More to See on RMAF Day 3

Here's a switch: Instead of a million-dollar system, we begin with a bargain-priced powered-speaker system, the Vanatoo Transparent One Encore ($599/pair). Designed near me, in Seattle, and manufactured in China, this successor to Vanatoo's original model, which was released six years ago, has a new 1" aluminum dome tweeter, more powerful 100W, four-channel amplifier with "much better" DSP-based L/R crossover, remote control, Bluetooth with aptX, and four more "automatically sensed" inputs for analog, USB, Toslink optical, and coaxial digital, the last three accepting up to 24/96 but downsampling to 24/48. According to Gary Gesellchen, aka Mr. Vanatoo, "It's virtually a different speaker."

Playing CD rips without its optional $400 subwoofer, this speaker offered surprisingly deep bass and delicacy on top as well as excellent soundstaging. Frankly, it's a powered speaker I'd love to review. I wonder how would it compare to more costly Dynaudio Focus 200 XD, which I reviewed for Stereophile?

My goal was to stick to premieres, which somehow mistakenly led me to the budget-room system headlined by Salk Sound Song Towers loudspeakers ($1995/pair), 120Wpc Peachtree decco125 Sky integrated amplifier ($899), and VPI Cliffwood turntable ($900). When I entered, someone was playing Bernstein's sonically compromised recording of Mahler's Symphony 2. The system didn't lie: It rang like crazy, sounded as bright as hell, and sheared the organ of its bottom octaves. A terrible recording for auditioning equipment, especially when there are so many well-recorded, well-conducted and played CD, SACD, and hi-rez file versions around.

Thank goodness, a recording of clarinetist Richard Stoltzman's "Calling You" from Bagdad Café sounded far more mellow and warm, with lots of space around the clarinet.

Also in the system: Danacable cables, Furman PST 6 power conditioner, Pangea Vulcan rack, and Gingko Audio ARCH vibration-control accessories.

Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts NYC introduced Zellaton's new Legacy loudspeakers ($27,950/pair). Some of the most expensive little two-way reference monitor standmounts you'll find, these babies, which were three years in development, include a 0.8" soft-dome tweeter, 5" mid/woofer, and 8" rear-firing passive woofer. With a frequency response of 45Hz-38kHZ, 4 ohm impedance, and sensitivity of 86db, the 14"-high, 22 lb monitors found an extremely compatible home with Ensemble Massimo Fuoco amplifier ($14,975) Thöress phono enhancer ($12,750), Thales TTT-Compact II turntable ($14,850) with Thales Statement rhodium tonearm ($21,090) and Fuuga MC cartridge ($8975), Ensemble cabling rack and footers, and the RF-pollution-clarifying Schnerzinger Protector ($1950), the name of which suggests the perfect thing to carry when I'm walking my dogs, the coyotes are howling in the woods, and I can't seem to scare them away by playing the start of Shostakovich's Symphony 4 at top volume through my iPhone.

First up was a Geminiani sonata. The harpsichord sounded completely natural and fine, but the stringed instrument—was it a viola da gamba or a cello?—sounded recorded in an entirely different environment, as well as a bit boxy and wiry. I expect that was all on the recording, because when Gideon played a track from a recording of Mozart by baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Daniel Barenboim, all the different qualities of DF-D's voice came through with impressive beauty. Switching gears, I found tonality excellent on a recording of Grant Green playing guitar. I left with the impression that these speakers move very fast, and deserve a far longer audition than I could give them.

Dynaudio and Octave teamed up to present the forthcoming new Dynaudio Confidence 20 loudspeaker (est. $12,000/pair with dedicated stands). Slated for release in the second quarter of 2019, it is the first in a new line of Dynaudio speakers. Electronics were the Octave Jubilee SE 400Wpc monoblock amplifiers ($80,000/pair), modular Octave HP 700 preamp ($16,850 as shown), and Ayre QX-5 Twenty D/A processor ($8950). Cardas cabling held everything together save for some ragged show attendees.

Not to be upstaged, Octave also unveiled the small new Octave Filter 3-P ($2750). Meant to reduce EMI's effects on music signals passing through analog cables, the little 9 lb baby is available in either XLR or RCA versions, and connects between one's source and either preamp or integrated amp.

I greatly admire Dynaudio speakers—I raved about their powered Dynaudio Focus 200 XD in my first full review for Stereophile, and smiled when their Special Forty won the Bookshelf Speakers award at this year's Rocky Mountain International HiFi Press Awards Gathering. But for some reason—I suspect the electronics—Mercedes Sosa's sometimes overdone singing in a heavily reverbed version of the Kyrie from Misa Criolla, heard in "Red Book" resolution, had a metallic tinge, although the guitar accompaniment sounded quite natural. When we switched to young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing "No Woman, No Cry"—I'll be reviewing his Seattle Symphony debut next week—the sound was extremely believable and beautiful. Finally came Till Brönner and Dieter Ilg's 24/96 version of "Eleanor Rigby" from their album Nightfall, on which the system aptly conveyed the advantages of hi-rez: a larger soundstage, excellent spatiality, superior color saturation, and more believable timbres.

Up the hallway, Crescendo Fine Audio paired Octave's V80SE 120W tube integrated amplifier ($10,500) with a new Ayre Acoustics CX-08 CD player/Roon-ready network streamer and Wilson Audio's new TuneTot loudspeakers ($9800-$10,500/pair, depending upon finish). The Wilsons came equipped with TuneTot IsoBases ($2100/pair), aluminum trim rings ($649/pair), and fabric grilles ($299/pair); one person I spoke to suggested the grilles be chucked for optimal sound.

Successor to Dave Wilson's original Wilson Audio Tiny Tot, aka WATT, its cabinet technology derives from Daryl Wilson's Alexx and Sabrina. Intended to sit on shelves, cabinets, and the like, it includes various leveling spikes intended to ensure a time-domain-correct baffle angle. As mentioned above, it also has its own isolation base that can sit between the speaker and its resting surface. The reasons the TuneTot was not displayed on the room's built-in credenza were two: the surface of the credenza on the long wall was uneven, and Matt of Crescendo does not like displaying on the long wall because the soundstage gets disrupted every time someone walks in and out of the room.

I was quite excited to hear the latest speaker in the new Dave/Daryl Wilson line, not the least because Wilson Audio speakers had just garnered two 2018 Rocky Mountain International HiFi Press Awards. With apologies for any errors in the following equipment recitation—I was working from two emails and one price sheet on which everything did not sync—the Wilson, Octave, and Ayre components joined forces with an EAT C-Major turntable with EAT Jo No.5 cartridge ($3345), EAT E-Glo S phono preamp ($2995) with EAT LPS power supply for turntable and preamp ($1295), Cardas Clear and Shunyata Sigma cabling, Shunyata Denali Tower power conditioner ($4995), and HRS RXR-1921-4V equipment stands that were used under the speakers. A brand new HRS E1 isolation base ($995) sat under the turntable on the HRS rack.

The sound was very alive and detailed, but emphasized a bit too much treble metal over natural warmth. This was especially evident on my Entre Amigos Chesky CD by Rosa Passos and Ron Carter, where there was an unexpected treble edge on Passos's voice. Regardless, the system absolutely nailed how close-miked her voice was, and conveyed the midrange warmth of both her instrument and Carter's bass with excellence.

Am I eager to hear these speakers again with a change of electronics? As with Dynaudio Confidence 20 loudspeakers, you betcha.

Although I escaped Reference Recordings' Minnesota Orchestra version of Rimsky-Korsakov's dreaded Dance of the Tumblers—it was offered to me no less than three times by dealers in other rooms who had apparently copied their miniscule classical catalog from each other—the fabled Reference Recordings album, Mephisto & Co, surfaced to haunt me. Its bass through eight pairs of HRT Stage VIII speakers ($650/pair), resting on Sound Anchors Pro speaker stands w/adapters for HRT speakers and augmented by two REL S/3 power subwoofers ($1999/each), was tremendous, but soundstaging thrills were somewhat lacking.

A classic LP of Earl Wild playing Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini—sincere thanks to Scot Markwell for reminding me that its title was other than "Oh, that one"—had a slightly warm tint that was quite appealing. This was a system that I'd definitely love to hear again in a larger space.

Doing the honors beyond the speakers: Kuzma Stabi R turntable ($8595) with Kuzma 4Point tonearm with CC wire and ETI Silver Bullets RCA plugs ($6675) and Kuzma CAR-30 low-output MC cartridge ($1895), Dell PC ($200) plus HRT Music Stream HD USB DAC ($500), Manley Labs Jumbo Shrimp tube line stage ($3995), Plinius Audio SA-210 200Wpc stereo class-AB amplifier ($6545), Furutech cabling and power distribution, Furutech Flux-50 filter ($1250), Furutech NCF AC boosters and Signal Boosters (cable lifters), Shunyata Venom Defender ($199), and Relaxa 530 Magnetic Suspension Component Platform ($1250) under the Manley preamp comprised a very long chain that tested my transcription abilities.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

"More, More, More" .......... Andrea True Connection :-) .........

davip's picture

"...somehow mistakenly led me to the budget-room system headlined by Salk Sound Song Towers loudspeakers ($1995/pair), 120Wpc Peachtree decco125 Sky integrated amplifier ($899), and VPI Cliffwood turntable ($900)"

So four-grand is now 'budget' audio in Stereophile Land, is it? More and more these shows are just joke exercises in inflation -- as underscored by the attendee reporter who only 'mistakenly' entered a budget room. Why, for instance, is Sonus Faber's latest statement loudspeaker 100k more expensive than its last one (the Stradivari) a few years back?

The last one of these types of reports that I read (for another online magazine) had a photo of the purveyors of some audiophile cable -- two smug dumplings of pensionable age who could hardly wipe the "they're actually giving us two-grand for this bit of wire" look from their faces. It's all pretty depressing really, and when one of your reporters goes to a show and makes a point of emphasising his 'mistake' in entering the budget area, he embarrasses your magazine as well as those who support you.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Because yours truly and John Atkinson (who was only at the show for two days, and spent much of his time in meetings) could not possibly cover every room, I chose to limit my coverage to premieres. This room, which I mistakenly singled out for coverage in my show guide, lacked premieres.

The very blog begins with praise for a $599 pair of self-powered loudspeakers. That was not a mistake.

"Budget" is in the eyes and pocket of the beholder. Thank you for sharing a different perspective.

Allen Fant's picture

Beautiful pics- JVS
Good of you to capture as many cd and sacd players as possible.
There are many of us Audiophiles who enjoy our shiny silver discs.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

my historic recordings that are only on CD, the SACDs that I love, and the discs I bring to audio shows. Despite what everyone says, I seem to have played discs a lot at this show. Having said that, I try to review hi-rez material as much as possible.

Thanks for the strokes.

Allen Fant's picture

Beautiful pics- JVS
Good of you to capture as many cd and sacd players as possible.
There are many of us Audiophiles who enjoy our shiny silver discs.

GingkoAudio's picture

Such is the danger of agreeing to play request music from attendees at audio shows! One of the "requirements" of a budget room that was graciously sponsored by the organizer of RMAF (thanks, Marjorie) is that we would play music the people want to hear, not just music WE want to hear, or music that sounds good in our system. In trying to bring newer, younger listeners into the hobby, we agree to play their music, however "strange" (and believe me there were some strange requests). So the Mahler #2 by Bernstein was such a request and I agree that it sounded awful. But maybe that was what the requester was after - a system that plays music truthfully - good, bad, or otherwise - rather than sugar-coats it. As such, this system accomplishes its goal.
As for the comment about "budget" being overblown these days, I challenge the poster to manufacture a system like the one we assembled (complete from floor-standing speakers to the rack), sell it for $5000 and make any money at all. As they say, the way to make a million in audio is to start with 2! We do it for the love of the hobby, not to get rich. If you think $5000 is too much for a good sounding system, you can always buy some earbuds from BestBuy, as many of our younger audience we try to bring into the hobby start out with and work your way up the value chain.
Thanks to Jason and Stereophile for actively working hard to support the industry and move it forward despite "naysayers".
Vinh Vu
Gingko Audio

jporter's picture

"As for the comment about "budget" being overblown these days, I challenge the poster to manufacture a system like the one we assembled (complete from floor-standing speakers to the rack), sell it for $5000 and make any money at all. As they say, the way to make a million in audio is to start with 2! We do it for the love of the hobby, not to get rich. If you think $5000 is too much for a good sounding system, you can always buy some earbuds from BestBuy, as many of our younger audience we try to bring into the hobby start out with and work your way up the value chain." CLASSY!

ganyc's picture

"If you think $5000 is too much for a good sounding system, you can always buy some earbuds from BestBuy, as many of our younger audience we try to bring into the hobby start out with and work your way up the value chain."

So for those unable or unwilling to spend $5000 the next choice would be Best Buy earbuds? Is that really what you think?

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