Hi-Fi is first and foremost about people. That's why, when you walk around a show like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, you see as many approaches to delivering our music through gear as there are people who make it. If you think there's a right way and a wrong way, you've missed this basic fact.
Speaking of speaking to people I enjoy talking to, I was lucky enough to encounter On A Higher Note's Philip O'Hanlon and Mola-Mola designer Bruno Putzeys in Philip's room where we listened to music through Bruno's Mola-Mola Preamp/DAC ($13,450 + $5,000 for the DAC), the Mola-Mola Kaluga Power Amp ($18,000), and the Vivid Giya G3 speakers ($40,000). This pairing always sounds wonderfully musical to my ears and this year was certainly no exception. What I enjoyed even more, was listening to Bruno talk about his DAC.
Brooklyn ($1,995) is the new DAC from Mytek who are responsible for making some great DACs (see my Manhattan review and the Stereo192-DSD DAC review which I use daily). We're looking at a production prototype and what you see on the display will change in a number of ways but that "MQA" won't be going anywhere. The Brooklyn delivers all of the goodies you'd expect from Mytek including up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 playback, a headphone amp, a number of digital inputs (USB2 Class2, AES/EBU, 2x S/PDIF, Toslink/ADAT, 2x coax S/PDIF, and SDIF3), line level inputs, analog and digital volume control, RCA and XLR output pairs, and, now pay attention, a MM/MC phono input.
DACs with tubes (do you see a trend?). I very much enjoyed my time with the LampizatOr Lite-7 DAC (see review) because it made great strides away from sounding digital. The flagship balanced Golden Gate DAC ($19,800) pulls out all the stops designer Lukasz Fikus has up his sleeve (or most of them) and promises to go even further in that right direction. Watch out for an AudioStream review of the Golden Gate sometime soon-ish.
The Cambridge Audio UPnP endowed CXN Network Player ($1,999 pictured up top) includes 24-bit/192kHz-capable Wolfson WM8740 DACs, an asynchronous USB input, a front mounted USB input for your USB sticks, aptX Bluetooth for family-and-friend-friendly playback, Apple's AirPlay, and streaming via Spotify Connect. Cambridge says the CNX "upsamples your favourite songs to 24-bit/384kHz, delivering pure, audio heaven." Pure audio heaven for $1,999 has to be a deal only the devil can make ;-).
OK here's my idea. The newly minted Cary Audio DMS-500 Network Audio Player ($4,995) was sitting above the company's also newly minted TL-300d vacuum tube preamplifier. You know how Cary will sometimes offer a "T' version of their solid state products adding tubes? I suggested that Cary add a DAC and a "T" to the DMS-500 and make it look like the TL-300d preamp with that tube peak-a-boo window on the right and the network player's 5” HD full color display on the left. Old and new. Cool idea, no? I don't think it went over so well in the Cary room.
France's Metronome Technologie's C6+ DAC (€11.000) pops a pair of 6922 vacuum tubes in the analog output stage. The C6 can handle PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz but the DAC board is easily swapped out making future upgrades a breeze (DSD is coming). The C6+ sits midway between the company's solid state C5 and the top of the dual-output (tube/SS) C8+. The C8+ employs the Asahi Kasei AK4490 DACs which I'd imagine will be used in the updated C6+ (I neglected to ask). Inputs include coax S/PDIF, AES/EBU, Toslink, and asynchronous USB. The C6 includes both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR output. We'll be taking a closer look and listen to a Metronome Technologie DAC in the future.
The Sonore Signature Rendu streamer ($2,895) outputs its asynchronous Ethernet input via coax S/PDIF (BNC) or LVDS i2s. In-room at RMAF, a Twisted Pair Audio DIY Buffalo-IIISE 2-Channel DAC ($379), which can process PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/192kHz and DSD using the ESS Sabre32 Reference (ES9018), received its bits from the Rendu's i2s output. A pair of DIY Hypex Ncore amps drove the always good sounding Raidho C 1.1 loudspeakers.
Here's a live portrait of the new Bluesound family (details found here) from RMAF 2015. We all know that Bluesound's parents include NAD and PSB who shared their knowledge and experience to make Bluesound the better, hi-res choice for whole-home audio.
I always enjoy seeing Wavelength Audio's Gordon Rankin and his wife Kelly. They are, in my book, good people. Gordon was even kind enough to address my mumbled questions about the AudioQuest JitterBug (see review), Gordon was the chief designer, putting all of the nonsensical noise created by people who think they know more than they actually know, at rest. Of course this only occurred after I spent time in the Wavelength room listening to some real music through some fine gear.
Peter Madnick, who sports the best head of white hair in the business, has brought back his Audio Alchemy line of gear. You may recall seeing Peter's name associated with Constellation Audio where he also works his engineering prowess but Audio Alchemy, and their price/performance ratio, always held a warm spot in my audiophile heart. Based on what I heard at RMAF 2015, well, in Whoville they say - that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day.
I always enjoy stopping in the Benchmark room because they play real music. At play was the company's DAC2 HGC ($1,995 see review), AHB2 Power Amplifier ($2,995), and their SMS1 Loudspeakers ($2,450), making for a complete Benchmark system.