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RMAF 2015: Harbeth and Vinnie Rossi, near field magic

Harbeth-2660

Robert Parker was a problem for high-end wine manufacturers. His 100-point universal scale represented a leveling of the field, and suddenly, brands with a pedigreed history centuries deep were competing with the hoi poloi — and losing.

Robert Parker had a “thing”. A formula that he sought out — and rewarded. Vintners, not being morons, quickly learned what it would take to win the highest marks from this, wine’s most influential critic. And then, they began to build toward those scores.

I’ve recently learned, somewhat to my chagrin, that I don’t really have a formula that says “Scot is going to love this.” Not in audio.

I want to say that I’m a “horn guy”. In fact, I think I have said precisely that, and done so many times. But … that’s not exactly true. Yes, I’ve been lusting after a set of Volti Audio Vittoras for ages. But I’m also a big fan of GamuT. Of Magnepan. Of Joseph Audio. Of DeVore Fidelity. Of Tidal Audio (and Tidal HiFi, too, but that’s another thing entirely). I’m also coo-coo-for-Cocoa-Puffs over vintage Quads, a uniquely unhelpful barometer for a reviewer.

But after this show, particularly, I’m now hot for Harbeth. I’m pretty sure this means I have commitment issues. Maybe I should just drink more wine?

Vinnie Rossi, here launching his brand new VR120 stereo amplifier ($4,995, available in November/December), was also showing off an Acoustic Signature Challenger Mk. III ($6,490, including the TA 1000 tonearm) mounted with a Dynavector XX-2 cartridge ($1,950), and a full loom of Tellurium Q Silver Diamond cables.

And he was also showing off the new Harbeth 40.2 Pro monitor ($14,990). My, oh, my, but these speakers were incredible.

They’re bigger than I expected — I figured they’d be marginally larger than the Super HL5+ that I heard at CAF, but they’re not. They’re much bigger. The photo up above is a bit of an exaggeration (Vinnie is sitting several feet behind the speakers), but you get the point — they’re not tiny. Big speakers = big sounds? Well, great expectations for great big sounds, anyway.

Which is probably one reason why they were pulled way into the room, and set up in the almost-near field (I think I was sitting about 6′ back, tops). So much for room reflections. But set wide apart, and that close, I completely lost track of them.

This was the third time this happened here at RMAF. The third time that I heard “no speaker” — that is, there was a vanishing act done to that seat I claimed, and with my eyes closed, I wasn’t in Denver anymore. I was somewhere else … and it was completely surreal. Where the heck did the speakers go?

Thank the Maker that I was there without John Darko and his broken-washing-machine music (as John himself describes it). Dodged a bullet, there.

I will, of course, lay all praise for the sonic miracle that Tardis’d me away at Vinnie’s feet. That VR120, with it’s 225 watts per channel was way more than enough to lead the 86dB Harbeths into that uncanny (and dynamic) fireworks show. I’m getting sweaty, just recalling it.

As you probably recall, Vinnie’s new brand is centered squarely on a new power-delivery mechanism leveraging ultracapacitors instead of batteries. The matching, modular LIO (starting at $2,495) can be fully kitted out as a preamplifier, with both an XMOS-based USB DAC and a full-function phono pre. Strapped to the VR120, or run with some (more modest) internal amp modules, the LIO “system” looks to be a fully next-gen approach. Shown here with Harbeth, any lingering doubts any listener might have had would have been completely swept away with the last remnants of the Old Republic. Long live the Empire!

Heh. Sorry. That’s next month. Just in time for the VR120!

Anyway, this was an extremely compelling demo, and a leading contender for Best-In-Show.

RMAF 2015 coverage brought to you by Noble Audio! Click for more ….

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About Scot Hull (975 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

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