by Darryl Lindberg
Best room: High Water Sound
To my way of thinking, the “best room” award must encompass not only the sound, but the overall environment. Is this someplace you go to enjoy listening to music? Jeff Catalano’s High Water Sound setup was just that. Excellent sound? No question. But also a welcoming, laid back vibe, along with an enthusiastic appreciation of all kinds of music, and just as importantly, an appreciation of the listeners who came in. I kept coming back just to enjoy myself.
The system consisted of a TW Acustic turntable, arm and amps, Tron preamp, Cessaro speakers, and Jeff’s ability to wring optimum performance out of the ensemble.
Best new product: Schröder CB Tonearm
My own dedication to analog dictates my choice here. Frank gave me a detailed account of the engineering that went into this gem. I won’t sport with your credulity by raving about its specific contribution to the rest of the system, which sounded pretty darn good (Döhrmann Helix 1 turntable, Thrax electronics and speakers). All I’ll say is that Frank knows his stuff and anytime he creates a new arm it’s worth a serious look. Although it’s not cheap at $4K, the costs were kept (relatively) reasonable by working with Thrax to do the machining in Bulgaria.
Best Sound (live): Fanya Lin (piano), Vincent Bélanger (cello)
C’mon! Do you really think any combination of electro-mechanical devices could remotely compare to the real thing? Live music’s always a great gauge of how far we’ve come in the audio world—and how far we still have to go. I applaud Ray Kimber and Audio Note UK for giving the attendees the precious gift of live music.
Best sound (reproduced): Apex Audio (Blanca Peak)
Apex Audio has always done a bang up job at the RMAF. Of their three mezzanine-level exhibit rooms, I thought the system in Blanca Peak room beat all comers for best sound. It was so musical while still pushing all the “audiophile buttons”: full range, excellent imaging (seat dependent, of course), seamless presentation, great power combined with equally great delicacy. It was also a system that was of the mucho moola variety, with Soulution 700 series electronics, Transroter Tourbillion, Graham Elite arm, Air Tight’s new Magnum Opus cartridge, and Focal Stella Utopia EM speakers. The room had a businesslike, yet very cordial atmosphere that made it a very close Best Room runner-up to High Water Sound.
Favorite moment: DSA and Joseph Audio
Actually more than a moment: a long, enjoyable, and entertaining chat over drinks with Doug Hurlburt of Dynamic Sound Associates (DSA) phono preamp and now preamp fame. Another great person who’s dedicated to this business because he loves what he’s doing, not because he believes it’ll make him rich—or even well-off! By the way, the I thought the typically jammed DSA, Joseph Audio, et al. room was one of the best.
Least Favorite moment (a dubious bonus)
For the second year in a row, an exhibitor refused to play one of my reference LPs. It happens to be the same exhibitor. This year, I did get to play a cut from one of my records on Friday (Honegger’s Symphony for Strings and Trumpet, Decca SDD 189). But come Sunday morning, when I asked to play a different LP (Bantock’s Overture to a Greek Tragedy, Lyrita SRCS.123) the exhibitor took a look at it and said, “I only play music I know”. I’m not kidding you! And I was surprised, as it was clear to me that he didn’t know the Honegger we played on Friday. But this was, I reiterate, Sunday morning and no one was in the room—and very few folks wandering around the halls. I don’t know about you, but I would never consider a system or component based on someone else’s taste in music. The ironic part of all of this is that it was a really excellent sounding system. I confess I’m making this nomination with some regret, as I availed myself of a glass and a half of a very tasty Rioja and several pieces of cheese at the exhibitor’s Saturday night festivities.