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RMAF 2014: PS Audio, very natural

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Logo - Blue VectorPS Audio has been on something of a roll this year. Abandoning their traditional spot as a manufacturer of pretty solid HiFi gear, they made a credible assault on the Hubba Hubba end of the market with the Ted Smith powered DirectStream DAC ($5,995). At the same time, realizing that folks who aren’t closing in on retirement age aren’t exactly rolling in cash, they kickstarted the floor wax & dessert topping Sprout to bring the joys of wood panelling and silver faceplates to a new generation.

You’d think that would be enough for one year. Anybody reasonable would want to take the opportunity presented by the biggest hifi-nerd convention in the US to show off those things. You’d be wrong.

RMAF was all about the debut of their forthcoming PerfectWave Stereo Amplifier. Designed in conjunction with Bascom King, this is a hybrid amp with one 6H23 tube on the front end and a killdozer of a MOSFET amp on the output. Think 500 watts into 4 ohms. The PerfectWave amp is meant to be something of a statement amp, but it’s priced at $7,495, a good digit short of the rest of the “statement amp” market. And if that kind of thing wasn’t crazy enough, the PS Audio folks brought four towers of Reagan-era excess in the form of an IRS Beta system.

This is not a move that most folks would call “smart.” The IRS Beta is legendarily coveted by people who never lived with a pair. Setting them up properly takes patience, experience, and at least two dead chickens. In their time, and at their best, the Betas were nearly unmatched at reproducing the full frequency and dynamics of music in a decently sized room. At their worst, they were bloated, screeching, arhythmic boondoggles of hellish pain, with crap soundstaging, muddy, mistimed bass, and a tendency to go violently apeshit in the face of cat hair. Either way, you needed unobtainably good amps to drive them, or they were just a ten grand downpayment on an ugly divorce.

I’m not a fan. Hauling the Betas out from their crypt under Yucca Mountain seemed like the worst kind of hubris. I can’t think of many other speakers that would torture amps — and listeners — the way the Betas would. If Arnie Nudell and Bascom King hadn’t been there to ride herd on the operation, I might have skipped the room. Even so, I had more sympathy than hope for the pair of PerfectWave amps that were powering the four channels.

You know… It honestly wasn’t all that bad.

We played the usual, repetitive “Two Fifty to Vigo” from Shooglenifty, looking for a sense of the hall’s space, the texture of the percussion, rhythmic stability, and whether or not the fiddle screeched enough to drive us from the room. We were rewarded with only a slight muddiness, a nearly ideal sense of scale, and almost no screeching. Angus Grant’s fiddle showed a musicality that I would never have expected from the IRS Beta. The realistic tone and natural pacing made it clear that the system was operating at a level far beyond what anyone sane would have expected if they’d listened to a CD through these speakers in 1988.

It was a pretty good performance for any hotel room. It was a miraculous performance for IRS Betas in almost any room. Heck, I almost enjoyed it.

PS Audio is at the top of their game. They have my full attention.

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Designer and legend, Bascom King

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PS Audio’s Paul McGowan and designer Ted Smith

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(Uncle) Bill Leebens, Director of Marketing for PS Audio

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