Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2013a
Adjacent to the AAudio suite was the PrimRose suite that featured HiFi Imports. Darrin O'Neill is the person responsible for turning my on FM Acoustics. Heard it right in this very suite some years back and simple marveled at its overall liquidity and sparkle. A rare component indeed. This year, there was no FM Acoustics in sight, but I did get a chance to hear another newcomer: Thrax Audio of Bulgaria. First thing I noticed was how attractively built these components are. The uniquely chiseled chassis of the Dionysos preamp ($21,500 photo above) - hidden tubes and all - is going to turn heads even in the off position. The Thrax Heros mono amps ($38,500), are special because they claim to be the first transformer-coupled hybrid amplifiers: made exactly like a tube amp except they use two JFets on the output instead of tubes. Also in action was the company's Orpheus phonostage ($21,500) and Maximinus 32-BIT/ 384 Khz DAC ($33,500). Turntable was a Spiral Groove SG 1.1 with Graham Phantom II, Transfiguration Orpheus Cartridge ($35,000) while loudspeakers were the Venture Audio Grand Ultimate IIs ($98k). Darrin is quite enamored by the overall quality of another newcomer EnKlein Cables. Their David series interconnects and T-Rex AC cords were used throughout this setup and Darrin says he's overly impressed by the company's Dragon Skin sheilding technology. Claims the sonic results of Dragon Sheilding as rather dramatic in the systems he's tried them in. Sticker shock was a mild way of putting it when handed me the price sheet. I'm always taken aback with expensive products I never heard of. Yes, the sound was impressive - if my seat was just a tad too far away from being fully immersed in the sound - in this super huge suite. Ultimately, I just enjoy going into the PrimRose suite anticipating another opportunity to hear the FM Acoustics gear once more. Didn't happen. But the sound from this impressive rig was still enchantingly smooth, rich and welcoming.
Gawking at the VAC Statement's innards was exactly what its designer Kevin Hayes (right) expected considering the see-through top he made especially for that purpose.
This wasn't the first time I heard this combo sing. Pairing the Tannoy Kingdom Royal loudspeaker ($70k) with the top-of-the-line VAC Signature series electronics that featured the 450 IQ mono amps ($116k a pair) and Statement preamp ($46k) is always something I look forward to. This time, using a slew of handsome Esoteric digital gear and Shunyata cables and AC conditioners throughout, I was once again mesmerized by the overall sense of vibrancy and life-like realism this system conveyed. As mentioned, this wasn't a first time encounter with this dynamic duo, yet again, I sat amazed at the sonic capabilities it renders forth into the room. Another enchanting encounter.
Volti Audio and Border Patrol teamed up also this year at RMAF 2013. For me, this was the first time I had the opportunity to hear each of these products at length. Not that I haven't heard either previously, but never together for any extended period worthwhile (and always under dreaded show conditions). Well, all I can say about that is Oh My....What a sound! Even under these stressed out show conditions, and way before I even sat down, the sound coming from this combo was immediately gorgeous and instantly special. Everything sounded open and harmonically right: devoid of any obvious colorations or distortions. I want to emphasis harmonically right. This gave the room a sense of ambiance that was rare and exciting to hear in showroom. Why? Your guess would be as good as mine. I have no history with the electronics chosen so maybe they're magical sounding all to themselves. Border Patrol's Gary Dews' P20 SET mono amps ($13,750), were strapped to external power supplies sporting rather large dual transformers (add an extra $10k - see photo above), might have plenty to do with their outstanding performance.
The Vittora loudspeakers on the other hand, are very good, but...I thought they were nothing more than a Greg Roberts tricked out pair of Klipschorns. Or so I thought. I had no clue they were actually this good sounding! The CD player appeared hand-made and at best, in working order but obviously with a broken draw. Nevertheless, the sound was something special. Something that sticks with you. Not because it was better than anything else necessarily, but because it was totally unexpected and certainly among the best sounding rooms I heard.
Entering into this room that also featured another Volti Audio loudspeaker, this one is a newcomer called the Alura ($14k). This 3-way horn-loaded design is reminiscent of the ($12k) JBL Synthesis system but with an earthier feel compliments of its Baltic-wood finish. Hailing from Russia were the SST Essence SET monoblocks (2 pair shown at $63k a pair), and preamp (price TBA). What was so surprising to me was the very moment we (Dr. Baker, myself and Key) walked into this room, we looked at one another and wanted to walk right out. The complete opposite of how we responded to the previous setup that featured the Volti/Border Patrol setup. No way am I saying these components don't sound good. What I am saying is this: shows are often times nothing more than a crap shoot with respect to sound. Sometimes you can throw seven...and sometimes snake eyes. My only wish was that someone....anyone besides myself could have explained how terrible this room (not any particular gear) sounded. Wasn't my job. Heck, it was Friday and maybe things would improve in a day or two. Not. Went back the next day and the sound was as bad if not worse. I bet it was something else besides these handsomely built components because that is usually the cse. Someone is going to write in stating somebody hit the wrong resolution setting on that dCS DAC or something along those lines. I'll take a bet on that.
I was relieved seeing the Absolare directly next door to the SST/Volti room. I am quite familiar with these electronics and how beautiful they gel with the Rockport Avior loudspeakers ($29,500). In fact, I've not seen them demonstrated on another loudspeaker outside of a Rockport yet. Kerem Kucukaslan, was smiling ear to ear with his first time introduction of the Absolare Passion Signature series 845 SE amplifier and Passion Signature preamplifier ($48,500 and $32,500 respectively). Also showing for the first time was Steve Dobbins - 2014 Kodo Signature edition turntable ($34,500), strapped with a Schroder LT Revolutionary Pivoted Linear Tracking tonearm ($9,900), using a Lyra Atlas cartridge ($9,500). Phono stage chosen was the Allnic H-3000 ($11,900), while I was happy to see the Absolare Bybee AC Purifier ($7,200) since it too serves as my long term reference. Cables chosen were the all-new Echole Omnia series.
Bumps in the road. The first thing someone in the room tuned up was an old jazz recording hinting we were jazz lovers. He was right except for one thing. The LP made the system sound horrible. It wasn't just a dated recording, it was dated and bad sounding all the way through. No bass, hashy highs and all. Dr. Baker, Key and I almost excused ourselves and ran out of this room too. Knowing Kerem as I do and having spent long intimate listening sessions in his home in Istanbul, and he visiting my home, gave me permission to say...SOMETHING JUST AINT RIGHT. Immediately, another song was tuned up and the system turned on a dime as if commanded by the Audio Gods. We all collectively let out a sigh of relief, relaxed our shoulders and enjoyed the music. Once again, the sound I hear whenever sitting before an Absolare/Rockport setup is one of dynamic ease coupled to an exquisite top-end that's rich in depth and harmonic integrity. With this particular setup, I could see into the music compliments of a squeeky clean window. Harmonic truth enriches my emotional connectivity to the music and that in a nutshell is what Absolare is all about. I remember asking Kerem to turn off the lights (photo above) and just let the music play. Yeah, we all just looked at each other and without saying a word, nodded our heads. This is what it's all about. The music!