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Empirical Audio, Mach2Music, GIK Acoustics, Balanced Power Technology, YG Acoustics: A Mach2Music server was feeding Steve Nugent’s latest Ultra Overdrive DAC with volume control into his modified Parasound Halo JC1 amplifiers. Steve switched to the YG Acoustics Kipod speakers this year. Last year he used the top-of-the-line Salk speakers and I awarded Empirical Audio my Best Digital Sound. This year I felt that the combination with the YG Acoustics Kipod speakers was a bit too clinical. Still the strengths of Steve’s gear showed through: detail, speed and explosive dynamics. I noticed that the YG Acoustics speakers—both the Carmel and Kipod—have this tendency toward coolness and that certain rooms are able to somehow warm them up. Last year Synergistic Research got wonderfully warm and smooth sound from the Carmels with their various cable and power treatments but it doesn’t seem to happen easily.

Aaudio Imports - Acapella, Einstein, Millenium, Stage III Concepts, Weizhi Precision: This room is always a contender for Best of Show. First the Violincello II speakers seem to work well in this room without a lot of fuss over acoustic treatments. The midrange horn and plasma tweeter are hard to not like. There isn’t a speck of horn squawk or other nasties. Bass performance is very good but not quite up to the world-class performance at the higher frequencies. These remain in my top tier of the show.

Audio Limits – Venture, B.M.C. Audio, Stage II Concepts, Precision Audio & Video: Okay, the speakers are $90.000/pr but this was one expensive speaker that sounded utterly fantastic. I know, it damned well better! Music selections played either from a computer with J.River media player or from the BMC BDCD1 belt-drive CD transport ($5.990) were Harry Belafonte, Steely Dan and a blues guitar player (Todd Bennett perhaps). The sound was perfectly balanced with just the right amount of everything. I could find no fault. I read John Atkinson’s blog on this room and he was also "blown away". While the speakers are very expensive, the electronics are not quite as breathtaking in cost. The amps were the BMC AMP M1 solid-state monoblocks ($15.580/pr) and the preamp/DAC was a BMC DAC1 Pre (HR) D/A converter/preamplifier ($6.290). A peek under the hood of the beautifully made BMC components was provided on a side table.

High End Palace – Pass Labs, Eggleston, Mach 2 Music, Stahl-Tek: Again the Stahl-Tek digital front end was present and the sound was again excellent. No coincidence I am sure. I requested Larry Diaz to play a track from the demo CD I got from Philip O’Hanlon of On a Higher Note again. The track was Brian Bromberg's The Wind Cries Mary. I noted taut and powerful bass from the Eggleston Fountane Signature speakers as well as a pleasing sparkle in the highs. With the benefit of hindsight I’m going to have to place this room as one of the best.  See high-quality pics of Larry’s RMAF rig here.

Dan D’Agostino, Transparent, Wilson Audio: Dan D’Agostino himself was manning the iPad and Meridian Sooloos MC200 media center when I entered the room. His Momentum mono power amplifiers were driving the Wilson Sashas which were in quite a few rooms. I must admit that after hearing the Sashas a number of times over the past year or so, I am not a big fan. Plus Dan was on a bass jag with Yello blasting away at absurdly high levels for a room of this modest size. I guess he was trying to impress visitors that his new amps carried on the tradition of Krell amps but the room was overloading badly. He kindly played the Brian Bromberg cut for me and it was much boomier in the bass than it had been with the Eggleston Fountane Signature speakers in the previous room.

Audio Note UK: This was a deluxe setup for Audio Note UK. They had the AN-E speakers (not sure which specific version this was) in the corners per usual. The featured component of this room had to be the new top-of-the-line Audio Note DAC retailing, I believe, at around $140.000!!!  We heard the omnipresent Nils Lofgren Keith Don’t Go and I must say that it may have been the most lifelike rendition I heard at RMAF. There was almost no digital signature to the sound and I think that even the most hardcore analog diehard would have to admit that this was digital at perhaps its best.  Again 99% of us need not apply for this DAC.

Fono Acustica, Kaiser, Concert Fidelity:The Kaiser Kawero ribbon/cone hybrid speaker ($66.000/pr) room was one of my favorites at last year’s RMAF. They were faring quite nicely on the Sheffield Recordings Harry James LP but overall I think they sounded better last year for some unknown reason.