Performance Devices/King Sound US, Antelope Audio, Wireworld, Shaker Logic Audio, Sound Science.  With the Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold Platinum DSD DAC with Voltikus power supply and Audiophile10M Atomic Clock ($12’995 total), the host played a cut from Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman off the Sound Science Music Vault M7 PCM/DSD music server ($5’695).  The KingSound Prince III electrostats ($9’995/pr) were powered by the Perreaux 350 amp ($8’000) and cables were from Wireworld. There was also a new Lyngdorf TDA1 2170 ($4’995) in service for its preamp and room correction. I did not spend a lot of time here but what I heard was quite dynamic for an electrostatic speaker. Detail was abundant too and the overall lively presentation was one of my best experiences with an electrostatic speaker at a show.

Xact Audio. The most striking component here to my taste was the gorgeous candy apple red-plinthed Garrard 301 with Schröder LT tonearm ($9’990) and Lyra Atlas cartridge ($6’995). The Steve Dobbin plinth can handle two tone arms and comes in at $5’650 nude. This strikes me as fairly reasonable compared to what some others are charging for their fancy plinths on restored vintage turntables (e.g. Thorens, Lenco & Co.). Speakers in this room were not Rockport as in past demos but the Zu Definition Mk IV loudspeakers ($14’500/pr). They were powered by the sumptuously appointed Absolare Passion Signature 845 SET mono amps ($48’50/pr) and Passion Signature line stage ($32’500). The phono stage was by NVO ($6’700).  KODO Tech supplied the amp stands and Echole all cables. I noted great macrodynamics as well as the finer dynamic shadings but there was a little edge and forwardness on strings when playing the 180 gram vinyl of Ruggerio Ricci’s Carmen Fantasy. I have not heard this problem in past Xact Audio demos.

Volti Audio, Border Patrol, Triode Wire Labs. Border Patrol demos have become a perennial favorite of mine at RMAF. Whether paired with the Living Voice floorstanders or Greg Robert’s Volti Vittora (now up to $21’500/pr from $8’800 just a few years ago and $25’000 total with the matching subwoofer – see Greg’s explanation on his website) .there is a tonal rightness to the sound that is almost beyond reproach. There is an overall musicality and solidity to the instrumental notes that stood out from almost every other room at the show. Gary Dews, the man behind Border Patrol electronics, mentioned to me that this year they worked to widen the listening window from one seat (as Greg prefers at home) to three seats. With the Border Patrol EXT1 preamplifier ($12’250), the S20 EXD 300B power amplifier with EXS power supplies ($25’750) and USB DAC ($975), selections played during my visit included The Beatles and Little Feat. I read one other report claiming the sound was very good but lacked some sparkle in the highs. That might be true but this was a system that I could listen to all day and night. This was my kind of sound!

Existence Loudspeakers, Triode Corporation. This was one of my favorite rooms of the show.  Triode Corporation imported by Santy Oropel had their TRX-P6L power amp ($3’200), TRX-1 preamp ($3’200) and TRV-CD5SE ($3’200) CD player (no computer audio here yet) driving some fascinating speakers from Finland that go by the name of Existence Loudspeakers. The larger floorstanding model Erotic ($6’750/pr) was playing when we entered.  It is rated at 91dB and uses a 6.5-inch Tangband widebander whose cone is made of bamboo and paper fibers and has a neodymium magnet mounted near the top of a reflex-loaded cabinet. The host (and designer I believe) played cuts that demonstrated how this speaker not only has a serious amount of bass punch but can also play a wide variety of music genres (unlike many other single driver-based speakers) very convincingly. In other words, it does not come unglued when presented with complex large-scale orchestral music. Those looking for the coherence and point-source imaging of a single-driver speaker that can be driven by modestly powered tube amps should investigate these speakers. I also heard the next model down, the Euphoric ($4’950/pr) which came surprisingly close but I’d still lay down the longer green for the Erotic. Who wouldn’t?

Acoustic Zen, Triode Corporation, Black Ravioli. The Acoustic Zen Crescendo Mk II loudspeakers ($18’000/pr) pairing with the Triode Corporation TRX-M845 tube amps ($22’500/pr, has been the same for the past several years but don’t take that as a complaint!  Why mess with success? This combination sounds great each year. Other partnering equipment was the Triode Corporation TRX-3 preamplifier ($4’950), TRV-CD5SE ($3’200) and TRV-DAC1.0 ($2’500). On both the Cassandra Wilson selection and Peppery Man by Natalie Merchant, the system was smooth and full-bodied with lifelike imaging and focus.

Audio Alternative: Wilson Audio, Audioquest, Dan D’Agostino. I spent a fair amount of time here as everything they played sounded wonderful. I have confessed my lack of enthusiasm for Wilson Audio speakers in the past but must say that the Wilson Duette Series 2 two-way speakers ($22’500 with stands) turned my head around. As well they should have with the pedigree of the associated equipment: D’Agostino Master Audio integrated amplifier ($43’000 – yikes!), Audio Research Reference 2SE phono stage ($13’000), AMG Viella 12 turntable/9W2 tone arm ($21’500 total) and Lyra Kleos cartridge ($2’995). Cabling was by Audioquest and Harmonic Resolution Systems provided the equipment stands. The vinyl selections were very enjoyable. June Christy’s Make Love To Me was simply luscious! There wasn’t a smidgen of brightness or treble emphasis to the system and the Duettes were significantly more coherent to my ears than any of the larger Wilson offerings. Two-way speakers are hard to beat in this critical area.

Tortuga Audi, Volti Audio, Border Patrol. A friend of mine has the Tortuga LDRx ($1’495 for the unbalanced version) on audition at home now so this room had some special interest to me. I am very high on the light-dependent resistor technology for volume control/preamp functions. A number of members of the Connecticut Audio Society are experimenting with them and getting good results. Greg Roberts’ Volti Audio Alura speakers ($15’90/pr) were mated with Border Patrol amps (P21 EXD, $12’750). For some reason the Alura speakers have not been as alluring to me as the Vittoras. I don’t feel that the sound from the mid/tweeter cabinet quite gels with the bass cabinet. Admittedly I am particularly sensitive to this aspect of a speaker’s sound. I felt the same way about these speakers last year too.

Wavelength Audio, Vaughn Loudspeakers. This room looked to be a repeat of last year but there were some noteworthy changes. The system was comprised of a MacBook Pro controlling files on a RAID library sent to the new DSD-capable Crimson DAC ($9’000) and on to the new analog and digital Europa preamplifier ($7’500). The amplifiers were the same as last year, the limited edition Wavelength Napoleon Ag Silver 300B SET mono amps ($35’000/pr). Cables were by AudioQuest. The Vaughn Plasma speakers using restored Dukane Ionovac plasma tweeters were still the featured speaker, however the Fostex midrange driver used last year had been replaced with a 6.5-inch Accuton ceramic driver. (I had commented last year that the Fostex was challenged to keep up with the Ionovac tweeter.) Bass is handled by a 10-inch powered woofer.  While the slight speed mismatch between Ionovac and midrange seems to have been largely ameliorated, I think there is now a slightly cooler tonal signature to the midrange. Still, this is a great speaker and it is mesmerizing to hear the infinitesimally small dynamic nuances that this tweeter can suss out of a recording. I think the speaker is still a work in progress though.

Audio Alternative: Audio Research, Vandersteen, Brinkmann, Harmonic Resolution Systems. This was among the best sounding rooms I heard. I kept looking at the oddly shaped components sitting next to the speakers and wondered what they were. Surprisingly it was a new Vandersteen amplifier called the M7-HPA (monoblock for model 7 high pass amplifier?). It is a dedicated amp for an experimental version of the model 7 speaker that has powered woofers with DSP. The amp powers everything but the woofers. This setup allowed them to overcome the difficult acoustics of this room. A new turntable from Brinkmann caught my eye too. It is called the Spyder and can accommodate up to four tone arms. The preamp functions were provided by Audio Research components while AudioQuest and HRS provided cabling and equipment racks respectively. One selection that really impressed me was Rickie Lee Jones. Her voice can sound pinched and edgy on many systems. This was the best I have ever heard her voice reproduced. The whole system was open and articulate with a wonderful soundstage. Bravo!