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Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2006
By Todd Warnke
Page 2


  In a large suite Azzolina Audio was showing their $15,000 horn-loaded full-range Gran Sfera. Using the exquisite Galibier Stelvio turntable as a source, I was impressed by how delicate and detailed the sound was, and yet by the power as well. Superb stuff if you have the room (and budget) for it.

Jim Hagerman of Hagerman Technology is a far better man than I — since if I was based in Hawaii I’d never get around to doing any work. As you can see from this rack of Hagerman gear, he does get around to working — quite a bit in fact. At the bottom of the picture is his new $2500 6H30 based, push-pull power amplifier. At the top is his Chime USB DAC with tubed output stage. At $1750 it is both affordable and makes great music.

Going from one extreme to another, just down the hall from the "Hang loose" HagTech was the German based Behold. The idea behind Behold is simple – get the signal to digital as fast as possible, make all adjustments to it in the digital domain and keep it digital until the last instant. The execution of this idea, however, is typically German — thorough, massive and detail-obsessed. The amplifier pictured here the BPA768 costs $38,000 and is huge. This picture of the innards does no justice at all to the gorgeous and exacting work inside.


The equally impressive APU768 pre-amplifier ($20,000) has, if anything, even more detailed guts with gold boards as this crappy picture shows. The APU768 can interface with your laptop and allows you to customize crossover slopes as well as just about every other feature in the system. Yes, I know, this stuff is pricey, but from my time listening I have to say I am very impressed. Enough so, that if I had a rich friend I’d tell him he had to hear this.

Over in the tw-acustic room, the Raven-AC ($10,000 with 1 motor — shown here with three motors) was just about as massive as the Behold gear, but this time in complete service to analog. The sound was pitch-perfect, detailed and very seductive.

Just down the hall was the room of one my favorite companies — Audio by Van Alstine. Frank has been around for so long that his stuff is often taken for granted, which is an absolute sin. Showing the Ultra 550 power ($2199) and Ultra SL pre-amplifier ($1449) along with the Ultra Dac ($1599), the sound was musical and detailed.

Flying Mole Electronics makes a line of small, modular, digital amplifiers. How small? Well, that’s my five year old son, Miles holding one. At $445 for a 100 watts, they offer what just may be the best sound you can get for the least dollars. Great name as well.

Harbeth, as usual, was making electrical signals sound just like music. They also showed their thirtieth anniversary model the 7ES3. At $2995, I was more than impressed by the sound and the finish.

Escalante Designs continues to impress me as well. Their Fremont ($18,000) is a weighty (100 pounds a side) two-way that sounds effortless at any volume level and looks far better than any picture can express. Sounds great too.

Over in the Merlin Music Systems/Joule Electra room, we heard the latest version of the VSM, the VSM-MMX-E. A lead-free design, it sounded even more resolving and fleshed out than ever before. At $8500 in standard finish and $10,500 in the piano-black finish seen here, it’s one of the few 10k bargains I know of. And the lovely, luscious Joule Electra VZN-160 amplifier is one of the very few 20k bargains as well.


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