33 Two-Channel Audio Discoveries from RMAF 2015

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Digibit/S-Booster

The Digibit Aria Mini music server (reviewed in Hi-Fi+ 122) was on demonstration at RMAF, but with a twist, as it was being fed by an S-Booster power supply from the Netherlands. The basic concept calls for taking already good-sounding components (e.g., the Aria Mini) and then making them even better by adding a quieter and more muscular power supply from S-Booster. 

S-Booster offers high-quality outboard power supplies to complement a very wide range of components, with prices that often range from about $400 - $440 (though as you would expect, pricing varies from application to application).

Emerald Physics

Emerald Physics makes open-baffle, controlled directivity, dynamic-driver equipped loudspeakers that enjoy a reputation for delivering terrific openness, transparency, and powerful dynamics, yet at very affordable prices. For RMAF, the featured model was the firm’s KCII loudspeaker (starting at $2,499/pair in a black powder-coated finish, with more exotic finishes available at extra cost).

Emerald Physics speakers are essentially sold factory direct under the auspices of the famous international audio dealer Underwood HiFi (headed by audio retailing veteran Walter Liederman). Underwood is passionately committed to selling high-performance/high-value systems and to this end the firm offers a number of specially priced ‘bundled’ systems based around the KCII (and other Emerald Physics) loudspeakers, combined with products drawn form other brands that Underwood represents.

The RMAF show system, for example, featured a deluxe-finished set of KCII speakers, Emerald’s own 100Wpc EP-100.2SE stereo power amp, a DSPeakerDSP2.4 digital crossover, a pair of Gallo Classico CLS-10 powered sub, a Wyred4Sound MS-1 Server, a Cambridge Audio CDP disc transport, Wireworld cables, Core Power power conditioning, and—significantly—an Exogal Comet DAC.  The core system (speakers, subs, amp, and DAC) was offered for a special bundled price of $6,995, which—given the sound quality on offer—certainly qualifies as a screamin’ good deal.

UK readers might wish to note the Emerald Physics/Underwood HiFi now offers special ‘delivered-directly-to-your-door’ pricing for British audiophiles who would like to sample the Emerald Physics sound.

German Physiks

German Physiks showed its Carbon IV omnidirectional loudspeaker ($31,350/pair) at RMAF, presenting the speaker in a demo system comprised of the Merging Technologies NADAC, an Ayre Acoustics preamp and power amp, with all components connected via Purist Audio Cables. The speaker derives its name, in part, from the fact that it is based a carbon fibre version of the firm’s signature Walsh-type DDD omnidirectional driver and from the fact that its distinctive octagonal-footprint cabinet features carbon fibre sidewalls. Quite frankly, I felt the German Physics/Merging Technology/Ayre system was one of the two or three best I heard at RMAF; the sound quality was simply breathtaking.

I have heard German Physiks speakers before, some larger and other smaller than the Carbon IV, but my take on things was that the Carbon IV was not only best all-around speaker I’ve yet heard from German Physiks, but that it was also one of the finest omnidirectional speakers I’ve heard at any price. Omnis can sometimes sound a bit too diffuse for their own good and thus can seem to lose track of small but critical low-level details—especially details that provide spatial and other imaging cues. Happily, though, the Carbon IV did not seem to have these problems; it offered rich, full, and complete delivery of low-level musical information while also doing a remarkable job of conveying a believable sense of place and placement on good recordings.

Harbeth

RMAF 2015 marked the US debut of Harbeth’s new flagship loudspeaker: namely, the 40.2 Monitor ($14,990), which was being driven by a Vinnie Rossi LIO preamp/ phono stage and Stereo VR120 power amplifier.

My thoughts upon encountering the 40.2 were, succinctly, these:

  • They’re beautiful; the art of fine British woodworking is alive and well at Harbeth.
  • They’re big—really big; when you see them in photographs, the 40.2s don’t seem nearly as large as they do when you actually see them in person. This is the sort of monitor that you can use in a mid-size room, but that I think could and would very easily fill much larger spaces with sound.
  • They sound like classic BBC monitors that A) have gone off to finishing school for added sophistication and refinement, B) have gone off to graduate school to attain higher levels of mastery than other speakers of their ilk, and C) have been working out with a world-class rugby team so as to add muscle, agility, and all-round sonic athleticism.

My one-word take on the 40.2 would be this: Wow.

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