RMAF 2019 Show Report Part 5
I hiked back toward the other end of the 8th floor and came upon Benchmark Media Systems driving Martin Logan speakers. in 128. On top of the pseudo-carbon fiber rack was the LA4 preamp ($3k, $3100 with remote) followed by their DAC3 B ($1700), a more affordable fixed gain version of their DAC3 intended to mate with the LA4, an Aurender server and on the bottom shelf, the AHB2 stereo power amp ($3K) which is three weeks on backorder as of this writing. It is conservatively rated at 100 Wpc and measures extremely quiet. Plus it runs very cool with its unique patented THX-AAA Technology. Small wonder it is on backorder.
The speakers were Martin Logan 35XTi two-way stand mounted monitors ($1300/pr) with ribbon tweeter over dynamic midwoofer, a combination of drivers I liked very much from ELAC, prior to the Andrew Jones era. They were supplemented with a modest size powered subwoofer (Dynamo 800X ($800 ea) on each channel that blended quite seamlessly. They also had two their Motion 60XTi ($3200/pr) floorstander at the show. This was a very nice sounding rig that dramatically illustrated the law of diminishing returns when compared to the more expensive rooms at the show. It looked a little Plain Jane, but in a nicer setting with a more dignified and effective component rack appropriate for the size of the Benchmark components, it would look (and sound) a lot more impressive. It should also be noted that cabling was Benchmark's Star-Quad interconnects and speaker cables, which leaves room for further exploration.
Located in Fort Collins, north of Denver, Audio Alternatives put together a top notch room featuring the new Vandersteen Model 5 Kento Carbon speaker ($37,500). It features the carbon tweeter from the Model 5A Carbon and the midrange is the carbon/balsa driver from the Model 7. The 6.5" midbass comes from the Quatro Carbon speaker and there are two 9" side-firing subwoofer drivers coupled with an 11-band equalizer and 400 watt amplifier to tune the bass to the listening room. The built in, adjustable powered subwoofer is a signature feature of Vandersteen's premium speakers.
For the upper bass, midrange and high frequencies, the speakers were driven by the new Vandersteen M5-HPA high pass monoblocks ($15,800/pr) with adjustable high pass filters at 20Hz, 40Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz and 200Hz. Power is rated at 150 watts @ 8 Ohms, doubling down to 300 watts @ 4 Ohms. This amp can easily be used in conjunction with other speakers, particularly those augmented by a separate powered subwoofer. With this broader application, this amp can be offered at a more reasonable price than the M7-HPA that was designed specifically for just the Model 7 Mk II speakers. The Kento Carbon fills the rather wide gap in the Vandersteen line between the high value Quatro Wood CT ($15,500) and the Model 7 Mk II ($64k) and it should be available by January 1st in either wood or automotive paint finishes. It wasn't clear if the speaker included what appears to be granite bases like are offered at extra cost on the Model 7 Mk II and raise the speaker up several inches... so ask, lest you be disappointed.
The rig feeding the Vandersteen Kento was top shelf gear with an AMG Viella turntable ($23,500) equipped with a Lyra Atlas cartridge ($12k), and VTL TP-6.5 Series II Signature moving coil phono stage ($12,500) doing the analog honors, and an Aurender A30 caching music server / streamer / CD ripper / HDD storage / headphone amplifier on the digital side with proprietary lossy MQA decoding, both sources feeding a VTL TL-6.5 Series II Signature Line Preamplifier ($18k), a fully balanced design. An AudioQuest Niagara filtered the power and AudioQuest supplied the cables. HRS supplied the racks featuring wood trim to soften the techno look we more typically see from them. It all added up to another of the Best Rooms at the show.
At the end of the hall in room 105 I found Ted Denny performing endless comparisons of Synergistic Research tweaks using his turntable as a source which required no small amount of finesse and concentration. He has really refined his presentation with the addition of signage to help listeners keep track of the changes he was making. It is a difficult task to walk into a room and start evaluating small changes when you haven't had an opportunity to focus on the sound of the rig for a longer period of time, though he did, on occasion, play some longer sections of music.
The rig looked pretty much the same as at AXPONA 2019, though the room as well as the orientation of the gear in the room was significantly different. Nonetheless, as good as it was, it did not seem as good as AXPONA in spite of the AXPONA room being more confining. It took me weeks after returning from the show to figure out why. You don't normally remember audible qualities for a very long time — especially after several weeks. But three factors helped. First, the gear was mostly the same and second, I remember my emotional reaction to hearing a rig far longer than I remember its sonic signature.
And third, Synergistic Research's rooms (and by extrapolation, their gear) have a distinctive sonic signature very similar to my own rig, though theirs is at a higher level in most regards. Finally, it dawned on me — they were premiering their new Foundation series of interconnects and speaker cable which is a series or two below what they had been using in the past.
I have these same cables at home for review where I am experiencing very positive results, but let's face it, they will not be as good as the Galileo SX or Atmosphere X series above them for less money. The interconnects are $599 (one-meter RCA or Balanced) and the speaker cables are $649/8'pr. I'll save the details for the review, but add that it was refreshing to see them in their white jackets above the light colored carpet. In the photo you will also note the new cable lifters with their logo cut out of the metal and a red UEF tuning device applied where the cable nests into the riser. These should be available soon ($400/set of four).
While this was, I think, the only room to show a Gryphon amplifier or a Magico speaker, the spotlight was really on the Synergistic products. While the differences in some of the product comparisons (with and without) may have seemed small, the effects are typically cumulative. If you're skeptical, check out the reviews available on their website, and fear not — there's a 30-day money back guarantee. In spite of my recollection that this room was not quite as good as AXPONA, any room with this much transparency, sense of space, air and musicality easily ranks as one of the Best Rooms.
That's it for the 8th Floor. Part 6 will drop down a flight to the 7th floor.
Much more still to come!