RMAF 2013 show reports survey

This is sort of a survey of show reports out there. There are others, but the other ones I was able to find seemed to be either random, really short, or just silly ‘feel-good’ reports, or, well, they seemed to be one of those three kinds [YMMV. I didn’t find them all. Didn’t look for them all, just the ones that I go to. Might have missed some good ones.].

Our Ultimist RMAF 2013 report [in progress, *sigh*] is a fierce advocate for the industry and all of its gear. It is even a more fierce advocate for gear that Ultimist sells. This does not require any lying about how magical, lovely, great, awesome things sound but instead vigorously attempts to describe how, why and where everything perfectly fits into the audiophile universe [yes. yes. I know. I *said* it was in progress :-)].

Our RMAF 2013 report on the Audio Federation blog here is, as always, concerned with the ultimate listening experiences. Annoying aspects of the sound means being distracted from having an ultimate listening experience. We don’t like that. Here we are always exploring brave new worlds of music reproduction, seeking out new lifelike sounding gear, and new civilized ways of talking about sound; boldly perusing the ultimate music experiences that have never been [or not near as often as we all would like] experienced before.

JV’s show report over at AVGuide / TAS / The Absolute Sound / HiFi+ is very closely aligned [how close? read here] with what we heard at the show (with the caveat that we all have our personal preferences that come out in the reports a wee bit). This makes me feel a little like we are not living up to our underground publication status 🙂

But, seriously, we are not relativists. Each room has one and only one sound, whether one likes it, loves it, … or not. Show reports should endeavor to accurately report about that sound so well that a person reading the description should be able to determine whether they would like it, love it, … or not. Our reports are no where near good enough yet – but someday…

The Stereophile RMAF 2013 report as is usual has all the information about the names of things and what they cost. Invaluable [and though they make mistakes, they correct them quickly].

Lately, though, Jason Victor Serinus over at Stereophile has started adding more negative comments for many rooms. However, he really fails to differentiate between rooms that committed several atrocities as opposed to those that committed atrocities only rarely. Strangely, the few rooms where he wants to give the Nobel Peace Prize to should really be brought up before the Haig on War Crimes charges. There should also be a rule that one should describe in the same level of detail what was actually right about the rooms, if anything [and if there is nothing, you could do what we do and say nuthin’. Nothing!], as well as what was wrong [I also have a problem with being able to do this consistently. I’m trying to do better!].

The AudioCircle RMAF 2013 show report does not rate things based on sound so much as but uses a kind of social litmus test involving similarly subjective attributes like how cool the gear looks, how cool the exhibitors are, and how cool the room vibe is. Not to be a jibe, these measures are much more closely aligned with marketplace success than the actual sound of the room [to our way of thinking, this is unfortunate]. So, although they cloak the whole thing in audiophile buzzwords, that is not where this report has value. This report is really probably the most important show report for people in the industry to read.

The Dagogo RMAF 2013 Report, this one by Jack Roberts, was one of those reports where someone wanders through what they think are the coolest rooms at the show, finding something nice to say about each room. [This report did remind us that the Coincident room this year did sound quite good. Oops. Added. And thanks]. These kinds of reports kind of reflect what a ordinary everyday audiophile does and sees at a show. So from that perspective it is a good reminder for some of us who have been to too many shows, and it is good for those who want to know kind of what it is like to wander kind of aimlessly though a show [which is what we did for the first few shows until we got frustrated with missing those special ‘wildly hyped’ rooms that everybody said were so great after the show. They weren’t by the way – but we didn’t know that until we started going to all the rooms and making sure we heard them for ourselves. Still regret missing HP’s room at the Alexis Park when he had his big Alons there].

Clement in the Stereotimes RMAF 2013 report takes a lot of photos of the exhibitors [as well as gear] and that is its own kind of fun if you are a people watcher [and who ain’t?]. Funny, he thought the smaller Volti room ran a poor second to the big Volti Vittora speaker room as did we [as opposed to some feel-good reports where you can read that they liked it just as much].

Audio Matters RMAF 2013 show report is written by a young audiophile who has a number of ageist comments to make during his report [but a lot of his generation seem to have similar issues with older folk, that they are superior beings just by the virtue of the newer release date of their smartphone, so what’s new. See, two can play at this game ;-)]. For me, it is nice to read an outsider’s perspective. Don’t agree with much of what he says, but that doesn’t matter, to me, as much as getting some insight into what it is like for a young person to attend these shows.

Then we have the friendly insider’s report at Part-time Audiophile RMAF 2013 show report. Most professional show reporters try and maintain some distance between themselves and everyone else, otherwise it is too easy to start playing favorites, or feeling sorry for your friends, and in general not wanting to harm the friendship by reporting what their room or gear really sounded like. The Part-time Audiophile report tries to walk that line of trying to say perceptive things about the sound but still be part of the ‘good old boy [and girl] crowd’ of exhibitors. Their show report then is really a ‘feel good’ show report done really well.

Audio Shark’s RMAF 2013 show report is exactly like what you might hear from one of your audiophile friends at supper during a show. Liked some rooms. Not some others. A very personal interpretation of what the show was like for them. [agree that Emerald Physics rooms often sound more like music than most, but I think they actually sounded better, more even top to bottom, more of a whole, in previous years at RMAF (yeah, and back when they cost half as much. As did just about everything else in high-end audio, to be fair).].

So, that’s that. A lot of fun stuff to read, peruse, ignore, whatever…. 😉

Our traditional critique of JV's (Jonathan Valin) RMAF 2013 Show Report

[This is all great fun, and I hope you all are enjoying this. It is somewhat unfair, to JV, in that we always get the last word here (always counterpoint to his point) but I do try and be as fair as I can, while still fully communicating what I heard at this show.]

There is a serious and woefully under-appreciated problem at shows. If you, as a show-goer, are just interested in a single piece or two in a system, you are kind of SOL [that is Sorry, Out of Luck for you kids] in many cases. Unfortunately the average show-goer is trying to do just this. So, you component exhibitors take note, it would be good for you to get the other exhibitors in your room to help make the whole system sound good, because people are evaluating That Whole System as representative of YOUR component’s sound, like it or not. This is true for rooms that cost close to a million dollars as well as those under 10 grand.

So,,, about JV’s personal preferences… 🙂 When JV goes off the deep end, he really goes for serious macro-dynamics, constipated midi- and micro-dynamics, and somewhat soulless sound. Nothing wrong with that, but seriously, there ought to be a sign at the top of his report, with a picture of a soulless zombie with a big poo-eating grin chewing a vinyl record or something 🙂 [no. wait. chewing a vacuum tube. and the tube is lit up like it is on and like it is playing music that is being enjoyed by people who like music. Or is this too snarky? 😉 ]

Seriously, though, we agreed on the overall sound quality of the vast majority of rooms – the main difference is that he felt like giving out Best of Show Contender awards to what seemed like half the rooms.

A couple of the comments on JV’s show report on the AV Guide website [link below] were interesting [to me. and I’ve only read 2 so far, so YMMV] and the concept of the sound of a system being ‘exciting’ [along with its opposite: not exciting or boring] is intriguing and we will explore this later on this blog as it is peripherally related to drug-like sound, I think, and directly related to the buying habits of audiophile gear addicts.

The link to his report is here:

JV’s RMAF 2013 Show Report

First off, JV states that this is the biggest RMAF ever. Then he suggests that in his neck of the woods, $20,000 speakers and above, the sound was the best ever for RMAF, and possibly at any show.

Agree. Disagree. Disagree.

First, I did not think the show was larger in terms of number of exhibits. When we looked at the room allocations before the show – it looked like there were several empty rooms. But now I think perhaps JV is right. We will see once the show report on Ultimist is done, but it looks like it is going to be about 160 rooms [which is the number bandied about each year but the show never quite made it to 160 before. And there were a LOT of booths this year]. There are, also, more speakers that cost over $20K as rampant inflation continues in the high-end audio marketplace. So that means JV has to review more rooms, making the show seem even larger for him, and this must be getting ridiculous. Suggest raising the bar to $50K.

Second, at the high end… there seemed to be a certain lack of effort in several rooms. The better the gear is, the more attention has to be paid to what one is using in the system. It is easy to make good gear sound bad. And if it does sound bad, perhaps one might not ought to crank it up to ear-splitting levels? Most rooms had reasonable volume levels but some of the most pricey were the worst offenders in this regard.

Third, CES always sounds better than RMAF – manufactures bring better gear and they care more about how it sounds. Better turntables (Continuum, Air Force One, etc.), better speakers (big Magicos, big Sonus Faber (this year, not last year!), Perfect 8, etc.) in addition to all the standout products here at RMAF this year (big Wilson, Venture, YG Acoustics etc.). And the rooms at the Venetian are better sounding than at the Marriott, even with large random pieces of furniture strewn about the rooms. Why do the exhibitors seem to care more at CES? Perhaps because 140,000 peers and potential customers are nearby and this makes one want to step up to the plate and do something righteous.

==== Wilson Audio Alexia powered by Doshi Audio ====

JV: “I was smitten with the Doshi gear and for the most part liked the speakers, which were quite realistically robust but also a bit bright, edgy, and forward…”. “I’m not sure, but the system’s upper midrange and lower treble got a bit ragged on fortes. ”

Uh oh. Have to agree with JV [I wrote this review of JV’s report As I Read His Report. I did not realize we were going to agree on the sound quality for most of the rooms at this point]. I really wanted to like this system and hear what the Alexias could do but… what he said. Anemic and edgy. Perhaps something was not broken in before they took it to the show. Perhaps, it is that the Alexias are notably harder to drive than many have expected them to be.

“…the Alexias didn’t have as much room-shaking deep bass as I’m used…”

Seriously, it might make sense to point this out if the Alexias were gargantuan Godzilla-like speakers – but they are not.

JV makes comments like this several times in the early parts of his show report. I know he is trying to get us all excited about having dumped the Magico speakers for the Raidho speakers as well as remind us he has the latest Walker turntable and a Soulution amp. But…

Just throwing this out there but I do not think show reporters should go around taking a poke at exhibitor’s systems by saying [not out loud, anyway 🙂 and certainly not in print] stuff like “Hah! Suckerrrrs! Our system at home blows this away! Let me count the ways…” I know some forum trolls do this – but don’t you all find that annoying? Especially as we can’t just go and plop down in their listening chair and check out if they are full of [exaggerating their systems attributes and minimizing their systems faults]?

And comparing “deep bass”? The hardest thing to get right at a show with wobbly bass absorbing walls? Puh-leeze.

==== Focal Stella Utopia powered by Soulution ====

We’ll have to agree with what JV said, I guess, as far as it goes: “…big, full, solid, and gorgeous on full orchestra in Kije, though … not as room-shaking on the explosive timp and bass drum strikes … [as JV’s own system again]”.

But this is such a small part of what I personally call music. Big dynamic swings. Yes. Cool. Awesome even. What about the rest of the music? Hmmmm….

==== Tannoy Kingdom Royal statement floorstanders powered by VAC ====

JV: “…sounded extremely detailed and robust through the Tannoys, with a very prominent upper mid and treble that managed to hold detail on the swooping strings and winds throughout the very loud bursts of brass and percussion…” “There was, however, a little loss of bass/power-range color, extension, and drive on Janis… left her voice sounding a bit too “exposed” and shouty. … they added a slight granular roughness to the sound”.

Have to agree with JV with his general impressions except he is glossing over real problems or he did not play a CD. Another system we wanted to love. VACs are great. Big efficient Tannoys are great. We hear awesome things about the big Esoteric 3-peice digital. What’s not to love? But on the CD [we did not hear vinyl here, unfortunately], it sounded very ‘digital’ to us, digital in all its wonderful unglorious ungoodness [or, as we thought it through, figuring none of the filters on the Esoteric could be THAT bad – un-broken-in-cableness in all its glaringly sharpishness]. I came here several times and spent more time here than in 96% of the other rooms. Hope they find what was wrong and bring this again next year.

==== Classic Audio Reproductions powered by Atma-Sphere ====

“…the T-3.4 had lovely color on solo violin, showed surprisingly little horn coloration on “Long and Winding Road” with better foreground focus on Paul’s voice than CAR horns usually have (although the speaker did seem to lose focus and resolution on background instruments and chorus). A little dry and bright on crescendos, the T-3.4 suffered from a marked lack of top and bottom end on all music”

Agree with JV here. BTW Classic Audio Reproductions (CAR) is now just Classic Audio. They have been steadily improving these speakers and, last I heard, were making sure low-powered Audio Note amps sounded their best on them.

==== Venture Grand Ultimate MkII powered by Thrax ====

JV: “The sound was doubtlessly the best I’ve heard from any Venture loudspeaker. Kije was terrific—realistic tone color, excellent staging, with very good bass, dynamics, and resolution. Keb’ Mo’ ditto, though his voice lacked a little focus (but then I was sitting a mile away). The presentation may have leaned slightly to the dry side, but only slightly…”

JV seemed to like this room [but no nomination for BOS?] saying it was the best Venture room he has ever heard. I myself was only able to hear the digital source here in this room, and on the end of the first day, but I thought the Venture room at CES sounded better with a rounder, more harmonic and musical presentation. Should have gone back to hear the system on the Spiral Groove table – a table which Neli and I both like a lot. Doh!

Darrin and Gene were highlighting the Thrax gear, an amp and phono pre. These guys often run across interesting gear and the gear looks like potentials but they can get kind of overwhelmed [it being a very large room] by the rest of the gear, the speakers, and the room itself, so it is hard to hear what they sound like.

==== TAD Evolution One powered by Zesto ====

JV: “I found nothing special to rave about here-and nothing to complain about, either. I’ve always liked TADs and I liked these littler numbers, too.”.

It makes sense that JV likes TAD speakers, being focused on tight dynamics and accuracy the way he is. People seem to like the name ‘Zesto’ and you could easily hear the name pop up against the background chatter [such as it was at this quieter show] in the hallways and rooms. But this room sounded just like you would expect it to with any decent standard issue amp driving medium sized TAD speakers. Zesto could be great – but we didn’t hear it here.

==== Lawrence Audio Double Bass powered by Jeff Rowland ====

JV: “The sound was rich, beautiful, and full-bodied, albeit with just a hint of hollow, cupped-hands coloration on male voice.”

I did not necessarily hear the “cupped-hands coloration” but there are several issues of this kind that are commonly on speakers at this price point. These are definitely the best Lawrence Audio speakers, and best sound, I have heard from them, and they are definitely trying to reproduce Music as opposed to just dynamics or resolution or detail or accuracy. I think these might be real contenders at their $28K price point if they put excessively expensive gear around them like, you know, a lot of other rooms do :-).

==== Rockport Technologies Avior and Absolare ====

JV liked this a lot “Thesimply wonderful texture and tone color with an unusually open soundfield and genuinely realistic power-range weight, richness, and body. Lt Kije was almost as good as I hear it sound at home. Janis Joplin was phenomenal. ” … ” full and smooth without loss of resolution, fast without aggressiveness, rich and sweet without being syrupy….”, “…only thing missing was that last octave of bass that I hear at home”.

Surprised he doesn’t always like Rockport speakers as in my mind they are close to TAD [though TAD does pay much more attention to sound at shows, usually taking great care to pair the TADs with appropriate quality gear. Rockport please take note. And SoundLab you too].

Anyway JV loves it. Neli loves it. Me? Maybe I just had a mental glitch in this room? I kept thinking about and dividing the sound I heard into two parts: that contributed by the lovely tube amp, and that contributed by the super accurate speakers. This did not happen to me with this same system at THE SHOW in Las Vegas last January. That sound I felt was muddy and harmonically drab [in a way, WAY larger banquet-sized room]. This sound here was much tighter. But because of the muddy sound at THE SHOW I did not expect much here and did not spend much time here. So, I will defer to Neli who feels strongly about this (and JV) [hey, I have to live with her. You don’t :-)]

==== MBL 116F powered by MBL Corona electronics ====

JV: “Although the MBL system may not have had quite the same focus and density of tone color as the Avior/Absolare combo, the 116F came close, plus (being an omni) it had just a tad more openness and air on top”…

Comparing this room with the previous one, the Rockport / Absolare which seems nuts to me. Essentially he just punted and apparently didn’t have anything to say. No problem. I was also taken a little aback by this room.

Typically MBL scales the size of the speaker to the room. In a room this size they would have much larger speakers and larger amps. As someone who goes to these shows a lot there is a ‘MBL Effect’ one expects to hear in their rooms. Loud, very enveloping, very dynamic music. But this year it there wasn’t an ‘MBL Effect’ and it was more a normal type of hi-fi show presentation. I thought it was pretty good, but with all the problems incurred by speakers that have tight, powered, ported bass with omni speakers radiating energy in all directions when driven by less than humongous amps. Kind of a refreshing change of pace for them, all told. Just a little surprising for us old timers.

==== Volti Audio Vittora powered by Border Patrol ====

JV: “…unusually neutral-sounding for a horn (even better of-axis in this regard). Very focused, a bit forward, and a little supercharged in the mids (as horns often are), it was still pretty smooth and powerful overall with a better-than-decent blend between the horns and the outboard dynamic subwoofer.”

JV doesn’t like horns so he spends a lot of his time talking about how this was better than expected. It was indeed.

it was indeed unusually neutral-sounding for a horn paired with a SET amp. JV thinks it is a bit forward because he listens to a lot of efficiency-constrained ergo constipated speakers and over-damped amps. Just sayin’.

Now that he mentions it, that blending with the subwoofer was indeed pretty darn good. This sound was quite good in a general way, though missing some air and resolution and it was a little uneven top to bottom. But these were really minor things are were not getting in the way of the music – things that people who just want to listen to and enjoy music and not be anal about their hifi system just might want to seriously consider as being worthless anyway.

==== YG Acoustics Kipod II powered by Veloce ====

JV: “…very good air, separation, and definition top to bottom, though timbre was a little dry and bright. I thought it might be the record pressing that was thinning out color, but my copy of Acoustic Sound’s soon-to-be-released (and quite voluptuous) remastering of Kije sounded the same. Likely the room was a factor.”

I was also disappointed in this system. Perhaps the speakers were a little under-driven [a perennial problem with YG Acoustics speakers]?

Our traditional critique of JV's (Jonathan Valin) RMAF 2013 Show Report: Part II

==== Tidal Piano Diacera powered by Audio Power Labs ====

JV: “…truly gorgeous, with Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre simply phenomenal through the Tidals and the Aurender/dCS source. This was another BOS contender: extremely sweet string tone, superb depth and resolution, and fantastic bass for a two-way”

Neli liked it a lot too. I liked it too, although in the final analysis the sound was just a little too pretty for me and not quite as dynamic top to bottom as I might wish for. I remember really liking the Audio Power Labs on the Tidal at CES’s THE Show a few years ago a heckuva lot, almost the same exact system… [Can’t find which show. Argh. Memory Player? Perhaps the larger Audio Power Labs amps? … ah yes, here it is at Stereotimes. Oh, and here it is on this very blog: Audio Power Labs, Tidal, Memory Player at CES 2012’s The Show]

==== Brodmann Acoustics Vienna Classic 2 powered by Electrocompaniet ====

JV: “…dark and rich in timbre, but somewhat boxy (Brodmann, a piano maker, deliberately uses material resonances as part of its enclosure design) with a forward presentation and little stage depth (this could’ve been aggravated by my close listening seat). That said, the timbre of Kissin’s piano was lovely with a nice sense of the ambiance surrounding it.”

Yeah, these guys are going for a different sound than most speaker manufacturers. The speakers are designed to resonate with the music, like Audio Note speakers do, and with a similar focus on the music as opposed to audiophile check-boxes, but – I think they are going for something different.

==== Neat Acoustics Ultimatum XL10 powered by Audio Flight ====

JV: “…very high resolution and superb transient response, with just a little suckout in the upper bass and power range thinning color somewhat. Nonetheless, this was an good presentation with outstanding definition and surprising deep bass.”

These speakers are light on their feet with high resolution and good separation. I liked these speakers way back when Jay Rein had them and still think they need someone to really put a top notch system [something wildly inappropriate, price-wise] around them to show off what they can really do [and, you know, so you and I can hear it :-)].

==== JBL M2 powered by Levinson ====

JV wants to review these speakers. Sounds like a good idea, but that doesn’t necessarily make the sound in this room work. I would love to hear these speakers on something besides these amps. These amps need speakers that are supremely detailed and delicate to match their classically dark disposition. Those are not these speakers. These speakers need a small, colorful, dexterous tube amp.

And when I say ‘needs’ I mean that I would really love to hear these combinations someday soon or my life will have this hole in it – and that this hole just can’t be filled any other way [come on, you all know what I mean! It is not just curiosity. It is more like a vitamin deficiency :-)].

==== Cessaro Liszt powered by Tron ====

JV: “…tremendous dynamics, very rich dark color; bass that is well integrated (though still not quite as fast or full as the horn midrange and tweeter) it was far and away the best horn at RMAF. Along with the Rockport Avior and another we will come to it reproduced Lt Kije with greater beauty, realism, and power than anything else at this excellent show. Obviously, a BOS contender.”

JV also talks about how horn speakers sound like a [often disconnected] collection of different speaker technologies. This effect can happen on many kinds of speakers – many times due to cables that mess with the frequencies or amps that are unable to control the speaker at various frequencies. I think he needs to close his eyes and ignore the fact that they are horn speakers.

Not sure what he means by ‘rich dark color’ which he is starting to use in several of these write-ups. I am thinking he means dense sound with liberal but over-damped harmonics mixed in. There are some people who prefer this sound [although we, to be clear, do not. preferring an open sound with lots of separation and clear as a bell harmonics. For us, dense sound reminds us of the wall-of-sound that occurs when a system cannot handle the complexity of the music it is trying to play or, similarly, when the music has been compressed].

We always root for Cessaro, really appreciating what good horn speakers can do better than any other speaker design. But here in this room we thought that perhaps the Tron was not up to driving the speakers or, conversely, that the horns had been so attenuated to mate with the bass drivers that they no longer had the dynamics and open sparkle of a horn speaker anymore.

I heard this the end of the 2nd day – but Kevin tells me that it sounded better on the 3rd day. I am envious of anyone who got to hear these play anywhere near as good as they look.

==== Von Schweikert VR-100XS Universe powered by Constellation ====

JV: “In the large tricky room it was in, with conventional sources, bass and power-range response were problematical—as was image focus.” … “At lifelike levels [on reel-to-reel] (which is to say about 90dB average SPLs with well-over-105dB peaks), nothing else at the show—and this was, once again, a great show—came as close to sounding real as the Universe/Constellation/UHA playing back The Doors’ L.A. Woman”…

JV liked this Von Schweikert speaker system when they used the reel-to-reel and played it very loud. I, however, just heard it playing quiet classical music and decided after several minutes that A) this was not going to change anytime soon and B) although I like quiet classical quite a bit, this was not doing it for me. The mastery, the emotion, the raison d’etre for listening to the piece, much less for the musicians to play it, was not present. And it just wasn’t loud enough for me to evaluate any other aspects of the playback. I like many of the Von Schweikert speakers and how they sound, and like the sound in many of their rooms at shows [even if their speaker designs seem a little crazy sometimes]. I wish I could have heard these, their statement speakers, in different circumstances. Perhaps at CES.

==== YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2 Passive powered by Mola-Mola ====

JV: “A BOS contender, even if the YGs were a little ragged at very very loud levels on sax.”.

The sound was a little ragged at not so loud levels too. There were also issues with unevenness in several areas as well. How I miss the old days when Bill just brought state-of-the-art gear and kicked butt [I know. I know! Things are supposed to be more affordable in this economy and shipping delicate stuff is a pain and a half. Still miss those days though].

==== Magico Q1 powered by Spectral ====

JV: ” …you can be sure that the Q1/Spectral/MIT room will be a finalist.”. Uh. Really?

When I heard this they were playing it quietly and were in a deep conversation with each other and it did not look like a good time to ask them to move a little out of the way so I could take more photos, or, you know, turn up the volume.

==== Nola Metro Grand Reference Gold on ARC ====

JV: “…dark and beautiful in timbre, with well defined bass on “Autumn Leaves” and lovely reproduction of vocals and piano, and spectacular staging, resolution, and dynamics on the Mercury Romeo & Juliet. There may have been a smidge of room resonance here…” … “Certainly yet another BOS nominee.”

I feel like JV is tossing Best of Show (BOS) Nominee awards around like the way most people throw eggs at the zombies.

It appears that

a) almost all speakers at the show are above $20K now and

b) the criteria for being a BOS nominee is only slightly more difficult than just showing up at the show and plugging things in.

I feel JV’s show report is degrading here as we near the end. If this continues we will have to do something else so we don’t just start ragging on the whole thing.

I feel these particular Nola speakers were not as able to hide the flaws in the upstream components as the larger ones they usually bring. The larger speakers in this very large room had, at the very least, compensations like scale, dynamics, bass, ease and stuff like that which I, at least, like quite a bit.

==== Scaena Dominus on ARC ====

JV: “…bass had a slightly different quality (slower, less defined) than the ribbon/cone columns.”

Essentially this is his only comment on the sound. This made me laugh. Yes, it is extremely hard to get the big depth charges to mate perfectly with the line array. They do a pretty darn good job at it though. But, no, it is not absolutely perfect.

That was not the problem in this room, though.

Neli also wanted them to play an LP on the Kronos turntable here. Maybe that would have fixed the issues. But you know that sound you get when there are no micro-dynamics, no ability to render subtleties of notes so, like, say a trumpet, being played really LOUD, makes notes that, instead of encompassing several nearby frequencies that all kind of rise and ebb a little differently creating a wonderful colorful sweeping brassy call to attention, instead just compresses it all into a single even louder frequency blast that creates a tsunami-like effect on the ear drum? If they had just turned it down some…

==== Wilson Audio XLF + Thor’s Hammer s powered by VTL ====

JV: “in spite of its many obvious virtues (color, speed, impact) “… “there was something not completely refined about the presentation—call it a want of very low-level texture—that bothered me just a bit. It was as if the XLFs got the big things really right but slightly (and I mean slightly) short-changed the littler ones. ”

He then goes on to blame it on Thor’s Hammer subwoofers and still grants it a “a BOS nomination”.

Wrong. Well yes. But why blame it on the subwoofers??? Pretty safe to throw stones at them, I guess, since they have the weakest constituency. Personally, the XLF are speakers we wouldn’t mind having here [and I am very picky. And Neli is even pickier than me (seriously. if I want to really annoy the heck out of her I just have to suggest with a straight face that we try a modestly excellent speaker here sometime. ouch.)] and the subwoofers? They seemed to integrate exceedingly well and get out of the way, in my opinion.

There were many more things wrong here and much more serious [and I feel for JV trying to put it into words and keep his job. The normally meticulously honest JA just bailed with a feel-good review] .

Still trying to decide whether to do a real review of this room. Some of the sound was so bizarre, I am still trying to figure out just what was going on.

The short description is this: The first track, which sounded like what I think of as the wooden mallets hitting copper Tibetan bowls on the American Beauty sound track, was awesome. Rich harmonics, detailed, awesome resolution and separation, swirling dynamics as the sounds ebbed and flowed. I had never heard anything better than this albeit unfamiliar music. It was lacking nothing.

Then we heard more traditional kinds of music. On these the imaging was all over the place, (for example, many notes would start in the center between the speakers and then gravitate immediately to one or the other of the speakers. And things on the soundstage would just move around all over the place), and, except for one track (!) of the demo the timber was off; every note sounded a little ‘sharp’ [a little higher in frequency – as opposed to ‘flat’]. How could this one track sound OK and the rest not? This is what has baffled me for several weeks now and the whole experience had me doubt my sanity. Whenever I heard systems that had imaging or timbre issues for much of later that day my response was to back slowly away and seek temporary refuge elsewhere.

[my current explanation to myself is that because the one track with realistic timbre was a recording off of an LP recording of a jazz session – it had 2nd harmonic distortion that filled a void somewhere in the system signal chain – and when that void was not filled, as it was not on the other tracks, then it would get filled by somewhat random harmonics. My previous explanation was that there was 3rd harmonic distortion on the other tracks that my ears were interpreting as an elevated frequency]. As for the soundstaging and imaging issues, perhaps something was wired backwards [but not everything, because we all know what that sounds like, and this was not that].

Because of my surprise and obsession during he demo with the above issues, I did not get down to the point about caring about the lack of texture / micro-dynamics / inner-detail, whatever you want to call it. Kudos to JV for pointing it out, though.

But… weird huh? Kevin pointed out the lack of soul in the sound of the demo – and we have to agree wholeheartedly – but as we all know soullessness does not perturb our reviewer friends much [JV, JA, Fremer…] nor some percentage of listeners apparently [oh, but if they only knew! :-)].

Missing: JV did not review the two Sony speaker rooms: one with Pass Labs and the other powered by Emmlabs. Nor the Vapor room powered by Atre Forma.

OK. Hope you all enjoyed the show.