Vancouver 2015

Vancouver 2015: Wrap

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by Rafe Arnott

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I have a confession to make.

I can’t dance or sing worth a damn (unless I’ve had several pints, then I’m John Travolta and Tori Amos rolled into one gyrating, bearded, hot mess).

So it goes with contributing to Part-Time Audiophile.

I also can’t write, but somehow exposure to high-end audio equipment and the great people who build, design and champion the gear have a similar effect to craft beer on me.

I manage to stagger and jazz-hand myself (PHRASING!) into producing something with the keyboard that is mildly entertaining to people.

The Vancouver Audio Show 2015 was my first time writing about the vinyls, digitals and the ‘philes.

So don’t judge me too harshly until after I’ve stumbled through T.H.E Show in Newport Beach this weekend with the talented Malachi Kenney and produced more reviews that Scot Hull seems willing to publish.

Devialet-1It’s my understanding that Vancouver hasn’t hosted an audio show in many years (10? 15? Ever?), and since it was my first time covering a hi-fi show, it’s difficult for me to compare to it other shows.

I can say that everyone I met who was involved in the room demos and representing there was gracious, kind and absolutely enthused about what they were showing and the show in general.

The vibe was upbeat, fun and loose for the most part with plenty of smiles to go around.

Some of the highlights of the show for me was meeting Audio Note UK gypsy David Cope for the first time (interview here) and reconnecting with Soundhounds‘ Don Thorne and Edward Ku of Element Acoustics.

McIntosh-1The rooms these gentlemen set up were by far the most enjoyable for me (also a big shout out to Yana’s Sergei Shinder) and it was their attitudes toward building cohesive, synergistic systems that focus on making an emotional connection with the listener a priority that struck a chord with me.

Pleasant surprises included the Devialet Phantom room and the black and green monster-McIntosh system streaming Tidal.

Only a few rooms I ventured into lacked great sound or disappointed, which is really saying something when you have dozens and dozens of rooms to choose from to spend your time in.

The show, more than anything, proved to me that that rare bird, the audiophile, is alive and doing very well in Vancouver.

I sincerely hope that the apparent success of this year’s show encourages vendors and retailers to present again in 2016. I can only imagine it getting bigger and better, and that’s a win/win situation for everyone involved and who loves music and outstanding kit to hear it on.

Look for me there next year if it goes down. I promise my writing will have improved.

I can’t promise the same for my dancing or singing.

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Vancouver 2015

Vancouver 2015: Hi Fi Centre and McIntosh Labs

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by Rafe Arnott

Vancouver-Audio-Show-CustomImagine my surprise running into Tom Cruise at the Vancouver Audio Show.

OK, well it wasn’t exactly Tom Cruise but Andrew Ward of McIntosh could pass for the Risky Business star and he was rocking the Wayfarers while serving up some fabulous white-guy moves no matter how many times his McIntosh co-worker Scott Newbrough begged him to stop.

He would not be stopped.

I don’t blame him, the room was absolutely rocking at stadium-volume levels (plus I was egging him on to Moon dance).

Ward and Newbrough served up the funnest room at Vancouver 2015 in the Hi Fi Centre‘s all-McIntosh set up. These two were riffing like a pair of AM radio, early-morning, mid-’80s disc jockeys and spinning an eclectic mix off a MacBook streaming Tidal and I’m here to tell you; it sounded pretty damn good.

Andrew said one of the goals of the room was to show how good a McIntosh system could sound with a stripped-down set-up (as much as McIntosh can be stripped down) using a laptop and a streaming source.

Utilizing the somewhat-iffy hotel wi-fi the two managed to succeed in making mp3 files sound way better than they had any right to.

The set-up I heard consisted of everything plugged into a PC-1500 power controller ($5,000) a pair of MC 301 mono blocks ($5,000 each), driving a pair of XR-100 speakers ($10,000), a C-2500 DAC/pre-amplifier ($7,000) and using all AudioQuest cabling.

The sound was a rollicking good time that I would describe as the ultimate college kegger: big, loud, expansive and detailed with a slightly euphonic tinge that served to reveal the tubed pre-amp and warmed everything up.

The XR-100s served up excellent soundstaging and never hinted at strain, especially in the highs, despite the really, really, really loud SPLs going down.

Distortion was non-existent despite the low-res source files being used. A testament to McIntosh’s Quad Balanced Autoformer design in the 300w amplifier.

And you can’t help but sit there in a bit of drugged state just taking in all that glowing green and black goodness that defines McIntosh to so many.

I can see why budding audiophiles turn to the black and green when they start to put together their first systems, it’s a true classic with great sonic attributes that ticks a lot of boxes for many people and seems to age well and has incredible resale value.

While it’s difficult for me to truly comment, ultimately, on the sound this system was capable of reproducing due to the mp3 files being used, I enjoyed myself immensely during my time in the room.

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RMAF 2014

RMAF 2014: Your Final System, fetishism, and a total audio satisfaction

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Logo - Blue VectorThere’s only one place to go to finish room coverage of a show like RMAF, and that’s the room presented by the (modestly named) Your Final System — a company with no sense of hubris at all.

But, in all honesty, the name has nothing to do with it. Kevin and Brad always manage to detonate some kind of bomb of sheer exuberance during a show. The room is always mellow, the system is always well matched, the music is always fun, and the trip is always a pleasure. This time, though, was just about the best I’ve heard from the guys.

This time, you see, they brought their system.

The speakers were Von Schweikert‘s Unifield II Mk3 standmounts ($12,000), and, sure, the dac was EMM Labs’ DAC2X ($15,500), and, sure, damn near the cheapest thing in the room was the Macintosh Labs MC 202 ($3500) that the guys brought to manhandle the Unifields’ woofers, but everything else in the room was a product of their own skull sweat.

The source, of course, was the familiar YFS Ref-3 computer transport, now bearing a Mk2 designation ($12,500). The YFS guys are a just a little, tiny bit howling mad when it comes to computer transports. The number of linear power supplies feeding this thing is nearly fetishistic.

New to the front-end was the YFS DT-100 Transport ($2500 alone, $2000 with the server). This is… well… this is a disc spinner. And it’s a drive for ripping. And it has even more power supply fetishism in it, with different supplies for the spinning bits and the communication bits.

Next up was their own entry-level preamp, the YFS CA-60A. It’s a pretty simple, traditional affair with three 12au7s, no remote control, and a $3,900 price tag. A motorized remote control ads another $1500.

The big deal in the room, though, were a pair of Mac MC75 monoblocks that had gone under the knife in the service of YFS’s power supply fetishism. The MC75 has always been a musical joy, a fat, old Cadillac that could take you around in style. This was not fat. This was not old. That big Mac sound — the 454 of audio — was still there, but this was the high-compression piston version of it. These were faster, stronger, and much, much quicker to respond than the run of the mill MC75. $10,000 for the pair, and easily the most fun amplification I’ve heard these guys use.

Something in the neighborhood of $15k worth of YFS’s own cables hooked everything together. This was not — NOT — a budget system. At some point, you have to wonder if it’s called “Your Final System” because you’re totally out of money after buying it. Whatever the name, and whatever the price, this was easily one of the most all-around satisfying systems on display in the Atrium.

Kevin and Brad knew it, too. Those guys are not all big on the humility thing.

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RMAF 2014

RMAF 2014: Staring into the Abyss

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Logo - Blue VectorI got to meet Joe Skubinski of JPS Labs and Abyss Headphones at RMAF this year, which was fun after spending so much time this year with his flagship headphones, the Abyss AB-1266. I was — and am — very impressed with this freshman offering from the cable vet, and the spread he put on here was pretty much unbelievable.

There were top-shelf amps from Woo Audio, including the WA-234 mono blocks ($15,900/pair). Cavalli Audio’s Liquid Gold occupied a corner with a LampizatOr DAC. A Mytek Manhattan fed a HeadTrip from Wells Audio. And that was just the beginning! But everywhere was a pair of the big, black, biker cans from Abyss.

I reviewed the Abyss headphones recently, so I won’t recap that here except to say that I was terrifically impressed. Well, I’ll offer this, too: the main difference, at least to my mind, between the Abyss and most other headphones is in the bass. It’s exceptional. Yes, they may look at tad unusual, but the sound is also unusual. If you’re a hi-fi guy looking for a taste of your full-range system in something not likely to wake the kids, this is your headphone.

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RMAF 2014

RMAF 2014: Phase Technology and McIntosh Labs

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Logo - Blue VectorPhase Technology was showing their PC60A stand-mount loudspeakers ($1,400/pair) side-by-side with the Induction Dynamics ID1 ($14,000/pair).

Since the much-larger ID1, with its dual powered-subs, was not on deck for audio duties during my tour, I got treated to a very fulsome sounding system with “the little guy” fronting. The little stand-mounts, called the “Classic Audiophile” edition, is a little odd-looking. The first thing to see, past the rather vanilla casework, is that the mid/woofer driver looks for all the world like a passive radiator. That can’t be right, thought I, listening. I mean, there is real bass happening! Turns out, I wasn’t just hallucinating (it could happen) — that driver is not a passive — it’s just a totally flat driver that the literature calls “a 6.5″ Glass fiber / RPF™ Composite Solid Piston w/ NBR Surround”. Alrighty then. Mystery solved.

Given that I wasn’t really sure what to make of this room from the get-go, I still found it fun. Overall, I thought sound was warm, if just a bit tipped up, but given both the limits of the room and the size of the loudspeakers, I didn’t have much to complain about. Stereophile recently reviewed this speaker, so I’ll defer to them on the specs and design.

An Oppo BDP-105 and McIntosh Labs MT-10 turntable ($10,500) fed into a McIntosh C2500 tube pre ($7,000) and from thence to a MC452 stereo power amp ($8,500). Kimber Kable wired up the system.

I fully intended to get back around to this room, to see if the bigger speakers would take a bow, but it just didn’t happen.

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CAS 2014

CAS 2014: Soundscape, Martin Logan, and a 300b

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2Marc Silver, the big fella himself, helmed the room presented by Santa Rosa’s Soundscape AV. If last year’s exhibit was a giant temple to all things Martin Logan, this year’s exhibit was a very small temple to some things Martin Logan.

In particular, this was the first showing of the new babies in Martin Logan’s Motion series. The 60XT floor stander and 35XT standmount ($3200 and $1250) — in a high gloss cherry veneer, natch — were the third most interesting things in the room.

We only had the chance to listen to the 35XT, which, as I understand the market positioning, gets delivered with its very own bumper sticker of Calvin urinating on a KEF LS50. Marc was playing some normal music when we walked in, but he’s an experienced salesman. He quickly saw our press badges, handed us the most detailed equipment list I’ve ever seen, and offered to have fun at our expense. How could we refuse?

Out came the drum track. Continue reading

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