The 2012 edition of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest revealed a well-oiled and established show, and one that has achieved a comfortable equilibrium of size and attendance. Frankly I was concerned how well it would fare this year in the face of west coast competition like the high energy T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach but exhibitors tell me that RMAF continues to serve a loyal regional contingent and beyond–it’s the show of choice for many East coasters. Clearly, with the contraction of a robust brick and mortar network of dealers it still represents a royal opportunity for attendees. With CES 2013 looming it’s not always easy to find a lot in the way of new product at an autumn show but in my category–electronics–I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Debuting at RMAF was the latest B.M.C. integrated amp, the AMP CS2 which packs 200Wpcs into 8 Ohms (360Wpc into 4 ohms). Uniquely it transforms into a pure power amp when combined with a B.M.C. DAC. Providing the muscle is a fully regulated power supply with a large 2kW toroidal transformer, and specially designed balanced current capacitors. Innovative and proprietary technologies inform the precision volume control, and address challenging speaker load demands: Price: $8390.
Electrocompaniet debuted the ECI-6 DS. (see image below) The DS stands for DAC and streaming–the level of bundling that lends new credibility and relevancy to this mature segment. Power output is 200Wpc into 4 ohms and WiFi capable with a streaming module for Internet radio the ECI includes connectivity for SPDIF, Toslink plus rear USB port three analog inputs. It will ultimately be available sans modules. Special kudos to the full featured remote with a vivid display that completely frees the user from the front panel. Price: $6495.
Hegel, displaying with Thiel Audio, has a new top of the line integrated in the H300 (see image below) and it’s a 250Wpc beauty. It features hand-matched FET transistors, an optimized board layout and a more efficient circuit design. But it’s main calling card could be the higher precision volume attenuator derived in large part from the P30 Reference preamp . The onboard 32-bit DAC uses a similar platform to the stand-alone HD11 but improves the clock and power supply. And with its digital output, Hegel has built in some future proofing. For example, as new DACs hit the market, users will always be able to take advantage of the H-300’s re-clocking circuitry via the digital-out. Price: $5500.
A discovery awaited me in the Acoustic Signature/Audio Physic room– the Grandinote integrated from Italy. Eighty-pound heavyweights they are available in two versions, the Shinai and Essenza. Pure dual mono construction, with completely separate power supply circuits for each channel is their calling card, so keep an extra pair of power cords handy. Each outputs 37Wpc of Pure Class A power but the Essenza is upgraded with even more exotic internals and a beefed up power supply and a beefed up price. Price: Shinai, $16,000; Essenza, $32,000.
In the Esoteric/Cabasse room were the new Teac H501 series components. Designed for the smaller room and budget conscious they channel the iconic Nagra-look with efficient and elegant form factors. But without the Swiss’ prices. The series is comprised of four components including a 35Wpc integrated at $799 and 24-bit192kHz streaming DAC $799. Plus there’s an available headphone amp ($799) and lastly, a CD/SACD player ($699).
One of nicest den systems I’ve seen in a long time is the T+A Cala. Displaying with corporate partner Dynaudio, this multi-source component in stunning aluminum and black acrylic is powered with 55Wpc and provides access to all modern sources, from FM tuner, a streaming client for internet radio, hard disc or memory sticks plus an A2DP-standard Bluetooth module. There’s also a subwoofer output, LAN and USB inputs a pair of analog inputs. A pair of fine sounding matching speakers are available for $850/pr. Price: $2200 Also, look for T+A new E Series in fully balanced circuitry for CES.
Naim spins off the original and popular Uniti into a UnitiLite that should be very appealing to single-box aficionados. This all-in-one component outputs Naim’s conservative 50Wpc and incorporates streaming, compact disc, USB DAC and Internet radio capability. Seriously connective with three analog and 5 SPDIF inputs. There’s also a Naim control App which links to the Rovi metadata site. Price: $3000 ($3395 with FM tuner)
Got Power? Musical Fidelity new M8 series will be right up your alley, and then some. Performing effortlessly in the dSC/Verity Audio room, the M8700m monoblocks condenses MF’s premier Titan technology, is fully balanced and outputs a breathtaking 700Watts into 8 ohms. Harnessing that power is the new M8 preamp that’s equipped with enough RCA and balanced inputs plus MM/MC to satisfy virtually all system requirements. Price: $5000. Monoblocks $12,500/pr.
The Perreaux Audiant Series expands into separates territory with the DP32 preamp and 100p stereo amplifier. But these are not merely the Audiant 80i integrated cynically chopped in halves. While they retain the attractive, slimline form factors, the onboard USB DAC has been upgraded and now offers asynchronous 24-Bit/192kHz streaming capability while the amp refines the power supply, and boosts power to a robust 100Wpc. Both are equipped with balanced inputs. Price: DP32, $2992; 100p, $2895.
Paired with the gorgeous Sonus faber Elipsa SE loudspeakers, Simaudio premiered not one but a pair of new next generation Evolution power amps, the Moon 860A and 870A (Price: $14,000 & $20,000). At 200Wpc and 300Wpc into 8 ohms in a balanced differential dual-mono design they include Moon output transistors specifically designed for use in Simaudio amps plus Simaudio’s zero global feedback circuit, a very high damping factor, and the ultra rigid construction–a hallmark of Simaudio designs. It wouldn’t be a system without a new preamp and the Moon 740P fills the bill. Boasting identical construction quality and dual mono design and 4-layer PCBs it features an ultra sophisticated volume control circuit that can operate in 0.1dB step increments. Price: $9500.
Arturo Manzano of Axiss Audio introduced the Accuphase A-200 Class A monoblocks which commemorates the company's 40th anniversary. Rated power is up to 1600 watts at 2 Ohms, but key is Accuphase’s slavish attention to detail. Employing a structural design that exceeds all previous efforts the A-200 boasts a 1000+ damping factor and a significantly improved signal to noise ratio. The printed circuit board is made from a specialized "fluorine resin glass cloth material" that has low dielectric constant and low loss. Signal traces are via copper foil surface, which are then gold plated. A knockout worthy of a celebration. Price: $69,000/pr
In a barrage of new product intros from Ayon Audio and AVM was the gorgeous Ayon Audio Spirit III, a 60Wpc, Class A stereo tube integrated amplifier and the smaller Orion II. Both feature Intelligent auto bias. Price: $5280 & $3960 respectively. For higher power requirements is the AVM Audio A 5.2T integrated. Using a tube preamp stage this powerhouse outputs 325Wpc. Price: $5500.
Coincident Loudspeaker Technology 211PP Dragon Mk. II 75W monoblock amplifier has seen recent upgrades nearly to the point of redesign. Additions include a new dual power transformers and a thoroughly enhanced power supply. The already rigid chassis has been beefed up to the tune of another 25 lbs while the line stage section has improved autoformers and higher purity copper transformer windings. It now runs 50% cooler, quieter. With Pevane output tubes. Price: $10,999/pr.
Nagra says noise threshold has been so reduced in its new Jazz preamp ($12,250) that it no longer needs the battery driven power supply found in the Nagra PL-P. Rather, it draws its power conventionally from the included ACPS II external module. Also new are the 300i and 300p, a stereo integrated and stereo power amplifier built around the same chassis and a complement of 300B Triodes. They feature 20Wpc, with exceptional bandwidth, hand wound transformers and exquisite attention to detail. Made in Switzerland, of course. Price: 300i, $21,250; 300p amp, $16,950
Treading into PrimaLuna territory is Jolida’s Fusion 3502 which combines the best elements of Fusion separates in an elegant, all aluminum contemporary chassis. The ultra linear design outputs 60Wpc and is switchable between EL34 and 6550 output tubes. Good connectivity includes a theater bypass and top panel EZ biasing for extended tube life. With remote control. Due in 2013. Price: $2299
Octave electronics revealed its V90, a KT-120 variant of its current V70. With a new, more robust power supply, the remarkable stability with difficult speaker impedances that Octave is known for will surely be part of the V90 resume. It’s a powerhouse at 110Wpc with front panel electronic bias adjustment. Price: $8000.
PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium integrated, greater bandwidth with six input tubes, oxygen free internal wiring. 36wpc. El34 equipped, the all new front end and is also approved for use with KT 120s. Includes 5 inputs, theater bypass, Teflon wiring and a subwoofer output. Price: $3199.
The Audio Research Reference 10 preamplifier was a last-minute attendee having gone into production just a week prior to RMAF. Designed to replace the all but sold out 40th Anniversary preamp the massive two chassis Ref 10 features revised internals and thicker, machined side panels for far, greater rigidity. Price: $30,000.
Phono Stage News
Dynamic Sounds Associates (DSA) makers of the Phono-ONE displayed the superbly built, full-size DSA Phono II. The full sized chassis houses three tonearm/cart inputs (balanced and single-ended) fro the more exotic turntable rigs plus a comprehensive number of loading options for MM and MC cartridges. Front panel grain selection for all three inputs. Accepts both RCA and XLR connectors. Price: $12,000
From Channel D, the masters of Pure Music/Pure Vinyl software comes the Seta Plus phono preamp. Second in line to the Seta Ultra Wide Bandwidth Balanced Flat Phono, includes an updated, ultra low impedance, low noise rechargeable internal AGM battery power supply. Recharging is automatic upon stylus lift (following an ample zero-signal delay). The Seta Plus emulates the flagship with a fully differential, low noise circuit topology, adjustable cartridge loading, front panel adjustable gain, and a unique, 2 dB channel balance trim control. An optional, internal high performance analog RIAA compensation module also is available Price: $5399 (RIAA module: $999)
Sutherland Engineering is aiming its new Insight phono stage at the sweet spot of the surging analog market. Offering a significant amount of the design innovation of the PH3D, it’s a pure dual mono circuit layout, offers excellent power supply isolation and gold-plated shunts and contacts for loading and gain optimization. It looks like a bulls-eye to us. Price:$1400.
(interior of Sutherland Insight phono)
VTL TP2.5 Series II taps much of the sonic philosophy of the heralded TP6.5 phono stage. There’s user adjustable cart loading, two levels of gain and inputs for both MC MM carts, even user switchable Enhanced RIAA function. JFET/tube hybrid circuitry for the MC stage, all-tube for the MM stage. The front panel rumble filter is a nice touch. Price: $2500
Best Sound (cost no object)
The Lansche No. 7/Ypisilon amplification/Ypsilon and Bergmann front end setup made some highly refined BIG music in the AAudio Imports room as did the exquisite TAD CR-1 in the smaller Zesto/Wywire room, but I’d have to give it to Wilson’s new Alexia driven by VTL 7.5 preamp/Siegfried II mega-power with Transparent Opus cabling and the insanely musical (and insanely expensive) dCS Vivaldi four-piece front end. This system suited the room better than the smaller Sascha did last year providing a more dense and intensely dynamic sound.
Best Sound (highest value)
Synergistic Research used their Music Cable DAC, wire and accessories to drive a pair of $1500 Nola Boxer compacts augmented by tiny REL subs and driven by the Rogue Audio Cronus integrated to make a larger point– it’s still all about system synergy.
Most Important Trend
The power of built-in USB DACs to reinvigorate aging product segments, from preamps to compact disc players–just note how the latter category has been quietly rebadged “DAC with transport”. And don’t forget the trend to build an “App” to make it all work seamlessly.
Most Significant Product
Got an App for that? Wireless control has always been an Achilles heel for audio (and video). Computer media over a network has changed all that. The availability, quality, intuitiveness and graphic excitement of a component’s App can only be taken lightly at a company’s peril.