Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2011

by

Brian Boehler - James Darby - Linda Darby - Ryan Scott

 

 

 

Legacy Audio

The big Whisper XD's (outside) were playing when we got there and they sounded as remarkable as they did when we

reviewed them last year. Seeing a ton of big floorstanders at the show,

almost all that cost much more than these, we are more convinced than ever

that these $20,000 or so speakers are one of the biggest bargains in all of audio.

The new Legacy Focus SE is a "mini XD" at almost 1/2 the price.
For the audiophile they are offering a precision ribbon tweeter for airy, spacious highs. Dual cast frame 8" woofers -utilizing the same silver/graphite cone technology as the Focus SE.

Premium quality handcrafted Legacy finish - Powerful Neodymium magnets and cast frame drivers - Polished black chrome feet
- Biamp capable binding posts
$8,750 per pair

Here's some news we can let you know about now. Legacy is coming out with an all new Signature SE that is said to be simply killer and we are getting the first pair sometime around Christmas.

 

Sharing the room was Charlie Harrison's Ayon Audio. We've reviewed several of their made-in-Austria Ayon tube amps with more to come

and have always found them to be outstanding in build as well as audio quality at very reasonable prices.

Ayon has recently upgraded almost the entire line with the newest, best parts available and kept prices pretty low.

For example, notice anything different about these tubes? Shuguang came out with their "Black Treasure" series

a couple of years ago, one of the best sounding new tubes now available at a great price, but Ayon decided to go one better and make their own version.

 

Ever improving their products, Charlie has brought in a solid state line from Germany called AVM that has a 25 year history in Europe.

Check out their EVOLUTION A5.2  350 wpc integrated amp for $4,790:

5 line inputs, a front input and 3 slots for the optional plug-in modules connect it to any source. Power amps can be connected via RCA Cinch. Active subwoofer may connect to the processor in/out. Menu functions allow an individual configuration of the A5.2 according to your personal likings (input names, sensitivity) etc.).

Highly efficient output stages with 350Watt/channel, speaker A+B
Double mono power supply
Stand-by power consumption < 1W
Line inputs (one balanced XLR), 1 processor in/out, 2 preamp outputs (RCA-Cinch, XLR)
Phones jack alternatively usable as front input
3 slots for phono module (MM/MC), FM-RDS tuner module, USB DAC module with 192 kHz/24 bit upsampling (USB, SPDIF coax and TOS-link), USB works PC and MAC without driver installation
Parametric loudness, bass and treble controls (can be bypassed)
Large bright blue graphical display, dimmable
Full metal aluminum remote control included
Remote control via RS232. Connector for external infrared receiver
Multiple functions accessible via menu: Input sensitivity, individual input names & many more
Case made of solid aluminum anodized in silver or black, chrome front available (option)

 

Those monoblocks pictured above are the MA 3.2

420 Watts at 4 Ohms - 220 at 8

Balanced and unbalanced inputs
Bi-Wiring-speaker terminals
2 separate power supplies for input section and output stages
750-VA-Transformer and over 50.000 µF filter capacity
High Efficiency Class-D Power amplifier stage with 420 W
Intelligent protection circuits monitor DC, overheat, short circuit
NF-controlled on/off and trigger input (on/off)
Comfortable on/off function in conjunction with AVM PreAmps
Environmentally friendly standby power consumption below 1 Watt
Case made of solid aluminum anodized in silver or black, chrome front available (option)

 

 

The AVM 3.2 CD Player/DAC

$3,350

 

2 line outputs (Cinch and XLR)
7 digital inputs: 2 x USB (work without external driver installation), 2 x SPDIF, 2 x optical, AES/EBU
2 digital outputs (SPDIF, optical)
PureCD mechanism with slot-in, suspended mounting
Signal processing with up to 192 kHz / 24 Bit (Upsampling rate is adjustable from 44,1kHz/16bit up
to 192kHz/24bit)
2 separate, oversized power supplies (no leak field) for CD Drive and signal processing electronic
circuitry with stand-by < 1 Watt
Large bright blue graphical display, dimmable
Full metal aluminum remote control included
Remote control via RS232. Connector for external infrared receiver
Multiple functions accessible via menu: autoplay, track, etc.
Case made of solid aluminum anodized in silver or black, chrome front available (option)

 

 

 

 

Living Sounds Audio (LSA)

LSA .5 bookshelf speakers, $800/pr.
LSA Standard tube hybrid integrated amp, $5000
LSA SACD player, $3000

We heard these small speakers at CES, too, where they caused a lot of buzz with their amazing sound at only $800/pr.

Even with all the new competitors in Denver, these stood stood out as killer bargain. The big LSA Standard (their entry level) tube hybrid integrated,

is also still among the top bargains in integrated amps.

 

MERLIN

Bobby Palkovic of Merlin readies the spikes pre-show for his updated VSM speaker system. It turns out Bobby's room

was right next to the Darby's in the Marriott. A fine neighbor and they were impressed that the sound coming through their wall sounded just as if there was a real band, jazz ensemble or vocalist in the next room.

The sound IN Bobby's room as always, was immaculate, transparent, full ranged and exceptionally well fleshed out. Bobby is easily one of the most consistent, high quality designers in the industry. No hype. No new models just for marketing sake like many speaker makers. No inflated, gouging prices. You hardly ever see Merlin speakers for sale on Audiogon or Ebay and there's a reason for that. It doesn't get better.

 

A step above their current (and still available) VSM & TSM MMi & MXr offerings, the Master series VSM & TSM are now available. The Master VSM features new Cardas Clear based internal wiring, Master BAM, Master RCs and Premium Clear Coat finish all standard. The Master TSM features the new Cardas Clear based internal wiring, Master RCs and Premium Clear Coat finish standard.

The Master Bam is a further development of the lead free Super BAM. This piece uses a switching power supply that is 50 times quieter than the one used in the standard unit. As well, the Q of the bass EQ circuit in the Master BAM has been optimized to provide better definition and a more uniform bass character. It also has a circuit board revision to ensure trouble free shipment of the large and heavy Duelund copper foil capacitors. Four of them are used in a Master Bam hence there are $900 worth of these proprietary copper foil capacitors in this unit, alone. Since all of the line level signal goes through the Master BAM, its effects are even greater than the Master RC’s. Both used in the same system produce an exceptional sonic event. One that is extremely relaxed and realistic in nature, showing a fuller more room filling character, with increased pitch definition in the bass, increased micro and macro dynamics, a more expansive portrayal with considerably more contrast potential. All in all, a way more realistic picture is created.

Driving the system was the new Ars-Sonum Gran Filarmonia integrated, at 60 wpc and $10,000 a step above the popular standard Filarmonia SE. It features higher grade parts and wiring.

 

Fletcher-Haynes Audio

We love to see new, quality and price conscious companies come into the market place.

Peter & Elen Fletcher-Haynes ARE the company. We spent way too much time talking to this delightful couple because they were just so passionate and intelligent about audio and simply charming to be around.

They told us we would be the first to review their new mono-blocks below.

They make a wonderful, retro -looking but very tasty sounding pair of mono-blocks they call the Kokopele and we are happy to be the first to introduce them to you.

With the amplifier’s feedback feature and using the meters, you can control and monitor the bias current for each output tube. This reduces the need for closely matched output tubes. You can also adjust bias for standard output tubes: KT88, KT66, 6L6, EL34 and more. And, depending on your output tube selection, each amp supplies over 35 to 40 Watts RMS into 4, 8 or 16 Ω speakers – perfectly compatible with your existing speaker setup. Because everyone’s musical tastes are unique, you can adjust feedback from 0 to approximately 12dB in 2dB increments to suit your preference.

Computer controlled start-up, stand-by and on modes preserve the life of your valuable output tubes. Meticulously designed output transformer, inductors and power transformer are encapsulated in epoxy for strength and stable performance. This robust design
and attention to detail provide long-term, high performance from your mono-block amps.

Specifications
•Typical tube complement: 2 x KT-88, 3 (2 ½ used) x 12AU7
•Ultralinear push pull AB1
•Fixed bias design with independent control and monitoring for each output tube -grid bias voltage adjustable from -2 to -57 VDC
•Output power – 35-40W RMS
•Input impedance – > 100K
•Output impedance – 4, 8, 16 Ω (factory set to 8 Ω)
•Sensitivity - < 1 V RMS
•Variable feedback for listener’s preferred damping control (0 to +12dB)
•Computer controlled startup, standby and on modes
•Gold Amphenol input terminal RCA, audio line compatible
•AC power 120/240 V, 50/60 Hz
•Finish – powder coating

Only $3,500 per pair.

 

They also make the Back-loaded exponential horn system called The Heirloom.

Those of you with small watt SET amps - pay attention!

Design of the Heirloom back loaded horn cabinets is based on Fostek recommended reference design for the Fostek 208ΣZ. The Fostek 208ΣZ drivers with cones made with banana pulp provide true to life reproduction of music with an incredible sound stage. The cabinets are constructed of double layer MDF, chosen for its sound characteristics. Their custom changes to the reference design of the speaker cabinet bring forward dynamic sound quality that only a back loaded horn can reproduce.

Each speaker cabinet is hand crafted in Colorado, and can be customized with over 500 fine wood veneers of your choice. The speakers have three nickel spikes with floor protectors to provide stability on uneven surfaces.

The Fostek 208ΣZ eight inch full range Sigma series drivers carry the high and mid tones especially well. The back loaded horn design improves the bass tones with incredible depth and richness.

Specifications
•The driver sensitivity is 97dB
•Impedance 8Ω
•Binding posts, gold plated

$4,500 per pair

 

They also make a passive preamp for only $799 and a phono-pre for $1,200.


Diminuendo Passive Stereo Attenuator / Channel Selector, $799

Specifications
•Five stereo input channels with approximately 25K constant load impedance (even when input is not selected) minimizing sudden volume changes and noise
•Computer controlled 26 step attenuation from 0 to - ∞ mute (output grounded)
•Attenuator steps in -2Db, -4Db and -5Db increments
•Make-before-break relay attenuator step switching for quiet operation
•Highly reliable (over 50 million operations) sealed low signal relays
•Volume up control disabled when muted
•LED indicators for volume, mute and channel selection
•When power is turned on, internal computer check cycles through LEDs
•IR remote control using a standard universal TV remote controller
•Pre-programmed remote control (brand may vary) uses Philips RC5 protocol, device set to ‘TV’, CH select (+/-), VOL select (+/-), Numeric key pad entry (0-5) and Mute
•Universal low voltage external power supply 100/240 V 50/60 Hz

Phono Preamplifier, $1,200
Heirloom Series Horn Speakers, $4,500 and up per pair (depending on wood veneer finish)

 

EMOTIVA

 

 

We can think of no other brand for which we have had more reader inquiries and review requests over the years been the motive the.

As a result, about three years ago we contacted them and asked to review one of their new products. After much discussion we settled on their new Mono blocks which they said they would send forthwith. a couple of weeks later we checked and found that they hadn't yet been sent but were again promised they would be shipped in the next few days. To make a long story short,  this frustrating scenario repeated itself for nearly a year. Finally our publisher asked to speak to the owner who said she had no idea what we were talking about. At that point,  we threw up our hands and said a polite but firm “never mind”. Emotiva  was not ready for prime time. We figure if the company was that dysfunctional, we could you recommend their products no matter how good they were.

 Since much time has passed and we still get plenty of requests from you about the company, the Darby's decided to stop by their room to see if there had been any changes. they sought out the owner and talk to her, but she still seem to be clueless about the situation and promptly handed us over to their new PR/marketing person pictured above. They patiently went over the whole scenario again with her after which she handed us over to the president of the company. He turned out to be a great guy and explained that the company had gone through many growing pains since they had taken off so fast and a lot of things are just not executed well, one of the reasons they recently hired a new PR person. We ended up talking to Dave for about 20 minutes thing cleared up some misinformation we had been given previously. He even invited us to their big facility in Nashville.

So, as far as we are concerned the past is the past and we are starting over a with Emotiva.  Look for new reviews coming in 2012.

 

Shown are the ERC-2 CD player ($449), XSP-1 fully-balanced preamp ($899), XPA-1 monoblock power amplifiers ($1998/pair), and($999/pair) X-Ref-6.2 loudspeakers, and XDA-1 DAC ($299). No info on the subs.

 

 

SCHIIT AUDIO

 When we announced we'd be attending are asked again this year, we asked our readers to tell us if there were any specific products they would like us to check out. It turns out that one of the top requests was the new Bifrost by Schitt Audio. At first, we thought our snarky readers were pulling our leg. But no, we found out that there really is a Schiit Audio. We figured that the company must be some Eastern European outfit that didn't realize that Schiit was not really the best moniker for product to be marketed in the US. Wrong again! Schiit turns out to be the brainchild of a couple of the veteran US designers who have a rather edgy sense of humor, Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard. Stoddard, formerly of Sumo, and Mike Moffat, formerly of Theta. Together, they have designed dozens of audio and A/V products, from the Andromeda III to the Cobalt 307 to the DS Pre and Angstrom 200.They were setup in Can Jam event area, a huge room devoted to the mega universe of headphones or "personal listening devices".

 The Bifrost was there in all its diminutive glory and playing its little heart out,  but it is not yet production ready.  Hooked up to yet another hot item, the new Audez’e (sounds like Odyssey) LTC 3 headphones. Jason said they were the first headphones he's heard that sell for $2,000 that are worth it. More on those in a minute.

 

 The Bifrost

It's a DAC with USB 2 async so it will do 24/192 via USB.

Asked if it upsamples, the response was, "Not just no but hell no. None of our DACs will ever do sample rate conversion. Our goal is to perfectly reproduce the original music samples, not to throw them away and turn everything into a mystery-meat soufflé. Sample rate conversion destroys all the original samples. What goes in isn’t what comes out. We worked hard on a microprocessor-controlled, bit-perfect clock management system to ensure that all the original music samples going into Bifrost are delivered to the D/A converter, whether you’re running 16/44.1 or 24/192, rather than cheaping out and throwing in a sample-rate converter so we could use a single clock.

But what about Advanced Segment, Super Voodoo, WowieMatic 24/32 bit converters out there?
"They’re still delta-sigma. And they’re all lying about 24 bits anyway. A true 24 bit converter would have a -144dB noise floor. The best of the delta-sigma D/A converters are missing at least a couple of bits. Yes, even the “32 bit” ones like ours."

 

LYR
HYBRID HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
DYNAMICALLY ADAPTIVE | ZERO FEEDBACK | NONINVERTING
$449.00

 

VALHALLA

SINGLE-ENDED TRIODE OTL HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
ZERO FEEDBACK | NONINVERTING

$349

ASGARD

SINGLE ENDED CLASS A FET HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
ZERO FEEDBACK | SINGLE VOLTAGE GAIN STAGE

$249

 

“We’re changing the level of entry-level,” said Mike Moffat, Co-Founder of Schiit Audio. “Low cost shouldn’t be an excuse for a throwaway product. In fact, entry-level products are where you want upgradability the most. It lets someone get in and get a taste for what high-end audio can do, and then can grow with their needs.”


Despite Bifrost’s low cost, it’s packed with advanced features and high-end components, including the AKM4399 32 bit D/A converter, used in other DACs costing nearly 5X more than Bifrost, a fully discrete analog section like DACs costing thousands of dollars, a sophisticated bit-perfect clock management system to ensure the delivery of original music samples to the D/A converter, an advanced asynchronous USB 2.0 receiver implementation that offers 24 bit / 192 kHz playback from both Windows and Mac computers, and a low-jitter SPDIF receiver that is also 24 bit/192kHz capable.


“Bifrost offers much higher performance than the last DAC Mike and I collaborated on (the Cobalt 307), has more features and more inputs, and costs only about half as much as the Cobalt,” said Jason Stoddard, talking about an iconic DAC that he co-developed with Mike during his Theta Digital days. “And the Cobalt didn’t have discrete analog, and wasn’t upgradable. Progress is a wonderful thing.”
Schiit Audio announced pre-order availability today for Bifrost, at a retail price of $349 (without USB 2.0 input) and $449 (with USB 2.0 input), sold direct from Schiit Audio’s online store, and through select international distributors and US dealers. Bifrosts ordered without USB can be upgraded to add the USB input at any time with a $100 board, thanks to its upgradable design. Bifrost is shipping now.


In the future, Schiit Audio will make selected upgrades available for Bifrost when there are meaningful changes in USB or D/A conversion technology. Bifrost owners will be able to send in their DACs to have the boards swapped, or they can do it themselves, if they’re handy with a screwdriver.


Bifrost is the first in a planned line of three Schiit DACs, including a step-up model with balanced outputs, and an all-out assault on the highest-performance DACs on the planet. All will offer upgrade plans or options.

 

 

 


About Schiit Audio


Founded in June 2010 by audio industry “old dogs” Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat, Schiit Audio has a simple, if somewhat insane, mission: to bring superior performance, design, and quality to audio products at near-Chinese prices, while manufacturing in the USA.


Jason Stoddard was the former engineering lead at Sumo, designing power amps that included Polaris II, Polaris III, Andromeda III, Ulysses, Ulysses II, The Ten, The Five, as well as preamplifiers including Athena II, Diana, and Artemis, and Sumo’s first digital line: Axiom and Theorem

.
Mike Moffat was the founder of Theta, Theta Digital, and Angstrom, and his audio history covers an impressive list of firsts, including the first standalone DAC, the Theta DSPre, the first use of digital signal processing and bit-perfect digital filter algorithms, the first DTS surround processor, and more.

This is Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat, co-founders of Schiit.

They came up with their motto, "If you haven't heard OUR products, you haven't heard Schiit!"

Now, the last time we saw Mr. Moffat, he looked more like THIS, so you see that there has been quite a...um...change.

Of course, he soon wants to be known as Miss Michele Moffat, but he/she has been so busy with Schiit that he/she needed to postpone that for now.

Perhaps he'll be best known as Little Miss Moffat!

Miss Moffat has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Either way Mike/Michele, congratulations on your transformation!*

 

Here's a Stereomojo EXCLUSIVE! Jason and Mike have decided to also venture into the highly lucrative cosmetics field.

This is the VERY FIRST picture of their prototype product! As you can see, they will be offering FCUK for both men and women.

Congrats again. We hope we get lots of free samples.*

 

Audez'e LTC 3 - $2,000


Audez'e employs a number of proprietary techniques to improve upon the basic planar magnetic design. Audez’e design uses a very thin, proprietary film for the diaphragm. Once etched, the diaphragm is mounted in tension between two layers of opposing magnets. This mounting process requires great precision, and Audez’e has designed proprietary methods and tools to effect a very consistent and even mount. This diaphragm manufacturing process has been tuned to ensure a flat frequency response over a wide bandwidth while ensuring a robust diaphragm and maximum efficiency of the driver.

LOTUS - Ultra Thin Diaphragm
Most Planar Magnetic speakers use Mylar (PET) diaphragm with aluminum traces. Audez’e transducers use new materials that offer substantial improvements for both diaphragm and traces. Audez’es proprietary LOTUS diaphragm is capable of handling maximum continuous operating temperatures
of over 400 Deg Fahrenheit, This enables the drivers to have smooth, resonance free frequency response, excellent internal damping, edge damping, very low distortion and extremely fast transient response. In addition, the Audez’e Transducers are very versatile and efficient. This enables the user to pair them with a wide variety of amplifiers. The diaphragms and transducers can be optionally made hydrophobic and dust repellent for special applications.

 

Speaking of headphones, Jim Fosgate has added a headphone amp to his highly regarded phono pre product 

with "The Fosgate Signature Headphone Amplifier". Tubes are 12AX7. He uses video buffers instead of op amps.

Bass boost with 3 settings plus Jim added his patented "panorama control" to solve one of headphone's biggest challenges;

to get the music out of the middle of your head. Bandwidth is said to be 10 times that of human hearing; 2Hz to 20Khz.

Buy one for you dog, too!

$1,500

 

Border Patrol


Border Patrol P20 EXD push-pull 300B power amp, dual mono with twin
external power supply units. RRP $16500


The amplifier is a copper and hardwood construction and uses
interstage transformers to drive the 300B's. The interstage and output
transformers have undergone deep cryogenic treatment.
Each power supply contains three tube rectified choke input filter
PSU's to  independently supply high voltages to the 300B's, the
input/driver tubes and the negative bias supply.

Border Patrol S20 EXD parallel single-ended 300B power amp, dual mono
with twin external power supply units. RRP $16500
The amplifier is a copper and wood construction and uses interstage
transformers to drive the 300B's. The interstage and output
transformers have undergone deep cryogenic treatment.
Each power supply contains three tube rectified choke input filter
PSU's to  independently supply high voltages to the 300B's, the
input/driver tubes and the negative bias supply.

Border Patrol Control Unit EXT1 pre-amplifier. A triode line stage that
uses 6DE7/13EM7 tubes. Features a copper chassis, hard wood circuit
boards and external heavy duty tube rectified choke input filter PSU.
Price is $12250. A dual mono, dual external PSU model is also
available.

Border Patrol DAC. Prototype DAC in hardwood chassis with external
heavy duty tube rectified choke input filter PSU. Target price $10000.

Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW loudspeakers. $10750. The top model if the
acclaimed Living Voice Auditorium series with external crossover
units.

 

SALK

Jim Salk designs the speakers, but his wife Mary is much prettier so we thought you'd rather look at her.

The new Soundscape speaker has a base price of $16,000/pr. This is Jim's cost-no-object, flagship model.

"The first step was to identify the drivers that would be used. Since transparency was extremely important, we knew a ribbon tweeter would be in the mix. And RAAL was producing some of the best ribbon tweeters on the planet. So we contacted RAAL and had them produce a custom tweeter for us. That was easy. The woofers would be equally easy since we were extremely pleased with the performance of the drivers we had been using in the HT3’s. With a few improvements we were able to develop new 10” and 12” models perfectly suited to the task. The type of cabinet they would be mounted in was a different matter. More on that in a moment...The midrange was a bit more challenging. We started by purchasing samples of ALL of the finest high-end midrange drivers we could get our hands on. We even had some custom built to see if we could improve upon those that were currently available. We tested them, one by one, for accuracy, power handling, dispersion and a other variables. We narrowed down the possibilities and set out to design cabinets to test the remaining drivers as full-blown prototypes we could A/B against one another. It took an entire year of working with multiple midrange drivers until we settled on an Accuton midrange. In the end, no other driver came close."

The top section is molded with polymers. They could design a polymer that would be even more dense than MDF, Baltic birch plywood or bamboo. And they could develop another type of polymer that would help isolate the midrange/tweeter section from the woofer section. This could be designed to absorb any remaining woofer cabinet vibrations (which were already minimized in that section design) and prevent them from being transmitted to the midrange/tweeter section.

 

 

 

Salk, as usual, shared the room with Frank Van Alstine who was showinging, with new silver faceplates,

his Fet Valve R series amplifiers, available in two models; the Fet Valve 600R (300 watts per channel) and the Fet Valve 400R (200 watts per channel).

Both offer absolutely unique engineering accomplishments; active analog regulated power supplies for each section of each channel. There are active 12V heater supplies for each tube, active 275V and 200V regulators for each plate of each tube and for the mos-fet drivers, and finally (and an audio engineering first they believe) active analog regulated power supplies for each power mos-fet output circuit, ten high speed analog high current regulated power supplies in all. No switching supplies or associated RFI noise at all.

The 300 wpc 600R is $3,500 while the 200 wpc 400R is $3,000.

Both amps use Ecc81/12at7 tubes.

 

The Fet Valve Preamp

Described as "the best we can do", the new pre sports matching silver faceplates (we like 'em), 6 line inputs + tape, dual line outputs & headphone outputs as well. Phono circuits, inverter/bridge circuits/remote and balanced line in/outs are options. It's a no-feedback design.

 

 

Frank's been busy; there's a new DAC, too. 4 digital inputs, 2 coax, 2 optical. Uses 2 6CG7 tubes.

no-feedback Broskie-Kayser analog filter/output circuits

 

*Hopefully you see that we have a sense of humor almost as twisted as Schiit's!

Not a bad start. Got more?

Go to page 2!

 

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