Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2013

Part 1

by

James Darby - Linda Darby - Bruce Brown - Brian Boehler

 

 

 

If you're not familiar with what an audio show is like and what it's like to cover one, this is the Marriott Tech Center Hotel in Denver. Now imagine taking the all the furniture out of 300 to 400 rooms and replacing it with high-end stereo systems from hundreds of designers/manufacturers/distributors from around the world as well as several local dealers.

Our job is to go into a room, find out what's in there and if there is there is anything new and exciting worth mentioning to our readers or not and then talk to the persons who are there to hawk their products, get details, specs, prices, features, try to discern the marketing hype from the reality in what they say, gather brochures and business cards, take copious notes and attempt to get great pictures in positions and lighting conditions that are abysmal, and then - maybe - even get to listen to as much worthwhile gear as possible. Then, if it's deemed worthy, seek out the person who is responsible for scheduling reviews and make those arrangements. Oh yeah, all the while negotiating the hoards of other people who pack the rooms and hallways.

When you have completed all those tasks, you then make your way to the next room and begin the process all over again, keeping a very close eye on your watch because you know your time is very limited - a max of 23 hours if you skip lunch. But beore you get to the next room, chances are that I'm stopped by someone who knows me or Stereomojo readers who read my tag and want to tell me how much they they enjoy reading it and want to discuss a certain review or ask advice about what to see, hear or buy at the show, something I love doing, but there's the time pressure. How to give them what they want or need yet keep it short without coming off as arrogant or uncaring (two traits I abhor). Then I run into someone else who knows me and has a room full of gear somewhere and wants to tell me everything he's got and how great it is and how I HAVE to come see it. Again, listen carefully but keep it short without coming off as an freaking diva.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When we make comments regarding how something sounded, keep in mind that these are just impressions, NOT reviews. Show conditions are are usually abysmal for judging anything, but after you've been to dozens of them and thousands of rooms, you do get a sense for some things. Just keep that in mind.

 

The Big Thing

There's always a "big thing" every year, some new technology that has everyone

excited. This year it's

And you'd better know it.

Or not. At least for right now.

It is the latest and the greatest in terms of high-resolution audio sources.

It simplest terms, it breaks through the 24 bit/192 kHz bottleneck of PCM, which is the current standard, that requires a lot of processing and conversions, all sonically toxic, to get to where they are playable by regular DACs in our systems. DSD, invented by Sony for their SACD format, allows for much higher resolution and very little if any digital manipulation, thus more purity. Got it?

The problem is, like any new format, there's very little DSD format music available, a what little exists is of the Swiss fiddler playing in a pine tree accompanied by castenets type that most people don't really care for anyway. And if you can find it, it's expensive. The good news is the music giant Sony is behind it so we will all have the opportunity to buy yet another format of "Kind of Blue" , "Take Five" and everything that Bob Dylan ever croaked out.

That is, IF you have one of the new DACs that are capable of decoding DSD or even double DSD that exists somewhere in the netherworld.

Your current DAC probably doesn't handle it, but worry not - everybody's coming out with one so you can spend your money. They range in price from

a few hundred to many thousands of course.

Like this:

Resonessence Lab's HERUS


HERUS: Asynchronous USB Audio 2.0, 24bit 352.8Ks/S, DXD and DSD64/128, 2.4VRMS Headphone DAC

HERUS is the smallest form-factor, audiophile quality USB to Headphone DAC. It uses the USB Audio 2.0 Asynchronous protocol and supports DSD64 and DSD128 as well as high data rate PCM at 24bits up to 352.8Ks/S. It is a USB powered device that achieves more than 100dB of SNR, (typically 108dB) and is capable of driving 2.4V RMS, (ie 6.8V pk-to-pk) into headphones from 600 Ohms to 32 Ohms. The distortion in all cases is better than 0.005% (85dB): the measured THD+N is typically 89dB for 32 Ohms and 90dB (about 0.003%) for 600 Ohms.

Price? $350 Canadian

Since that's my hot little hand holding the Herus, a review will be forthcoming soon.

 

Of course, they also have the Concero HD which is is the High Definition version of CONCERO, a DAC we reviewed last year. It supports DSD64 and DSD128 (double DSD). Sample rates up to 352.8kS/s and 24bits. Over 112dB of dynamic range and better than 100db (0.001%) THD+Noise. 2V RMS Output at 75 Ohms impedance. It uses the ES9018-2M, the latest chip from ESS Technology.

PRICE: $850 CA

 

 

Benchmark had their version, The DAC2 HGC. (Top unit)

$1,999

New Features

Sample Rate Display
Word Length Display
More Digital Inputs (5 total)
More Analog Inputs (2 total)
More Analog Outputs (3 total)
Digital Pass Through
Native DSD Conversion
Polarity Switch
Asynchronous USB 2.0
Driverless Asynchronous USB 1.1
Home Theater Bypass
Bi-Directional 12 Volt Trigger
Power Switch
Low Power Consumption

"HGC" is Benchmark's unique Hybrid Gain Control system. The DAC2 HGC combines active analog gain control, passive low-impedance attenuators, a 32-bit digital gain control, and a servo-driven volume control. All inputs are controlled by the rotary volume control. This volume control moves in response to commands from the remote control. Analog inputs are never converted to digital, and digital inputs never pass through an analog potentiometer.

The unit below the DAC is the new Benchmark AHB2 amp

The reasoning here is that since the new hi-rez formats have higher dynamic ranges theoretically exceeding 130 db, well we have to have amps that will do that, too! At 100 wpc, they liscenced amp technology from the movie arena's THX to improve the limitations of class A and class AB, they say. It not out yet, but price is expected to be around $3,000.

 

ZESTO

Everything from Zesto so far has been outstanding in terms of sonic performance at reasonable prices. This is the new BIA 120 power amp.

Pure Class A
60 Watts per channel
4, 8 and 16 Ohm output taps
8, 5 and 4 Amp Slow blow fuses for outputs
Eight 5 way binding post
Non inverting output polarity
Push-Pull and Ultra-Linear design

Dual Mono
Auto Bias
Choice of either Single Ended RCA or Balanced XLR
Transformer balanced XLR input offers true noise rejection and isolation from the preamp
Left and Right ground switches work with the XLR balanced inputs to help eliminate ground hums
No Negative Feedback
KT120 compatible
Push-Pull circuit design gives you more power
It’s ready to enjoy with 50 hours of factory burn in on all circuits and vacuum tubes.
Each unit is hand built "Made in the USA"

The price at $12,500 is a bit on the rich side, though. We'll see.

George Counnas of Zesto with James & Linda Darby

 

SPEAKING OF PRICE

How's $500,00 for ya? That's the price of this total system featuring Albert Von Schweikert's new flagship

Universe VR-100XS 4-pc speaker system, $140,000 pair.

According to Albert, here's the high-tech involved:

• CABINET NOISE REDUCTION (PatPend Triple-Wall system). It is well known that resonant cabinets, panel vibration, and energy storage inherent in common cabinet designs can and will reduce the clarity of the speaker system. Our method of Noise Reduction and Vibration Cancellation by the use of three different cabinet wall materials, each with opposing Q factors, solves this problem. Using brute force methods like using $$$$$$$ of aircraft aluminum is not an efficient mode of design.

• PROPRIETARY MATCHED DRIVERS (for timbre response and transient speed). In conjunction with a leading European laboratory with vertically oriented manufacturing, we are proud to offer the most advanced drive units in the world. Each and every driver, from our 15” subwoofer to our 2” ribbon tweeter, is constructed from an alloy of magnesium, aluminum, and ceramic oxide. This combination of materials is the lightest, stiffest, and most damped cone/ribbon material available, cost-no-object.

• SERVO-CONTROLLED CROSSOVER CIRCUITRY (enhances transient coherence). In order to reduce the energy storage of complex crossovers, we have designed a simple series circuit to drive the transducers, with an electrically damped set of paralleled conjugate filters to control phase, amplitude, and time coherence, in addition to the frequency filtering. All of the drivers are time corrected to follow the ribbon tweeter’s motion.

• PASSIVE ROOM CORRECTION TO ELIMINATE BASS STANDING WAVES (Pat.Pend.). Since listening rooms have reflective walls, ceilings and floors, they allow the bass waves to combine at certain frequencies (based on the dimensions of the room and the wavelengths of the bass notes). Since there is no practical way to equalize these dips and peaks which can have a spread of 18dB or more, we have designed a method to eliminate the rooms influence on the bass response. Four different sources of bass reproduction are required, along with Time Delay. Our XS subs are placed at the rear of the room and fire towards the main towers, eliminating the standing waves entirely. The Signal Sensing cables to connect the XS subs with the Main Towers are included with the system, at any length required to enable the subs to be placed at the rear of the room.

• SERVO-CONTROLLED SUBWOOFER “SPEED” MATCHED TO RIBBON DRIVERS. Since it is our goal to ensure the complete integration of sub-bass frequencies with the midrange and treble frequencies, we have designed a method to enable the 15” subwoofer to “track” the midrange/ribbon drivers in transient response speed. This is achieved by connecting the XS subwoofer to the main speaker tower, not the electronics. Back Electromotive Force is “read” by a comparator circuit in the sub amp, which automatically adjusts the output signal to the subwoofer driver. By employing a sixty-pound motor with four voice coils for motional sensing and control, we can drive the subwoofer as quickly and as accurately as the ribbon super tweeter.

• HOLOGRAPHIC SOUND FIELD GENERATION. Since the VR-100XS main towers are fitted with a two-way rear firing ambience retrieval system, the main speakers behave as omni- directional speakers, with the widest dispersion ever offered in a cabinet speaker system. In fact, the radiation pattern will make you think you are listening to Surround Sound, at any place in the listening room. There are controls to adjust this effect.

The rest of the system consisted of amps by Constellation Audio (over $100k right there) as well as a $29,000 media player/DAC. There was also a United Home Audio Tape Deck at $17k and cables by Master-Built Audio (below)

Sounded fantastic, but could never shake the thought that we were listening to a system whose price could buy a nice home on the Gulf.

 

HALF A MILL NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?

 

Then check out this system from Aaudio Imports valued at $600,000+ featuring the $266,000 Lansche 8.2 speakers.

Other cast members were Ypsillon SET100 mono amps at $125,000, PST100 MkII Preamp at a mere $37,000, a $29k DAC, $26k Phono stage. There's still about $40K in cables, turntable, cartridge, racks and other assorted goodies.

The Lansche speakers were gorgeous in their enormous Makassar Ebony cases.

Design:
2 Way Closed Speaker
With Integrated Active Subwoofer

Tweeter:
1 x 0.3 inch Corona Ion Tweeter

Mid-Woofer:
4 x 8 Inch Paper Coated Cone

Subwoofer (active):
2 x 18 Inch Long Neck Construction

Sub-Amplifier:
2 x 1,200 Watt (Power Output)

Crossover Frequencies:
2.5 kHz

Crossover Frequency Active:
40 Hz (15 Hz Subsonic Filter)

Nominal Impedance:
8 Ohm (minimum 6.2 Ohm)

Sensitivity:
94 dB / 1W / 1M

Linear Max:
115 dB / 1M

Frequency Range:
15 Hz - 150 kHz (+/- 3 dB)

How did it sound? Excellent.

Lots of air and huge scale. There were in a very large room and you'd better have one, too, if you want these.

Were we blown away? Not really, but much had to do with the very small scale female vocal with guitar, playing at about 60 db as if we were in a library.

It was like riding in a Lamborghini at a steady 20 mph for 15 minutes listening to background music. Unleash the hounds!

 

We have to say we were WAY more impressed with this:

This is one of the word's greatest bass players and audiophile darling, Dean Peer, playing his 5 string bass through a pair of

$5,995 pair Endeavor model E-3 speakers. Live. He wasn't holding back on his incredible

thumb hammers and string snapping, producing huge transients that easily reached 120 db.

We actually felt very nervous for the smallish floorstanders (Dean is standing in front of the right one), wondering which would happen first: an explosion of drivers or them simply catching fire. He played several songs along with the drummer whose name embarrassingly escapes me - he was incredible, too with some delicate cymbal work and blazing brush work on the box on which he's seated that served as both a bass drum and snare. His set was not amplified, didn't need to be.

The lowest sting on Dean's bass was the "E" string which sounds at 40 Hz. Dean plays the bass part and the intricate, blazing melodies simultaneously, with a lot of high harmonics thrown in, so there was a lot of thunderous 40 Hz being blasted out.

The specs claim 20HZ to 30kHz. But the I.E.C rating is 32-22kHz .

But watch this:

TWO frickin' db! In most realms, that's considered ruler flat!

The speaker also claims a 4 Ohm rating - FLAT.

That is unheard of! Usually Ohm ratings are wishfull guesses at best, often outright lies.

If you've ever seen a real Ohm measurement, the graph usually fluctuates like a PCP user having a heart attack.

Four Ohms flat? Them's pretty lofty words there. Great for amps if it's true. Your amp will adore you and want to do very naughty things to you

if you ever gave it a flat 4 Ohms.

Specs or not, this was easily the best "in room" demos at the show.

This is Lief Swanson with his Endeavor E3's. Guy's got some big one's with that demo.

The Endeavor Audio Engineering E-3 is a three-way tower system using Twin 6.5" woofers composed of ceramic / aluminum layers are loaded by a 4th order bass reflex cabinet. The 6" midrange is composed of Kevlar, while the Dual Ring tweeter is a rubberized fabric construction. According to Lief, "Voiced to sound musical rather than analytical, the E-3 can be compared to the finest European systems selling for 5 times our price!" Hand Built in the USA.

How do they sound with female vocal or a jazz quartet? We aim to find out with a very quick review.

Even with the onslaught of DSD, streaming and other digital delights, there was no shortage of turntables. If you recall, I made some waves when I pronounced at the California Show that the best sound I'd ever heard was produced by a turntable. It was a $170,000 Basis "Work of Art" system, but it was still analogue.

 

Music Hall was showing their new beautiful in white (and black) Ikura turntable - $1,195 including straight carbon fiber arm & cart.

The black version was adorned with a real cowhide "Moo Mat". Funny.

 

Not a bad start. Got more?

Oh yeah. Go to PART TWO NOW!

 

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