RMAF 2010 Show Report
The RMAF is a fun show. I have really enjoyed attending the previous six RMAFs. This year was no exception. It was fun. Compared to the CES in Las Vegas RMAF is very low key and you don't have to walk miles and miles each day. There were a quite a few new exhibitors this year. Most of the exhibitors I spoke with seemed very pleased with the number and quality of the attendees. Despite the show being well attended the rooms were not always packed with people. Thus, I had the opportunity to talk with quite a few exhibitors and designers. While some of the designers are b*llsh*t artists, talking to some of the other designers was amazing. As they talked I keeping having flashbacks to the physics courses I had in college. Wow, these people really know their stuff.
The following are some of the more interesting exhibit rooms. I did not get to all of the rooms because there were too many to cover in only three short days. However, by talking to friends in the hallways during the day and at dinner at night, I think I got to hear most of the best sounding rooms. Some rooms would not let me play my own CDs or LPs, so I have no comment about those rooms. Other rooms were crowded every time I went there so I could never play my own music. And as I have mentioned in previous show reports the music in some rooms was too LOUD for me to venture in.
Waterfall Audio USA - The Waterfall speakers are speakers with all-glass cabinets and no damping material inside the cabinets. I had seen them at CES 2010 but never got to hear them. This time I got to hear the $54,000 Niagra speakers with Cary Audio equipment: 303T SACD player, $6500, SLP-05 preamp, $8500, and 1.5 mono block amplifiers, $10,000. I also got to hear a much more modest system: Victoria speakers, $6000, with Pioneer Elite A-9 integrated amp and D-9 CD player. Cabling was by Wireworld. The sound of the Victoria speakers system was nice. The sound of the Niagra speaker system was on a totally different level. Per the company's website the Niagra is a three way system with four drivers. The tweeter is a horn with the entire horn made of glass. The glass used for the cabinet is 15mm thick and is one grade below optical glass. The lack of damping material within the speaker is compensated for by a proprietary device that eliminates the backwave from the woofers. Visually these speakers are stunning. Sound-wise they definitely deserve a listen if you get the opportunity.
Galibier Design - The Galibier room was equipped with the Galibier Stelvio-II turntable, $27,500, with Durand Talea Tonearm, $7900, and Dynavector XV-1s cartridge, $5250. Electronics were the Atma-sphere MP-1 preamp, $15,000, and the M-60 amplifiers, $6800. The speakers were the Daedalus Audio Ulysses speakers, $10,950 direct. The sound was excellent. Every time I entered the room, which was quite a few times, I really enjoyed what I heard regardless of the LP being played. One of the last times I visited the room I was able to play my copy of the recently released 45rpm reissue of the soundtrack to Gladiator. We played all four sides straight through. The recording is superb and the way it was reproduced in that room was magical. After the end of the fourth side a woman who had been sitting at the back of the room exclaimed "that was a religious experience". I agree. I don't think I have heard any other system convey the emotional content of music that well.
Atma-sphere/Classic Audio - I have always enjoyed listening to Atma-Sphere electronics. At the shows the Atma-sphere room was usually shared with Classic Audio who demoed either their T-1 or T-3 speakers. The sound was never to my taste. This year that all changed. The newly redesigned T-3.4 speakers, $28,000, were sounding very good. The upstream sources were a Atma-sphere modified turntable, Triplanar tonearm,Van den Hul Grasshopper cartridge, and Atma-sphere MP-1 Mk III.1 preamp and M-60 Mk III.1 amps. I listened to a number of familiar LPs and some new-to-me LPs. The sound was always engaging, articulate and detailed. My hat is off to John Wolff of Classic Audio for his perseverance in getting his field coil drivers to finally perform the way he knew they could.
TW-Acustic/Tron - The room had two systems. Every time I entered the room it was always the more expensive system that was playing. The system that I heard consisted of a TW-Acustic AC3 turntable, $18,000, with a TW-Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm, $5500, and an Ortofon Black cartridge, $669. Electronics were by Tron Electric. The amplifiers were the Telstar, $28,000, which are single ended triode (211 tube) mono blocks producing 12 watts each. The phono stage and preamp were from the Seven series, $10,000 each. The speakers were the Hornung Euphrodite Zigma Ultimate, $22,000. Cables and interconnects were from Stealth Audio being the Dream and the Sakra, respectively. This room had very good sound and was always full of people. I got to play one side of my Gladiator LP. The sound was dynamic, detailed, and musical. It was the magic of SET amps with excellent equipment upstream and downstream.
Orca Design - The Orca room was featuring their $14,000 Raven EBB speakers driven by Superlative Audio mono block amps, $30,000 per pair. The source was digital files from a hard drive to an Auraliti USB converter, $795, to an Eastern Electric Tube DAC, $750. The sound from such a modest front end was amazing. Both the Auraliti and the Eastern Electric Tube DAC are worth listening to if you listen to your music off of a hard drive.
E.A.R USA - The E.A.R. room was using both analog and digital sources. The analog source was a Townshend Audio Rock-7 turntable, $3,000, with Helius Omega tonearm, $2900, with a Dynavector SV-1S cartridge, $5250. The digital source was an E.A.R. Acute CD Player. The preamp was the E.A.R. 912, $11,500, and the amplifier was the E.A.R. 890 stereo tube amp, $7595. The speakers were the Marten Getz, $20,000. Cables, interconnects, and power cords were Jorma Origo. The sound in the E.A.R. room at shows is usually very good. This year was no exception. The fairly modest analog front end sounded very good. I have always enjoyed the Acute CD Player as it plays music and not digits. Having heard the E.A.R. 890 amp briefly in my own system I am starting to think that the 890 amp has a very high sound quality versus dollar ratio.
Emotiva Audio Corporation - The Emotiva room was very interesting. Everything in the room was made by Emotiva: all the electronics including the CD player, the speakers, subwoofer, the interconnects, the speaker cables, and the power cords. The total retail price of everything in the system was slightly over $6000. For such a modest price the sound of the system was definitely High End. As an entry level system this gives very good bang for the buck.
deHavilland/Sonist - The only source in this room was an Ampex tape recorder using prerecorded commercial tapes bought off of E-Bay. This source was used because deHavilland was demonstrating their new Model 222 Magnetic Tape Playback Preamp, $2295. The preamp was the deHavilland Mercury 3, $3995. The amplifier was the deHavilland KE-50A KT88, $9995. The speakers were the Sonist Concerto 3, $3495. The music was wonderful. Tape is still the best source, beating all the other analog and digital sources that I have heard. The Sonist speaker was using a new woofer. The previous woofer had been dropped by the manufacturer. It took Randy Bankert, the designer, almost 18 months to find a new woofer that could meet his specifications. The search effort was worth it. The Concerto 3s with the new woofer are a major improvement over the old.
TTWeights Audio - TTWeights is a branch of a high precision machine shop just outside of Toronto, Canada. For several years TTWeights has been selling platter periphery rings, copper turntable mats, record weights, and other vinyl accessories. Last year they produced a $75,000 200 lb. turntable as a statement piece. Six months ago they released the Black Onyx turntable for $15,900. At RMAF they were introducing their new Gem Turntable, $5250. The Gem was sitting on an Ikea tabletop which was on top of two wooden packing crates. The Gem had an Audio Origami 12 inch tonearm, $5200, with an Allnic Puritas MC cartridge, $5000. The electronics were the Allnic phono stage H3000, $10,900, and the Allnic T2000 integrated tube amplifier, $8500. The speaker was an out of production Silverline LaFolia which had been bought used for $5000. The cabling, interconnects and power cords were by Audio Sensibility: speaker cables 2.5m, $549, interconnects 1.0m, $499, power cords 1.5m, $499 and $824. The Gem turntable is a rim drive with a DC motor controlled by a servo unit. For approximately $40,000, this system sounded like it could easily run with the $100,000 systems. The sound was excellent. I should have a review sample of the Gem turntable arriving near the end of November. I can hardly wait.