[A head-fi/hifi expedition in Tokyo and the Australian Audio and AV show in Melbourne precluded my attendance at this year’s RMAF. Instead, DAR’s Portlandian correspondent Mal Kenney fills us up on what went down – John Darko]
Bel Canto Design
Bel Canto stopped making their giant amps a few years ago and their name has since become synonymous with cute, friendly boxes. That got tossed this year with their new flagship Black line. Weighing a ton and darker than Vader’s formalwear, the first product is a fifty-grand, three box, assault on everything Bel Canto thinks is wrong with the world.
The top box, the ASCI “Asynchronous Stream Controller” handles input and and manages the digital data. Everything is clocked and error checked in the digital domain until it gets to the other two boxes, each called a MPSI “Mono PowerStream,” which then crunch the (well-preserved) numbers and amplify the signal. The basic effect is to take the noise of analogue signalling and shove its head in the toilet. Audiophile phrases like “black background” and “erupting from silence” are appropriate here. The TAD CR-1 was simply more terrifying than I’ve ever heard it. That’s a good thing.
Further information: Bel Canto Design
The ANZAC room of the show saw DEQX and Plinius teaming up as the heart of a stupidly popular system. I made three trips to this room, but I couldn’t get anyone’s attention over the push of the crowd. Honestly, I didn’t try that hard on the third trip. A copy of Ella & Louis was spinning on a VPI Scout, and the presentation was enough cleaner than I’m used to hearing that I decided to have a listen instead. The DEQX guys seem pretty hardcore about convincing people that their mate box is perfectly happy to munge an analogUE system, and the demo left little doubt that many platter spinners would be a lot happier with some digital magic in the chain.
The system? VPI/Soundsmith Zephyr on a VPI Scout. Dynavector phono pre. DEQX Mate ($4500) sitting at the top of the food chain. A pair of Plinius P10 amps (Somewhere around six grand-ish) feeding YG Acoustics Kipod speakers (Around fifty grand).
Further information: DEQX | Plinius Audio
The slickest of the one-box solutions, Devialet’s D-Premier, was partnered with what appeared to be the mid-price Focal Aria 926 (~$2k). Despite Devialet’s reputation as one of the Feersum Endjinns of the audio-jewellery set, this turned out to be a surprisingly affordable system by show standards.
Further information: Devialet
Your Final System
There are a couple of very serious nerds behind YFS. Their three box music server is brutally ugly, brutally expensive, and brutally effective. $15,500 gets you the 4u rackmount case. Another grand each gets you the external power supplies that make it sing. Partnered with a Meitner DAC, some black-market-organ priced Constellation electronics, and Von Schweickert’s VR44 speakers ($26,000 USD), the system managed to be completely musical while still scraping fly-spec detail off your glasses. I may have to stop saying bad things about the guys who sell music servers.
Further information: YourFinalSystem
Modwright brought a near final prototype of their new DAC for the big rig. The Elyse, ($TBD), is a PCM 1794A based dac. If you’ve heard the DAC card in the Modwright integrated, it’s pretty clear that this is an output stage evolution of the house sound.
If you haven’t heard the integrated, Dan Wright had one in the back corner for you. That’s about $6500 all-in for 200 watts, a phono section and a DAC that will give you a hefty chunk of what Modwright’s new box will. This thing has “Maggie” written all over it.
Further information: Modwright Instruments
The Salk StreamStreamer, a minimal Linux box that does nothing but feed music to DACs, was on hand. I tend to like the software since it’s pretty much what I picked when I DIY-icated my own home system. I also like the less-than-$1500 price that makes it pretty fiercely cost competitive with DIYing your own.
Further information: SalkStream
Darko has written plenty about RL’s Concero range and little on their flagship INVICTA Mirus [Full review to come in a month or two – Ed]. Those are all here on tap. New in the lineup is a Dingus Class DAC and can-amp, the Herus. CA$350 for this little sucker – the performance is stellar. RL ran their whole room from one for a while. Well… I guess, technically, there was a prototype Dreadnaught Class amplifier that they’re working on too…
Further information: Resonessence Labs
It’s a running joke with my friends. They get all hot and bothered about Wyred4Sound; I tell them that I could better spend my time listening to a dump truck roll over a seagull. They love the dynamics on tap from Emerald Physics; I tell them to go Craiglist a pair of old Altecs that won’t rip their face off. They talk about bang for the buck, the future of audio, and killer new companies. I tune an old Dynaco FM-3 to KLCC and warm my house with the tubes until they stop talking. My wife? She’s not even that nice about it. Every show is the same deal. She gives me the look and asks, “Do we have to go in there?”.
Yes. Yes, we do. Because it’s sometimes great.
This was best sound I’ve heard come out of any of their boxes. There was a real sense of meat on the bone and the treble actually managed to sound NOTHING like fingernails on a blackboard. I spent almost ten (fun!) minutes in the room without getting any kind of a headache. It was actually music.
I’m this close to saying nice things about the company. I’m this close to becoming a total fanboy. The newest product is the ST-1000 MKII stereo amp ($2000 USD). I kinda like it. Just don’t tell Darko that I said so. It’s too much fun to watch him flail.
Further information: Wyred4Sound
In a triumph of style over… well… just about everything else Roksan turned their room into an art gallery. They also turned their products into art.
Technically, the gear on offer was Roksan’s Oxygene integrated amplifier (~$5k). The stylish aluminium case offers 75 watts, 3 RCA inputs, and all the Bluetooth sound you could want. There’s no usb on hand. There’s no network streaming, no s/pdif or toslink inputs, and no phono preamp. There’s a matching CD player (really?), but nothing else right now. If you’re into cutting-edge vacuum tube technology, this isn’t your bag. If you’re looking for a lifestyle system that sounds pretty fine, this may be where it’s at. It’s a triumph of simplicity, and probably the ideal competitor to Bang & Olufsen on style points.
The style gets upped, though, when you anodize Jay Paul Apodaca’s art into the top of your casework. Mr. Apodaca himself was on hand to burble excitedly about just how cool this was. I’d have to agree. More impressively, Mr. Apodaca’s original art hung above the units bearing the replicas. Roksan definitely did right by him. If Roksan and Apodaca have their way, the days of “any color you’d like as long as it’s silver” will be tossed out like so many pea-soup-green leisure suits.
Further information: Roksan Audio
Benchmark and Studio Electric have been pairing up at shows for a while now. The team changed a bit since Benchmark’s new amps rolled off the line on Thursday morning. First impressions: impressive.
The AHB2 (*price TBA*, but “under $3k”) is 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms, stable into 2 ohm loads, able to be strapped to mono for 340 watts, offers a claimed bandwidth out to 200 kHz and is about the size of two Benchmark DACs stacked on top of one another.
No, it’s not Class D. No, it doesn’t sound like Class D. If they’d been for sale, I’d have tried to fit two of them in my duffel bag.
Further information: Benchmark Media
Charlie’s Record Store was in full swing. Electronics from Ayre, turntable from DPS, discontinued speakers from JBL, records from the dollar bin and set dressing from the mind of some absolutely mad bastards. The beer came out around five o’clock. I love these guys. You don’t need to know how it sounded. It was a slice of heaven and it would have been a slice of heaven if they’d brought a crap boombox.
Further information: Ayre Acoustics