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I happened to enter the Magico room just when Jonathan Valin was being fawned over. I waited for the exhibitors to ask if they could spit-polish his shoes but they stopped just short. Anyway, Jonathan did have some interesting CDs to play and I sat through them all. Associated equipment were Spectral DMA-360 Series 2 amplifiers, Spectral DMC-30SS preamp, Pacific Microsonics Model Two DAC, computer server, Mykerinos digital audio card and Pyramix playback software, Oyaide clock wire, Pacific Microsonics Model 2, TAD D600 SACD/CD player and DAC and MIT cabling…and lots of other primo gear scattered about. On a purely objective level, I can see where many would crown this room king. I certainly felt an aura that the audio aristocracy had preordained it so. What I felt while listening was a sense of total control. Nothing could fluster this system and everything came through with both finesse and power simultaneously. The energy in the attack of instruments was exceptional, probably due to prevention of loss in the heroic cabinet construction (which is essentially an internal metal skeletal structure of heretofore unseen sophistication). Still, did I feel a more emotional connection in some other rooms? Sorry but yes I did.

The Doshi Audio/Paragon Sound room was of special interest to me, having purchased the Doshi Alaap preamp in early August of this year. Nick also had his new Jhor monoblocks in service powering Wilson Sasha speakers. Source components were a SME 20/2 turntable with SME V arm, Koetsu Azule Platinum cartridge and a Wadia S7i CD player. Cabling was Transparent XL and Transparent Opus phono cable.

I found out after the show that the preamp was not fully broken in and the amp had only received 1/3-power bench testing but no in-system break-in. Having just gone through the agonizing break-in of my Alaap preamp, I recognized the symptoms in my early visits to the room.

This did improve as the show progressed, opening up more with better dynamics and clarity. I can say that my own Alaap is beginning to sound really great but I still have some more break-in to go. What I can tell readers is that when Charlie King and Rich Brown played the reel-to-reel tape of The Beatles A Day In The Life here, listeners (myself included) were practically frothing at the mouth. With a couple of glasses of Chardonnay in me at this point, I was also beginning to leave planet Earth. As Larry Marcus, owner of Paragon Sight and Sound, described it in an email to me after the show, it was a seminal experience that will never be forgotten.

Nick Doshi

Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio (sharing the room with Ken Ball of ALO Audio and Zu speakers) was getting a purity of sound through the Zu Audio Essence speakers that was very compelling. Sitting in a chair along the sidewall, Vinnie actually appeared to be having fun clicking through great music selections on his MacBook. While I knew Vinnie had been converting his products from SLA batteries to superior LiFePO4 (LFP) battery technology, he also showed me that this change had allowed him to include a new vacuum tube stage in his products.

I think this combination of improvements has really taken his products up a notch. Even from a sheer WAF aspect, there is certainly an elegance to seeing all of his products sitting on a rack without a rat’s nest of power cords coming out the back. 

Last but not least was a room I always look forward to visiting – Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound. Jeff exudes an enthusiasm for his products that when matched with his exquisite taste in vinyl makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Jeff had two systems going in opposite ends of the room, allowing guests to merely rotate their chairs 180 degrees and hear the same record on the other system.

First we listened to the TW-Acustic Black Knight/Tron Telstar 211/Horning Hybrid Euphrodite Zigma Ultimate loudspeakers system and then to the TW-Acustic Raven 2/Thoress SET 845 amps/Aspara Acoustics HL1 horn loudspeakers system.  Cables were Stealth Dream and Sakra and the equipment racks were by Silent Running Audio. We happened to walk into the room just as Jeff had switched to an interesting single-ended Mosfet amp ($3,000 retail) in place of the Tron Telstar 211. This amp is of German origin and called the Audioprojekte CA10. We played the Pete Townsend Pinball Wizard cut and even with the transistor amp the sound was well-balanced with full tone and more refinement than expected.

However I yearned for a bit more dynamics as we had played this cut in many other rooms where it had dynamics in spades. I wished I could have heard the system with the Telstar 211 as I own an earlier (but updated) version and it is a superb amp…the finest I have ever owned.

Turning our chairs to the second system, I was sitting dead center. We played the same cut and the guy next to me leaned over and asked if I had a center image. I said that I did not. I wasn’t sure what was going on and wondered if something was out of phase. I don’t think I heard what this system was capable of under the circumstances. We stopped in a few more rooms but noticed people were beginning to break down their systems. So Bill and I bid farewell to Roger and gathered with some friends (Charlie King, Walter Clay) who were staying over Sunday night for a final dinner at an Indian restaurant across the street. With some wine selected with the formidable expertise of Walter, we settled into the afterglow of this orgy of exciting music, equipment and conversation. If you haven’t been to RMAF yet, get yourself out there. It doesn’t get any better!

Best Sound of Show, Cost No Object: Synergistic Research/YG Acoustics Carmel
Runners Up: On A Higher Note - Giya/Luxman/Audio Aero/Shunyata
Kaiser Kawero/GTE/Armonico
Aaudio Imports – Acapella/Einstein
Audiomachina CRM speakers/Modwright

Best Affordable Sound of Show: Audio by Van Alstine/Salk Speakers
Runner Up: Sjofn HiFi  - The Clue speaker
Best Mini-Monitor Speaker: Audiomachina CRM
Best Accessory: Stein Harmonizers     
Best Digital Playback: Empirical Audio
Best Vinyl Playback: Galibier Design/Atmasphere/Daedalus