The Chapter Audio Notepad ($2,500 available in December) was on mostly silent display in the On A Higher Note Room at RMAF (you can read about the main event here). The Notepad is a Class D amplifier that puts out 150W into 8 ohms and includes Chapter's Stream DAC, a USB input, an ethernet port and wireless connectivity using Apple's Airport wireless protocol. The Notepad will stream music from your wireless source of choice and reportedly supports streaming up to 24/192 via Ethernet and a reported 24/96 wirelessly.
To say that computer audio was all over the place at RMAF would be an understatement. Which is why I missed so much of it. My apologies to all those people whose rooms I missed and please note that it was only due to a lack of time and not a lack of interest. If it was a possibility, I would have visited every room regardless of its relevance to my narrowed focus.
In the AudioQuest room I got to hear another cable comparison but this time we're talking about Ethernet. I know, be still my beating heart of darkness. The Naim UnitiServer and Naim NDX Network Player were connected via Ethernet. Our host who shall remain nameless (and headless to protect his identity) swapped between the AudioQuest Forest RJ45-G CAT5e Ethernet Cable ($39/2m) and a standard RJ 45 router cable (essentially free).
Size matters. At least in terms of listening rooms. The Peachtree Audio ballroom had three active displays setup and the first time I went in to listen it was too crowded. That first time David Solomon of Peachtree was giving an animated presentation/introduction to the new Peachtree products on display. When I returned later in the day, it was Jonathan Derda's turn (that's him above) and he was equally animated. And when I say animated, I mean that in the best possible sense.
Somehow I'd missed Jonathan Tinn's room at THE Show Newport and I wasn't going to let that happen again. At RMAF he was showing the diminutive in size but not in musical stature Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne ($2,000), darTZeel CTH-8550 integrated amplifier ($20,300) and while I was in the room the Playback Designs MPS-3 ($8,500) controlled by custom software Playback Designs had developed for their players.
Phillip O'Hanlon proprietor of On A Higher Note was spinning vinyl when I arrived in the Longs Peak ballroom. The Audio Aereo La Source sat silently but I didn't mind one bit. Those Vivid Audio B-1 loudpseakers ($15,000/pair) sounded immediate and enveloping (and they remind me of something but I just can't put my finger on it) driven by the Luxman M-600A Pure Class A Stereo Amplifier ($8,500).
In one of the hall displays on the Mezzanine I came across Aesthetix, their Pandora Vacuum Tube USB and S/PDIF DAC ($6,000) and Jim White who took some time to show me around the inside. The Pandora offers an Asynchronous USB input using Wavelength's Streamlength technology and three S/PDIF inputs all capable of 24 bit/192kHz. Those tubes you see are 12AX7s and 6DJ8/6992s and the DAC you can't see is the Burr-Brown PCM1792A. There's an optional volume control so you can go direct into your amp of choice and there's a lot more to this story and a full line of products so visit the Aesthetix site and see for yourself.
If the name Jim White rings too many bells, this Jim White is the one that worked with Theta back in the Casablanca days. If that doesn't ring any bells think cool badass vibe digital.
Sometimes you have to travel to get close to something from home. GTT Audio's Bill Parish lives within a few miles of our home but we hadn't met until Denver. Go figure. Room 535 featured the YG Acoustics Anat III Pro Signature Loudspeakers ($119,000), Tenore Audio 350M Mono Amplifiers ($100,000/pair), Tenor Audio Line 1/Power 1 Linestage ($75,000) and Kubala Sosna Emotion cables throughout. During my visit we listened to music streaming through the Bryston BDP-1 ($2,500).
Luke Manley and Bea Lam gave a Press Preview prior to the show's start on Friday to introduce the new VTL Zigfried II ($65,000/pair). The Zigfried's were driving the superb TAD Reference Ones and we were treated to CD, LP and tape (in that order). I was there to hear, well you know what I was there to hear—music! And a MacBook Pro with Amarra Pro feeding a dCS Paganini DAC but it didn't work out as planned so I came back on Sunday. I did get to hear some wonderful music on CD, tape and vinyl and interesting comments by Luke and Bea regarding their working process.
Talk about a retro-cool looking system. The Signal Collection featured the Jestons-esque Davone Audio RAY loudspeakers ($7,500/pair), Absoluta "Partenope" Integrated Amp ($15,995), Korg MR2000s Digital recorder/player ($2,499) and cables from Black Cat and Stereolab. The Korg MR200s can store approximately 120 hours at 44.1 kHz/16 bit so I'm stretching a bit to include this as a computer audio room but the great sound they were getting makes it an easy fit and owes no small thanks to the always superb MA Recordings they play.
Hegel is another company that has jumped in head-first to the computer audio pool. Two of their integrated amplifiers offer USB DACs (H70 $1,995 USB DAC Optional and H100 $3,000) and they offer the HD2 USB DAC ($350) and two USB DAC & S/PDIF Converters - HD11 ($1,200 available December), HD20 ($2,000). The system for RMAF consisted of The HD2, HD20, P30 Preamplifier ($7,500) and the H20 Power Amplifier ($5,750). Hegel chose the Totem Hawk Loudspeakers to give voice their system.
The Musical Fidelity M1CLiC Universal Digital Controller/Network Audio DAC ($1,999) was sitting pretty in between the Penn Audio Cenya monitors ($3,995) while the Musical Fidelity M6i 200wpc dual-mono integrated amp ($2,999) handled the power play.
MBL North America was showing off their Corona Line's Combination B System (from $39,000) that includes the MBL 126 Radialstrahler, MBL C31 CD Player, MBL C11 Preamplifier, MBL C21 Power Amplifier. A hot-rodded Sonore Music Server with VortexBox Engine from Simple Designs (starts at $1,999) acted as served.
The MBL C31 CD Player ($9,200) includes coax, Toslink and USB inputs so we listened to 16/44 and 24/96 music files stored on the Sonore Server. Jeremy Bryan of MBL North America spun some, hmm let me re-phrase that since there's nothing spinning—he played some Tower of Power "Diggin' On James Brown" and I noted that this was a smile-worthy moment, my highest compliment. I also noticed that the MBL sound and character was more than present in this modest-by-MBL-standards system. To my ears, that's a good thing.
Hold on to your gumption, we've been invaded! The Synergistic A.R.T. room treatment devices have caused more science-minded audiophile minds to boil over than the idea that cables make a difference. Thankfully, I'm here to cover computer audio and sitting amid all of the Vibratrons and Satellites is the Mach2 Music ($1,649 - 2011 2.5 Ghz Mach2 Music Server w/Snow Leopard) hot-rodded Mac mini acting as music server and hiding behind it handling D/A duties is the new Synergistic Research The Music Cable ($3,599 introductory price).
Tempo Distribution's room was manned by, among others, John Quick and John knows me well enough to know what music will get me to smile. The Doors "Riders On The Storm" washed over me in waves feeling as good as getting caught in a rain storm amid summer heat.
The system responsible for my mini-vacation was fronted by a Macbook Pro into the dCS Debussy USB DAC ($11,499), dCS Puccini U-Clock with 24/192 USB Interface ($5,499), the Musical Fidelity M6 500i 500wpc dual-mono integrated amp ($6,999) driving the Verity Audio Lenore loudspeakers ($16,000).