Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010 Show Report

Part 3

 

This is the new Mark Levinson No.532H stereo power amp. The news is that it doesn't cost in the 5 or 6 figures,

It's "only" $8,000. As you can see, it wasn't hooked up to anything so we couldn't hear it.

The new 500 Series amps include the No.531H (mono, 300W, $6500), No.532H (two channels, 300Wpc, $8000), and No. 533H (three channels, 300Wpc, $10,000), and No.535H (five channels, 200Wpc, $12,000), all with a frequency response from 10Hz to 20kHz and THD less than 0.5%. A new circuit design emphasizes current-mode operation, said to be much faster than conventional voltage-mode operation. Independent power-supply components for each channel maximize isolation and improve imaging, and all models provide both single-ended and balanced inputs.

We're going to try to get a review, but working through Harmon's corporate structure makes it almost impossible.

 

 

We did the world's first review of Johnnie Bergmann's Sindre air supported linear tonearm and air bearing platter table.

This is his new Sleipner model that adds more mass and a vacuum hold down for LP's as well as an all carbon tonearm.

 

Our Bill Schuchard was anxious to hear the Dueval speakers. What we heard was the

$12,000 Bella Luna model driven by Thor amps in fire engine red. The Thor's, according to designer Ted Lindblad, are only 60% complete and not ready for market yet.

The Bella Luna's are omni-directional and 91db sensitive. They sounded very even handed. The woodwork was gorgeous with book-matched veneer.

We asked about a review, if they had by reviewed by anyone like Stereophile previously. That's when Ted announced to us and room full of listeners the following:

"I wouldn't let Stereophile touch my speakers! They don't deserve to audition a speaker like this!"

I laughed and asked if he wanted me to quote him on that. He repeated the comment even louder.

We didn't pursue as to why he felt that way, but we can guess...

 

Bill Schuchard: HighEndAudio.com was showing off the Duevel Bella Luna 'diamante' omnidirectional loudspeaker. Wow. I really enjoyed this room and didn't want to leave. They were mated to very cool looking prototype electronics from Thor Audio. At ($12,000 to start) these speakers are more attainable than many of the other great ones at the show. The image was fantastic, and more focused than one would expect from an omnidirectional loudspeaker, the soundstage was a little deeper than usual, and the bass never called attention to itself. Apparently the bass is tunable. I enjoyed these more than the Acapela horns from another room. These speakers made me rethink omni vs dipole as the side reflections from these speakers weren't marring the image.

These speakers were absolutely beautiful functional works of art. The amazing veneer is just one of 70 different finishes available.

 

Speaking of Stereophile, Jason Victor Serinius of that mag ran into our Bill Schuchard and proceeded to adjust his collar and make some comments about Stereomojo. You may recall that we quoted Vic in our CES last show report, something about Stereophile being "at the top of the food chain" at the show. Mr. Schuchard had no idea this was "that guy", so he was a bewildered when Jason accosted him. Jason emailed me protesting the mention, claiming he never said that, and if he did, he didn't mean it the way I took it. We went back and forth a bit with me finally telling him that we probably have much more in common that we do differences and I'd love to sit down and talk to him. I offered to buy him lunch at the upcoming show in Jacksonville. I never heard back after that, but I looked him up at the show. I asked if I could buy him lunch, to which he replied, "That's not on my agenda.." Oh well...guess you don't need lunch when you're at the "top of the food chain".

As always, I need to add that there are many folks at Stereophile who are not only great writers, but wonderful people as well. Friendly, supportive, not arrogant and condescending, easy to talk to. I admire their love for music and their talent. They all do not take their lead from John Atkinson and Victor. I don't want to mention their names here for fear of reprisals against them, but I have the highest respect for many of the journalists at Stereophile. The point is, that's the way it should be throughout the industry, and it's a shame it's not.

 

Bill Schuchard: Duke Lejune from Audio Kinesis was showing off the new Strato Prism ($3900) high efficiency speaker using the same controlled directivity that he has used. Combined with a Neko Audio D100 MK2 stereo DAC ($1395) and James Romeyn tube amplifier, they created the sort of sweet open sound you could listen to all day. The bass and treble is tunable and one could tell he had it tuned to the warm side. I loved it though. A side firing array added to the reverberant field without forcing the user to place the speakers far out from the back wall.

James Darby: We knew this was a Duke LaJeune/Audio Kinesis room when we saw the speakers toed in to cross in front of the listener. Duke is one of the nicest and most respected guys in audio and we like him a lot. This was the first showing of his bargain Stratoprism at only $3,900/pr. He said they are 95db sensitive making them good for low power tube amps.  Even though he is a bit "old school" (a good thing), even Duke was using a laptop to serve tunes to the Neko DAC we reviewed last year. Amps were by Atma Sphere.

 

Can you guess what brand speakers these are?

These are JBL's 1400 Array ($11,500/pr). You've probably seen the company's cheapo speakers at Best Buy and the like, but these sound much more like the JBL's that occupied many recording studios in the 70's and 80's. Fast, rhythmic and very dynamic, they were big rockers. A little on the bright side with big bottoms. Not bad, but we heard better for the money. Note the Apple MacBook Pro as the source.

 

Aperion Audio has been around for a long time, but this was their first RMAF appearance. Aperion was one of the pioneers of the direct internet sales business model. Mike Hopkins was playing the new Versus Grand tower that go for $1798/pr. They have a 3-way bass reflex design with a 1″ axially radiator tweeter, dual 5-inch mid range drivers, and dual 6-inch Kevlar woofers. The towers have a power range of 20 to 300 watts and weighs 65 pounds each. "All of our drivers are proprietary", said Mike. The low end goes to 45 Hz with 92 dB sensitivity.

James Darby: Evolution Acoustics, Playback Designs, darTZeel and Wave Kinetic won our overall "Best Sound at Show" at CES with a system that retails for about $500,000.

This year Evolution featured one of their smaller speakers, the MM miniTwo, a modular 2-way with integrated subwoofer for $27,000/pr. Ribbon and ceramic drivers in gorgeous, beautifully finished cabinets. Instead of killobuck separates, the power was the darTZeel 250 wpc Integrated at a mere $20,300 - with phonostage of course. Source was a server on the bottom left shelf feeding the DAC section of the Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD / CD Player as well as discs directly into the Playback Designs. The price of the Playback Designs MPS-5 is $15,000.

Jon mentioned, "You will see we used the cheapest possible racks. We did this to showcase a product from Wave Kinetics called the A10-U8 Component Control System. They are used under each component and obviate the need for an expensive rack. They really are remarkable! They retail for $700 (set of 4). We also have the Wave Kinetics 2NS Loudspeaker Interface System under the loudspeakers. They retail for $1600 (set of 8)."

Once again, the sound here was among the very best at any price. There was all the detail of the more expensive Magico Q5's and Wilsons,

with a huge dose of heart and soul (dare we say "mojo") that those others so lack.

Company owner Jonathan Tinn promised us a shot at the speakers and amp. We can't WAIT for that!

 

Bill Schuchard: Evolution Audio really captivated me with their speakers using Accuton's venerable ceramic midbass mated flawlessly to ribbon tweeters. The triangle and strings in "Dance of the Tumblers" has literally never sounded so real. There was also a tiny bit more emotional verve from these over the equally resolute Magico speakers. The two piece speaker costs ($15,000) for the top monitor half and the bottom subwoofer adds another ($10,000) to the price tag. Having listened to it both ways, the extra $10,000 doesn't seem so crazy.
 
The cabinet is shaped to minimize diffraction and made from many horizontal slices of baltic birch plywood. The seemless imaging is proof positive that it's working. Those little black dots on the drivers actually dampen the ceramic ringing to the point where the frequency response is smooth enough for a simple crossover. If you look more closely, there's a small wire mesh over the driver for some protection without actual grills. The lustworthy finish and look is beyond excellent successfully combining a nautical meets aeronautical meets high tech look whether they meant to or not. In the future, anybody who mentions that they own these speakers is going to get a little fist bump from me.

 

 

Bill Schuchard: The TAD and Bel Canto room was one of my favorites. I spent a lot of time in there and couldn't get enough of the sound. One gentleman sitting behind me said; "This is the least fatiguing sound I've ever heard". Andrew Jones was there playing musical selections that happened to overlap my own and the sound was realistic and holographic. Female voices were very smooth. The soundstage was huge as well as the contrast between up front and rear seated musicians. Cello was very accurate while still being mellow and smooth. Flute transients were quite dynamic. Some wondered and questioned the speaker positioning from various viewpoints ranging from too close together to too far apart. Additionally, the bass was powerful and authoritative in the front row but flat just one row back. The room was seemingly untreated and one would expect those who purchase a $70,000 speaker to have some room treatments.

I was taken aback by the sound of this system and what Bel Canto components can accomplish especially Bel Canto's pioneering Class D amplification. John Stronczer tried to explain how the power link worked with both batteries and an AC plug but I was too excited about the sound to follow. I just know it sounded good to me. Furthermore, the new High Current Buffer was meant to be a headphone amp but he found that it improved the sound of the system when placed inline. Whether that was true or not wasn't apparent, but I liked what I heard.

Bel Canto NEW High Current Buffer (price TBD)
Bel Canto NEW VB-REF Power Link (price TBD)
Bel Canto NEW DAC3.5VB $2995
Bel Canto CD2 $2995
Bel Canto VBS1 $1495
Bel Canto REF500M $3990/pair

Both the TAD speakers and the Bel Canto components could double as audio jewelry. They both look and feel better in person.

 


Bill Schuchard: The EAR USA room was a short visit but I remember being so captivated by the sound that I stopped taking notes other than it had a warm midrange and a smooth open sound. A comparison of the EAR Acute CD player at $6105 to the Townshend Audio Rock 7 turntable ($3,000), Helius Omega tonearm ($2900), and Dynavector SV-1S cartridge ($5250) sparked some debate which was my cue to move along. The $20,000 Marten Getz loudspeakers are something I would love to spend more time with. The midrange seems to be similar to the Accuton from the venerable Evolution audio which I loved.

The cables in question were the Jorma Origo interconnects ($5250 per meter pair,) Jormo Origo speaker cables at ($7,000 per meter pair), and the Jorma Origo power cord at ($3200 for 1.5 meter). The beautiful equipment rack was the Virtual Seismic Sink Stand at $2900 from Townshend Audio.

 

 

 

We heard the Vandersteen 7s at CES, but somehow they sounded much better here. Outstanding. Definitely among the best sound at show. They are priced at a very un-Vandersteen $45,000 though. Of course, they were pushed along by some pretty fancy electronics; Audio Research's Anniversary Edition Reference Preamplifier ($24,995), Reference 210 amplifiers ($19,900/pair), Reference CD8 ($9995) and DAC 8 ($4995). For a hundred grand, you could do much worse.

 

I like the Stereomojo style.

Take me to part 4.

 

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