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My Picks for Best Sound at RMAF 2017

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  • My Picks for Best Sound at RMAF 2017

    But before getting to a run down of which rooms caught my fancy, a little on the albums I brought along to the show and why I chose them.

    Above all wanted to choose albums that were sonic benchmarks, spanned genres and were great music. Didn't want to destroy my reputation at shows! 😄

    So here's a look at the albums I brought to Denver this year and why.

    Winds of War and Peace-Wilson Audio reissue by AS “Olympic Theme”

    An album that never liked until Chad's reissue. Great remastering job by Kevin Gray and cleans up the amorphous quality among other things of the original release. Large scale, marching band type music. Bombastic with big bass drum. Also ability to separate the different instruments.

    Grant Green: Matador MMJ 33 rpm “My Favorite Things”

    Monster album, monster playing, monster song, monster recording by RVG.

    This recording serves many purposes. First, is it musically engaging? Do I hear the tightness of the quartet? Next, can I discriminate Green’s notes as he moves up and down the scales and neck of the guitar as well as separating McCoy Tyner’s playing with his left and right hand. Then does the system accurately present the tone of the instruments? What about the attack of the guitar? Lastly, can the system do Elvin Jones’ drumming justice?

    Andreas Vollenweider: White Winds original pressing

    Absolutely mind boggling and numbing special effects.

    So many things here beginning with the spatiality, ethereality, musical nuances and low level resolution, size of the soundstage, how well the system coalesces images, how long can you hear the fade out of the female singer and does the music move you. In other words, does the music hang there or grab you by the….

    The Doors: LA Woman 45 rpm reissue by AS "Riders on the Storm"

    Love the music and again there’s a lot of things with transient attacks, playing around with Morrison’s voice, soundstage size, sound of the storm and rain, Manzarek’s synthesizer, etc. to keep one busy for quite a while.

    Smoke and Mirrors: Vanish "Udacrep Akubrad" 45 rpm Yarlung Records

    This is more than just a percussion record. This cut is a torture for tone, resolution, lightness and nuances.
    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
    Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
    ________________________________________

    -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
    -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
    -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
    -Doshi EVO phonostage
    -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
    -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
    -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
    -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
    -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
    -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

  • #2
    RMAF 2017: The Best of the Best

    A couple of caveats before getting to this year’s standout rooms at RMAF. I realized after going home that this list turned out to be very much stilted toward the expensive systems at the show. But after due reflection, part of the reason for that was that I eschewed those rooms with digital sources. Or at least digital only sources. As it turned out, the best rooms employed multiple sources and the more modestly priced systems stuck to a digital only front-ends.

    Next, my listening notes drew exclusively from listening to vinyl or tape (with the exception of two rooms). Rooms at shows, can, depending upon the source medium be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not to mention, the importance of being intimately familiar with what you are listening to. Not to mention where you sit. Not to mention what day you hear the system. (Opening day of the shows being like the old joke about buying an American car built on Monday or Friday!) As I was laying in bed dozing off on Thursday night, it came to me that setting up a room at an audio show is like that cooking show on the Food Channel network where chefs are provided the raw ingredients and tasked with coming up with a dish in twenty minutes.

    Lastly, it is impossible with a show of this size to cover all the rooms. Especially if you want to do anything more than sprint between rooms and shoot pictures. And lousy ones at that. Or catch up with people who you haven’t seen since the last show. Or actually talk about the equipment being demonstrated. Thus, there may have been some rooms that missed or didn’t have time to follow up on more than once during the show. So without any further ado, the rooms at this years’ RMAF 2017 that set the tone for high-end audio systems.

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    1. The Audio Alternative Room 1: Vandersteen Model 7 MkII speakers ($62K), Sub Nine subwoofers ($18,900), VTL TP-6.5 signature phonostage with MC stepup (12,500), TL-7.5 Series III Reference linestage preamplifier ($25K), Siegfried Series II Reference monoblock power amplifiers ($65K), Brinkmann Balance turntable with 12.1-inch tonearm and RoNt power supply ($32,080), Lyra Atlas moving coil cartridge ($11K), AudioQuest cabling and Niagara power conditioning, HRS racks.

    This room checked all the boxes for audio show sound. What impressed me the most—besides the system’s ability to play big—was the system’s upper octave extension. This was the only system that really captured Vollenweider’s White Winds including its cavernous, ethereal sound. Same went for The Doors “Riders on the Storm” where in addition the fiddling with Morrison’s voice was clear as a Denver day

    2. The Voice That Is: Tidal Audio Akira speakers in midnight black gloss ($215K), Tidal Audio Presencio Reference preamplifier ($77,600), Tidal Audio Ferios amplifier ($67,900), Tidal Audio Reference Cables, TW-Acustic Raven Anniversary table ($22K) with TW-Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm ($5500), Transfiguration Proteus Mk. 2 moving coil cartridge ($6000), Signal Project PLC.

    Another really great system excelling with its see through transparency and ability to capture the nuances of the music. Just absolutely effortless sounding. The latest version of Transfiguration Proteus cartridge also sounded better than the original version that I reviewed a while back in Positive-Feedback. Specifically, the midrange of the new Proteus was far more palpable while retaining the original versions resolution.

    3. The Audio Alternative Room 2: Martin-Logan Neolith speakers ($80K), Audio Research Reference 6 linestage ($14K), Audio Research Reference Phono 3 phonostage ($14K), ARC Ref 750 amplifiers ($66K), Turntable 1 (Clearaudio Master Innovation table ($29,400) with TT1-MI tangential arm ($32,350), Olympus turntable stand ($13,400), Goldfinger Statement moving coil cartridge ($15K), Turntable 2 (AMG Giro with 9W2 tonearm ($10K), DS Audio DS002 optical phono cartridge and EQ ($5K), Turntable 3 (Clearaudio Concept Black w/Satisfy arm ($1800)/Hana SL moving coil cartridge ($750)/Musical Surroundings Super Nova III phonostage ($5K), MIT Cables, HRS racks.

    Best the Neoliths have sounded at an audio show. Still a touch of difference between the woofers and stat panel but oh the speed and resolution on Grant Green’s guitar. Extremely solid sounding and very transparent with LPs played back with the Clearaudio GFS. The DS Audio DS002 optical cartridge sounded much better at RMAF than at Axpona this year though still hear that tendency for instruments coalesce on the speakers and the soundstage to shrink.

    4. GamuT: GamuT Zodiac speakers ($149K), GamuT M250i monoblock amplifiers ($25,990/pr.), GamuT D3i Dual-Mono preamplifier ($8390), GamuT phono or R2R board for preamplifier ($1990), Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas-Cornet 2 turntable (7995)/external power supply ($1995)/Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge ($2729), GamuT interconnect and speaker cables.

    Ditto what said above for Neoliths. This was the first time at an audio show that the Gamut speakers and system didn’t sound bright to me. (plus had an opportunity on Saturday night for some extended listening to tape and LP!) Different room, different setup, etc. Though there might have been a touch too much bass relative to the rest of the audio spectrum (though was tight and controlled), the system was big, effortless and un-solidstate-ish sounding. I was also impressed with the turntable and its very solid sounding bottom end.

    5. High Fidelity Services: Verity Audio: Verity Audio Lohengrin IIs speakers ($133K), Verity Audio Monsalvat PRE2 preamplifier/DAC ($35K), Monsalvat AMP 60 ($58K), Monsalvat PRE2 with Melco N1ZH Mk.2 source ($39,995), TW-Acustic Phono preamplifier ($18K), TW-Acustic AC Anniversary with Black Night upgreade and 2-TW 10.5 arms ($47K)/Ortofon A95 ($6500). Signal Projects cabling.

    This huge room that brought the Thrax system last year to its knees didn’t faze these big speakers from Verity Audio. Huge soundstage that didn’t exaggerate the size of instruments. Interestingly, despite the extreme speaker spread, there was never a loss of center image. In fact on Grant Green’s Matador, the piano instead assumed a more realistic size. What prevented the system from just be a bit further up the list was a slight loss of low level information and harmonic completeness.

    6. Constellation: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers ($58K), Constellation Audio Perseus phono preamplifier ($32K) plus DC Filter ($6K), Constellation Audio Virgo III preamplifier ($32K) plus DC Filter ($6K), Constellation Audio Centaur II monoblock amplifiers ($80K), Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian Table ($35K) plus Viper tonearm ($10K) and Ortofon A95 ($7000), Transparent Audio XL cabling, Artesania rack.

    Hands down the best I’ve ever heard Constellation at a show. Not coincidentally, this was also the first time that I heard the Constellation gear with an analog, not digital source. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde effect here? Very powerful kick ass dynamic bottom end on the Alexia 2s. Very good staging and imaging. The one thing that knocked the system down in the ranking was a slightly loss of transparency. There was just a slight haze that never seemed to burn off and never felt the openness and see through quality of the better systems here.

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    7. Joseph Audio/Doshi Audio: Pearl 3 speakers ($31,500), Doshi Audio V3.0 mono block amplifiers ($32,900/pr), Doshi Audio V3.0 preamplifier ($16,900), Doshi Audio V3.0 tapestage ($16,900). Fully rebuilt, recapped with new low inductance Flux Magnetic heads Studer 810, Cardas cables.

    Tubes, tape and Joseph Audio speakers. A match made in heaven. First room on the list with a “real” tape machine. One of the most musically engaging systems at the show. Talk about palpable midrange and uncanny midrange tone. Big stage and the speakers just disappear into the ether. What’s not to love?

    8. Zesto Audio: Marten Django L speakers ($9000), Zesto Audio Andros Tessera vacuum tube phonostage ($12K), Allasso stepup transformer ($2995), Leto 1.5 vacuum tube preamplifier ($7500), Eros 300 monoblock Class A power amplifiers ($19,900/pr), Merrill Williams Audio REAL 101.2 turntable ($7200)/Triplanar U2 (classic 10-inch) tonearm ($7200)/Benz Micro Gullwing SLR MC cartridge ($3600), Fono Acustica cabling.

    We often forget what an all tube system at its best can sound like and then we hear something like Zesto Audio. There’s just a magic that tubes bring to the music. Not to mention information and life. You heard it hear. One complaint though—and it wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced this—was these Marten’s just sound small.

    9. Daedulus: Daedalus Audio Apollo speakers, ModWright KWA 150SE Signature Edition power amplifier ($8995), Ambrose One dual mono tube preamplifier ($11,995), PH 150 Reference Tube phonostage ($7900), VPI Signature Prime Rosewood (), Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($), J-Corder Technics RS 1500 Ruby Red ($9750). Skogrand Vivaldi cables, Stillpoints rack.

    The Daedulus speakers would get a vote for most improved sound. Up to now, they always struck me as a pleasant, polite though not highly resolving transducer. No the Apollo. Much more resolving while at the same time maintaining the speaker's mellowness aka lack of artificiality.

    Incomplete Grades

    Nagra Audio: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers, Nagra electronics, Kronos turntable, Nagra-T reel-to-reel tape deck plus Doshi Audio tape stage

    Not sure if this room didn’t suffer from larger than life expectations and comparisons to last years’ room. Despite everything, this room just never came together. Problem number one was all the gear was brand new. Problem number two was where was the top end? The who ethereal experience of White Winds was missing resulting in other recordings a chocolatey sound with not a whole lot of bass definition.

    GTT Audio: Von Schweikert speakers, AudioNet electronics, Kronos turntable.

    Something was really amiss here. The digital front end—granted it was an Ares Cerat Cassandra DAC—was everything the analog front-end wasn’t. Dynamic. Dimensional. Engaging. Didn’t have time to go back to the room on Sunday as Leif Swanson was going to change out the ZYX 4D cartridge for an Air Tight.

    ELAC: ELAC Anante AF-61 speakers ($5000), ELAC Alchemy DPA-1 monoblock amplifier, ELAC Alchemy DDP-1 DAC/preamplifier plus PS-5 power supply, ELAC Alchemy DMP-1 media player plus PS-5 power supply, 512 Engineering/Marutani Consulting cables and PLC.

    I almost liked this room until I heard the second album. It sounded the same as the first. Whatever it was (electronics?), the two vocalists sounded exactly the same and they were of opposite sexes. But these new speakers from Andrew Jones are worth checking out.

    Lampizator: Pacific DAC Balanced and Preamplifier (28,000 Euros)

    The speakers simply weren’t up to the rest of the equipment here.

    On A Higher Note: Gryphon Pantheon speakers ($52K), Gryphon Diablo 300 integrated amplifier ($16K0, Gryphon Scorpio CD player ($9400)

    Perhaps Philip is a victim of his other show demos but the Gryphon rollout just left me flat. The soundstage didn’t extend beyond the speaker’s outer edges, the sound was just kind of droned on and overall the system was on the dark side lacking extension. There had to be something really wrong here.

    Interesting rollouts and updates:

    Convergent Audio JL monoblock amplifiers with KT150 output tubes ($34,900)

    These amplifiers just seemed so much more open than have come to expect from Ken Stevens designs. Something I associate, correctly or incorrectly, with the sound of the KT150 output tube.

    Esoteric Audio E-02 Balanced phonostage preamplifier ($9500)

    Intriguing new phonostage with multiple inputs (2 X balanced and 2 X single-ended) and balanced and single-ended outputs. Would have liked to hear with different speakers.

    Magico M6 speakers ($172,000)

    This year was a dry exhibit because the Hyatt took their room away at the last minute. (the speaker debuted at the Tokyo Show two weeks.) I will hopefully, however, be able to report on their sound by the end of thiss year.

    Zesto Audio Allasso step-up transformer ($2995)

    Allows for much more careful matching of the cartridge to the stepup transformer with its increased number of settings. Four different gain setting and four different voltage settings. 40 different loading setting in mono and stereo that speaks to the unit’s flexibility and ability to match different cartridges.

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    Levin Audio Record Cleaning Brushes

    Just loved the look of the brushes. Looks like they would sweep the biggest cat hairs off the surface of the LP!
    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
    Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
    ________________________________________

    -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
    -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
    -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
    -Doshi EVO phonostage
    -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
    -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
    -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
    -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
    -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
    -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

    Comment


    • MylesBAstor
      MylesBAstor commented
      Editing a comment
      Good to see you in Denver Stan!!!

    • Madfloyd
      Madfloyd commented
      Editing a comment
      Which CAT amps were they? When you say 'rollouts and updates' I'm wondering if they were new.

    • MylesBAstor
      MylesBAstor commented
      Editing a comment
      I think the JL7s Ian. Thought Ken said they were 225 wpc.

  • #3
    Myles, you are so right about the Proteus MK2 cartridge. You may recall that I told you early in the year, I received mine in January after decapititng my gen 1 version of the Proteus, and before even one hour of break in that I perceived it as a totally new and greatly improved cartridge. Bob Clarke told me that there was more silver wire used and a heavier gauge too with fewer windings not to mention improved suspension. Worthy of a follow up review IMO.
    TW Acustic TT with Ref motor & controller; Tri-Planar Arm; Ortofon Windfeld-Ti Cartridge, Harmonix-Combak platter matte & weight; Arcam R Phono Preamp; KLAudio Ultrasonic Record Cleaner.

    Bluesound Vault-2 Music Server & Streamer

    VTL 6.5 preamp Series II
    Pass Labs 150.8 Amp

    Piega C711 Loudspeakers

    Symposium Osiris Rack; Symposium Platforms and Roller Blocks plus grade 2.5 Balls

    Acoustic Revive RR-888 Low Frequency Pulse Generator, Synergistic Research 12 UEF SE Line Conditioner, Level 3 HC AC Cord and Level 3 power cords, Synergistic Carbon fiber wall plates, Synergistic Research Orange & Outlet, Furutech NCF Booster Braces, Audio Art Ref balanced IC, MIT Oracle IC, Synergistic Research Euphoria Level 3 Speaker Cables, Synergistic Research Cable Risers.

    Sennheiser HDV 650 Headphone Amp; Sennheiser HD800s Headphones.

    Comment


    • #4
      Hello Myles, many thanks for such a great report. May I ask what your thoughts were on the low level resolution of the CAT amps? Also, what day did you listen to the Nagra room as I believe the sound was much better on Sunday? Thanks again for a great report.

      Comment


      • MylesBAstor
        MylesBAstor commented
        Editing a comment
        Can't say about CAT amps. Digital and nothing I was familiar with.

        Re Nagra. Friday and Sunday. Had improved a little on Sunday but the sound was still lacking.

      • ashandger
        ashandger commented
        Editing a comment
        Hello Myles, many thanks for taking the time to provide feedback. Look forward to your report on Magico M6/CAT combination later this year...hopefully your visit will go ahead.

    • #5
      Myles for your very thorough and well presented report! The Vandy 7 Mk2's are deserving of BOS. They are a very impressive package around the $60k price point. I would certainly take the Vandy's in lieu of Magico S7's in M-coat finish, or even the M3's given a suitable size room. Of course the Vandy's had an equally impressive supporting cast which helps.

      It's a shame the S5 Mk2's weren't showcased in a better setup, maybe with Vitus Signature series or Absolare amps, with a good vinyl deck like the Tech Das AF3 & a Doshi tape setup. + 1 on the Joseph Audio/Doshi room & Daedalus Apollo speakers also .

      Comment


      • #6
        Nice to see the TW Acustic AC Anniversary show up in your report...twice. Amazing source component.
        PROGRESSIVE SOUNDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
        www.lasercd.com
        www.lasersedgegroup.com

        Rockport Aquila, Boulder 2010, Boulder 2008, Boulder 2060, Transparent Audio Reference XL, Nordost Quantum QBase8, TW Acustic AC Anniversary, TW Acustic Raven 10.5 arm, Lyra Atlas, Bricasti M1 Special Edition, SRA Scuttle3 rack + various SRA/Symposium stands

        Comment


        • Barry
          Barry commented
          Editing a comment
          I noticed that. I recently ordered one so I'm hoping you're right.

        • lasercd
          lasercd commented
          Editing a comment
          I had the first one that landed in the US. I maxed it out with all the Black Knight options available for it. I recently upgraded to the copper top for the motor controller. Amazing table. You won't regret it. I see you are outside Philly. So am I. You are welcome to come hear it.

      • #7
        Originally posted by MylesBAstor View Post

        ELAC: ELAC Anante AF-61 speakers ($5000), ELAC Alchemy DPA-1 monoblock amplifier, ELAC Alchemy DDP-1 DAC/preamplifier plus PS-5 power supply, ELAC Alchemy DMP-1 media player plus PS-5 power supply, 512 Engineering/Marutani Consulting cables and PLC.

        I almost liked this room until I heard the second album. It sounded the same as the first. Whatever it was (electronics?), the two vocalists sounded exactly the same and they were of opposite sexes. But these new speakers from Andrew Jones are worth checking out.
        I loved these when I heard them in LA, it was basically the identical system you heard save for a different room. Andrew played all the audiophile approved recordings (fortunately or unfortunately) I happened to know the music well enough and never heard the 'sameness' you detected. a guy and gal sounding alike? musta been singing falsetto


        Simon Yorke + Zyx + B.M.C .> Soulution > Boulder > Magico

        "Listening to Analogue music is an act of rebellion in a digital gulag" - Simon Yorke

        Comment


        • MylesBAstor
          MylesBAstor commented
          Editing a comment
          Sameness in the sense that there was a washed out quality in the midrange.
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