Monday, October 9, 2017

RMAF 2017 part II

So let me deal with speakers, which were my main focus on this visit.

Carver ALS
Those Gamut's pic'd in first part of my coverage are nearly as tall as me, so that picture does not really convey. But even at their height, they are dwarfed by Carver ALSs. At over 7ft, these ceiling-scrapers might take some time to get used to in your room - I know I had to sit an look at them for more than a few minutes to take them in.

Bob Carver himself was on hand, jovially posing for pics with enthusiastic audiophiles, and told us that at first his own wife objected to these but over time came to view them as pieces of sculpture that just belonged in the room. Could happen, but I suspect this will take a lot of time, I'd not exactly call them beautiful on the eye.

So how did they sound? Well, chameleon-like comes to mind. Some female vocals sounded more than a little tizzy to me, with sibilance obvious on some Barber, and some old school jazz swing recordings had a bite that might require taming for me to feel too settled. But they threw a great soundstage, sonically disappearing as sources. The set up included a woofer, which I think was being offered as a package for $18k, with lifetime warranty (cuing many jokes on the day about just whose lifetime!). I think with their tailorability, they offer a very interesting option. Would love to hear them properly set up in my room for sure, I actually quite like the slender profile and great height - performers certainly did seem life sized here.  Hearing is believing.

Tekton Design 
There's been enormous buzz on various forums about Tekton Design's speakers. Chief Eric Alexander was on hand in one room to demo a pair of floorstanders ($3k) with Parasound amps, while the Parasound room down the hall used a pair of his Double Impact Monitors in their system. Visually, these are nothing special but the multi-tweeter design does catch the eye.

My conversation with Eric was interesting. He is a man on a mission who has a distinct view that most speakers are following the wrong design principles. He aims to develop products which respond more like the natural wavelaunch of real instruments in terms of moving mass and speed. I admire his passion and wish him well.  Quick take: the floorstanders looked as if they would power out the bass with their dual large woofers, but were remarkably light in that regard. Might have been something to do with the recordings chosen (Eric Clapton live at San Diego mostly when I was there on two occasions). There's a sort of planar quality to the sound that is deceptive given the box nature of the design.  The monitors delivered a Michael Hedges track on a Marantz table through Parasound amplification with tremendous body and detail, and provide stiff opposition to many other monitors at the $2k price point. I could easily see a great music system being build around them.  Indeed, that Parasound room with the Marantz TT15-s1 ($1495, Clearaudio MM cartridge included) into a Halo JC 3 Jr phono ($1495, to be released later this year) and Halo Integrated ($2595), all connected up with the more affordable end of Straight Wire cable ($670 for the lot used) was one such rig. Great sound all round for less than $10k the lot.

JWM Acoustic
Winner of the Al Steifel Legacy Room Award, chief Josh Miles was demo-ing a pair of his hand-made Alyson monitors. And not just any pair -- this is a pair I have had in my home for review (forthcoming). I won't give the game away too much when I say that partnered with a pair of $50k Constellation monos, thankfully provided by the company when the accompanying Aires Cerats developed a problem, these $8k speakers sounded very special.  It would have been great to here the Cerats as my brief exposure to them indicates they are really good, but really, when an $8k speaker sounds this good with any amp used, you know it's competitive. And did I mention, these are beautiful too?

Worth noting though are the JMW tables Josh produces. He used one here to great effect, with an Ortofon 12" arm, producing sweet sounds that killer bass that kept me sitting longer here than many other rooms. This room was a family affair, like so many other small companies, with Josh's mother and brother helping to ensure it was always staffed and open, no easy feat given the show hours!

Martin Logan
I had specifically wanted to hear several speakers at RMAF that I cannot otherwise easily listen to (well, that would describe most speakers actually in today's retail space). Sadly, Quad's distributor told me they weren't showing (odd decisions given recent front page coverage on S'phile), so the wait to really ever listen to Quads continues since the only dealer in the state of Texas doesn't carry any to hear either!  It's true too of the upper-end Martin Logans too but thankfully they had three models on show here.

Top of the range Neoliths ($80k) are huge but beautiful in red, and partnered with coffee table sized ARC amps and fed a range of vinyl on various Clearuadio tables, from the entry level to the Statement, this was a very popular room. I thought the sound was largely excellent but sometimes a bit ragged, surely a function of many variables but there were moments of magic in the sweet spot. Not sure how these would work in a smaller room but they can be truly impressive.

More practical for most (which might tell you something about audiophiles), the smaller Renaissance 15As and 13As (so named, I learned for the panel size in inches, and the A for amplified bass), priced at $25k and $15k respectively. Again proving the importance of room and partnering gear, the 15As sounded incredible on some tracks when I visited (and I went three times to soak these in!), the 13As less so. A good part of the difference was room size, the use of the incredible StromTank power distribution system with the 15s (a barrel sized power conditioner that uses batteries to drive gear). Switching it in and out of the system produced a clear difference, though it's so large, I feel I'd have to hide it somewhere, but where that might be in a typical home is hard to imagine). Am sure the D'Agostino amp helped too in that room. On a tired Sunday morning, I sat upright when the ghost of SRV himself started singing to me on Tin Pan Alley (yeah, even that old chestnut came back to life for me in this room).

The 13As, in comparison sounded a lot less impressive. Driven by relatively affordable (I use the term as only audiophiles understand it) combo of Benchmark amps/DAC and Aurender streamer,  the room could sound a little sharp and thin. My last visit was the best one when a selection of orchestral pieces and some Patricia Barber (RMAF should give her a medal for service!) came through far better than earlier selections I'd heard of Fleetwood Mac (ugh!).  The Renaissance line extends down to lower prices, comes with built in Anthem room correction software and looks lovely, so I suspect the general Logan qualities are there, with room set up and partnering gear being important. The 15s are large but it's not impossible to imagine them fitting your room. I could imagine them being the last speaker for many people. The 13s, I have to take more on faith. At least I got to hear them, though it confirmed my belief that it would be nigh impossible for me to make a purchasing decisions based on show listening.


Anonymous said...

Any listening to the Vinnie Rossi LIO / Spatial X2 Room?

PatrickD said...

Sorry, did not hear the Spatial room but did hear the Harbeths with Rossi gear which was surprisingly disappointing to my ears.