First things first. It was absolutely great to meet and talk with so many of the good people here at AC. Vinyl Lady, Pez, Tyson, HAL, Mr. and Mrs. Ninja, Forrest Dweller, and many others that were handshake and a face type meetings. Oh my gosh, I almost forgot the Wolfman himself! Thanks again for the rave cd's.
Second. Unlike the much younger and more energetic duo of Tyson and Pez, I picked about 50 rooms that I had been curious about, and even then, by Sat. evening I was toast. But enough, here's what I heard.
Straight to it. The really absolutely good at any level- Nola, TAD, GR-Research, Emerald Physics, Parts Express CBT line array kit, Sonus Faber Ellipsa, Von Schwiekert VR44, Hanson
The really good for small speakers: Evolution (hands down!), Harbeth, Peachtree bookshelf
The Bad: Wilson, Orion (but were better on Sat.)
Statement of Bias: The guys in the GR-Research room are friends of mine.
Statement of limitations- 59 year old ears with much abuse.
Statement of my reference gear- LS9 line arrays, modified Moscode 401HR, Dodd battery pre, Twisted Pear Buffalo dac on batteries. Cables- Wywires, Electracables, KCI Silkworms, Sonny's IC's, and HAL's Amazing MS-1 pc server (although I'm still getting used to computer files)
Best of Show: TAD followed by GR-Research SuperV. Then a toss up between Nola, Sonus Faber Ellipsa, and the Parts Express line array + sub.
The TAD room had it all, tight deep bass, liquid lifelike vocals, instruments with body. Strings resonate wood, woodwinds have air, and instruments are clearly defined in space. Orchestras have a distinct venue. Very good dynamics.
GR-Research- The servo bass has a speed and control not found anywhere else at RMAF. Instruments clear and in defined space. Vocals lifelike and clear. Lyle Lovett vocals were as true as I heard anywhere. Massed instruments not evaluated, therefore the TAD has the edge in the music I listen to the most by default. The bottom end of a grand piano is sharp and clean - you hear the soundboard as well as the strings. Upper piano has sparkle. Dynamics excellent.
The rest in order in which they are in my notes:
Sonus Faber- Good image on large choral (Proprius Cantata Domino) on par with my LS9's for choral, does not get the bottom of the pipe organ as well as the LS9. Everything done well.
Nola Baby Grand- Instruments clear and in their space, excellent dynamics ( better than the S.F. above)
Linkwitz Orions- Wow! A huge mid bass boom drove me from the room- I lasted about 60 seconds as the room was actually unlistenable. I made it a point to come back Sat. morning, waited for the room to open, and sat down by myself. With the volume down, and simple material, they were musical and open. Night and Day impressions.
ESS Heil- Wow dude its the 70's again, but better. The rather soft mids and slightly muffled bass were somehow forgivable in this flashback to my past before kids. I really liked it when I really shouldn't have. I think it was because I had just come out of the Orion room.
Wilson- My notes say "Almost as overloaded in bass as the Orions." Where as the Orions excited a range of resonance in the room, the Wilson Sophia's made the entire room boom. I thought a 17 year old had just pulled up next to me a red light. Holy cow it was bad. It was the only other unlistenable room I heard at the show.
Eggleston- A bit bright, but the orchestra almost sounded real. Not bad for a medium size floor stander.
YG Acoustics- Piano hot, bass boomy
Von Sweikert VR44 (Purity Room) Good sense of space, strings almost have wood, good vocals very good on Diana K.
Sony- I don't know what they were trying to do. A pair of speakers, surrounded by maybe another 30 speakers on floor level. "I've died and hell is a marching band all around me" is in my notes. The good, it really sounds like really being in the center of a high school marching band. The bad, the next cut I was in the middle of 30 ft wide guitar.
Vandersteens (floorstanders, not huge- don't know the exact model) nice detail, and trumpet sounded real- until it moved 5 ft as it went down a scale.
Harbeth- Clean drums with skin, Piano has solid bass (almost real- amazing for a small two way)
more Diana Krall handled very nicely.
Usher model ? maybe CP-8571- Orchestra full and still detailed. Better than Harbeth, good bass
Salk- HT3- Hmmm. Everybody loves these... except me. Notes say..."well balanced, bass not quite real, missing attack, mid detail good not great" This was in the sweet spot, with an empty room, no reason to give it a second chance.
Evolution- little .5 cu.ft. bookshelves. Wow! 4" Accutron+ribbon = amazing detail and more bass than they should have... sounded like down to 70hz. Just way more of everything than you'd expect from a very small speaker. It even almost worked on orchestral music- strings have wood!
Fritz- Hmmm. Everyone loves these... except me. Easy to listen to, nothing wrong but needs detail. Too polite for my taste.
Emerald Physics- Excellent Bass. low male vocals had an issue, not as clean as the rest of the vocal range, but guitar was excellent. Overall, very good to excellent speakers.
Parts Express CBT line array- Not what I was expecting. Although Rich heard harshness in the upper range, the music I heard did not exhibit it. It's a line array- good dynamics (no match for my LS9s). Very solid bass handing off to subs at 60Hz. Excellent imaging and soundstage, no compression at high volume, great sense of venue, clarinet has air flowing through it. Off axis, still a great sounding speaker.
Hanson- 6" TMM Big orchestra sound, bass clear and tight to upper 40's, more dynamic than it should be, very detailed, wide soundstage. Holst Planets Mars- almost gets it real! Impressive for any speaker, but a 6" TMM? Copland- Dallas Sym. Johannes conducting- great recording, great imaging, real instruments. Unknown female vocalist- Vocals equal to TAD and SuperV. Price? only $24K
By the end of the second day, I was done. Packed up early Sunday and started the long drive home. Some will agree with my assessments, some disagree- just the nature of the beast. Regardless, there are some very fine systems out there, some really great people in audio, and I learned a lot. $5 will buy a really nice system from Emerald Physics, Around $8 will buy a world class system at the GR-Research room (if you can do a bit of woodwork),and $10K will buy you a phono cartridge in the Hanson room
, $40K will buy you a wide array of very good systems. And all the $ in the world wouldn't buy good sound in the Wilson room (well, ok, if they'd treat their room, maybe)!