Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019: Schiit Audio and Sony

One of the biggest surprises from the weekend was not only the appearance of the international megacorp Sony, but also the product brought along in tow. Set aside for private viewing was a new near-field speaker system called the SA-Z1 ($9,000 USD).

Both the overall desktop design and I-Array drivers struck a unique chord within the rows of floorstander and stand mount displays found throughout the hallways of the convention center.

The elongated case houses two woofers, one pointed forward behind the three-tweeter line-array and one rear-facing at the back of the squarish black box. Slot ports line both sides of the case and various adjustments and controls adorn the top. Inputs for the SA-Z1 include optical, USB and a custom digital connection for Sony DAP and Walkman products. One of the more interesting knobs was explained to me as a variable that moves from “digital to a more analog sound.” I find this notion intriguing as I’m not sure exactly what that would even sound like in a sweeping gradient execution, but color me curious on the subject.

Placed in a completely forward facing direction (with no toe in) the speakers were high on data retrieval, imaging and responsiveness in the treble region from a five-foot distance. Moving in closer to only a few feet, the staging opened up even more and some of the perceived thickness cleared up proportionally. Oddly, from my listening session the most rewarding position for the sake of demonstration was very much this super-close near field layout, although some of the tonal density I like to see at the $10,000 USD range for audiophile products was a little thin upon delivery from any listening position. Still, bass control dug deep and rounded out the range with a clear, solid footing. It is an unusual little product to come out the Sony camp, but not one that couldn’t find itself in the “right place, right time” scenario for a few digital desktop lovers with the disposable income to spare.

Schiit Audio had their new Sol turntable on display along with other personal audio devices in the HeadGear section of the show. Of more interest to AudioStream readers would be the most recent update to the mid-tier budget DAC Bifrost 2 ($699 USD). The latest from the Newhall-based company sports not only Theta’s Mike Moffat multi-bit DAC tech, but also a recently updated bespoke USB connection the team is calling Unison. The move is a departure from the more off-the-shelf USB sections that dominate the market, and one that Schiit founder Jason Stoddard even claims “provides higher performance than SPDIF inputs.”

In the listening room in the tower Jim Salk of Salk Sound greeted attendees with a warm smile. Once again Salk had partnered with Schiit, backing the Schiit Aegir power amp ($799 USD), Freya S preamplifier ($599 USD) and BiFrost 2 on active display with the Salk Song3 BeAT ($4,495 USD). The Salk Streamplayer Gen III ($1,695 USD) acted as a source for the system. On more than one occasion I have heard “Misery” by Dave’s True Story playing through a high-end system, but during this playback session, I was caught by the collective richness and vibrancy of the recording. At no point did the song feel bottlenecked by the middle-of-the-road Bifrost 2 translation. The grand sum of the lengthy equation just sounded superb coming out the other side.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest