The Hub: TidBits from RMAF 2009: Part TWO

Audio, for me, is about listening to music. You'd think that would be a truism, but far too often, audio seems to be a collection of sound effects, rather than the tapestry of emotion, inflection and impact that defines musical performances. So, when I hear someone listen to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde or Emmylou Harris' Mirrorball, and all they can say is, "what about that suckout between 2.8 and 3k?"...well, I feel sorry for them. I discover such equipment-character traits while listening to the music; listening purely FOR such traits seems to me to be pointless, as though finding fault was one's sole reason for existence.

Luckily, I heard a lot of systems that made MUSIC, not sound effects, at RMAF. In the same way that music has infinite variety, each system did different things well. None was perfect, whatever that means, but each had traits which tugged at my heart as well as my ears.

Aleksandar Radisavljevic of RAAL has made quite a name for himself and his ribbon tweeters over the past few years. The airy, extended and lifelike sound they produce has made them the choice of several manufacturers, as well as constructors of custom ultra-fi systems. In conjunction with the Serbian electronics maker Solaja, RAAL showed a packaged system called the Constellation in room 1121

The speakers bear a striking resemblance to an oversized Tizio lamp, complete with counterbalance. The part that would be the shade of the lamp contains the treble and midrange drivers. A ribbon tweeter mounted in a waveguide is flanked by a pair of canlike enclosures, each of which contains 3" midrange drivers, firing out of the top and bottom of the "cans". The base of the "lamp" is a bigger can containing a pair of 6.5" woofers. Solaja's part of the system is an active crossover, a 70-watt amp for mids and highs and a 100-watt amp for the bass. The whole package will supposedly sell for $4000. What was fascinating to me was the speakers' ability to fill the room with tactile, clean sound, while making it seem as though the sound just radiated from mid-air. Bottom-end was limited, but what was there, was taut and tuneful. A lovely, musical set-up, and a no-brainer as an all-in-one choice. --Okay, you need to add a source. MOST-in-one.

The affable Bob Spence has been around for years with his MaxxHorn speakers; he recently changed the company name to Affirm Audio, and he has a firm handshake, as well (sorry!). Bob's new Elation speakers impressed with their sense of aliveness, and seemed well-paired with Ayon electronics and cables from Clarity. The $9995 Elations feature bamboo-laminate cabinets and a proprietary driver; the folded tractrix horn radiates from the bottom of the enclosure, giving a semi-omni radiation pattern. The sound was dynamic, detailed and involving, with surprisingly low bass. I could live with them. (room 1117)

I always want to give credit to the new and inexpensive, but when the OLD and REALLY EXPENSIVE stuff is beautiful and heart-breakingly good, I have to acknowledge it. The Audio Federation/Audio Note setup in room 9030 was deserving of attention for several reasons, starting with the sound, which was like watching Willie Mays play baseball, back in the day: the system performed astounding feats with total grace and dignity, and never drew attention to itself. It was sweet, involving, dynamic, and I could ignore it and just listen. Want.

The $51,000 Audio Note AN-E SEC Signature speakers may not look impressive (though they are beautifully finished), but they go deeper, louder and higher than any quarter-century-old 2-way design has a right to. Coupled with $300,000 worth of Gaku-On and M9 electronics, the EMM Labs CD/SACD player seems bargain-basement at only $25k. Throw in $10k or so in HRS stands and bases and $50-$100k (breakdown unclear) in Nordost power cords, speaker wires and interconnects, and you're pushing half a million dollars. Believe it or not, I've heard far more expensive systems; and believe it or not, I think if any system is worth half a mil, this one is. I don't care about 12-foot-high monoliths that never let me forget they're there; this system just PERFORMS. If you need something bigger for your cannon-shots from Master and Commander, help yourself; this'll do for me. Besides which, husband and wife dealers Mike and Neli are total pros at presentation, gracious hosts, and work their athletic posteriors off. Bravo, and brava.

More in the next installment, along with memorable characters and encounters.
Glad someone else was impressed with the cost-no-object Audio Note room. I also found the Audio-Note-on-a-budget room quite entertaining. One among a few rooms that caused me to break out in a big smile.
Thanks for being willing to share the new and unusual, at least to me(RAAL), some Maxhorns and not being put off by the high price spread when it sounds so much of what it should.
Thanks, gents. I'm always happy to be impressed by someone ELSE's expenditure! But then, my priorities have always been in the right place: when I had tri-amped Tympanis, I drove a $200 FIAT.

Yes, audiophilia nervosa is a sickness!
The pervading answer in so many threads around here these days is to not actually answer the question, but instead muddle everything around in the "there is no best" thinking. I don't get behind that at all. For one, it kind of destroys the purpose of serious audio discussion in the first place.

In my opinion, there is a "best". It's called Audio Note.

Though I didn't attend RMAF this year, I awarded it my Best Of Show for 2008. Truly, it wasn't even close. Mike did a superlative job.

This year, I bought an Audio Note CD player, and though it's one of their midline machines, it's by far the best digital I've ever owned.

But, of course, all of this happens to just be my opinion...
The Audio Note room at RMAF '09 was impressive with a spectacular soundstage spanding side-to-side with a speaker against the corner of each front wall in a fairly large room. No expense was spared in cables with Nordost Odin cabling. In spite of the wide (and I mean wide) soundstage, there was no depth. Otherwise, a dynamic presentation but you would expect that for the price.

The Examplar roon was also impressive with Exemplar tube electronics along with David Berning monoblock amplifiers.

Nice to read about Bob Spence and his new Elation horn speakers. Cables were by Chris and Melissa Owen of Clarity Cable.
I thought the AudioNote rooms were pretty average. When I saw the price tags of this gear, it was totally laughable. There were many other systems there that had musch better sound, at a fraction of the price.
Audiogon Bill Thanks for all the effort, I find it hard enough just getting around all the rooms. Now I see comments about rooms I appear to have missed.
I liked the Audio Note room as well. Yes the amps are insanely expensive,, but the speakers start at a reasonable price. I have seen them paired with the entry level Meishu integrated and they still sounded pretty darn good.
Looking at the cheaper rooms, I liked the LSA room a lot, Moscode with Von Scheikert speakers and Modwright with the Daedalus Da-Rama's. I have the latter on order, so I know that at least one order was placed at the show.
This was my first and last RMAF, too expensive to get across from Europe. Others at the show commented how light the attendance was. I wonder if any exhibitors could comment on how succesful the show was commercially. Basically if little business was done, there may be a smaller show next year.
You know what they say about opinions: everybody's got one.

Rarely do I hear a group of audiophiles agree on ANYTHING, whether it's sound quality, or where to go to lunch!
The RAAL tweeters are indeed fantastic. I'm using the 140-15's in a highly modified pair of Infinity Renaissance speakers. Compared with the EMIT planar - there's no comparison. Actually they might just be the perfect tweeter but you need a great crossover and tweeter amp. I use Mundorf SIO caps and copper foil inductors. The Mundorfs are also DC biased to 35V which raises the bar into stratospheric resolution territory.