In my opinion, this is what our hi-fi hobby is all about. What's its not about is finding fault in a comparative or theoretical way. While differences and ideas are rampant, a hi-fi show smacks you upside your head with the fact that people make hi-fi gear and while theories and attitudes go into the mix, entering different rooms is like entering different worlds in terms how each person decides to approach reproducing music. In the end its people's enjoyment of music that is the deciding factor and even here we have nearly as many points of view as people. I know for some this notion of enjoyment is a constant source of frustration because they know they're right and everyone who disagrees with them is wrong. From my way of seeing and listening, the only positive outcome of this attitude is a lot of frown lines.
(from left) David Chesky, Andreas Koch, Gordon Rankin, Rob Robinson, Mark Waldrep, Steve Silberman, and me. Photo Credit: John Atkinson
On opening day of RMAF 2012, I moderated a seminar titled, "Ask The Experts: Your Computer Audio Questions Answered. Michael Lavorgna, Editor of AudioStream.com Assembles a Panel of Computer Audio Experts to answer your questions about file-based playback." The panel consisted of David Chesky, Chesky Records/HDtracks.com; Andreas Koch, Playback Designs; Gordon Rankin, Wavelength Audio; Rob Robinson, Channel D; Steve Silberman, AudioQuest; Mark Waldrep, AIX Records/iTrax.com. As you can see, we had a great panel with a diverse skill set and background and what you can't see is the place was pretty much filled to capacity. The crew at RMAF captures every seminar on video so I'll be sure to post a link to ours when it's ready.
What's wrong with this picture? I'll give you a hint—it's the same thing that's wrong with most of my pictures. No, I'm not talking about the white balance or ISO levels I'm referring to the fact that there are no people. And more than most rooms, the Peachtree Audio room is about people.
The Blue Light Audio room featured the Playback Designs MPS-3 CD player w/USB input ($8,500), the B.M.C. Audio AMP CS2 Integrated Stereo Amp ($8,400) driving the Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne Loudspeakers ($2,500/pair). Jonathan Tinn of Blue Light Audio was running the room while I was in it and he played me tape transfers he'd made using the Korg MR-2000S ($1,799). The interesting aspect of these transfers was two-fold—they were double rate DSD (128x DSD) files, and they were of Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley. Oh yea, and they sounded spectacular.
But let me back up one minute and point out that Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable and IsoMike was responsible for bringing Fan-Ya Lin to RMAF and I forgot to point this out in my related post and I also forgot to thank him for bringing such wonder to weary listeners. Thank you!
The new Baetis Audio Media Server V2 ($3,000) can, according to their literature, upsample to 64-bit/384khz and handle FLAC, ALAC, and "all other major audio file types" including DSD, rip and playback Blu-ray, DVD, and CDs, 1080p video streaming with 3D capability, stream from Internet sources including Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Pandora, and any other browser based service using JRiver Media Center 17. The Media Server V2 includes a 128G Solid-State Drive and a 1.5T external USB 3.0 silent drive.
I had one of my favorite musical moments in the Wavelength Audio room. Gordon Rankin, Wavelength's founder, played "Guinnevere" from Crosby Stills & Nash's self-titled album (1969) from an HDtracks 24/192 version and the song and sound are absolutely gorgeous. Achingly beautiful, positively dripping with emotion so much so that if you heard it you'd know why we want, or maybe why we need, 24/192 playback and why downloads that originate as analog sources can kick some major HD ass. Even the staunchest sample rate deniers would melt like butter if they heard this new version of "Guinnevere" and if you did hear it and somehow weren't moved I'd have to say there's something about your ear/brain/body connection that needs tending to and I'd also point out that uptight is not a healthy state of being.
Boulder was featuring its 1021 Disc Player ($24,000) and the 150W/ch 865 Integrated Amplifier ($12,500) driving a pair of Vienna Acoustics Baby Grand Symphony Edition speakers ($4,500/pair). The 1021 Disc Player is more than a disc player as it includes an Ethernet connection for network/Internet-based playback and it supports file formats including FLAC, WAV, MP3, ALAC, OGG, AIFF up to 32-bit/192kHz. There's an AES3 output and 2 pairs of Balanced outputs that are adaptable to Unbalanced outputs and a front panel touch screen display.
Benchmark Media Systems introduced their new DAC2 HGC ($1,995) that, according to Benchmark, "outperforms the [well-received] Benchmark DAC1 in every respect." Sporting a total of 5 digital inputs, 2 analog inputs, 3 analog outputs, the DAC2 HGC can function as a DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp and perhaps most exciting of all it supports native DSD playback using DoP 1.0.
The Music Vault Diamond ($4,595) music server from Sound Science is optimized for AES/EBU balanced digital outputs which the Bricasti M1 DAC gladly accepts. The Music Vault comes with 8GB of on-board RAM, an optical drive for ripping, optional DVD playback, 2TB of internal storage + 2TB of backup (in a RAID 1 array), 60GB Solid State Drive, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 6 USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire poer, eSata port, RJ45 Gigabit LAN port, wireless N wi-fi, DVI and HDMI outputs and an optical S/PDIF digital output.
That's Channel D's Rob Robinson getting ready to spin and rip some vinyl with his Pure Vinyl ($279) software. Rob treated us to a number of great-sounding vinyl rips and he also explained how he feels playing back vinyl digitally including handling RIAA in the digital domain is like getting the best of both worlds. I have Channel D's Pure Vinyl in-house for review so I'll be reporting on spinning virtual vinyl soon.
When I need a mid-day recharge I stop into the DeVore Fidelity room where I can visit with its proprietor John DeVore, his super-genial dealers from Eugene Hi-Fi, and Mike Smith room assistant extraordinaire. But the reason for the DeVore rechargability-factor is I know I will not hear any soft-string versions of classic rock tunes, no close-mic'd jazz trios rocking out to "Hey Joe", and no even closer-mic'd breathy waifs over double bass entendres. What I know I will hear is some good old and new-fashioned music (and yea it was on vinyl but don't tell anyone).
Speaking of good vibrations, I always stop in the Zu Audio room mainly because I know I'll hear some great music that I most likely have never heard before and like the guys from Wyred 4 Sound, the guys from Zu know how to have a good time which means they also know how to help you have good time if you are so inclined. I am and I did.
The guys from Wyred 4 Sound bring a lot of positive energy along with their gear to each show I've seen them at which is a refreshing breath of fresh air when juxtaposed alongside the lounging-in-a-comfy-chair, remote-wielding, puddle of an exhibitor you can find in some other rooms. On display and in use were the new mPre ($1,099) that includes a 24/192-capable USB DAC and headphone amp, the mAmp ($899/each) that delivers 250W into 8 ohms driving a pair of Paradigm Signature S8 speakers ($8,999/pair). Fronting this system was the Wyred 4 Sound MS-1 Music Server ($1,999).