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RMAF12: Groovy sound from Vaughn Loudspeakers and Wavelength Audio

I have to admit that I am a Johnny-come-lately to the whole SET thing, but that doesn't make me any less a fan. I'm just starting on my complete loving of that scene. And what's not to love? Gorgeous, rich tone, stunningly clear detail, freakishly big sound stage and an overall imaging that you simply cannot find without small-wattage tube amps. Oh, and there's that glow of the tubes ... incredible. So, yeah, I'm not unbiased. (Get it? "Unbiased". Har har.)

It’s great to see Gordon Rankin getting back to his roots with some of his own tube gear from his Wavelength Audio brand. Rightfully famous for his superlative home-grown SET amps, his profile of late appears to be riding the demand for computer audio, specifically, around his Streamlength code he developed for his other major effort — USB-based DACs. Streamlength is bit-code that enables DACs to do “asynchronous USB” (as opposed to the standard “adaptive USB”), an approach that moves the timing of data delivery into the device that has the most accurate clocks. In case you wondering, that’s probably the DAC and not the default, which is the “noisy”, busy and distracted multi-use computer that more and more folks use as a source. As a result, the sound quality is, in a word, much better. Streamlength has been an unqualified success for Gordon, and you’ll find his bit-code embedded in his own DACs — and a rather large variety of 3rd party products.

I didn’t get to hear the prototype Duetta (final version will move the tubes around a bit), but here’s what Gordon had on display:

  • Wavelength Cardinal 300b monoblocks (starting at $8,500/pair)
  • Wavelength Duetta v3 300b stereo amp ($5k)
  • Wavelength Royal preamp ($7500) — a direct-heated-triode design
  • Wavelength Crimson HS DAC with Denominator decoder ($9,000)

Pairing with Wavelength is the direct-to-consumer loudspeakers from Jim Jordan’s Vaughn Loudspeakers. If you’ll recall, I got to spend some time with an iteration of the Pinot monitor this year and had a ball with it. Jim’s designs center around using high-sensitivity approaches to use with those fancy SET amps some of us audiophiles seem obsessed with. Usually, that means some kind of single-driver/horn thing, but interestingly, Jim has made high-sensitivity not only viable, but also not a sacrifice — specifically, not a sacrifice in bass. Many of his designs incorporate an integral, powered, bass system — this means that he can use a two- or three-way design, with drivers specialized for specific parts of the audio band, and tie it together in an elegant package suitable for a flea-powered amp to drive. I think this is totally sweet — and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the loudspeakers sound good.

On display at RMAF, Jim had trotted out the new-for-2012 lineup, including the big now-dipole Cabernet II. $9,000/pair, these speaker sport sixteen 4″ Fostex drivers, a ribbon tweeter and two 12″ passive radiators. Specs put the extension at 44Hz-44kHz and a sensitivity of 100dB. The speakers are designed to be used with a 15″ subwoofer with dual 12″ passive radiators ($3k) to provide support from 19-40Hz, but I’m not sure that’s ready yet — Jim was using a REL Stentor for the show.

AudioQuest Diamond USB cables, Niagara interconnects and Redwood speaker cables connected everything.

So, on the room — I thought the sound was rich, warm, and altogether delicious. I’ve asked Gordon for one of his DHT preamps (he laughed) and Jim for his Cabernet II and/or the Triode II (he nodded, but I’m not sure he was listening to me at that point — [sigh]). Anyway, here’s some additional thoughts from Mal Kenny:

This room suffered from the lack of a fireplace, the lack of a snow storm, and the lack of a bottle of wine. The sound was romantic, lovely, and easy. The Wavelength gear always impresses me.

Vaughn’s Cabernet II, on the other hand, was a little squirrelly in this room. I suspect that its bipole layout wanted more space to breathe. If you have six or eight feet to put behind it, and value tone more than slam, this combination just cooked.

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