Best Sound of Show, Cost No Object:
For me, some of the most beautiful, refined, and accomplished sounds to be heard at RMAF came from the Audio Alternative room, which used a Brinkmann Balance turntable fitted with a Lyra Atlas phono cartridge; a VTL electronics suite consisting of a TP-6.5 phonostage, a TL-7.5 Series III linestage preamplifier, and a pair of Siegfried Series II monoblock amplifiers; a speaker system consisting of Vandersteen Model Seven MkII loudspeakers supplemented by Dual Vandersteen Sub Nine subwoofers; and a complete loom of AudioQuest cables and power conditioning components.
As so often happens with VTL-driven systems, the sheer excellence of this system didn’t bowl the listener over with bombast, but rather won the listener over in a gentle and elegant but very persistent way with its unfailing mastery of textures, details, dynamics, and of realistic image and soundstage scale. Listening to this system was kind of like falling in love in slow motion: musical ecstasy at its best.
Best Sound of Show, Value-Minded:
ELAC Adante/Audio Alchemy room
Andrew Jones has been on a role of late and never has this been more obvious than with his new Adante-series loudspeakers. To answer a question many have posed, yes, the ELAC Adante loudspeakers—and in particular the Andante AF61 floorstanders—are now in full production and shipping. (Indeed, Jones had air freighted one of the first production line pairs to RMAF specifically to show that the speakers were indeed finished).
But complementing Jones’ Adante speakers were the also excellent and also value minded ELAC (formerly Audio Alchemy) audio electronics from Peter Madnick.One of the main ELAC demonstration rooms featured the ELAC Adante AF61 floorstanding loudspeakers (~$4998/pair) as driven by a suite of ELAC/Audio Alchemy components including an Alchemy DMP-1 digital media player ($1795), DDP-1 preamp/DAC ($1995 with PS-5 power supply ($495), and a pair of DPA-1 mono power amplifiers ($1995 each), and an ELAC Discovery music server ($1099). The result was a roughly $14,400 system—not including cables or power conditioning—whose tightly focused, beautifully balanced, and essentially full-range sound could quite easily have passed for something anywhere from two to perhaps five times its price. This system offers a value benchmark that will not easily be beaten.
Schiit Audio The Gadget (C = 256 vs. A = 440)
The Schiit Audio Gadget is one of those components that hardcore audio purists are likely to dismiss on sight—right up until the point they give it an open-minded listen. What is the Gadget and what does it do? Schiit describes it as a DSP-driven, real-time ‘Music Processor’ whose purpose is to allow users to alter the tuning of their favourite pieces of music altering the tempo of the music in any way.
“Why,” purists will surely ask, “would anyone want to do that?” The answer, says Schiit’s chief digital audio architect Mike Moffat, is that standard contemporary musical tuning, where A = 440Hz, is a comparatively recent development. According to Moffat, many musicians (and instrument makers in the 19th and early 20th century used somewhat diffent tuning where C = 256Hz (which roughly equates to A = 430.2Hz, give or take a bit). Moffat made this discovery while try to ascertain why pre-WWII mandolins somehow sounded sweeter and more musically ‘right’ than modern mandolins seem to do. It turns out the answer is that many of those older mandolins were set up for C = 256Hz tuning. This led Moffat to wonder if all music might benefit from retuning to the C = 256 standard.
Many DSP-driven designs, tons of PhD-grade mathematics, and about a gazillion lines of DSP programming code later, the idea for the Gadget became a reality. The small processor accepts digital music files and processes them in real-time while allowing users to continuously vary pitch tuning from standard A = 400Hz tuning down to C=256Hz tuning, and than further down to C= 24z tuning. The challenge for the listener is to play a favourite piece of music and then to turn the tuning adjustment knob until—on a subjective level—the music and instruments sound as if they are properly in tune.
Having tried this test myself, and having watched 10 or so other listeners try it, I can report that few if any listeners thought A = 440Hz tuning sounded right. On the contrary, when listening with their eyes closed, almost all listeners chose a setting at or pretty close to the C = 256Hz mark. And let me add that, if you flip the Gadget’s provided bypass switch, so that you abruptly go back to A = 440Hz tuning, standard tuning suddenly sound sharp, shrill, edgy, and stressful by comparison. Interesting, no?
The Gadget will sell for about $200, which will be money well spent—if only because it affords an alternate view into how recorded music could sound, if we had made different tuning choice in the middle of the last ce