RMAF 2015 page 2
NJ-based distributor Bill Parish of GTT Audio (above) has been on a pretty amazing trend of late. Over the past two years Parish has actually been lowering the price of admission into the world of audio nirvana. His carefully chosen hi-end audio products have gone down in price but performance-wise somehow improved. For example, a few years ago, this very room would have been filled with a quarter million dollar stack of Soulution electronics. Instead, this year's feature was the German-made Audionet reference MAP mono amps that retail for a shocking $30k per pair. The Audionet G2 preamp and phono preamp retail for $23k and $20k respectively. That fabulous sounding double-stacked Kronos table retails for a mere $28k (without arm and cartridge), yet word on the street is the Kronos will outperform 'tables costing two and three times its asking price. The YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2s, at $73k proved to be the most expensive product in the room - and considering the performance of this aluminum-built 3-way floorstander, and what the competition is asking - that's a very respectable price. Believe it or not, Parish promises you can get better performance at a fraction of the price. This is not to imply that myself or Parish believes that the far less expensive Audionet is superior to the Soulution Swiss monsters. What I heard, after some serious listening sessions at Parish's GTT home using that same Kronos analog rig, is a preferred, more colorful and organic performance (see my GTT visit here). All I'll say is, via a slew of Audionet electronics strapped to the YG Acoustics Sonja loudspeakers using all Kubala-Sosna Elation cabling, it's very hard to justify spending more. In fact, of the many times I've visited Parish at GTT, the times best remembered were when Audionet gear was chosen. End of story.
GTT Audio also serves as the USA distributor for self-powered (Class-D) Kii DSP loudspeaker system ($13,900). Designed by Ncore inventor Bruno Putzeys each enclosure houses 12 independently powered drivers (using 250 watt Ncore amps) and a dozen A/D-D/A converters. I was surprised at how large, realistic and uninhibited this system performed. It never seemed to overload or thin out as the music became more intense and complicated. This wasn't my first time hearing the Kii as I heard it this past spring at the Munich High End show. And it was just as impressive sounding there. Lots to like with this loudspeaker system especially when considering a small space. Bravo!
Spent a good amount of time listening to the curvaveous and sexy JBL model 67000 Everests horn loudspeakers ($80k). And they do sound quite impressive: dynamic, yet inviting and intimate when the source calls for it. Great bass contol and a sweet top end despite being driven by Mark Levinson solid-state gear.
Highwater Sound's Jeff Catalano is the sole USA import of the German-made Cessaro Horn Acoustic loudspeakers - among the other exotic brands (like TW Acustic and Tron-Electric) he also imports. However, the Cessaro Wagner, at $65k is perhaps the least expensive loudspeaker I have seen thus far. Surprisingly, the sound is not impacted in the least. Maybe, just maybe, the SPL meter isn't swinging as wildly or you don't quite feel that same sense of low-end growl as you do when using the more expensive Cessaro models. But the musicality remains intact compliments of the electronics which included the aforementioned and gorgeous TW Acustic 'table ($40k and 2 tonearms), RPS 100 phonostage ($17k) and 300B SE mono amps ($18k). A Tron-Electric Syren preamp ($55k) completed this system and provide the type of listening experience I've grown accustomed to hearing from Highwater Sound. Unfortunately, I was the only one covering this show and as usual, I could not stay as long as I would have wanted. Thank You for another great sounding setup Mr. Catalano.
High-end Electronic's Alfred Kainz had another excellent sounding high-end rig this year. Sweet and delicate with full and quick-footed bass had me captivated for nearly an hour. Ultimately, I spent more time than I wanted in this suite compliments of some pretty impressive components that included the Voxativ 9.87 speaker system ($35k), replete with the AC-4d wideband driver and bass extender (not subwoofer!) and powered by the Voxativ 845 mono amp ($17k) and PA-01 tubed pre/phonostage ($9,900). Analogue source was DPS-2 turntable ($4,400) using the classy ViV Lab Rigid Float arm ($6,400) using a Shun Mook Reference 2 cartridge ($6,000). Digital play came by way of the marvelous sounding TotalDAC D1 Music Server ($5k) and D1 tube DAC ($10k). I was quite intrigued by the Pranawire Linebacker SE AC conditioner ($3000) and High Fidelity CT-1 AC cables. Voxativ interconnects and speaker cables were used throughout ($1,500 and $2,000 respectively).
Robert Kelly who serves as director of German Physiks loudspeakers really knows how to make the model Carbon Mk IV ($31,500) disappear right in front of you. There was also lots of buzz surroundng the new (PCM, Quad-DSD and DXD format capable) Merging Technologies NA-DAC ($10k) fueled by an Ayre CX-7eMP player ($4k) used as a transport. Kelly tuned up some very nice sounding hi-rez files that had Moreno Mitchell scratching his head at the ability this system to simply vanish right before your eyes compliments of Ayre electronics that included the KXR-Twenty pre ($27,500), MX-R amps ($29,500). Equipment racks hardly get the recognition they deserve but Moreno and I noticed the very attractive Audio Points' Sistrum Isolation Rack and Platforms almost immediately. Our own Norm Luttbeg wrote quite nice things on his experience with these very products (here).
Can't tell you how nice it was running into Albert Von Shweikert's son Damon operating this lovely suite that featured a glossy silver pair of VR55 Aktiv loudspeakers ($60k) driven by a stack of Constellation Audio electronics and Your Final System (YFS) Music Server ($13,500). I was unaware that Von Schweikert designed their own cables too but the sound had lots of sparkle and dynamic impact. I was reminded while looking at Damon how much I enjoyed my time with Von Schweikert loudspeakers over the years. They still have lots to offer for the money.
Noticed a beautifual pair of TIDAL Piano Ceras ($24k) being driven by pair of Bricasti M28 mono amplifiers ($30k) with surprisingly wonderful results. Not to say that a $30k amp shouldn't sound wonderful, but it's the what kind of wonderful that worries me. This wasn't that ultra-clean presentation that leaves you staring into space waiting for the harmonics to follow. No, this was ultra-clean yet left me with that warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach. The kind of musical experience that makes this hobby worth its weight in gold.
David Cope, who serves as the man behind Audio Note (UK), put on a very special demonstration at this year's RMAF. First, he introduced Vincent Belanger, a famed cellist and his 200-year old cello. Upon first listen, I thought, oh boy what did David get himself into trying to reproduce a real instrument? As wonderful as Vincent Belanger's solo performance sounded, the recorded version didn't lag too far behind. No, it didn't have the same resonant character and I personally do not know a system that does. But it was damn close. So close, in fact, that it surprised me. What was even more alarming were the electronics as they were among the most affordable of the Audio Note (UK) brand. They featured $3300 pair of Audio Note (UK) loudspeakers powered by a mere $10k SE amplifier sourced by an AN CD3 MkII transport/DAC3 MkII combo that retailed for about $20k combined!
I thought this was the same Audio Note rig that took my breath away some years back that boasted the AN Signature DAC5/Transport combo that had a total retail asking price above $150k. I'm not certain of the price of the rest of the electronics but you can bet the amplifiers were in the same price range while the loudspeaker were about $75k. I will never forget the sound that system recreated using my most favorite jazz sampler disc. The overall quality forever changed my impressions of what one can expect if they allow themselves to listen first and not be too judgemental (which I had been because I too could not wrap my head around the price of this normal looking gear). Mr. Cope allowed me the pleasure of returning time and time again during that weekend to further examine what my heart had been longing for.
If you noticed that isn't the back of my head above but that of Stereo Times' contributor Moreno Mitchell. I couldn't have been more pleased than to introduce Moreno to Audio Note (UK). I have long considered them to be among the best of the best in term of sound quality (I also include Audio Note (Japan), Audio Consulting of Switzerland, FM Acoustics and Behold as well). Moreno was impressed despite the fact this was an affordable Audio Note (UK) system. Very impressed were his words.
Based on what I heard of late, there a lot to like in these self-powered loudspeakers. The latest Avantgarde Zero 1's ($18,500) provided a sense of beauty, openess and a total lack of horniness that had both Moreno and I smiling. Moreno and I use the Sunny horn loudspeaker as our long-time reference and felt proud to hear another member of the family produce this level of sonic magic. And for the asking price, it's really hard to beat. All I could say was WOW!
There's plenty to like about the Volti Audio Alura 3-way, hybrid-bass reflex, horn loudspeakers. At only $14k per pair they're quite imposing in size yet have the ability to sound as delicate as a subtle summer breeze. Highly efficient designs such as these (99dB efficient!) can produce unbridled dynamics and transient swings that can actually comes very close to life-like. What these loudpeakers can do for their asking price makes them among the most affordable and best sounding that I know of.
R2R Audio's EQ-biased, DSP-based, open-baffle, 15" single driver transducer and self-powered loudspeakers are quite impressive sounding although I had a hard time wrapping my head around how low they were to the floor. With a $20k retail asking price, they're not remotely affordable but do offer something very different both in terms of aesthetic look and sonic feel. They're very, very natural and due to their open baffle design, sound totally devoid of any cabinet colorations.
The Vinni Rossi/Harbeth suite had some sweet surprises! First thing I noticed were these rather large Harbeth loudspeakers of England. I was told this model (40.2) was their latest and boasted a retail price of only $15k. I say "only" not because $15k isn't a lot of money, but because of Harbeth's storied past and its reference caliber pedigree of performance. Also, when you see a 3-way of this size and build quality it's usually going to cost twice, if not three-times its asking price. Therefore I consider the Harbeth 40.2 a steal.
The other surprise was Vinnie Rossi's latest complementary addition to his LIO do-it-all DAC/phonostage/preamplifier called the VR120 stereo amplifier. This capacitor-laden 120-watter boasts a Class A JFET input stage and MOSFET (Class A/B) output stage and can be bridged into mono and offer 250-watts. There's plenty to like in this compact do-it-all type product Rossi has created and it appears to be well received as well. Unfortunately, this room was busier, and thus noisier than usual and as a result I only got to listen just enough to give it the nod of approval.
What a pleasant surprise it was to run into Yoshi Segoshi of Sakura Systems at this year's show! Haven't seen nor heard his products in a very, very long time and am glad to know things are going well for this very unique brand of high-end audio componentry. Their Flatfish mk III CD player ($5k) and Gemini DAC ($4500) provided legendary performance back in the mid to late '90s. However the Flatfish was not the star of the show this weekend. Segoshi showcased a few new products at this year's RMAF that included the Sakura Systems Kaname preamp ($12k), Fudou power amplifier ($10k) and En-Kuu speaker system ($15k). Segoshi also delighted me with his 47 Labs Koma turntable ($14,500) and Tsurbe 'arm ($2,250) which also featured his Fuuga MC phono cartridge ($8950) and Phono Cube phono equalizer ($2,750). All cabling was also by way of 47 Labs OTA cables. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time in this room too enjoying the natural ease and wonderful space that was created in this small hotel room and by small loudspeakers. No question, there's something to like about the Kaneme and Fudou driving the En-Kuu loudspeakers with an almost electrostatic-type speed and life-like openness.
Considering how much one can spend on a system in this hobby, it is an absolute relief to hear this level of sonic excellence at this price range. It was also interesting to see how there was not a single product that did not bare the name Sakura Systems or 47 Labs. All I can say is there was a sonic synergy that impressed me to no end. Welcome back Segoshi-San!