I had a lovely new assistant with me for this year’s RMAF.
My girlfriend Michele took on this bastion of boys and their toys and to my amazement actually seemed to enjoy herself. Just like last year we arrived at the Tech Center Marriott mid morning on the first day of the show. Since the show does not officially open until noon, we walked around and looked for rooms that might be open early. We struck gold in some of the larger rooms on the first floor. As I have explained in my past reports, I have been the lone 6moons reviewer at this show so it was a physical impossibility to get to every demo.  My report includes rooms that either really stood out for me or where I had some particular interest in the product being shown. My apologies to exhibitors whom I was unable to cover. I made a major goof this year and forgot my camera! I had to rely on my friend Dean Beckwith to take many of the photos. When Dean struck out on his own, Michele took over with her cell phone camera. My apologies for the unusually bad quality of photography this year.

Raidho Acoustics, Constellation Audio, Ansuz Cables. The much acclaimed Raidho Acoustics D-1 ($26,000/pr with stands) looked and sounded striking driven by Constellation electronics and connected by Ansuz Acoustics cabling, the latter a company new to me. Very tasteful music selections (Eric Bibb, Katie Melua) were used to demonstrate the system. The dominant impression was of a very open soundstage with excellent musicality and very good coherence between the ribbon tweeter and cone woofer. Raidho has worked hard to refine this driver blend and it shows. It was all very enjoyable. My only criticism was that, while bass extension was quite impressive for a stand mount, there was a slight degree of woolliness. Other than that, this system was world class. I did not get to hear the less expensive MB-1 two-way monitor ($3,000 with stands) from the Scansonic line but many I talked to felt that it was quite the sonic bargain and not that far behind the D-1.

Aaudio Imports: Lansche, Ypsilon, Thales. This room was another early opener. The Thales turntable ($13’200) with Simplicity II tone arm ($9’200) and Ikeda KAI cartridge ($8’500) was playing Ella Fitzgerald singing “I Cried For You” through the ultra high-end Ypsilon electronics (Phaethon integrated amp $24’800, VPS-100 phono stage with MC26L step-up $32’200). Brian Ackerman had brought with him a smaller Lansche speaker (Lansche 5.1) this year. This Ella recording is one I know very well since I own it on both vinyl and CD. It sounded smooth and tonally balanced but slightly veiled in comparison to my memory of playing it on either my WLM or Bastanis speaker-based systems at home. I visited this room again on Sunday and my impressions were the same. I have voted this room as one of my best of show in past years but this year it didn’t quite get there for me.

Daedalus Loudspeakers, Modwright, WyWires. The new model VPI Prime turntable ($3’500) and a Modwright-modified Oppo BDP-105D ($3’830) were the sources along with the new Modwright 24/192 Elyse tube DAC ($6’900) and Modwright PH 150 Reference tube phono stage ($7’900). I’m not sure what the other components were but I’m guessing the Modwright LS 100 (6SN7 based) tube preamp and the KWA 150 Signature Edition amplifier ($8’495). Speakers were Daedalus Audio Ulysses speakers (with some recent upgrades at $15’50/pr) and WyWires cabling. I’ve heard both brands sound fabulous in prior years. This room did not float my boat when I was in the room on either source. However, this was early in the show and maybe things got better later. When the show officially opened, I made my way over to the elevators to assault the 11th floor of the tower and work my way down.  The lines of people to get on the elevators were not too bad at this point. One other caveat:  I avoid rooms with video appearing to be a central theme. It’s just not why I am there.

Audio Kinesis, Atmasphere, Parasound, Modwright. I seem to recall Audio Kinesis from RMAF 2013. The model from last year had a separate upfiring speaker cabinet on the floor behind the main speakers. This year’s speaker model was the Zephrin 46 ($4’900). It is an augmented two-way floorstander. There is an upfiring array of tweeters from a cabinet extension off the rear speaker base that provides what they term a late ceiling splash (LCS). The speakers were powered by the Atma-Sphere S30 amplifier (class A triode, direct-coupled OTL, $3’950).  My friend Dean Beckwith was in the room and requested to play a Liz Wright CD he’d brought to the show.  Duke Lejeune the designer obliged. His LCS technique definitely added ambience and is an unusual variation on the somewhat more common rear-firing tweeter. The bass was a bit muddy at first but Duke plugged the ports and it tidied up nicely with no downside to my ears.

Resonessence Labs. A friend of mine was so impressed with the Resonessence Labs DAC ($5’000) at last year’s RMAF, he ended up buying the show sample. It is one of the few DACs that accepts SD cards for music files. I missed this room last year but must say that I was impressed with the sound they were getting from a 15-year old pair of B&W 640i speakers and a special prototype amp that will be released soon at the $20’000 price point. The amp was described as modified class A amp producing 108wpc. The DAC upgraded in mid-2013 sounded excellent when fed a variety of digital formats including DSD. They use a custom algorithm to upsample files. It is not software driven but done with VHDL blocks. They even played an old CD cut that was often used as a demo at the time. It was the Flim & the BB’s Tricyle album. The speakers disappeared and there was good soundstage depth and lots of air even in the small hotel room.  This was a smartly run demo and the DAC and amp are obviously fine products.

Sonist Audio, George Warren Precision Sound, deHavilland. The two-way Sonist Concerto 2 ($3’09/pr) were playing when I entered the room, powered by Kara Chaffee’s tube electronics and Snake River cabling. The source was the George Warren turntable. The turntable was new to me but seems to be a conservative design utilizing a Maxon DC motor with belt drive to spin a platter that is mass loaded at the periphery. Vocals were nice but I found myself wanting for a more full-range sound and wished the larger floorstander models had been playing.

Merrill-Williams Audio, TAD, WyWires, Tri-Planar, Zesto Audio. Reiner’s Scheherazade was playing on the Merrill-Williams Audio REAL 101.2 turntable ($7’200) with the Zesto electronics (new Andros 1.2 phono stage $4’700, Zesto Audio Leto line stage $7’500, Zesto Bia 120 tube amp $12’500) driving TAD Evolution One speakers ($29’800). I have commented before that the TAD speakers are a risky venture for a demo. In my experience they can sound exceedingly bright in some pairings. Zesto had them under control more than ever this year and my notes on the room’s sound include such comments as  good scale, coherence, transparency and smoother than expected highs. WyWires probably had a hand in the smooth sound too since their newest cables have been optimized with the TAD (and some other) speakers. Zesto managed one of the best pairings with TAD speakers that I have heard along with Merrill Audio and Channel D last year.

OASIS Audio, Belleson, Mojo Audio.
This was an interesting room as it had a definite handcrafted flavour to the system. My understanding of the presentation was that the featured component was the Mojo Audio Mystique DAC ($1’995) and that the Tangband-based speakers and modified vintage Allen organ tube amps were from the personal system of the DAC’s designer Ben Zwickel.  Ben is of the school of optimizing an NOS DAC using the AD1865K chip since most everyone’s music collection is 90% 16/44 recordings. He builds his DAC to have the best power supply possible, incorporating “over 237’000uF of capacitive filters and seven Belleson ultra-low noise high-dynamic regulators that independently isolate each stage of the IC chips.” I must say that there was a real purity to the sound with a quiet background and satisfying harmonic structure. If you are of the same mind, this DAC seems quite worthy of trying their 45-day no-risk audition. Mojo also optimizes the Mac Mini for use as a server ($1’495 plus $995 for the upgraded Joule V power supply).