The second “Raidho Room” featured the little D1 loudspeakers, and I was really happy to see them. Hosted by Bob Visintainer of Rhapsody Music and Cinema, the D1 ($25,500/pair with matching stands) were driven by a pair of Veritas monoblocks from Merrill Audio ($12,000). These amps are based on the Ncore modules from Hypex that’s getting folks all hot under the collar, and good for 400 wpc into 8 ohms and up to 1,200 wpc into 2 ohms. On the spec sheet, these amps look incredible, great SNR, superlative impedances; in person, they’re rather simple, a flat box. A Kondo preamplifier ($34,000) and a Pi Grecco CD player ($22,000), and cables from Ansuz Acoustics, rounded out the offerings. I couldn’t really get a handle on this room, but of the two Raidho demos at AXPONA, this was clearly the one to beat.
The second Rhapsody Music room was manned by Philip O’Hanlon of On A Higher Note, and as I mentioned in the last piece, the man has some seriously awesome tunes in his bag of audio tricks. The Vivid Audio Giya G3 ($40,000), a speaker with equally startling looks and sound. Interestingly, I found this speaker also driven by another Ncore variant, this time from Mola Mola; the mono amps retail for $15k/pair and the matching pre goes for $10k. Icing this particular cake was a new soon-to-be-shipping DAC from Luxman, the DA-06 ($6,000), which supports up to double-DSD sampling over USB. I’ve already mentioned that the sound in here was Best-In-Show caliber, and I have nothing to add or take from that—this was outrageously good sound.
Care Audio was showing one of my favorite new speaker brands, My Audio Design (MAD). I was quite taken with the sexy Duke Royal at AXPONA; here was the far more affordable Baron ($13,000/pair). Paired with an Allnic T2000 integrated, here run as an amp-only ($8,900), with a Dude preamplifier from Tube Research Labs. A Calyx Femto DAC ($6,850) did the conversions from a Musica Pristina server ($6,500). The Barons are stand mount speakers with a graceful upward taper, an admittedly odd shape for a stand-mount. Take that away and I was happily awash in some lovely music. Great combo!
Moving over to the other MAD room, this time with a pair of more traditional-looking, boxy stand-mounts, the MAD 1920s ($3,495/pair), shown in both red and black finishes. Marc Philips of Colleen Cardas Imports was demoing these with components from PureAudio. These looked rather like skeletonized Plinius Audio gear, which makes some sense as the designers are ex-Plinius folks, but while eye-catching, I expect the avant-garde casework may be a bit much for folks looking for a more traditional aesthetic. The PureAudio Control pre ($9,500) and Reference monos ($15,500/pair) were joined by The Analog DAC from MSB (prices start at $6,995; shown at $8,690) with an MSB Platinum Data CD IV transport ($3,995). An elegant tiered rack from Trellis Audio supported the gear. Sound was very good, not quite as elegant and effortless as the bigger MAD speakers, but given the typical limitations of the little two-ways, I had no complaints.
The oddest room, for me, was the triple-Joseph combo I found, powered by VAS electronics. I’m a huge fan of Joseph Audio, and own a pair of his superlative Pulsar loudspeakers, so yes, fine, I’m hopelessly biased, but seeing a trio of the flagship Pearl 3 loudspeakers ($28k/pair) on display was enough to make my mouth water. Shown here with an actual Pearl 3 center speaker, the base cabinet can actually sit on its side. It has little footer rests for the top cabinet to sit astride it, though it was set up here in the traditional manner. I can’t imagine using this kind of speaker as a center channel in a surround system—the word “overkill” keeps bouncing around my head—but that wasn’t precisely what was going on here. The VAS Citation Sound-1 preamplifier ($5,000) has a rather interesting “blend control” allowing the user to create a center channel out of a traditional stereo feed. Might be a very good thing for fill, especially in a large room, but here, I guess you could say I wasn’t convinced. Paired with a trio of the Citation Sound-2 monos ($1,500 each), good for 50wpc of EL34 tube power. Also of note in this room was the already-mentioned VPI Classic Direct turntable and the new JMW 3-D tonearm.
Red Wine Audio is a regular stop on the floor circuit, at least for me. Owner/designer Vinnie Rossi is just a good guy and it’s nice to catch up with someone who seems genuinely happy to see the familiar faces wandering through, who’s obviously having a good time, and is just plain enthusiastic about what he’s doing and why. His attitude is a little bit infectious, and quite frankly, the industry could use more enthusiasts like this. Heck, most industries could use more Vinnies, but I digress. Here at The Palace, Vinnie was paired up with Fidelis A/V and Sound by Singer; he therefore had a sweet pair of Harbeth 30.1 ($5,995/pair) out in front and a Bricasti D/A converter ($8,500) feeding the Red Wine Audio components. Speaking of which, the new Liliana monoblocks, which are Class A/B driven entirely from battery to produce 115wpc into 8 ohms, got themselves the equivalent of a mani/pedi, err, that is, they have a new wood faceplate that brings their aesthetic in line with the rest of the Renaissance Edition upgrades Vinnie has been rolling out this year. I already mentioned the to-do/ta-da around the Signature 57, so let me skip to the new Ren Ed Isabella preamplifier (prices start at $3,995), which can be fitted out with options for headphones, a phono pre, and a pair of DAC modules—or all of the above—and yes, it also has a wooden faceplate. In addition, it sports the 6H30 Russian “super tubes” as part of the new package. Did I mention I’m a fan of this line? I am! And here paired with the Harbeth, the sound was extremely easy to hang out with. Detailed, but never cold, punchy by not too forward, warm but not too smooth. And oh-so-quiet. Yum!