RMAF: My favorites, so-so's, and disappointments


Important caveat: These are my impressions from show condition setups. Some of the best sounding systems can sound like crap under show conditions with their tiny rooms, terrible AC, etc.
I chose these speakers because they moved me emotionally - my most important criteria. My favorates, starting from the best and going down the list.
1. Acapella Triolon Excaliber: The best sound at the show. Dynamics, nuance, imaging, staging, transparency, timbre, coherence, bass extension etc. were all there in spades. Coherence was first rate which is surprising given all the different types of drivers involved - ion tweeters, horns, and conventional cone subwoofer towers. They played a recording of a duet on Steinways that was just amazing - the weight of the pianos were very convincing. Big band music was alive and there with ripping brass section. Only $170k ;-). Oh, BTW they were fed by all Einstein tube electronics costing $100k plus. In most shows, these megabuck systems just sound like crap, but this was the exception.
2. MBL 101E: Have to admit, in the past these guys sounded steely to me. But this was greatly tamed this time. Bass was a bit bloated, but the rest was excellent. Not as good as the Acapella but still enjoyable overal.
3. Usher Be-718: These dimunitive monitors impressed me greatly. Dynamics, imagin/staging, clean highs, nice clear warmish midrange, and a kickass bass (but not much below 40Hz) were surprising. I might get a pair.
4. Pioneer S-1EX: Surprise, surprise. Pioneer has come a long way with injection of TAD expertise. Very enjoyable because it was alive and dynamic. Imaging, staging, bass, and midrange was great as was the coherence except for a little zippy high end.
5. YG Acoustics Kipod and accompanying subwoofer: Very clean, pinpoint imaging within a large stage, excellent dynamics, and clean bass. Doesn't do subterranean bass. Given it's $40k+ pricetag, should go lower. But I liked it better than the bigger Anat Reference.

The so-so's, in no particular order.
1. Rebuilt Duetta's with Graz's ribbons: I'm an Apogee fan, having owned the Stages and Centaurs in the past. Although very pleasant with nice tuneful extended bass, smooth midrange and highs, it just wasn't dyanmically alive. The drumb solo was nice, but it didn't get me emotionally. I've heard Duetta's do better at shows. May be it was the Audio Research electronics that mellowed the sound to the point of Valium induced laisse faire. Or may be it needed vinyl or a bigger room. I hope better luck with the new Graz's Duetta.
2. Analysis Audio 4 panel system: Did not fair any better than the Duetta above, although 4x the cost. This is strike 4 for the Analysis Audio speakers - I have never heard them sound good, albeit all at shows.
3. Advanced Ribbon Technologies Metro: Again smooth and nonirritating, but no dynamics at all. My least favorite of the the ribbon bunch.

The disappointments:
1. Beveridge G3 electrostat hybrid: I was really looking forward to hearing these. Was this worth the $50k asking price? NO! At least not what I heard in that coffin rooom. It was claimed to be reach 115dB. Heard a recording with lots of percussion, it started to compress when multiple drums with all the instruments congealing when played at volumes approaching 100dB. The timbre of the intruments were bland, homogeneous. Everything sounded a bit foggy, not the transparency I'm used to from the best electrostats. Low bass was absent. The subwoofer is a TL that goes flat to 30 Hz, but I swear they must have turned it off. Organ music has low bass as a foundation that all other notes builds upon, but I didn't get that from the Beveridge.
2. Scena RLA speakers: Murky, bloated, and dead. Don't remember the amps but the source was the Nova Physics Memory Player. I couldn't wait to get out of the room after 30 seconds.

Some may agree and some may disagree with me like I was your mother-in-law. But hey these are JUST my opinion.
dracule1
Thanks for your observation of the Beverage.. from the previous thread on these a while back, the poster ranted and raved how these were straight from the 7th heaven of audio. Perhaps not.. a shame as I was a fan from way back when.
HI - I'm just curious if you had listened to any of the larger Usher models and have a comparison with 718's?
Xiekitchen, let me point out again that my impressions are under show conditions, so some great sounding speakers can sound lousy in hotel rooms. The Beveridge definately was not at it's best in those claustrophobic room. It was just too big for that room. The Acapella was in a large spacious room so it could strut its stuff. Palmetto Audio should have done the same with the Beveridge - If it is your first showing for a new legendary model, wouldn't you have spent the extra cash and get a room that would do justice to the speakers. It would pay off later with more sales, I think.

Opalchip, I didn't get to hear the bigger Usher model at the show because they didn't play them the 3 or 4 times I stopped by their room. If you live in a small appartmentt, the Tiny Dancer (BE-718) is the way to go.
this was my first time to any show and I had a great time.I met some great people and some snooty ones as well. I was very impressed with the LSA room, MBL, also the Ushers. What shocked me was $2500 speakers with $25000 electronics. On the educational side I learned that I love very costly digital sources. I also got home and enjoyed my system even more than before, which I was afraid that wouldn't happen. Looking foward to going again.
The Tiny Dancers were, indeed impressive. I was expecting much less. At the other end of the spectrum of price/performance high-hopes, I found bad sound coming from the Hansen Kings. Having said that, they were set up in a fairly large, tile and cement lecture hall type conference room. You know, the kind with a stepped ramp going up each side of rows along formica surfaces which accomodate about five or six chairs at each level. I fear the Kings were done a grave injustice. The room, with or without speakers, in it echoed all over the place and sounded painfully bright. I would have loved to have heard them in the Wilson room!
It just goes to show you that everyone hears something different and listens for different elements in the sound to communicate the musical message. I found the sound in the Acapella Triolon room to be excessively bass heavy, boomy and very lacking in coherency, Absolutely fantastic tweeter though. Also, I was dissapointed with the Usher BE-718. I went into this room on four different occasions and the sound was always bright and irritating. Last year, every Usher speaker I heard sounded great to me--so go figure. I was impressed with the BE-10's however, which had a much better balanced sound.
I had a couple standout rooms that really impressed me and this is what I looked primarily for. Musicality--the ability to draw me in to the music. Emotional communication--the sound could evoke an emotional response from me, such as head bobbing or foot tapping.
In no particular order or price my favorites were the following--
1) Sonicweld Pulserod w/2 Subpulse subwoofers ($90,000 system). While Darth Vader would probably own a pair of these due to their high tech appearance, the music that flowed from this system playing Josh Groban's "You raise me up" caused a lump in my throat and tears to well up in my eyes. This system dissapeared so absolutely that I was left with only the music. The bass was a little overblown in the small room, but the mids and highs as well as the imaging and soundstage was so realistic that it was almost scary.
2)Proclaim Audioworks DMT-100 ($27,000pr). This 3-way spherical system offers full adjustability of the drivers by
manipulation of it's mounting assembly. This system was extremely dynamic, coherent and had a very boxless type of sound. Incredible bass power and slam with no overhang.
3)Audiokinesis was showing a new speaker ($9500pr). The name eludes me, but it appeared to be similiar to the Jazz Modules that Duke showed last year except this looked like a bi-pole design with identical drivers on the front and back.
Showing with Atmosphere electonics, the sound was very lifelike and had a palpable presence to instruments in the soundstage that maked me sit up and take notice.
4)AV123 LS6 ($2995pr) LS9($3995) These line source speakers have got to be the deal of the decade. Designed by Danny Richie of GR Research these big guys were able to display large scale music effortlessly. The LS-6's were hitched up to humungous Dodd audio monoblocks and the tonality was warm and inviting. At the same time, the system could portray huge dynamic swings effortlessly. The LS-9's
played through Red Rock audio tube mono's had a very see-thru quality that reminded me of electrostatics but with the addition of extreme dynamics. If you have the right room for these, you will be treated to a wall of sound that is coherent and does extreme justice to the music. Incredible
with large orchestral works.
5)Ellis Audio 1801 ($1500-2200pr) These diminutive floorstanders were simply superb. Dave Ellis has managed to bring forth the best sound I have ever heard coming out of the Seas magnesium drivers. The sound while extremely detailed, is at the same time velvety in texture, in other words he has struck the perfect balance. Midrange was holographic and the highs were sublime. Bass response was very surprising giving its size. I asked if there was a subwoofer somewhere and was told there was none. Playing thru a Van Alstine tube dac and Aspen amplifier I could listen to this system for hours. If vocals and small ensembles are your bag, you would be hard pressed to find anything remotely as musically communicative as this setup was. Cheers, Jeff
Jig(Jeff),
Those Sonicweld speakers look like something else don't they! Did they say how much each one weighs in at?
I have heard many really like the Emerald Physics room, did you get a chance to give their speakers a listen? If so what are your thoughts on them?

On the GR/Dodd room with the LS-6's, did you notice the cables? They were mine! :)

Wish I could have attended but it wasn't in the cards this year, but next year....

Regards,
John
Jig,

The Pulserod by SonicWeld was indeed superb in my opinion as well. I have heard it a couple of times before and it was very good but didn't really drop my jaw to the floor like it did this time. Designer Josh Heiner told me that he'd made numerous changes. I didn't get to very many rooms but Sonic Weld would have to top my list. It was the only room that gave me genuine goosebumps, and goosebumps at an audio show is pretty much unheard of (for me at least).

Agree with you also on Danny Rich's line source speakers - at that price, the rest of the industry should band together and have him outlawed. I didn't hear the others you mentioned (well, except for mine).

My speaker is called the Dream Maker, and is nine grand a pair. Thanks for the thumbs-up.

Duke
Johngp,

I believe the specs for the Pulserod are on the Sonicweld web site. Sorry but the Emerald Physics room does not ring a bell. Nice job on the cables as the GR/Dodd room sounded great. Hopefully you can attend next year.
On another note, the only cable that stood out in my mind was a power cord in the Audiokinesis room. It was so fat (looked to be about 2 1/2-3" in diameter) it looked like a dead python. The speaker cables also looked impressive and probably very expensive as well. Maybe Duke can chime in. Also wanted to mention that Duke's wife is one of the warmest, sweetest individuals you will ever meet and always encourages you to play what you brung.

The MBL room sounded impressive, especially with large scale music. But when playing small classical ensembles, jazz trios, and solo vocals, they all sounded way bigger than life. Maybe they just need to turn the volume down a little bit?

It was encouraging to see a lot more exhibits of inexpensive gears. And there were tons of good sound coming out of inexpensive gears. My votes in this category go to Ermerald Pysics and AV123 as mentioned before.

There were a lot of music servers, computer based demos. Overall, I was impressived by many of the new offerings of CD players. They sound a lot more natural than digital front ends from the more traditional big names in High End audio.

Ray Kimber's IsoMike demo was very impressive. I missed it last year, so I made sure I checked it out this year. The Accapella horns were impressive too, except they were way too big to fit into normal size living rooms. The resurrected Apogee speakers were very nice, but it sounded too airy, not enough body.

USHER BE-718 was impressive. The BE-10 was not as impressive as the last time I heard it. But still good stuff. Sharing a room wiht Harmonix was a company called INEX Innovations. They are showing off an amplification technology based on fiber optics. Using it, you only need about 15 watts of power to run most speakers on the market. I took some time and give it a spin and they sounded really good. They were using a cheap CD player and a pair of Dali speakers. They sounded better than the higher-end Dali speakers demoing on another floor. The Dali rep came down while I was there and asked about potentially using their product for future Dali demos. The company is in the SF Bay Area, so I've asked them for a home demo.

OK, I never thought I said this. The Thiel 3.7 sounded better than the prototype at last year's Stereophile Show in LA. And I guess I am getting used to the look, as long as you don't take the grill off, I guess I could live with it. (They are ugly, but there are tons of speakers that are uglier in comparison at this show)

Overall, I prefer the line array designs. You can stand anywhere and the volume sound the same, and gives a very 3 dimensional soundstage and body to each instrument. Not all of them sounded good. I particularly like Saena, ESP loudspeaker, and the speakers that Audience used to demo their cables. Saena got the short stick of the draw, and got the small room next to MBL. When you get into the room, you had to suffer listening to the loud music coming from the MBL room. And the host was not a very good marketer.

That's another thing. A lot of lousy marketing at the show. Many interesting technologies, but not enough show-and-tell. A lot of new companies showing off their new products, but was not prepared when asked to give a short presentation about their products, or given enough emphasis to highlight the technology. In one of the rooms, a magazine reviewer asked the manufacturer to give a short presentation about his new product. The guys just went silent and could not come up with something to tell him why their products are special. I don't think that company is going to last.

Also, many manufacturers from Japan this year. I also noticed many horn speakers, or new interpretation of the horn design, and stuff based on the Lowther drivers, the white paper cones.

There were a lot more good sounding rooms than at the Stereophile show in LA last year. There were many rooms I wanted to go back to but ran out of time at the end.

FrankC
Jig,

Wow thanks - I'll show Lori your post!

I recently became an Emerald Physics dealer, but have only heard the CS2 at RMAF as I'm still waiting for my demo pair. Probably not fair for me to comment, but I guess you can read in between the lines my approval of the product. In the CS2, Emerald Physics uses a waveguide-loaded compression driver and two 15" prosound woofers crossed over at 1 kHz and equalized via a DSP processor.

The dead python was a Magnan Signature power strip - essentially a high-end extension cord with six outlets at one end into which you can plug the stock cords of your components. The speaker cables, which resemble a water moccasin that played "chicken" with a steamroller, are Magnan Signature speaker cables. They use a very wide, flat, thin copper conductor and imho where they really shine is on electrostats and phase-coherent speakers (which mine are not). $928 retail for the dead python, $1090 for the 8-foot flattened water moccasins.

Duke
Although the marketing hype in the nordost room was painful to listen to, the sound was amongst the most impressive I heard at the show. I had never heard of those speakers before (Eben by Raidho). I understand these were not even their top of the line speakers. Has anyone heard of these?
Duke, I liked your room also. I wish I had got back on Sunday to hear the "improvements" as you fine tuned the room.

Chris
Ellis Audio 1801 ($1500-2200pr) These diminutive floorstanders were simply superb. Dave Ellis has managed to bring forth the best sound I have ever heard coming out of the Seas magnesium drivers. The sound while extremely detailed, is at the same time velvety in texture, in other words he has struck the perfect balance. Midrange was holographic and the highs were sublime. Bass response was very surprising giving its size. I asked if there was a subwoofer somewhere and was told there was none. Playing thru a Van Alstine tube dac and Aspen amplifier I could listen to this system for hours. If vocals and small ensembles are your bag, you would be hard pressed to find anything remotely as musically communicative as this setup was. Cheers, Jeff

That's a great review, with just one confusing point. You call these speakers floorstanders. However, the website http://ellisaudio.com/1801.htm calls them "stand mount". Were they using them without stands?
Aktchi,

The 1801's that Dave had at the show were indeed floorstanders. I believe it is a $200 upcharge and IMO the way to go. E-mail Dave for info.
Read John Adkinsons post on page 3 of Stereophile's show report.
Jig,

Thank you for the kind words on the room. Hotel rooms are fun to get realistic, tight bass in, even with the room EQ that the Sonciweld system allows.

To my ears as well, the Pulserod "system" is amazingly transparent, musically involving and just "right". I, too, have been emotionally moved many times by listening to music through the system. And, to an old audio dog like me, that really says something.

The system is $99k.

Duke,

Thank you for the plug as well.

Your new speaker is pretty incredible. Although I only was able to listen for a minute or so, I was impressed with the ease of presentation and overall "rightness" to the sound.

Your line, top to bottom, has "got it going on".

Johngp,

The subs (Subpulse) weigh in at about 250lbs, or so, and the towers (Pulserod) come in around 65lbs. I've lifted those subs now more times than I care to count...they don't get any lighter with time.

The system is quite an amazing build and all of the machining is done in house by the designer, Josh Heiner. Check out his website if you are so inclined.

While I am not Josh from Sonicweld, we always exhibit together and I custom design all of the cables and power devices for the system. He is also my dearest and closest friend, so feel free to take my enthusiasm for his product with a grain of salt.

Peace,

Lee
My favorite moment was meeting the famous Guidocorona at Garcias Restaurant on Friday evening.
Anyone get a chance to listen to the Linn demo on the mezanine floor? They did a demo 16 and 24bit demo that was i thought was jaw dropping on their flag ship system. I just wanted to know if anyone had a chance to hear it and how you thought it compared to other outstanding systems at the show.
Excellent show this year. Many rooms dealt well with making their gear sound good in a hotel room.

While there was very good to excellent sound coming out of Mbl, Gershman, Usher, Dali, and others, I am really surprised that no one has commented on the brand new Acoustic Zen speaker, Crescendo.

I visited this room several times both on Friday and Saturday in the process of comparing my favorite rooms. The sound of the Crescendo was good on Friday, but absolutely stunning the next day. It turns out that the speaker was brand new, essentially never haven been played before.

By Saturday afternoon it was, to me, the best sound at the show, especially considering that it was in the smallest of rooms. I would enjoy hearing the impressions of others that visited this room.

My impressions: musical, fast, dynamic, accurate, and full range (20-30,000 Hz). Compared with another really great and much larger room, I thought the Mbl 101E sounded a little bright and harsh on the top end relative to the Crescendo.
Kmellette
I have to agree. There were several very good sounding speakers/systems in not the best of of room conditions there. I didnt have the time to visit all rooms but my favorite rooms were Linn, AV123 and AV123 home theater, ACI, Moscode/Quad,MBL, Ayre,Bat/Wilson,Dali,Kharma, Jaton/Greenmountain. But for the money, other than Jaton and ACI were the Accoustic Zen room. Wow! They had them set up with the not so cheap Halcro gear and it was mind blowing amazing. There was another room a japanese manufacture of tube amps that had very good sound too. I can't remember the name but they are starting to make an impact for themselves as they have won numerous awards at recent shows for best sound. They had tiny stand mount speakers that were mind blowing good for their size.
I visited this room several times both on Friday and Saturday in the process of comparing my favorite rooms. The sound of the Crescendo was good on Friday, but absolutely stunning the next day. It turns out that the speaker was brand new, essentially never haven been played before.

By Saturday afternoon it was, to me, the best sound at the show, especially considering that it was in the smallest of rooms. I would enjoy hearing the impressions of others that visited this room.

My impressions: musical, fast, dynamic, accurate, and full range (20-30,000 Hz). Compared with another really great and much larger room, I thought the Mbl 101E sounded a little bright and harsh on the top end relative to the Crescendo.
Kmillette

I was very impressed by the Crescendo also. Powered by a 250W Halcro amp these speakers had incredible bass down to 21hz according to Robert. The bass on his demo material produced the most concussive impact I've ever experienced from a pair of speakers, tight and no boom. They imaged very well and produced excellent definition without brightness and offered an extended top end with plenty of ambience. The styling was very nice, much better than the smaller Adagio and they stood about 48 inches tall, pricing around 12K.
I agree with several of Dracule1's comments, especially the so-so's and the disappointments. I looked forward to hearing the Beveridges and listened twice but came away unimpressed, even though I wanted to like them and know Rick Beveridge to be a very nice guy. Maybe it's the Bryston crossover that's mucking up the sound, but they lacked the transparency of the originals, the best which had direct drive amps for the ESLs. I see John Atkinson carefully avoided saying anything about their sound. Here's hoping they improve them.
Chaz801 - I think you may be talking about Micropure. That was amazing.
Yeah it was amazing. If i had a small room. I would have to look very close at the Mirropure's.
I agree with Jig about Duke and his wife, a charming couple. As soon as I entered the room and sat down Lori asked me If there was anything that I would like to play. I declined as there were others in the room and I could see by their tell tale expressions that people were really enjoying the music (blues) being played, by no talking and lots of foot tapping and nodding of the heads. Dead give away when the sounds are good. As It was good to me also I just let the music do the talking.
Jig: The 1801's that Dave had at the show were indeed floorstanders. I believe it is a $200 upcharge and IMO the way to go.

The floorstanding version is offered at http://www.salksound.com/1801.shtml.

Surprisingly I haven't noticed the frequency response of the completed speaker mentioned at Ellis or Salk sites, only for the drivers. Or maybe I missed it.