As it has been said, Day 3 of audio shows tend to be a quieter day. It was no exception this year at RMAF. The picture above is from the "Headspace" ballroom down one of the lines of booths where headphone-related vendors display products and demo for the visitors. This picture was taken around 10:30 in the morning shortly after opening at 10:00. While number ebbed and flowed through the day, it wasn't difficult to find plenty of headphones to try and devices to play with as I wandered in and out through the day.
Since I did indeed start my day in the "Headspace" exhibits, let's start there and listen to a few interesting products...
As you can see, Mytek was here with a range of products including the Brooklyn Bridge for users to try out. Basically this is a Brooklyn DAC+ with the addition of streaming capability including Roon, Tidal and Qobuz capabilities.
The large gray box on the left is their Manhattan DAC II which features the ES9038Pro DAC chip for conversion duties. We then see both black and silver Bridge boxes in the center. I can't remember which model, but they were using some Sennheiser headphones for the demo. As you can imagine, the Mytek DACs have always been good sounding devices so nothing unexpected when I listened.
Qobuz has been a big supporter for RMAF this year. Many rooms (can't say if most rooms or not) featured devices streaming off Qobuz or Tidal. Certainly one of the nice things about streaming music these days is that one can make requests and just type in the song you'd like to hear without needing to bring a CD, memory stick, or LP.
As you can see below, the Qobuz stall featured a dCS Bartók with balanced headphone output (~$15k). I listened with a pair of MrSpeakers Ether 2's. I purposely listened to some 24/192 tracks and noted that there were no buffering issues even through what I imagine would be a very busy hotel ethernet system of limited effective bandwidth.
As you can see below, a few other systems you could listen to at the Qobuz stall included Grado headphones with Manley tube amp and Mytek Brooklyn Bridge with Focal headphones. I chatted with managing director Dan Mackta and was told that they're still working on Qobuz coming to Canada with no ETA (still negotiating distribution rights).
Benchmark products with speakers were demonstrated upstairs as described in my Day 2 post, but they also had some presence among the headphone section. Here's a clear-top picture of the HPA4 reference preamp and headphone amp (~$3k). I didn't get a chance to sit and listen unfortunately.
I chatted with Dana Robbins of Dana Cable to listen to his cable comparison between his design (left) and the stock cable (right) that comes with the two HiFiMan HE1000 V2 (~$2.7k) headphones.
Subjectively, I thought his cable did indeed sound better than the stock assuming the sound of the headphones are otherwise identical. A bit fuller, more precise, and better sense of depth. Not earth-shattering differences of course; more subtle and for the perfectionist audiophile. The idea here is that lower resistance cables (than stock) would improve dampening factor and this could have an effect depending on one's system. The HiFiMan headphones have an impedance rated as 35Ω and the amplifier unit appears to be some kind of custom design and output impedance would be important to know (I think it's the DanaTone Head-Space). In any event, looking online, these are >$500 headphone cables so it would be certainly important to listen and do your own cost-benefit calculations!
Here's a picture of part of the Fostex table. On the right in brown (light African mahogany apparently) are the newer T60RP ($350) and you also see the T50RP Mk3 (~$180) semi-open planar magnetic to the left. I had a good listen to the T60RP and being a planar magnetic, noticed the relative lack of deep bass "punch". Otherwise, it did sound very clean, but be careful with "bright" sounding music as I can imagine some harshness / fatigue.
There's the Astell & Kern booth with a number of different models on the white table to try. Honestly, I have not been keeping track of these DAP machines since I have to carry a smartphone around all day which is a fine music player already. I must say that the workmanship is excellent. The devices feel substantial (so long as you don't mind carrying the chunk of metal around!), and display screens look nice.
|Headphones galore to touch, feel, and even listen to...|
Listened to some old Dave Brubeck's Time Out. Yeah, very nice. Good amount of output, great dynamics, lovely nuances. I saw that they had other Chord models to listen to like the Hugo 2 at the show, but did not have time.
I figured that was enough head-fi for me. Let's head back to the hotel side and check out the last 2 floors I have not reported on yet!
On Day 2, I started at level 11 and then down to level 7, so let's start with 6 today with the first room being Q Acoustics and Cambridge Audio.
They had 2 systems set-up for a listen - here's the larger one:
The speaker is the Q Acoustics Concept 500 ~$6k/pair; 2-way tweeter with mid/bass driver crossed over at 2.5kHz, 4th order. 6Ω nominal impedance, 90dB/W/m sensitivity. Looks well made and solid with knuckles to the side.
As you can see, it's driven by Cambridge electronics, particularly the CXA81 integrated stereo amp on the top of the stack - 80Wpc into 8Ω, Class AB, balanced input, aptX HD capable, USB input up to 384kHz and DSD256 for $1299. DAC inside is the ES9016K2M.
The music playing was The Whiteliner's "Yeahhh"... I think this is an example of how important musical choice is to make a first impression. I wasn't particularly impressed by the sound and moved on.
Just outside that larger system's room we have this:
Again, Q Concept speakers, this one called the Concept 300 ($4500). Alas, lots of chatter in the room at the time so unable to have a good listen. I believe that's the smaller Cambridge CXA60 integrated amp (60Wpc into 8Ω, 90W into 4Ω).
Next we have the AudioQuest, Bowers & Wilkins, Classé room:
The smaller B&W 804 D3's were playing at the time (larger ones are the Focal Spectral 40th's). Amp here in the room is the Classé Sigma 2200i on sale for ~$2k. Lou Donaldson's "One Cylinder" was being streamed. It sounded very good sitting front and centre with nice dynamics and excellent soundstage.
AudioQuest had some literature out for their Dragonflies (including the Cobalt).
Here's something "fun" - vinyl cleaning with Kirmuss Audio:
Interesting hearing Charles Kirmuss chat about the procedure he uses; such things like only use 70% isopropyl alcohol (not 90% or 99%) for one of the steps... Entertaining stuff and fun watching the ultrasonic cleaner do its thing.
During the demo, he referred to Abbey Road Studios using his technique or something to that effect... Then he says something about maybe winning an Academy Award (Sci-Tech?) for his technique... I can't say I've been around any actual scientists in white lab coats talk like this or are so boldly self-promoting. Seemed very odd to me, but hey, if the cleaning works...
Next door, time for some Hegel:
The Hegel H390 amplifier (2 x 250W into 8Ω, dual mono) playing to the 2-way Sonus Faber Electa Amator III speakers (4Ω impedance, 88dB/2.83V/m, 21lb each). At the bottom of the electronics rack is the back of a Hegel C5 unit with 3 amplifier modules. The bottom picture is what each of the amp modules looks like with their own power supply; each module 150W into 8Ω and up to 600W down at 2Ω.
Music played includes Nils Lofgren's "Keith Don't Go", and again, Malia's "Celestial Echo" (by now, I think I need to take a break from this song :-). Sound was very impressive for the small speakers.
Next was a real treat - Bowers & Wilkins Formation:
These are the new wireless B&W Formation Duo speakers (I was told $4k/pair). They're self-powered, communicates over WiFi, able to "mesh" with other Formation devices wirelessly including these (also Bluetooth 4.1 capable with aptX HD, AAC, SBC codecs):
There are "WEDGE" devices to the right as standalone speakers. There's the "BASS" subwoofer module (250W Class D inside) to the left. I didn't take a picture of the wireless soundbar on another table.
Then there's this - the Formation Audio (~$700, patterned-top black box on the right):
This will communicate with the network and send analogue input wirelessly to the playback speakers. For example, the turntable was playing at one point, analogue output digitized to 24/96 and sent to the Formation Duo's in the other room without any hiccups.
I gotta say that the sound was compelling. They were playing Yello's "Kiss In Blue" and Bill Charlap's "Stardust". Very nice detail, crisp, good bass extension and the LP playback was reasonable sounding also.
I think this poses as very powerful alternative to something like the Devialet Phantom. IMO, they look better and will certainly integrate nicer into most home decor. Assuming the software is stable and network communications perform without issues, I think we are looking at the path forward for many homes. I asked about latency and was told that it's low and should not result in noticeable audio sync issues with video playback.
Like the Formation above, this is another device meant to be seen in one's living space rather than hidden in any man-cave. The NAD M10 is an integrated BluOS streaming amplifier that is AirPlay 2, aptX HD, Roon capable. The screen looks great and cover art easily visible from a typical 8-10 feet seated distance. Capable of Dirac Live DSP. They're using Class D Hypex nCore amps inside, rated at ~100W into 8/4Ω.
In the room, they were paired with Dali Rubicon 8 speakers - 4Ω nominal, 90.5dB/2.83V/m, a reasonable 60lbs each, ~$8k/pair. Very nice sounding package; as you can see, it's playing Agnes Obel's "Riverside".
Pro-Ject, Sonus Faber:
The system is hooked up to the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova V ($16.5k).
The music was playing with their Stream Box S2 Ultra ($849, Roon, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, DLNA, probably 100Mbps ethernet, WiFi, standard Bluetooth, USB output to DAC), the little metal box above the LCD screened Pre Box RS2 Digital (dual mono ES9038Q2M DACs with balanced output). John Lee Hooker's "The Healer" was playing. Sounds excellent as one would expect with such speakers and good DACs.
To the left of the RS2 Digital is the CD Box RS2 T which is their CD transport:
They're building their own CD transport mechanisms now, so there's no need to buy from OEM's:
Oh yeah, on the lower racks, we see some Amp Box RS monos. These are Class D amps running Hypex UcD (?180LD) modules for ~120W into 8Ω, 180W into 4Ω. They can run balanced and notice that Pro-Ject is using a tube buffer input stage.
Here's a closer look at the CD transport, DAC, and streamer boxes:
Of course, this is Pro-Ject, so I really should show a few pictures of the analogue gear in the room:
|Phono preamp. Lots of options including RIAA and Decca EQ...|
|Top of the line RPM 10 Carbon.|
The venerable Japanese electronics company is back with their line of products including speakers, digital players, amps, and of course turntables.
When I entered the room, they were playing the larger floorstanding SB-G90 speakers (~$5k/pair) featuring coaxial tweeter/mid-range and dual 6.3" woofers. Music being streamed by the SL-G700 (also an SACD player) based on the AKM AK4497 DAC. Amplification duties performed by the SU-G700 integrated - 70W into 8Ω at 1kHz, 0.5% THD and double that to 140W into 4Ω at same distortion ($2.5k).
Very nice looking analogue meters.
The sound was quite good from this set but not particularly memorable. They were playing Charles Lloyd, The Marvels + Lucinda Williams' "Angel". Maybe it's the music...
Of course, we cannot forget the Technics turntables:
Simaudio Moon, Bowers & Wilkins:
I really liked the sound in this room. Punchy, dynamic, clean, full frequency response, excellent transients. Of course I would not expect less from the B&W flagship 800 D3 speakers (~$30k) and SimAudio gear!
They were playing the California Guitar Trio's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Sohn's "Veto". Simply excellent sound.
Mark Levinson, Revel:
Another very nice set of speakers, the Performa Be F226 ($7k). Hooked up to the Levinson No. 5805 integrated amp ($8.5k, 125W into 8Ω, 1st 3W Class A) and there's the No. 5101 SACD player & DAC.
On tap were Dominique Fils-Aimé's "Birds" and Clapton/BB King "Three O'Clock Blues". Great bass, soundstage was wide and well focused with the interplay between Clapton and King. Very enjoyable system.
Here's Andrew Jones presenting on the tiny ELAC Discovery DS-A101 (MSRP ~$750, I've seen it online lower). Roon ready, Spotify, Dolby Digital decoding (unique for hi-fi gear), WiFi. I don't see built in lossless streaming like Qobuz or Tidal. It can also do DSP room EQ (uses your cell phone to capture audio at the speaker then compared with the sitting position for adjustments). Said to be some kind of Class AB amp named "BASH Digital Fidelity Tracking Amplifier", offering 2 x 80W into 4Ω or 40W into 8Ω continuous.
The speakers are the Debut Reference DBR62 bookshelves (~$500/pair). Spec sheet says 87dB/W/m.
Songs played include Jamie Woon "Skin", Shirley Horn "The Man You Were", John Campbell "Down In The Hole". Those little bookshelves sounded bigger than they looked and were able to hit the bass frequencies quite well even without any subs turned on. As such, the price-to-value ratio seemed very impressive.
Wow. Lots of good stuff on the 6th floor! So down to 5th floor... The last level I had left to visit.
Front and centre, we see a couple of the new Classé Delta Mono amplifiers. 300W into 8Ω, 600W into 4Ω, and 1kW into 2Ω, weighing in at around 100lbs each. First 35W into 8Ω in Class A. Damping factor of 700 at 1kHz, 8Ω reference. Asking price $10k each. The specs sheet also shows a stereo version available at $13k.
Speakers are the Magico S5 Mk.II with an asking price of $47k/pair in the high gloss finish.
Notice what's on the right side:
Yup, playing some reel-to-reel Van Morrison Moondance on the Tascam.
What I heard I believe is an example of very good sounding reel-to-reel playback. The voice was warm and inviting, non-fatiguing, great soundstage, low noise floor (no audible hiss), and no annoying clicks and pops like with many LPs. Really nice.
They opened one of these Delta monoblocks to show off the guts:
These are the Polk Legend L800 speakers. Dual 15° angled 1" tweeter and 5.25" midrange to reduce interaural crosstalk. Two 10" woofers. $6k a pair.
Rack of Marantz gear feeding the speakers:
Notice how the chairs were arranged in the room:
Similar to the Sanders electrostatics on Day 1, the listeners were put into a row to experience the best stereo effect. Outside of the sweet spot the sound is still okay but nothing like being in the middle. A concern I have is what happens in a multichannel set-up? Hmmm, looks tricky!
Anyhow, the demo tracks used sound great in the 1st and 2nd chair up front especially :-).
The Turtle Creek Chorale "Requiem: Pie Jesu", Jacob Collier "Flintstones", and Yello "Fat Cry" were heard during my time there.
Mactone, Trenner & Friedl:
I've not heard of these brands before. We have the Mactone MH-120 amplifier with KT120 tubes ($11k, bottom rack). XX-7000 preamp (under the turntable, $17.8k). And XP-305 MM/MC phono preamp ($10k).
Speakers are the Trenner & Friedl Osiris at $8.5k/pair; titanium horn with 6.5" paper cone, 88.7dB/W/m published sensitivity, nominal 8Ω impedance.
Music playing through the Clearaudio Innovation Compact turntable and Tracer tonearm ($10k) with Hana ML cartridge ($1200). They had Tim Buckley's Blue Afternoon playing. Not bad for vinyl playback.
CH Precision, Rockport:
Speakers are Rockport Technologies Atria II ($26.5k). CH Precision I1 integrated amp with DAC and phono stage ($38k).
They were playing some Sphere Flight Path using a Commonwealth Electronics idler turntable ($19.5k) with Reed 3P tonearm ($5900), and Lyra Etna cartridge ($8900). Serious expense into reasonably good sounding vinyl playback.
We've seen the larger TUK speakers (leftmost on stands) in Day 2 at the $2500 room, they retail for $800. This time they had the full range of speakers on display including their smaller units and the subs. Red YU6 $400 (1" silk dome, 5.25" Kevlar mid/bass), "gloss teal" YU4 for $330 (1" silk dome, 4" Kevlar), both can stream aptX over Bluetooth. The demo involved switching the same song between speakers and one can hear the differences like lesser bass with the small speakers.
I don't remember the song used, they sounded alright for budget powered monitors and for those who want the convenience of Bluetooth to play stuff off smartphones in the living room for example.
This classic name was founded by Henry Kloss, and has since been resurrected in 2018. They're here at RMAF with the Kendall towers in black oak ($1300/pair) and Albany bookshelves in very nice American walnut veneer (~$500/pair). When I was in the room, the larger Kendalls were playing and powered by the Parasound HINT 6 Halo integrated (~$3000, 160W into 8Ω RMS both channels driven, 240W into 4Ω), analogue resistor ladder volume control, internal ES9018K2M DAC. USB input to 384kHz and DSD256.
Kendalls are their "flagship" 3-way speakers - 1" aluminum tweeter, single 5.25" Kevlar mid/bass, and 2 x 6.5" Kevlar bass. 96dB/W/m sensitivity, ported bass reflex, 8Ω nominal, 40" tall, and weighs in at a reasonable 50lbs.
Music playing at the time included London Grammar's "Hey Now" and Sinatra's "Fly Me To The Moon". While I was not blown away by the sound, I certainly enjoyed what the Kendall and Parasound combination did. Fantastic price for these floorstanders.
Vinnie Rossi, Qln:
Powering this system is the Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE "Signature Edition" integrated ($19k). They advertise it as a Class A preamp with Class AB MOSFET output stage capable of 100/175W into 8/4Ω. 64-step discrete resistor ladder for volume control. There is space inside the box to slot in DAC and phono preamps for those needing the functionality (another $3.5k for each). I believe the one on display here did include the DAC module with music streamed from the Innuos server.
Speakers are the Qln Prestige Three SE ($12k/pair) 2-ways from Sweden. 1" soft dome, 7" Kevlar mid/bass, a fair 87.5dB/W/m, 8Ω nominal.
For the room size, the system was loud and punchy for the music being played: "Habu Raminibu", an electro-mixed healing chant from the Huni Kuin people of the Amazon and a cute "showoff" music piece with all kinds of special effects by Yosi Horikawa called "Bubbles".
With that, I had basically finished the hotel showrooms at RMAF 2019. I don't think I missed any of the rooms in fact and I hope this presents to the reader a relatively complete impression of the manufacturers there and what they had on hand.
There were a couple of loose ends I wanted to finish off on Sunday afternoon as clearly the crowds were gone and the demos and reps appear a bit more "relaxed" :-).
As promised to Vaal, my last visit in the hotel side of RMAF was a return to the Joseph Audio, Doshi room:
|Joseph Audio Pearl3 + Doshi Monoblock V3.0.|
Even as I approached the show room, it was clear that they had switched to digital playback; the bass was significantly tighter, cleaner and deep with the Cassandra Wilson song "Dance To The Drummer Again" playing. With only a handful of people in the room including the rep, I was able to sit front and center for the audition. The Persuasions' "In The Ghetto" featured well recorded, layered, a cappella male vocals, Bob Dylan's "Man In The Long Black Coat" rendering the distinctive voice nicely, and Yello's "Planet Dada" is fun calisthenics for your sound system.
Yup, I can see now why the Joseph Audio speakers can be considered some of the "best of show". Very impressed and just goes to show the importance of the source. Unless truly using top class, clean LP and playback gear, vinyl playback might be essential when trying to show off a turntable / cartridge / phono preamp. However, for a system like this, IMO, vinyl playback the other day really hampered the fidelity.
The other room I wanted to go back to visit again was in the conference center where there was this AudioSolutions, Vitus Audio exhibit:
On Day 1, this place was just too noisy for any kind of enjoyable listen. It's powered by Vitus Audio amplifiers, specifically the SIA-030 30W Class A / 200W Class AB integrated ($40k). This device also has the ability to incorporate optional modules like USB input + ethernet streamer, and phono preamp for both MM/MC cartridges. There's also the Vitus Audio SCD-025MkII SACD player there but not in use when I visited.
Speakers are the AudioSolutions Virtuoso M ($32k/pair, 165lb each, nominal 4Ω, 1" silk dome, 6.5" paper mid, 7.5" x 2 woofers each).
As you can see, they were playing reel-to-reel in this room also. The player is from United Home Audio who I assume modified the original Tascam unit's hardware for better performance plus added some decorations (and have named it the UHA Ultima4, asking $30k!). Alas, unlike what I heard at the Classé / Magico room above on the 5th floor, this playback of a song I was unfamiliar with (some 70's-era light rock I'm thinking) did not sound good at all. I don't know if the tape was just worn or maybe the head alignment was simply poor. But the soundstage was off focus, some low-level hiss was audible, and frequency response seemed constrained for both bass and upper treble. A poor example of R2R playback and another reminder that analogue sources are not the panacea of good sound as sound people might want to promote. Prepare to spend time, money (remember Day 1 - $450 R2R tapes being sold), and gain experience to get this stuff done right. And even then, no guarantees that it'll be as "good" as a professionally done digital transfer of analogue recordings.
After the R2R playback, the exhibitor played digital Eagles "Take It Easy"; an improvement in the sound even if I'm not a big fan of the song :-).
Here's a technology demo room from Merkel Acoustics Research & Design:
Notice the chairs in a circle and around the seats were placed 8 stands with height and ear-level speakers for a demo of Ambisonics, mixed and decoded in realtime with Jeff Merkel of University of California sitting at the table doing "DJ" duties. He had given a lecture about this earlier in the morning.
The speakers are JBL powered monitors. The sound was mainly an ambient track with some special effects and nature recordings panned and moved through the 3D soundfield. Good sound effect showing off the power of the kind of fancy surround that can be done these days with minimal irregularity as the audio transitioned across space.
I reminded Merkel about the MPEG-H 3D Audio standard and some of what I wrote over the summer on surround/multichannel; he should really look into that as a standards-based decoding system that handles traditional multichannel data as well as higher order Ambisonics.
Finally... My award for "Most Bad-Ass Sound of RMAF 2019" - Göbel:
This was the last room I visited before saying goodbye to RMAF 2019. This was also one of the first rooms I had popped into on Day 1. As I mentioned at the start of this post, Sunday provides attendees with plenty of opportunities to take it easy, listen without being rushed, have the vendors play requests, and even try out "non-audiophile" genres.
These Göbel speakers with the CH Precision amp did an amazing job pumping out some Metallica "One" (from ... And Justice For All) on Sunday afternoon an hour before end of show (digital of course). Oooohhhh yeah... Visceral thumping as the bass slams into the body at high SPL in a spacious room. A rarely-encountered musical genre in the sea of laid back jazz, female vocals, classical, and light rock. I bet a number of traditional audiophiles might be running out of this room at the sound of such blasphemous music! Savor the dynamics, friends.
Okay guys and gals. I think that's that for specific RMAF 2019 rooms. I'll post a final report this weekend with some general thoughts and summary.
Great fun... L8tr.