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RMAF 2014: Hawthorne and Core Audio Technology

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Logo - Blue VectorI’ve wanted to shake Darrel Hawthorne’s hand for years now. Anyone who so proudly carries the banners of “big, high-efficiency speakers” and “DIY” is on the side of the angels as far as I’m concerned. When I saw that Hawthorne Audio was going to attend RMAF, I may have burbled excited nonsense at my wife for an hour. In fact, I traded off coverage duties in the Marriott Tower in large part so I could get in to hear Darrel’s toys.

That was a good trade. That was a very good trade.

Darrel brought a special version of his Raniers ($15,000). The usual Ranier is a towering open-baffle that features a horn-loaded AMT driver, a 15″ mid driver, and a 15″ bass driver. This pair was built to be God’s Own MTM, with both 15″ spots occupied by the mids. Bass duties were handled by a pair Darrel’s ubiquitous Auggies.

The system fronting the speakers, though, was not what you expect to see mated to giant, high-efficiency speakers with paper cones. You usually expect anachronistic retrolust, with a ton of tubes and a very real likelihood of accidental death by electrocution. There was nothing like that here.

Instead, Core Audio Technology provided almost everything from the soup to the nuts. One of their heavily customized and rocked-out music servers fed source material to a Merging Technologies HAPI, which, in turn, fed S/PDIF into one of Core’s own Kratos Fully Digital Amplifiers ($2,500). The Kratos takes care of DAC duties and amplification in one box.

The sound? More please.

When Sarah’s bass rolled in on the Mekons’ “Ancient & Modern,” there was a strong sense that a well sized mountain had started stalking you. Scale, dynamics, and force were all appropriately conveyed, whether for the punkier bits or for the lively shout of the Welsh Mens’ Choir. The spoken word sections, by contrast, communicated the proper intimacy, with the instruments fading well to the back. It was almost wholly rewarding.

Almost.

There were some apparent weaknesses with detail. I know there are more voices on that track than we heard here. Bass didn’t escape the hotel room evil either, giving a sense of power without subtlety. These are very small nits in any circumstance. Given show conditions, I’m almost ashamed to mention them.

The simple fact is that this system would have turned anyone into a believer. If Darrel is at a show, drag your non-audiophile buddy into the Hawthorne room and sit him down. He’ll walk out smiling, and he’ll walk out wanting a stereo — probably this one. As for the rest of us, we’ll just leave his room with a real itch to fix some of the problems in our own systems.

I was happier than I could have imagined when I finally got to shake Darrel’s hand. The man deserves it. This is just stunningly fun stuff.

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Get your Occasional now

1 Comment on RMAF 2014: Hawthorne and Core Audio Technology

  1. Thanks seems woefully inadequate for such a gracious account of your time spent auditioning our work. Thank you very much for taking the time to visit our room and for this very generous review.

    Cheers,
    Darrel

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