Our traditional critique of JV's RMAF Show Report

[This is the only show report which we have found, over several years, to have any in-depth content.]

I will only talk about rooms we both saw that he commented on.

The link to his report is here:

JV’s RMAF 2010 Show Report

=== Evolution Acoustics / darTZeel ===

I was originally going to cover this in our show report, but, even though I made an attempt to get back to this room – and got really, really close, I only heard it once. Neli also heard this room and I will take her observations into consideration with respect to my comments here.

I think we all agree that this was the best sounding EV / dartZeel room at a show in years. I heard the R2R only, and I did NOT hear any “slight edge in upper mids”. What I heard was a nicely fleshed out sound [as opposed to a somewhat midrangy sound at previous shows]. What I also heard, and Neli seemed to as well, was a highly separated sound that did not seem to congeal into a whole. I spent my time there trying to determine if it was the fault of the R2R, but Neli heard the Playback Designs digital and had the same experience. This is often a symptom of sitting too close to the speakers – which in these small hotel rooms is not all that uncommon.

=== Magico ===

Well, surprise surprise JV is on the Magico bandwagon in spite of the “There was just a trace of dryness and sterility” comment.

One has to wonder what the spectacular Magico marketing budget has been this year – and other speaker manufacturers, all kinds of audio manufacturers in fact, must be wondering if such an all-out effort may be worth it or not. Depends on the eventual backlash I guess – usually campaigns like this are staged so that they unfold over years.

We’ve already talked this room to death, lets just say that this year’s cheerleader system, the Magico / Spectral system is Waaaaay better than last year’s cheerleader YG Acoustics / Soulution system, and that both speakers, although good, are not very useful for our purposes because they cannot generate sufficient micro-dynamics, in large part because they are so darn hard to drive, requiring very large [and to date] inferior amps to drive them with.

=== JBL / Levinson ===

[I did take pictures of all these rooms, maybe I’ll insert them in here…]
[[Oh look! I did!]]

JV says “very dynamic, … and maybe a slight edginess in the upper mids.” Hmmmmm… I guess this could be described that way. The sound of the Levinson electronics came through clear as … it came through very clear. Levinson, which we’ve owned plenty of, is somewhat dull-sounding when it is not being somewhat edgy. The JBL speakers are dynamic horn-like speakers [wanted to hear these speakers last year on the Pass Labs… but considering the Pass Labs [excluding the First Watt amps] is somewhat similar to the Levinson, maybe not.

=== Walker / Technical Brain / TAD ===

“lightning quick on transients and nearly dead-neutral in midrange balance, without a smidge of the darkness, phony warmth, sibilance, or spittiness”

… yes, yes, TAD speakers do dynamics, not sure what he means by midrange balance unless he means overall balance of things in the midrange region. He seems to be talking about perfectly neutral in terms of warmth versus coldness… and I guess I would not argue with that. But

“Absolutely phenomenal when it came to low-level detail,”…

Say what? JV should be very familiar with the Walker sound, he may even still own one, so I am not sure where this is coming from since almost no low-level detail was present during my visit on the last day.


“slight brightness and dryness of the tiny room”

explains the problem – if he heard this room early in the show, and they did something to ‘fix’ the brightness, then perhaps they removed the low-level detail as well…? Because I heard no brightness in this room.. and no real dryness beyond what is kind of expected for solid-state systems.

Then again, “dryness” versus “phony warmth” versus “dead-neutral” ? Not sure that this isn’t just a tad confusing…. JV tries to say something good and then gets down to business about what he really thinks [when he is not prohibited from doing so by commercial realities].

So he really found it “bright and dry with good low-level detail and midi-dynamics” and we found an “extreme lack of low-level detail and micro-dynamics with good midi-dynamics”. Somewhat of a disagreement on the ability of that system to render the details that were no doubt coming off the Walker like water from a firehose.

=== Big YG / Soulution room ===

Don’t really disagree with any of his impressions except that my conclusions are very different. With all the problems that he notes with the sound, this system from my point of view is unable to produce sound that goes much beyond the “Plays Loud with Disappearing Speaker Act” that Boy Toy systems seem so very, very proud of.

=== Venture / FM Acoustics ===

“… exceptional resolution of low-level detail and very good recovery of ambience. However, I thought I detected a trace of brightness in the midrange, which also sounded a little forward in this room;…”

Ah, we reviewed this room, and a pattern is forming here 🙂

1) there was a lack of low-level detail here – and in fact these speakers are not known for their low-level detail [they are known for being beautiful to look at, laid back, hard to drive and pleasant sounding].

So, obviously, we are looking for a LOT more low-level detail in our playback than JV, which in some large sense is related to micro-dynamics and inner-detail etc. This is where the emotion and skill of the musicians and type of violin etc. are found. I can now see that he might not actually HATE the Soulution, not looking for all that much low-level detail in his music these days.

2) Brightness in the midrange…? [uh oh, deja vu] This system was not bright. We were chatting in the middle of the room, and one of their guys cranked up the sound on us to try and tell us to shut up [didn’t work 🙂 But I was talking to Darrin, the owner of the room, so there :-)]. I am sensitive to brightness [don’t need anything to make me MORE irritable than I already am dammit :-)] . It wasn’t bright and hung together fine at the higher volume.

=== Big TAD / Walker, Technical Brain ===

All I can say is that isn’t capitalism grand? And bosses suck.

=== Our room: Marten / Audio Note / Emm Labs ===

“little bright and lacking in body (those farchachdat hotel rooms, again), the Coltranes were nonetheless extremely lovely to listen to—a sound very reminiscent of the better Kharma loudspeakers”

JV was in our room and I think it was the first hour of the show. [I’m ignoring the ceramic driver praise and slap – he is just setting us up for his real opinion]. They were indeed a little bright. They were also a little thin as well [I would say ‘reticent’ more than thin, due to the drivers not moving as freely as they should because they are not broken in, but let’s not quibble. Of course, they were also very clean with incredible micro-dynamics and musical content – unlike anything anything else people have heard before, and that is a fact that would be news in other hobbies not so dominated by adv. $ … What hobby would that be, you might ask? I’ll let you know…]. This of course got quite a bit better as we broke them in – and JV no doubt understands that the sound would be better in a day or two, but was presumably unable to get back to us later in the show. [Funny, he says to me something like “I’ll try and come back later”… which is just what I say to people when I know I SHOULD come back, but all the while knowing that there is like ONE percent chance of it happening at a large show like this with so much to do. 🙁 Seriously, our lines do not command large advertising budgets, and our rooms do not draw reviewers because they are looking to help their magazines keep in business etc. So it was nice of JV to stop by in spite of all the reasons he had not to]

Oh! I almost forgot. Now, about that Kharma comment… 🙂 these speakers are as different as Wilson and Sonus Faber, but because they both use ceramic drivers [Kharma only for mids and tweets] people think they are the same. We carry both speakers, and they are both excellent speakers, but to compare them like that … I understand it is probably a compliment, but … first, it is likely to cause an international incident, and second, Kharma could NEVER sound like that. Kharma is exuberant sounding, incredibly involving and with very high midrange resolution [and rarely thin sounding]. Marten is incredibly transparent to the upstream components – it can be whatever you want [after it is broken in]. See? Different.


Anther year, another RMAF. CES and T.H.E. Show(!) is just around the corner. Can’t wait!