-55 full-range driver ($1,195/pair). The Pass-driven Lowther system displayed the customary top-to-bottom coherency and tonalpurity, much akin to the Feastrex sound. Where the Feastrex mustered tantalizing resolution and textural density, the Lowther offered a wonderful, affordable alternative of a crossover-less experience at a fraction of the Feastrex’s price.

Janszen Loudspeaker

Regarding the RMAF venue, David Janszen of Janszen Loudspeaker has the following to offer: “I have only ever exhibited a couple of times, but can say I liked RMAF very well. I thought the attendees were serious, the hotel and its facilities very nice, the hotel and show staff excellent, journalistic presence was strong, a goodly number of dealers were in attendance, the price was reasonable, the time of the week was appealing, Denver is a nice location, if way too dry for someone recovering from a cold, and I felt very comfortable overall.”

Janszen Loudspeaker’s top-of-the-line Model One was recently reviewed by Ed Momkus. Ed’s calling it “one of the elite” in his review aroused immense curiosity in me, so I’ve got to check David Janszen’s brianchild out. Most fortuitously, David was showcasing his $28,000 Model One with the Wadia 381iCD player, supported by the $44,000 Boulder preamplifier, the 1kilowatt, $17,000 Bryston 28B SST2 monoblock amplifiers and the MIT suite of Shotgun MA cable system.

Ed’s observation of the Janszen was via his spacious Chicago mansion, while the RMAF demo was in a small hotel room, effectuating a close-field listening distance of less than 5 feet. Though not the most spacious and atmospheric in terms of soundstaging, the Janszens, in this arrangement, accorded the opportunity for a closer scrutiny of their sonic competence. My verdict: The Janszen was peerless in recreating the choir in however complex form; the timbral recreation was clear as a bell. Many dynamic designs under $30k can’t touch the Janszen in the clarity and orderliness in the lower midrange to the very top, and certainly not at the uniformity of output. As for the bottom-end, the Model One features different top and bottom woofers so as to eradicate woofer coloration. To my ears, the woofers’ integration with the main electrostatic elements was such that the transition was undetectable and the large floorstander behaved like one big panel.

Janszen also debuted the smaller floorstander, the zA. The projected MSRP is $4,840 the pair. Aavailability: Q1 2010.

System:

Wadia 381 CD player: $6950
Boulder 2010 preamplifier: $44,000
Bryston 28B SST2 monoblocks: $8500 each
MIT Shotgun MA speaker cable: $3999/pr
MIT Shotgun MA balanced interconnect: $1799/pr
MIT CVT Terminator 2pro interconnect: $699/pr

Sound Smith

Peter Ledermann spent many years developling his Strain Gauge cartridge system while raising funds and public awareness on the DirectGrace.org philanthropic project.

Peter descibes himself as mentally ill for putting up his personal wealth in his various pursuit; but I was able to ascertain the source of all his energy: He had wanted to be an inventor since childhood, and he had intuitive understanding of the Edison phongraph at the age of 3. In the exhibit were Peter’s associates who spoke with a level of devotion and passion that showed clear admiration for Peter and his conviction. Among them is David Howe, who first befriended Peter 30 years ago and is in charge of providing constant advice on all things Soundsmith, and Ralph Bagge, Director of International Sales, an Englander that crossed the pond just to assist Peter at the show.

Via the $12,000 Strain Gauge cartridge/phono preamp system, playing LPs form a VPI turntable, Peter’s latest 300wpc/8Ω, $45,000/pair monoblock amplifiers drove the 88dB, $2,000/pair Monarch mini-monitors. He situated the system on the long wall. Sitting at the center of the 2nd row, I found the sound to be pristine and not sibilant, dymamic and not fatiguing. Very remarkable solid-state engineering. The soundstaging was very distinguished laterally, although image depth was perhaps hampered by the ears’ close proximity to the rear wall.

Warranting even more attention was the Strain Gauge cartridge/preamp system ($12,000), which displayed real-time tracking status of the cartridge in the groove. The coolest status display concept and design I’ve ever seen, analog or digital.

VPI HRX turntable
Schroeder Reference SQR tonearm
Sussurro moving-iron cartridge: $4,500
Strain Gauge SG-610 cartridge system (incl. SG-610 preamp): $12,000
Strain Gauge SG-200 cartridge system (incl. preamp): $5,500
MCP-2 phono preamp: $699

HE 2006 monoblock amplifiers: $42,500/pair
Monarch speakers: $2,000/pair

HE 150 stereo amplifier: $7,000
Dragonfly speakers: $1,500/pair

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