Best Sound (cost no object) – Once again, the VTL/Wilson/DCS/Transparent Audio Room on the second floor (2030) garners my vote for best sound at the show. It was my first time hearing the Wilson Alexia speakers and I was more than slightly gob smacked by the system’s ease and power. Comparing Peter McGrath’s recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with my own recording over the system was a revelation. I’ve never heard a more revealing, yet still musical system. The reproduction chain seemed virtually non-existent as we compared microphone placements and listening perspectives of the two recordings.
Best Sound (highest value) – This year the new Emerald Physics CS 2.P ($3000 to $3600) combined with Emerald’s EP100.2SE digital amp ($2,200) DAC2 ($299), DSP2.4 digital crossover ($850), and Peachtree Audio Nova DAC/Pre ($1119) gets my vote for best high-value system. The cable was from Spatial, their Quantum Field wire ($500 fro 8ft length). Total system price without cable was only $6200. I was impressed not only by the system’s speed and detail, but also its ability to convey the weight and power of an entire orchestra – all without exciting any pernicious room resonances.
Most Important Trend – The inclusion of DSD capabilities in several new DACs from prosumer companies such as Benchmark, MyTek, and Lynx (soon to be included in the Hilo). As to whether DSD capability will lead to a rash of DSD offerings from any of the major labels is doubtful. But smaller labels, such as Blue Coast Music, already have quite a few DSD offerings in their catalog. And anyone who uses a Korg or Tascam DSD recorder will now have a way to play back their music files natively on something other than the machine that made them. For next year’s RMAF I’ll bring some DSD music files since by then we should see even more DACs with DSD capability.
Most Significant Product – Benchmark’s DAC1 was the product that made it OK, and perhaps even cool, for audiophiles to use gear from the pro-audio side. Their new DAC2 HGC ($1995) raises the bar by including Asynchronous USB 2.0 and DSD support, as well as several proprietary new technologies including a hybrid gain control circuit, higher headroom DSP, UltraLock jitter attenuation system, quad 32-bit balanced D/A conversion, and distributed power regulation.