Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012
YFS (Your Final System)
Founded by Kevin O’Brien, YFS builds every piece as a one-off custom job. This means amplifiers, preamplifiers, cables, and, as I almost missed, music servers (second shelf). Kevin and a team of other young turks do the digital stuff, while Kevin’s father Michael does the analog designs. These guys will consult with you to build anything you could possibly want, and exactly to your specifications, inside and out. Pricing on most components was a bit loosey-goosey, but ranged between $3000 and $13,000 for a typical piece of gear.
Michael mentioned that the servers, also custom one-off jobs, range between $8000 and $13,000 depending on the needs of the customer. These utilize solid state memory (including RAM), upgradeable to 2 TB RAID and a top-notch PCI digital output card. A custom digital cable is also provided which is matched to your DAC of choice. These fellows were getting lovely digital sound from the box interfaced to a Bricasti Design DAC. Build quality looked excellent as well. We’d love to spend some more time with stuff from this company.
The speakers you see are the new Von Schweikert VR-44 at $25,000 per pair. They use a new triple wall laminating design using different thicknesses of (1' to 3') of High density Fiber Board, plasticene damping material and artificial stone blocks which cancel each other out as far as vibration and resonance being transmitted into the room, causing smearing and less definition. twin woofers are in a four-chamber labyrinth with a rear mounted port tuned to 20Hz. The 6' mid is also in a separate sealed chamber. The tweeter is a dual ring soft dome.
Frequency response is said to be a stunning 16Hz at the bottom to 30kHz. Each speaker weighs 151 pounds!
There is also an active version that includes a 300 watt amp built in to drive the low end.
Another up and coming pro/audiophile manufacturer. Well, not really up and coming in pro circles, as designer and company head Michal Jurewicz has been at it there for some time. A small company, but one that seems to have a good understanding of things digital. I know this because other pro/audiophile crossover companies I talked to had nothing but praise for Michal’s converters. On display with headphones was his new native DSD mastering DAC, which is also designed to cross over to the audiophile market. Lots of signal routing options, both digital and analog, with usb and firewire interfaces to boot. Michal and I have been talking for some time, and a demo unit is scheduled to be in my listening room as soon as possible. Native DSD is big news and rare in audiophile DACs. Stay tuned.
I noted the Bricasti Design M1 fully dual-mono DAC in several rooms, but took the most time to study it in the Bricasti room. Listing at $8500, this device appears to be an all-out assault on state-of-the-art digital conversion. Everywhere I heard it, I was bowled over by its natural and lifelike presentation of music. Build quality looked elegantly top-notch, and the number of digital and analog input/output options rivaled those of many pro audio DACs. Most impressive to me, however, were the myriad digital filter options, all of which can be easily accessed on the fly by the end user. Of course, these kinds of options could make an enthusiast daffy, much like variable impedance loading and VTA can in the analog world. Even so, I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to own one!
Another interesting room, visited at the suggestion of Publisher James Darby. These folks specialize in a Mac Mini-based music server with a very sophisticated power supply, as well as a non-oversampling DAC using a 20 bit “dinosaur” converter chip... which, by the way, is also used in the Audio Note DAC. Build quality looked very good, with particular attention paid to filter capacitors in power supplies; lots of overbuild here! Using Redbook material exclusively, the sound was smooth, pleasant, and lifelike.
They will sell you a new Mac Mini that they fully optimize and install their music server software, or you can send them your Mini and they will do the same thing for it.
The company is based outside of Pittsburgh, so I was invited to stop by before too long to visit the factory and see for myself all of the interesting things going on with this progressive little group. Maybe that visit coupled with a stop at Jerry’s Records will make a great road trip opportunity for this wandering audio nut. And they also offer a highly informative website full of useful information on topics such as streamlining the Mac Mini for audio applications.
MG Audio Design
It was nice to meet Lee Matuszczak and Greg Graff of MG Audio Design, makers of the MG cables we reviewed a few months ago.
All three reviewers were so impressed that they each bought the cables for their reference systems,
including publisher James Darby who replaced his long-time reference cables that cost roughly ten times as much.
They told us they have a new cable in the works that should be even better at a better price, but the details are hush-hush.
We'll get the first pairs. We're anxious to hear them.
Magnepan's Wendell Diller was showing the new MMG at a very Cheap Bastard price of $599 pair.
He was also using the new Bass Panel subwoofer at $795, but the little Maggies go down to 50Hz on their own.. In the picture it looks like a cocktail table. Lamp not included..
For a total of $1,400 or so, the sound was staggering. Wend el told us they take a very long time to break in, but you should realize about 80% of their potential after about a month.
Wendell said he'd send us a pair when we're ready. We think we're ready.
Here's another Cheap Bastard candidate, the Aperion Aris. For $499, it's a single chassis stereo speaker that can be played wirelessly or via ethernet using either Windows or Mac, depending on which card you choose (see below). It sues four 25 watt Class D amps to drive four powered drivers with two passives. once connected, your computer sees it as a network device and you can play anything on your phone, pad, laptop or computer throughout your home.
It plays LOUD. Max SPL is said to be 105 db. While it won't replace your main system, the sound was at least listenable, much more than anything you'll find at Best Buy or the like. And you can put one or several anywhere as long as there's AC available.
Card for either Windows or Mac. Rear with passives.
They were showing their Ingenium– a reference loudspeaker for SET tube and other high-end amplifiers. They use a ETQWT© transmission line enclosure with Helmholtz resonators. Ingenium speakers are equipped with Lowther DX3 or DX4 drivers with pure silver coils providing well balanced and beautiful midrange, clear treble, and well defined bass. Other Lowther drivers are also supported including PM2A, PM6C, PM2C... to satisfy any individual sound preferences. All drivers can be installed by users to allow adjustments to room and equipment changes over time.
$15,000 a pair
Not playing were the Magus small speakers that start at $4000.
One-way stand-mount, bookshelf, Multi-chamber Compact Monitor
5" Lowther DX55, A55 or DX65 driver
Bandwidth 55Hz-22kHz ± 3dB
Sensitivity: 98 dB (DX55, A55), 100 dB (DX65) @ 1W/1kHz/1m
Impedance 8 Ohms
Crossover - None
Real wood finishes: Rosewood/Black
Our publisher said he first met Bob Carver in 1969 when he was selling hi-end audio part time while in high school. Back then it was the Phase Linear 400 and 700. Bob's latest speaker is the Amazing Line Source using 13 ribbons. $19,700 pair. They were rather amazing.
Carver was wisely using the Purity Audio reference preamp (on the table in the center), the model above the one we reviewed (this one is dual chassis with separate power supply) and which became our publisher's new reference. A 2011 Product of the Year as well.
The Carver Cherry 180 mono rated at 200 watts using a 12ax7, a pair of long tailed 12AT7's and 6 KT88's.
Black Beauty 305 mono amps, $12,900 pair at 305 watts using KT120's.
When we asked about getting a pair of these for review, they told us they are not interested in "bench reviews"; they want people who actually listen to their amps. When we told them our review philosophy, they said, "Where do we send 'em?"
Israel Blume at Coincident has upgraded just about everything he makes.
The speakers are now the Total Victory V, up from the IV's we reviewed at $14,99/pair.
The Frankenstein M300B mono amps are $5,999/pair - still one of our favorite low power (8 watts) amps of all time.
The Dragons at 70 mono watts are now $10,999 with a 20% larger power supply and other upgrades and the Statement line stage, again one of the best we've ever tested, is still $5,499 with the improvements. The sound here, as always, was a big standout. Natural, very dynamic and above all, extremely musical.
The Coincident sound draws you in rather than playing "at you". We like.
New to us, DC10 was showing their Berlin model, certainly one of the most beautiful sound sculptures at the show.
The Berlin features a large 11-inch hand-turned solid Maple horn loaded with a 1-inch textile dome tweeter. The horn-loaded tweeter also serves as the port (an exclusive innovation). • Exclusive horn-loaded tweeter doubling as bass-reflex port • Exclusive internal tonewood resonator -- the "Instrument" • Solid Sapele active tonewood baffle • Shortest path internal wiring • 7-inch high-impact carbon fiber composite wide-range driver • Hybrid crossover (no sound-depleting circuit boards) • Frequency response: 35 Hz-25,000 Hz • Sensitivity: estimated 95 dB • Impedance: 8 ohms • Power handling: 150 watts RMS, 200 watts peak program • Standard cabinet options: Maple or Cherry veneer; black or white piano finish • Size: 17" high x 11" wide x 15" deep each • Weight: 36 lbs each
Price is only $3,200/pair, a model towards the bottom of their line that tops out at $35,000/pr.
Very interesting, especially the 95 db sensitivity, great for low powered tube amps. They'd like a review. So would we.