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2009 RMAF Coverage 8

Wharfedale, Lotus Group USA, Jones Audio, King Sound, Monarchy Audio, Vandersteen, Vivid/Luxman/Synergistic Research, MBL

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IF ONLY YOU COULD HAVE HEARD IT…

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I would finish the sentence with, “…at its full potential.” Those who heard my recently reviewed, and later acquired, King Sound “the King” speakers in this venue did not hear them at their best. Roger DuNaier of Performance Devices intentionally does not establish the speakers at the show at their optimum conditions. He prefers to let them be unadorned, and if impressive in that state, thrilling to owners when set up at home. I’m not sure this is the ideal way to market a big panel speaker, but it was enough at CES 2009 to get me to review them.

Once I had it in my room, the performance was easily good enough to own them. At the Marriott I sighed when I saw that they were not bi-wired, had their stock generic wall wart power supplies, positioned less than perfectly, and had zero room treatment – truly tough conditions for a demo of an ESL. These speakers are capable of so much more than people heard. It’s a perfect example of a product with fantastic capabilities not being showcased to its fullest extent. Yet, even with all these drawbacks, I enjoyed them as much as the Analysis and Janszen rooms.

Exceptions to my point of poor setup were the intriguing Silicon Arts ZL-300 monoblock amps and Concert Fidelity CF-080 LS preamp. These struck me as refined and worthy of the pairing. I had used solid-state electronics with the King prior, as well as fine tube equipment, some of which are under review currently. The speakers performed at the show without strain and without harshness, which says to me that these components are well executed.

UNBEATABLE (no picture)

If I were to spend $2,100 at the show on a preamp and monoblock amps, C.C. Poon of Monarchy Audio might have walked away with my money. However, I would have obtained what is arguably the best value of the show – an NM24 Tube DAC and Tube Line Preamp (MSRP $1590, show price $980) and a pair of SE100 Mono Block Amps (MSRP $1179 each, show price $1179 a pair)! That was quite a gift to savvy show shoppers. Along with them was demonstrated the overachiever Australian made monitors, deliverable anywhere in the continental USA for $2,365. The package was as big a bargain as I’ve seen at shows, and I mean bargain as in mind-melting performance in a small package.

NO SCREWING AROUND

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Richard Vandersteen was all business with a no-nonsense sound. Only recently has Vandersteen offered a mega-buck statement speaker in the Model 7. Paired with Ayre electronics the sound was sublime. I found the Model 7 to be tactile, precise without being edgy, and visceral in the bottom-end. The Balsa wood and carbon fiber cones seem to be doing the trick, resulting in another standout sound. There has been much ballyhoo about the price of the Model 7, however, in comparison to other extreme speakers its price-to-performance ratio is not otherworldly.

GAGA FOR GAYA

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I was not expecting the Vivid Gaya speaker to be overwhelming. I had heard plenty of audacious, sizable speakers. When I first breezed past the room on Friday I did not stop to investigate. However, when I returned on Saturday for a serious demo things were quite different. If one were to look up the definition of “expansive” in the audiophile’s dictionary one might see a picture of the Vivid/Luxman/Synergistic Research room. After all, the system had better sound phenomenal with $90k of Synergistic Research cables alone!

And it did – the sound was phenomenal, with cavernously huge soundstage. In fact it was a bit wide for my taste; I would have put the speakers about three feet closer together and toed them in incrementally. However, accepting the layout, the metal domed, warped teardrop shaped speakers were so accommodating to the ear as to be mesmerizing. The Luxman electronics were formidable, powerful and smooth. I returned to this room at the end of the show and spent a final 45 minutes bathed in the grandeur.

ONE-MANUFACTURER SYSTEM TO RULE THEM ALL

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Creating a truly fantastic one-brand system is not an impossible feat, merely a next-to-impossible feat. However, one company has done just that, MBL. I have never heard the MBL speakers sound poor, but neither heard them sound quite as well suited to the room as the system this year at RMAF. The new 111F speakers were serene as presented by the 1621A Transport, 1611F DAC, Reference 6010D Preamp and 9008 Amps in mono configuration. The system would have enough power to fill a small stadium (Ok, that’s a gross generalization, but the rig was portentous.), but was nimble and intimate in all the right ways to seduce my ears. If I had to select one brand to go head to head with all systems regardless of name plate it would be this system. A vibrant window-to-the-soul sound which illuminated the performer’s most subtle excitements – it was there in spades. I regretfully tore myself from the seat as I needed to explore more of the show, but wished to have stayed longer.

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