RMAF 2015

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 08, 2015
The Serious Stereo room (see Herb Reichert's coverage on Stereophile) was using the elusive (at least in terms of an AudioStream review) highly praised Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC Series 2 ($4,995)/Alpha USB ($1,895) combo with some Serious down-home sound enhancement devices.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 08, 2015
Before you get too excited, the exaSound UPnP/OpenHome PlayPoint Network Audio Connector ($1,999) is only for exaSound DACs..."at present". The PlayPoint has a nice one-two punch "Ready" list that includes Roon Speaker and MQA, while also supporting AirPlay, Tidal (also via AirPlay), and HQPlayer. Of course, this being exaSound, the PlayPoint supports PCM and DSD resolutions beyond anything being sold (up to 32-bit/384kHz and native DSD256 up to 12.2MHz) so you are present and future proof. If you want to take advantage of that native DSD256 support, you'll need to run MinimServer on your NAS.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 08, 2015
that slot on the right side lets you peak through to the tubes

Digital Audio Review's John Darko said, and please don't quote me quoting him since I may have the exact wording wrong, the Aqua Hi-Fi La Scala MKII D/A Converter ($5,600) was, "lovely". La Scala is designed and handmade in Milan, Italy, a lovely place filled with lovely people. La Scala is a non-oversampling multibit R2R discrete ladder DAC (4x Burr-Brown PCM-1704K) and a pair of a ECC81(12AT7) vacuum tubes share the analog output stage with some Mosfets. La Scala supports PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz via asynchronous USB, 2x coax S/PDIF (RCA and BNC), AES/EBU, and "AQlink Pro" an I2S serial bus port for connecting to the Aqua La Diva CD transport.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
Do you see a theme developing? I see a theme developing. The active Dynaudio Focus 600 XD ($13,500/pair) are rated from 20Hz – 24kHz and include a total of 600W of power per speaker (2x 250W for each subwoofer and 2x 150 for the Midrange and Tweeter). The digital coax S/PDIF input supports PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz as does the coax S/PDIF output. There's also an analog input for your turntable and if you add the Dynaudio Connect ($450) you can send up to 24-bit/96kHz data to your Focus speakers over WiFi, look ma, no wires. The Connect also adds Bluetooth (A2DP, apt-x, and AAC compatibility) connectivity.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
The diminutive Apogee Duet DAC ($649) sat between a MacBook and the Red Dragon Audio 250W (8Ω) S500 Class-D Stereo Amplifier ($1,999) powering the intriguing 93dB Spatial Hologram M4 open baffle speakers ($1,295/pair). I mention all of this up front because I thought this was a nice, simple system that I wish I had more time to listen to.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
Holy dueling Bose radios Batman! DEQX pulled out all the stops (again) showcasing their flagship HDP-5 Preamp Processor's ($6,499) DSP prowess through a pair of Magnepan MG1.7 loudspeakers/JBL Fathom Sub driven by Parasound monoblocks and a stereo'd pair of Bose Wave Radios. I'd like to say that the Bose Wave Radios sounded amazing when DEQX'd but I'd have to add some sort of qualifier which would effectively null that noise. Yes, the DEQX made the Bose sound more like music, no doubt, which is a very impressive feat. But let's be clear—never, ever, buy a Bose Wave Radio unless you are prepared to spend over $6 grand to make it listenable.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
apologies for the crappy photo

The Concert Fidelity DAC-040BD Vacuum Tube Digital-to-Analog Converter ($12,000) has been around for a while but this battery-powered, non-oversampling, filterless, 16-bit/44.1kHz max DAC sporting NOS Philips multi-bit 16-bit DAC chips makes it perfectly en vogue. The DAC-040 employs a pair of 12AU7 vacuum tubes for gain and a 6CA4 for rectification, checking off all of the items on the "I want analog-like sounding digital" checklist.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
I've been very impressed with everything I've heard from Astel&Kern especially their beautifully made and wonderful sounding AK240 (see review). That is, until now.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
I first heard the stunning 3-way, self-powered, DSP corrected, horn-loaded Avantgarde Zero 1 ($21,950/pair) way back in 2013 in Munich (see report) where they easily filled a very large room, "I found this room's sound to be among the most compelling and physically vibrant at the show." The Zero 1s are not only internally amped (50W Class A solid-state amps for the tweeter and midrange and 400W Class D for the woofer), but they also include a preamp and 24-bit/192kHz capable DAC (3x Burr-Brown DACs) in the Master speaker. The Slave connects to the Master wirelessly via a 2.4 GHz ISM/SRD link and the Zero 1s can also accept incoming data via Apple's AirPlay.
Kii
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 07, 2015
The active Kii Audio speakers were one of the products I was most looking forward to hearing at RMAF 2015 even though they have nothing to do with computer audio (I'm only human). Bruno Putzeys, the designer behind the Kii THREE Loudspeaker System ($13,900 + $2,540 for the Kii stands) is also the person behind the Mola Mola line of gear, which we'll talk about later. Bruno also works with Grimm Audio and Hypex where he "designs high-performance discrete AD/DA converters and analogue signal processing circuits, DSP algorithms, class D power amplifiers and switch-mode power supplies. He holds several patents in the fields of digital audio and power conversion and has published extensively in these and related domains." according to Bruno's Wikipedia page. I think he's wickedly smart, as are many people in this crazy wonderful industry, thus my interest in his Kii speakers.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 06, 2015
Shhh, don't tell anyone: When you walk into a room at a hi-fi show and the person in charge asks if you have any music with you that you'd like to hear, you know they are confident in the sound of their system. On the other hand, if you walk into a room and they are only willing to play music that sounds as if it was made by fairies with feathers, you know something is terribly wrong. Luke Manley and Bea Lam of VTL always offer to play my music through their show system.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 06, 2015
Bricasti Design has come out with the Gold Edition ($15,000) of their highly regarded M1 DAC (see Steve Plaskin's review). The search for gold was initiated by some customers in Japan and beyond the Kind Midas touch, the Gold Edition adds larger footers to support the weight of all that bling (kidding) and includes some internal tweaks that add to the unit's cost. These improvements may work their way into a non-gold version.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 05, 2015
I walked into the Mojo Audio room as I do every RMAF, reintroduced myself to Mojo's Ben Zwickel and took a seat. Ben was standing to my left and as I went into listening mode, Ben interrupted by saying that I never followed up on our email exchange from month's ago regarding an exclusive review of his products.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 05, 2015
"Excuse me, you were sitting in front of me in the ELAC room and I was wondering what you thought." Richard, who could not have been a nicer man, looked at me with eyes wide open and said, "That's just crazy! I mean, I was looking at some speakers that sounded really nice and they were $1300. I was thinking I'd treat myself. But man, that's just crazy!"
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 02, 2015  |  First Published: Oct 03, 2015
Audio Note and Vincent Bélanger win the AudioStream RMAF 2015 Award for palpable presence.

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