RMAF 2015: Vaughn is literally on fire, riding a big Wave(length)


rmaf-2015-200x200Jim Jordan of Vaughn Loudspeakers is on fire. I mean that. Literally. He’s a fire juggler. There’s fire on his fingers and fire coming out of his speakers. I should probably insert a joke about the Fantastic Four here, but that movie was terrible and I’m pretty sure no one watched it anyway. Fire! Okay, so maybe the speakers aren’t exactly on fire. I mean, it’s plasma. As if that was (somehow) better. Ha! Fire! Fire! Fire!

The new, regular-production Plasma II ($14,990/pair) mates a pair of Dusquene plasma tweeters with an octet of 4″ Fostex drivers, run “wide range” with 4 in front and 4 in back, wired in phase and arranged in a bipolar array. Bass is handled by a 12″ sub (powered by an adjustable 300 watt Class D plate amp), and complemented by a 12″ passive radiator. Overall load is a tube-happy 16Ω (11Ω nominal) with a 93dB sensitivity; the frequency extension spans an impressive 26Hz to 40kHz. All of this goodness is stuffed into a big, 120lb (each!) bamboo cabinet.

And there’s more.

Arranged around, between and in front of these new speakers, were a whole suite of top-end electronics from Wavelength Audio and USB DACs, with designer Gordon Rankin running the tunes.

Wired to the speakers, courtesy of some AudioQuest Redwood cables, were a pair of 8 watt Napoleon Silver 300b mono block amplifiers ($35k/pair), featuring some (very special!) vintage Western Electric 300b vacuum tubes.

The Europa (connected by a set of AudioQuest Sky interconnects) that Michael Lavorgna saw at RMAF a couple of years ago,

is the vision for the future as both a digital and analog product. It has 3 analog inputs, Toslink, Asynchronous USB and a StreamWerxs powered Network port (Ethernet [with SD Card interface] or Wi-Fi). The analog and digital selections are available from the front panel or via the remote http or app interface. Volume, Mute, Balance, Power and selection are all available. The digital engine is powered by the latest ESS ES9018 dac chip. The volume control is handled in the analog domain with 1dB steps. The 71A gain tubes are used for a sweet 3 dimensional sound that can drive any amplifier.

What’s new, here, is that the Europa’s WiFi module has been swapped for a Bluetooth one — which pretty much eliminates the WiFi madness that usually happens at an audio show. The Europa, available this December, has two plug-in slots, one for a high-speed USB DAC module and one for the ethernet module.

StreamWerxs is also on the horizon. For OS X and Windows, this device driver scans your local network (similar to AirPlay), looks for other StreamWerxs devices, and presents them to the OS — as a directly connected device, which can then be used by whatever software needs to use it. Streaming audio just got a whole lot easier. We should expect to see this (a lot) next year as a feature in many of your favorite audio brands.

Why? Well, because Gordon works for a lot of other brands. You computer audio cognoscenti are probably familiar with the current industry darling for all things USB transceiver, XMOS. Gordon’s work is in there, and in a whole host of products. Including the earliest implementation of 100Mb Ethernet, back when he worked for DCA. Guy’s everywhere.

But also because XMOS is about to get some serious competition. A new micro controller is on the horizon, one that will draw only 1/100th the power of the current XMOS chipset. Less power = less noise. And yes, it’ll have StreamWerxs. Trust me, we’re gonna hear a lot more about this one at CES.

The current crop of DACs from Wavelength have also moved ahead. The Crimson + Q1 FPGA DoP/PCM DAC modue ($9000) also features a twist on the typical XMOS implementation. First, it’s optically isolated from the rest of the board, and then Gordon jams a Xylinx FPGA between the USB and DAC chip to implement DoP (DSD over PCM). This could have been done in the XMOS chipset, but this route may cause bit-problems on receiver side of USB chain, as doing so forces you hit the upper end of implementation’s hardware, Gordon says. The FPGA, on the other hand, has plenty of power to do this. And given that the board on the Crimson is physically large enough to support the Xylinx (it’s big, for a chip), why not. The Cosecant ($4k), on the other hand, is a bit more compact — the Xylinx takes up too much space. Here, Gordon uses a Lattice Semi FPGA instead — a configuration he got to work Friday before the show, and with all the futzing to get to that point, it was apparently completely “broken in”. Jim Jordan was less convinced, so it was the Crimson that saw action the whole weekend, courtesy of an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable.

The sound in here was dynamic — when the music called for it. Sweet — when the music called for it. Bombastic — you get the picture. What I heard was a complete lack of strain (8 watts!) out of a dynamic speaker, with great slam, top shelf air and a gorgeous tone.

This was a room to settle into. Relax. Spend some time. Get completely lost.

Another Best-In-Show contender. Again.

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About Scot Hull 1039 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.

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