Neal Van Berg of Sound Science had assembled a magical/musical ensemble here at RMAF. As usual. And, also as-per-usual, he managed to do so with gear that really hits that audiophile sweet-spot. No, I don’t mean $20k+ per component — I mean under the on that’s under $10k. Way under $10k. In Scot’s Audio Universe ™, that means shooting for $5k per component.
Before you go apesh!t, consider that I not saying that this means that it’s affordable. Because it’s not. But it is aspirational — and it hits a level that I think many audiophiles might possibly be able to strive for. As opposed to, say, an amplifier that costs more than a minivan.
Equivocations aside, Neal managed to assemble a serious, and seriously high-end, system that most audiophiles can at least aspire to, even if they’d tend toward the minivan. Perhaps more interestingly, it was with that gear that he managed to create an audio experience that didn’t just approach the ultramegabuck systems up and down the tower at RMAF. It equaled them. And that was some seriously cool work.
How he got there … lets start at the back.
First in the chain was a Music Vault M7 server ($5595 w/ 3TB local + 3TB “cloud”/NAS storage). From Neal: the Music Vault Diamond “M7 is the Fastest server I have built in addition it comes with its own local cloud storage for back up and streaming to multiple DLNA Dacs on your home network. The M7 comes in a 3TB version and a 6 TB version. The Diamond has an isolated USB output for the best performance from USB DACs plus Configureable AES/EBU outputs. The Music Vault Diamonds are the only servers that can be configured for standard AES/EBU, Dual Wire AES/EBU (think DCS DACs) and Mono Left and Right DACs (think Esoteric Mono DACs) and of course spdif. The Music Vaults all play from Memory and are among the worlds best sounding Digital sources.”
Antelope Audio provided a variety of their latest offerings for our listening pleasure; Friday saw a Zodiac Gold DAC ($4,495 w/ Voltikus PSU), the new Platinum appeared on Saturday ($5,500 w/ Voltikus PSU), and not to be outdone, the stunning Rubicon stepped in on Sunday ($40k — and yes, this completely blew that carefully constructed “aspirational” story completely out of the water, but what the hell).
On the analog end of the source-chain, I found one of my personal favorites in the turntable space, the Townshend Rock 7. It’s a suspended design, but features a unique (to me, at least) way to dampen vibrations. The ‘table incorporates a trough that can be filled with damping fluid; a headshell attachment allows this arrangement to radically isolate exactly where it’s needed most — at the stylus. The Rock 7 retails for $3,900 (w/o a tonearm). It was mounted here with a Rega 301 tonearm and a Rondo Blue cartridge.
The EAR 868 ($7,395 w/ internal phono) preamplifier made the connection from sources to the Wells Audio Innamorata Power Amplifier ($6,495).
Speakers were the King Sound King III (recently increased to $14,995/pair) full-range panels. They’re ESLs, so the resolution goes without saying. But they also play loud, and with real bass, which does require mentioning. Interesting note: the King Sound line has the lowest polarization voltage of any ESL speaker (only 18 volts!).
Kaplan Cables were used throughout.
An unusual element in the mix was the Shaker Logic “Attune SE” ($2,495), an all-analog device that “compensates for the baffle-step of your loudspeaker”, a problem that generally decreases resolution. With the Attune, dialed in for the 2′ wide King IIIs, the device was said to increase center-fill and allows bass to extend fully. I didn’t get to demo this, unfortunately, but I’m told a certain editor at a certain magazine was struck by the improvement.