Sunday, 8 September 2019

RMAF 2019 Day 2...

Alright guys and gals, let's continue with the sights and sonic impressions from Day 2 of RMAF 2019!

Here's a picture of Colorado Ballroom C where the seminars are presented. Bob Hodas was presenting on room acoustics this afternoon and I suspect this is one of the best attended sessions:


I was able to catch most of the presentation. There were a few useful tidbits I suppose, and I imagine it will be up on YouTube for all to see at some point. Hope he would have been a bit more concrete with the equipment he uses and provided more basic discussion on what he's looking for from the measurements he does.

As I noted yesterday, there's both a convention centre portion to RMAF and the multi-level hotel rooms. Yesterday, I had gone up to Floor 4, and today, I decided to start from the top - Floor 11 and work down.

Floor 11:


EMM Labs and Focal Room:


Big EMM Labs MTRX2 (1kW into 4Ω monoblocks) on floor and we have Focal Scala V2 speakers ($57k).


As usual, EMM Labs is known for the DSD DACs they make. On the "stack" we see the NS1 network streamer (up to 192kHz PCM, DSD64), DV2 converter, and PRE stereo preamp.

I heard Roy Orbison's "I Drove All Night" and Billie Eilish's "bury a friend". I wrote some notes that the sound was "pleasant", but a bit unfocused compared to the best I've heard (ie. soundstage placement and the vocals seemed a little diffuse). Of course these kinds of anomalies could be a result of the room.

Tekton, Parasound room:


Those are the Tekton Moabs ($4500). The amplifier is the Parasound Halo JC5 ($6k) 400W x 2 into 8Ω along with a number of other stuff in the back :-).

I gotta say, this sounded good especially considering the price compared to much of the other gear around here! Songs played included Michelle Shocked's "Quality of Mercy", Nils Lofgren's staple "Keith Don't Go", Spies' "Interlude", and The National's "Fake Empire" (a nice clean vinyl from one of the attendees that sounded quite nice).

Headamp Audio:


There was an area with a few headphone stations set up on this floor. Had a listen to these Stax SR-009S ($4k) and MrSpeakers Voce ($3k) headphones powered by the Blue Hawaii (in green) ($6k) amp. Had a listen to some Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack and Beck's Sea Change. No question, the Stax was cleaner, "faster", capable of more delicate nuances although I was told that perhaps the MrSpeakers could reach lower.

Wilson Audio:

Whether one likes Wilson speakers or not, I think we have to admit that they do have a good "story". Dave Wilson is well known among audiophiles for decades. His wife (Sheryl Lee) is a really nice lady when we chatted this morning. His son Daryl has taken over with the designs, speaks, and presents very well. They gave out the nicest looking 135+ page full color product book I've seen! Wilson also has Peter McGrath making the rounds with his own recordings that are dynamic and can show off the speakers well (and which other speaker companies cannot use to demo).

A few pix from this morning showing the static new Chronosonic XVX ($330k/pr) (there's a sentimental story behind the XVX moniker about past, present, and future which I'm sure you'll hear explained at some point), and WAMM Master Chronosonic ($850k/pr).

While clearly "overbuilt", here are a few pictures...
New Chronosonic XVX.

Looks like trimming resistors to tune relative speaker sensitivities. 

Daryl Wilson, giving an interview.

The massive boy - WAMM Master Chronosonic. Too bad not playing music...
On actual display and playback are the Wilson Sasha DAW speakers powered by VTL amps and with a couple of Watch Dog 2 passive subs. Playback was through the dCS Vivaldi One DAC.


I didn't stay too long for the demo as I had already listened to these not long ago. As usual, Peter McGrath was playing his recordings, chatting about the origins of some of these tracks, etc... While not bad at all, IMO the DAWs are not the most revealing speakers. They seem to lean towards being a bit on the "polite" side :-).

Next up, we have the Sony room. They did not have any large speakers on display, rather it was all headphones:



The fancy DMP-Z1 "Signature" with its oh-so-fancy and smooth Alps gold knob, and chunk-of-aluminum construction! PCM to 384kHz playback and DSD256 capable. You control it on top like an Android phone's touch screen (which is basically what it is). I was listening with their flagship closed MDR-Z1R headphones. Quite good sound with the typical limitations of closed back headphones.


They had a few other stations using a Walkman device connected digitally to the TA-ZH1ES desktop headphone amp. As you can see, I've got The Nightfly cued up here. Headphones plugged into the balanced output and sounds good, lots of power to drive the 'phones loud.

Here's the rather unassuming Manger room:


Those are the Manger p1 speakers. Passive 2-ways, 4Ω, spec'ed as 89dB/W/m, and a manageable 62lbs. They were using a Dr. Feickert turntable and Koetsu cartridge, can't remember which amp driving the speakers.

Alas, as I mentioned yesterday, vinyl playback really doesn't help with trying to gauge fidelity. The Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall album they put on playing "Cotton Fields" was alright.

Wharfedale:

At the entrance, we see the "Heritage Series" Denton and Linton speakers powered by Primare electronics.


The Lintons were playing during my visit with Melody Gardot's "Who Will Comfort Me".

In the back room, they have on display and demo the new Evo 4.4, a 3-way with air motion transformer (AMT) tweeter.



For about $2k, I was actually quite impressed by the sound. The system was powered by the Primare I35 integrated and CD35 combination. Like most Wharfedales I've heard, it leans a little warm but clarity here is very good. A few songs played included Eva Cassidy's "Kathy's Song", Derrin Nauendorf's "Ghost Town", and Malia & Boris Blank's "Celestial Echo" (quite a common song in demos recently). The AMT has some limitation with vertical dispersion so important to get the seating at tweeter height correct.

Last room I visited on the 11th floor was the Auralic, Dali, Ayre room...



Those are the Dali Epicon 8 speakers. Some Auralic streamers, and of course Ayre DAC and amplifier. Demo tunes included the Ray Brown Trio's "Sweet Georgia Brown", Oscar Peterson Trio's "You Look Good To Me", and Aaron Neville's "Everybody Plays The Fool".

Floor 10:

ATC room:


Fronted by only the CDA2 Mk II for DAC duties, the active ATC SCM50SE ($65k/pair) is not unexpectedly the most neutral sounding speakers I have heard at least today. 3-way drivers, each with a Class AB amplifier dedicated - I believe the rep said 200W woofer, 100W mid, and 50W tweeter.

Pink Floyd's "Money", Legacy's "Three Chord Trick", Clapton & BB King's "Three O'Clock Blues" featured in the demo.

Falcon Acoustics, Balanced Audio Technology room:


Those are the Falcon Acoustics HP.80 floor standers. Tube amplifiers by BAT (possibly VK-76SE?).


Demo was through this Dr. Feickert Venti turntable playing Charles Mingus' "Better Get Hit In Yo' Soul". Probably the best vinyl reproduction I've heard this show. Pristine vinyl with little noise and crackles at least.

Aurender room:

A few open-chassis machines in this room only. Here's the new W20SE - $22k for a streamer/server - gads!


Looks like they're proud of their OCXO clock.


Here's something cool. You can hook the server to a CD changer by Acronova and have 100 CDs ripped one by one overnight automatically.


Anthem, Paradigm room:


Persona 7F speakers, Persona SUBs, driven by Anthem electronics of course. Digital room correction turned on I was told. Some nice music to listen to: Shelby Lynne's "Just A Little Lovin'", Vienna Teng's "1 Br/1 Ba", Vanessa Fernandez's "Ramble On", and Ramin Djawadi's "Nitro Heist".

Sounds very good. I think in a home situation, the bass could have been bumped up a bit more, and the guys were being a little too reserved with the system!

Raidho, Simaudio:


Those are the new Raidho TD2.2 floorstanders; 2.5-way speakers, they call it a "quasi-ribbon" tweeter. Simaudio electronics as you can see.

Arrrggg... Vinyl demo strikes again. They were playing the LP of Malia & Boris Blank's "Embraceable Moon" track (off Convergence). Seriously, folks, this is a newish 2014 recording, has a bunch of synth work, and I'm pretty sure has plenty of digital processing done to it. What are you doing demo'ing this music in vinyl, raising the noise level, adding crackles and pops to the sound?! Unbelievable!

The PranaFidelity room:


The designer of the system is certainly one of the most quirky, idiosyncratic individuals I've come across in hi-fi. This is the 108a system, retail price listed as ~$35k. 3-way active DSP enclosed speakers, and the info sheet says "630 total watts per speaker (8 Ohms)".

Anyhow, he seems to like playing effects-heavy, dramatic music like Inlak'esh's "Dwelling Place of the Radiant Mind" while I was there.

Floor 9:

HiFiGuide room:


Well, the guys from Z Reviews made it as they promised with some sponsorship and public funding. Yeah, a number of less expensive and still pretty good sounding speakers, headphones, amps are all here. Good number of visitors enjoying the music while I was there.

Of note, they were playing the Vanatoo T1E quite loudly and clearly there was some distortion at the peaks and transients. Nonetheless, still very impressive sound for the price and certainly in the world of hi-fi, it doesn't take too much to reach a point of significantly diminished returns. They were playing good ol' Jazz At The Pawnshop ("Here Is That Rainy Day").

Alta Audio, Krell, VPI:


These are the Alta Audio Alec speakers. 5 3/4" ribbons, 8 3/4" midrange and woofer. Being a VPI room, understandable they were playing vinyl - Bernard Herrmann's "Mysterious Island Suite", and again that Malia album! Hmmm...

Lu Kang, COS, MusiChi room...


Those are Lu Kang Spoey230 speakers from Taiwan. 2-way bookshelves, 8Ω rating, 86.5dB/W/m, suggested price US$5500 (? presumably per pair).

The two boxes stacked on the right are the MusiChi Server SRV-01 - the bottom box is the power supply, top box is the computer (low-power Intel, 8GB DDR4, only 100Mbps ethernet, UPnP, Spotify, Tial, Qobuz supported). I was told the OS is based off Windows Server stripped down; I didn't see the control GUI. Apparently femto USB reclocker incorporated into the power supply box.

DAC is the COS D2V - middle box. USB with various SPDIF inputs, both RCA and balanced output. Up to 24/384 and DSD128. I don't see on the datasheet any details as to what the internal DAC is based on.

The left box is a VAC Signature 200IQ tube amplifier.

How does this sound? It was decent with the Il Delirio Fantastico "Chamber Concerto in F Major, 99: I. Allegro" track. But the sound was unfortunately not right when playing vocals like on Daniel Castro's "I'll Play The Blues For You". It was unusually harsh, metallic even. Likewise, the same with female vocals - even Eva Cassidy's "Fields of Gold" sounded too sibilant even though the soundstage was wide and there was good depth to the sound. I think they need to double check on what's going on there!

Sonore, Bricasti, Vivid Audio:


That's the Vivid Audio Kaya 25 speaker. Bricasti M25 amplifier, M21 DAC, Sonore Signature Rendu SE. They were playing the Dave Holland Sextet's "Processional". I remember liking the tune but wasn't particularly surprised/impressed by the sound quality.

Vaughn, Wavelength, MJ Acoustics:


Vaughn Zinfandel speakers with plasma tweeter which you can see lit up when looking down the tweeter:


Low-power Wavelength tube amps. Low frequencies served by the MJ Acoustics Windsor Master Class sub sitting behind. Eva Cassidy's "Fields of Gold" is again playing, we also have Steely Dan's "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" and Dallas Wind Symphony's "Trittico: Allegro Maestoso" at one point.

The system sounded pleasant. Didn't seem dynamic enough IMO.

Andover:


Yikes, in this room is simply the "Model One Record Player". While this player can be expanded with a subwoofer module, it's a single box turntable based on a Pro-Ject and Ortofon OM2 cartridge. I guess they're after the space-constrained folks who simply collect vinyl.

Not hi-fi sounding.

Endow Audio:



Well this is different!

They call this the "Point Array Technology". Basically they're trying to emulate a hemispheric point source with tweeters pointing forwards and back, and I was told there's also a woofer behind the collection of drivers. Bass driver below. They're driven by a Hegel DAC/amp in the middle. And on either side of the Hegel are the crossovers.

To be honest, I don't know about how well the aesthetics is going to fit in with home decor! Maybe there's some kind of mesh grille. Maybe it'll be OK in the man cave :-). The sound does fill the room but I found it a bit too midrange accentuated.


Floor 8:

Magico, Synergistic, and other stuff...

Hey look! HFT! With sticky tack underneath?

Some kind of power conditioner?

Ted Denney doing his thing.


As you know, I'm no fan of Synergistic Research. Until today, I've only read about Mr. Ted Denney III and the demos at audio shows for Synergistic...

I can say I have witnessed the antics first hand now. There are these tiny HFT things that get taken on and off the poor Magico speakers. The white tower Atmosphere device is turned on and off to listen for differences. Synergistic cable risers are put on and off with the HFT things stuck on. The whole demo is being done with music from the turntable with the tonearm lifted up and down (not even playing the same segment of the music). We have some Diana Krall "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You", and Sinatra "Thanks For The Memory".

Seriously, if I were Magico or any of the other reasonable brands, and I cosponsored this room, I'd be embarrassed. At one point, someone asked "what is the basis of this?" and Denney just kept doing his thing and played the music without answering... The fact that magazines like Stereophile and TAS even gives this company any coverage all these years is ludicrous!

I honestly think the Magico M2 sounded great and the rest of the gear is fine. Too bad the reel-to-reel wasn't playing.

Benchmark, MartinLogan:


Very nice combination of MartinLogan Motion 35XTi bookshelves, paired with their Dynamo subs. The subs can be controlled remotely through a phone app and allows easy control of levels, phase, crossover settings from the comfort of your listening position. There's also Anthem's ARC room correction available.

No surprise, very clean sound from the Benchmark DAC3 B, LA4 preamp, and AHB2 amplifier. Excellent playback of Mark Knopfler & James Taylor's "Sailing to Philadephia" with great soundstage and stability of the duet vocals.

Vandersteen:



Richard Vandersteen has been around awhile and has many opinions :-). He talks speakers, time/phase coherence, discusses (and dislikes) feedback in amps, etc. Entertaining and educational.

In the room, we have the Vandersteen Kento Carbon ($37.5k/pair), the M5-HPA monoblocks (zero feedback, $15.8k/pair). VTL preamp and phono stage. Aurender A30 streamer, AMG Vlella turntable, Lyra Atlas cartridge.

Sadly, crackly vinyl of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tinpan Alley" and a classical album used for the demos. Nonetheless, the speakers still sound good, deep soundstage.

Floor 7:


The Music Room:

For vintage lovers...



These guys are a local pre-owned audio dealer. They brought some interesting gear here to listen to including 1962 McIntosh MC60 amps, some new Harbeth 40.2 speakers, and this Line Magnetic 129A preamp (based on Western Electric design apparently).

Good sounding playback of modern music (Dido "Give You Up" and Nils Frahm "Says" from Spaces). Goes to show how really in many ways, maybe there hasn't been that much change in sound quality of many components over the years.

Boulder, Vienna Acoustics:


This room is all about POWER. Vienna Acoustics Liszt speakers (~$19k), 6 REL S/812 subs (~$3k each), assortment of Boulder 2120 DAC, preamp, 1160 amp. No nonsense power with Massive Attack's "Angel" (from Mezzanine). Yet enough subtlety with a classical piece - Herbert Von Karajan "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C Sharp Minor" during the quiet parts.

Impressive.

Musica Cordis (MC) Audiotech, Pass Labs:


Another interesting speaker system. Those are called the Forty-10 speakers; proprietary drivers they call the curved "spaced array" (dipole) for treble and the "folded cube" for the bass. Efficiency in the 90's dB/W/m. They're driving them with some Pass Labs amplifiers, playing Cecile McLorin Salvant's "St. Louis Gal" then Mark Knopfler's "All That Matters".

The look is certainly unique and the sound was good for what I heard with pleasant and full frequency extension. They also were not placed too far from side walls and seemed to perform well.

PrimaLuna, Pathos, Sbooster:

Static display for guys who like to peek in to stuff like amps to see point-to-point wiring and such...




Finally on the 7th floor, we have the "entry level" lower priced rooms:

US$1000 (and below):

A DIY build based on a kit on Parts Express apparently. Not sure if the full cabinet is provided like that or if there was a bit more work that went into it. Active monitors, 60W claimed power.

There's a little tube preamp the speakers were attached to. Looks like it was playing off a smartphone. Not the best sound of show and OK for casual living room listening :-).

US$2500 (and below):

Kento bookshelves with Bluetooth (aptX HD supported), asking price $800 + $140 stand. AMT tweeter, aluminum woofer. Built-in 130W Class D amp they claim. Phono input, USB in as well. They were playing some vinyl - Lettuce's "Sivad". Sounded alright and a reasonable upgrade in sound from the $1000 room.

There's also an AudioTechnica AT-LP2 (~$800) turntable and Meze 99 Classics headphones (~$300).

US$5000 (and below):


Klipsch RP-600M with single subwoofer - 10" front firing with side passive radiators; didn't catch the name but maybe something in their C Series.

At this price point, it's certainly very good sound already. They were playing Beyoncé's "Pray You Catch Me" which shows off the bass capabilities nicely though not the lowest or tightest bass I've heard.

Finally, there was the Klipsch room:



The large Cornwalls (102dB/W/m, titanium tweeter and mid compression drivers, some kind of 15" fibre composite woofer) playing The Decemberists' "Won't Want For Love", and Agnes Obel's "The Curse" powered off the Cary Audio tube SLI-80 integrated amp (40W Class A per channel or 80W Class AB, presumably into 4Ω).

Pretty good sound but being not familiar with either songs, I did wonder if they sounded a little too laid back to my taste (!).


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There you go folks. Pretty well all of what I saw and heard on Day 2, the busiest day of the show probably, and only a couple more floors to go! Closed off the evening with a beautiful steak washed down with some red wine for dinner to replenish calories :-).

Hmmm... Not sure what this is about, interesting though!

15 comments:

  1. Terrific, thanks again.

    I think these have been among the best (and my favorite) show reports on RMAF!
    Great photos, some good details, and rational assessment of the wares.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Vaal,
      One thing that's clear these last few days is that the organizers and Industry has gone through a lot of trouble to put shows like this on with significant expense. As much as I might have some issues with certain companies, the majority I believe are decent folks and doing things in good faith.

      While walking through the rooms, I'm struck by how sparse most show reports actually are on-line. So many rooms seem to be missed. As such, I thought it'd be best to keep notes on what I found interesting, general impressions on the sound, and of course since this is about the music, keep tabs on some good tunes to share and have a listen to when I get home to compare with my own system...

      Whether I liked a room or not, I tried to keep an open mind walking in even if components are clearly much more "budget" priced than typical.

      BTW, I did go back to the Joseph Audio room today before the end of the show. Digital playback, baby :-). I'll talk more about it in my Day 3 report.

      Delete
  2. Wow Arch, another whirlwind mega report! Great pics and comments man.

    I wanted to thank you and Vaal for the response to why vinyl in Part 1. Understood and agreed. Back in the day, I was a vinyl tweak head with those SME tonearms, playing with oil viscosity for dampening and a protractor, moving coil carts with a pre preamp – hangs head in shame.

    I still have a vinyl collection, with some collectables and direct to disc recordings, Telarc and such, plus some newer really nicely mastered and cut pressings from Analogue Productions.

    However, at a high end audio show, showing off tens of thousands dollar systems, one would think you would find the best source possible to show off your wares. No? As a consumer, to me that would be a real treat to visit an audio show where you are going to hear mega dollar systems with the best source possible. Cool!

    But putting on SRV, Tin Pan Alley (love that tune!), with a very wide dynamic range (DR 17) from a scratchy vinyl source with limited resolution on a $50K USD system sounds “tone deaf” to me.

    Did you get to hear Andrew Jones ELAC room? Just curious as I hear he has good sound for reasonable dollars.

    Some interesting speaker designs for sure. Which speakers sounded best at the show overall? Don’t know what to make of that tanker on stilts lol!

    Safe travels,
    Mitch

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    Replies
    1. Hey Mitch,
      Best I could figure out, the tanker on stilts must be to provide fuel to something "out there" :-).

      Yes, I got to visit ELAC this afternoon and got to hear Andrew Jones talk about it, showing off his recent small speaker the Debut Reference DBR62. It does sound very good for such a small unit even without sub going!

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  3. What a great report. Puts the “official” industry sites to shame.

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  4. I was surprised by Archimago's thumbs up for the sound of the McIntosh speakers in the previous show report.

    I've encountered, and demoed, McIntosh speakers over the years - the ones with the many midrange drives - and they have stood out as among the worst "high end" speakers I've ever heard. A wall of sound, but uttterly synthetic, grayish and devoid of anything like natural sounding timbre. As if they'd used nothing but cheap boss drivers. I always walked away wondering how a good engineering company could make something that bad, and I've seen the same sentiments expressed even from McIntosh amp fans. But, hey, this is just subjectivity talking. Never seen measurements for them.

    It would have been fascinating to actually hear a good version of this design, if it exists.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Vaal,
      My suspicion is that this is highly room dependent. I've heard McIntosh's multidriver speakers in the standard showroom settings and didn't think much of them beyond being average.

      This time at RMAF, the room was many times larger than the usual hotel rooms, plus they had DSP correction running (I think the only company in the conference section doing this). Unlike the usual 5-10' listening distance from them in cramped shows, one is more like 20-30' away with plenty of space laterally. Seated at or near the center of the room, the speakers really filled the space!

      Delete
  5. I heard these Mac speakers at RMAF as well and came away impressed. I did not realize that the room correction system was active though so that is interesting. I do understand that the engineering team at Sonus faber worked on these particular loudspeakers so that might have something to do with the sound as well. Nice coverage Arch!

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    Replies
    1. A pleasure Carlo.

      Didn't know that Sonus Faber had a hand in these speakers! I see that McIntosh Group includes the family of companies including McIntosh, Sonus, Audio Research, Wadia... Good to know!

      Delete
  6. If anybody would like to read “proof” of the fantastic sonic improvements afforded by the use of Synergistic Research dodads and doohickeys, check out the story on Part-Time Audiophile. Proof is in the pudding.

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    Replies
    1. OMG, what an article on PTA!

      I did see Lee Scoggins at RMAF walking about after Rt66indierock on Audiophile Style pointed him out. I don't know who this "Eric Franklin Shook(TM)" is writing this article.

      Anyhow, I feel like I'm living on a different planet from these guys...

      Well, at least I learned now that these Synergistic cable risers he was taking cables on and off from are new products launched at RMAF 2019. How lucky of me to have experienced them so early on :-).

      Delete
    2. You mean you don't live on Planet Credulity where Everything-Anyone-Can-Dream Up-Makes-A-Difference-If-You-Are-An-Open-Minded-Person?

      You are missing all the fun (and expense). :-)

      It's amazing watching pure subjectivism in action. There are threads on some audio forums where some of that company's products have been taken apart and examined (with photos). The engineers doing this describe what they find almost in terms of an April Fool's joke.

      And yet in the same thread, some folks will reply "I don't care, it makes an obvious difference in MY system, and you have no right to say otherwise unless YOU have heard it yourself!"

      It's an almost solipsistic-level appeal to one's own experience as ultimate.



      Delete
    3. One dip a year into the sea of woo that is Synergistic Research is as much as I can take. It's been more than 20 years, and they still get people to buy this crap?

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  7. Yeah you live on Planet Reality while they live on Planet Make Believe where pigs fly, unicorns frolic and $700 worth of cable lifters lead to sound that borders on the “surreal and heavenly”.

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  8. Rumor has it the quirky PranaFidelity guy drives a Saab.
    That might help explain something about his idiosyncratic character.

    ReplyDelete