RMAF: Magico / Spectral

It took me awhile to figure out what to think about the sound of this system. I kept thinking that there was something hauntingly familiar about the sound.

It was very even top to bottom, even the dynamics were even-handed top to bottom. There was a lot of detail [midi-detail and macro-detail, micro-details were not glaringly absent, but they were weaker than what I would call natural]. Tone was good solid-state-ish tone. Harmonic resolution was typical for solid-state [aka not all that good, but it *is* solid-state]. There was good image stability and good separation – although something was happening during complex passages that seemed unnatural – like one channel was happening ‘before’ the other channel or something – that prevented that lovely effect of allowing one to hear every instrument as a separate entity when everyone is playing at once.

So. One interpretation of all of this is…

That this is a realization of the way I thought [and many still think] a stereo system should sound when I was a young geek. I was way into math and physics and the engineering sciences. I would have wanted a system that had as source material something as close to the master tapes as possible and recorded it in as high a resolution as was possible. Then I would have used a dedicated computer music server to deliver it to a solid state amp of low distortion, probably after passing it through a room correction device. Finally this system would have speakers that measured very, very well.

This is what I saw in this room.

Well, now I am an old geek.

This is not a derogatory perspective. And this system is not like TaCT which MANIPULATES the signal in the pursuit of some goal mathematically arrived at. The system in the Magico room tries to PRESERVE the signal by methods mathematically arrived at.

There are many reasons people buy audio equipment. If we break those reasons down into general categories we have the:

BOY’S TOYS: big and small noise makers. There are a fracking [the Battlestar Galactica Finale sucked so very, very much – but I like using their colorful words] lot of these at the show. [YG Acoustics/Soulution, Wilson/ARC, Focal/whatever, TAD/whatever, etc.]

COOL GADGETS: technology at its newest buzzword- and acronym-generating mind-expandingly best

PRACTICAL APPLIANCES: Systems that let one play music at home and be able to enjoy it to some extent

DRUGS: Systems that try to reproduce music in ways that ‘feed your head’ [yes, drugs may be too flippant a word, and we’ve used both MAGICAL and SPIRITUAL to describe this in the past. But I am trying to add a little humor and also to reach people who might think the previous words too ‘newage-y’ or just plain opaque]

Many systems mix and match various quantities of these 4 audiophile food groups.

I think the Magico system in the room at RMAF did the COOL GADGETS thing and that no one else is really doing it front-to-back like this. Many rooms do something like this – notably the Kimber room uses similar high-quality source material, but everyone mucks it up somewhere in the chain.

See, this system SOUNDED like a Cool Gadget system, and that makes it a grown-up BOY’S TOY. I think that if a system like this was marketed this way – that it might be quite successful with real people [you know who I mean. Those non-audiophiles that seem to appear out of the woodwork at grocery stores and can be seen walking down the street during the daylight hours].

That said, this system would be an example of what is commonly called a ‘soulless’ system. This was the primary comment people had about this room.

The Magico room system degrades into an impressive BOY’S TOY [mostly because COOL GADGET systems do not primarily connect one with the music so much as connecting one with the awesome world of technology].

I am personally interested in systems as DRUGS. I want to get high on my music. I want to experience new and intensely aesthetic perspectives on life and living. I want my system to be so good that I have no choice but to be forcibly projected into another dimension better than this one [:-) seriously, it is instead a more accurate and timeless view of the true reality of this dimension – that is too often obscured by the ever present noise of people yelling at us wanting to convince us of something. I SAID ‘seriously’… :-)]. I am too busy [to have the time to listen for hours before I get a buzz] and too worried about the world going to hell [the music has to be very powerful in order to work at all] and too cynical [the musical goodness has to be so good and so subtle and encompassing that it can sneak up on the nasty ole suspicious ‘nothing can brighten my day’ me]. And at the low end, I want my systems to smoothly degrade into being PRACTICAL [i.e. built on a PRACTICAL foundation] .

There is a point here I want to make. It is cool wanting and buying a COOL GADGET system. No question about it. Maybe someone just wants to have fun, or expands their minds in the old fashioned way 🙂 or whatever.

I just think it is important for people to recognize that systems have different purposes – and that lumping them all together is very misleading and confusing. That the more we identify and categorize [yes, I know that categorization leads to closed-mindedness – but, seriously, things are just too chaotic] the better it will be for people who want to enter this hobby. You know, just like cars are divided into ‘sports cars’ and ‘luxury cars’ and ‘SUV’s?.

RMAF: slimmer speaker connector by way of Danny Richie of GR Research

Danny Richie stopped by minutes before closing, making the rounds showing off this replacement for the traditional 5-way binding post used on most speakers and amplifiers.

It only supports banana plugs – but everyone who has heard the improvement in sound when moving to lighter weight connectors can imagine what this new connector might be able to do to help preserve the subtle details contained in a electrical signal. This, presumably [I am making a hypothesis here] will be more true of the very light cables out there (Nordost etc.) than the heavier cables (Audio Note etc.).

The proposed replacement for the 5-way binding post is there on the left. It would be mounted on the back of a speaker or amp. A speaker cable terminated with a banana plug is there on the right.

Making the connection.

You can see there is a lot less mass associated with this new binding post / connector compared to your typical binding post.

RMAF 2010 Show Report: Overview

(YG Acoustics, Soulution, ‘GTT Audio’)

What this show report will cover…

First, this overview.

Then several rooms in detail… specifically a few very inexpensive rooms and the very expensive (those who are not just going thru the motions).

Also our rooms setup and what it was like to setup a 4-day old ceramic-driver speaker driven by the most revealing cables and components known to mankind. In particular a microscopically detailed account of how the sound changed during the 4 days of the show (counting the setup day).

Later… shootouts and detailed observations by the group of avid listeners in attendance:

1. The newish $20K Audio Note Jinro integrated amplifier and how it compares to the renowned $95K Audio Note Ongaku integrated amplifier (i.e. how close is the Jinro to the Ongaku)

2. The new $42K Audio Aero ‘La Source’ CD/SACD player / preamplifier

3. (Hopefully) the new $15K Emm Labs PRE2 preamplifier


We are on a break

First, as we warned in an earlier post, we are ‘taking a break’ from the publishing several photos of each and every room and booth at the show. There are several reasons for this. Not all of them involve laziness and sloth. Just about very other magazine has taken to posting similar (if less detailed) photos. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery – but it is for certain a sign that it is time for us to strike out in yet new and bold directions (report wise). Audiogon, for example, is now recording 24×96 audio accounts of many rooms.


Every year I try to ask as many people as possible ‘what sounds good?’ This year was probably the year of the most Lackluster Response Ever. Some people respond by pointing out one little aspect of a room’s sound ignoring the egregious obstacles to long term enjoyment (for example: the nice dynamic response of the frequencies between 2K and 4K in one room ignoring the sloppiness and compression and lack of integration with the rest of the frequency party in that room, soundstage scale in another ignoring the horrifically long decays and lack of control [not to pick on a particular person :-)]), [OK, Neli came in and discussed getting the equipment out of the car before it rains and I have no idea where I was at…].

I guess, that when I evaluate a room I allow for some room issues (bass around 200Hz in the Venture /FM Acoustics room, and similarly in the Odyssey Audio room – more about these later) and also for speaker design (can’t sit too close to horns, box speakers are not as naturally dynamic, and electrostatics even less so) and for system purpose i..e is it designed for a large room or a small room (our mixed-vendor room this year was a small room, for example, and we designed the system for that kind of intimate listening [more on Aerosmith Toys in the Attic and Who’s Next later 🙂 – but essentially this system is great for classical and opera and complex rock and roll and in particular people who like music that sounds bad on most systems because it is so hard to reproduce really appreciated this system (thanks to PQ for the idea that Metal and R&R is often well recorded but usually heard on inferior systems – gaining them a bad rep in the audiophile world)].

Sorry, this is rambling – the point was that some people thought to count us out of the ‘spectacular of show’ because both of our rooms were small this year – but they would be wrong [:-)] . Curiously Magico and Evolution Acoustics also had small rooms this year – and were two of the top 3 or so most interesting rooms.

[OK! Back from carrying the show equipment in from the garage. In the past it has taken 15 – 20 hours. Took us only 1 this year. Whoo Hoo!

Oh. The point of the previous paragraphs is that some consideration is made, by me anyway, when evaluating a system with respect to its purpose, the kind of technology it uses, and its cost. Conversely, if it has a Walker turntable as a front end and it is not detailed sounding, or uses electrostatic speakers and does not have a lot of micro-dynamics, or has horn speakers and is not dynamic – then we know a lot about the system’s other components. And, even more seriously, if the system cannot reproduce at least some semblance of emotion in a human voice – which is the kind of sound that we, as fellow humans, I dare say, are very, very sensitive to – then, well, let’s just say that that system does not score well in my book – no matter how cool it plays drum solos at 100dB]

So, lots to talk about. The lack of micro-dynamics (and detail! as we posted quite a bit about last CES) of many currently reviewer-marketed solid state amps raised its ugly head again in many, what would have otherwise been quite interesting rooms. The rooms we will talk about: Odyssey Audio, Venture / FM Acoustics (Audio Limits), Walker / Technical Brain / TAD, Magico / Spectral, Evolution Acoustics / darTZeel , and Grant Fidelity. Also some Neli room impressions as well.