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Capital Audiofest 2016: Joseph goes Rogue with analog tape

CAF-Joseph-Rogue-4604

To hear my colleagues tell it, audio shows contain no surprises. They’re boondoggles, at best, a chance to catch up and swap notes, hoist a tasty adult beverage in the general direction of solidarity. But interesting? No. Well, aside from the new-new — which is why, I suggest, that most audio show coverage tends to be a who’s who, or a what’s what, of the new-new. Which kinda misses the point. Okay. It totally misses the point.

Almost every audio show does feature something new — a new product, a new tech, and new vendor. That is all terrifically exciting, to be sure. But that’s not all that’s going on here. And there. And everywhere. Because everywhere I look — when I really bother to look — someone is doing something marvelous. Something I didn’t notice before, perhaps. Something that they’ve always been doing, but I was distracted.

Take Joseph Audio.

Now, it’s no secret that I’ve been a long-time admirer (and owner) of Jeff Joseph’s loudspeakers. The secret sauce, as far as I understand it, is almost invisible — that’s why it’s secret. Jeff’s crossovers, as you probably know, are the patented Asymmetrical Infinite Slope, which has been explained elsewhere; at the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll simply defer to Mr Atkinson and move on. The upshot is that the “Joseph Audio House Sound” veers sharply toward “coherent”, pops the curb at “seamless”, where it skids to a stop, gets out, and promptly builds a palace complete with sky-tilted floodlights, lasers, and a full-on 24-hour rave. It’s spectacular.

The newest speakers out of Jeff’s workshop are attempts to bring the costs down — both the floor-standing Profile ($7k/pair) and the stand-mounted Prism ($3,500/pair) feature aluminum drivers and rather uniquely faceted cabinet design (look, ma — no parallel surfaces!). But that’s not the “new” thing. The new thing here was really only apparent in the setup. Which was weird — except for audio show setups put together by Chief Wizard Jeff, where they are almost always kitty-corner. Again, that’s not the “new” thing. The “new” thing — that is, the thing that I just noticed, is the lift. To explain: I was sitting less than 5′ from each speaker, and each speaker’s tweeter is only 3′ or so off the ground. Given the “beaming” that most speakers exhibit, the usual recommendation is to sit with the tweeters on-level with your ear in order to get the most pleasing sonic response. Lets just say that my ear was not on-plane here — and was nowhere near to it. The speaker was also firing straight-on (no toe in). This shouldn’t work! But the imaging was … incredible. Literally. I could not believe it. Images were full-sized, placed at head-height or better, and room-filling. What the actual f***. I might have said that out loud. Jeff, who probably thinks I’m the most obtuse customer he’s ever had, no longer bothers hiding it when he’s laughing at me. He said that, yes, this was “on purpose” — and a result of some very specific fiddling he’s done with his crossovers. Near field, or far, Joseph Audio speakers are astonishing.

Courtesy of Lancaster PA dealer Now Listen Here, the Joseph speakers were joined by electronics from Rogue Audio, and the sound was full, rich, and deliciously warm. I’ve described this kind of sound before, and probably used this phrase too often, but: this is all-day listening. Detail? Oh yeah. But with macro dynamics and plenty o’ slam, delivered up spicy and hot.

And while that wacky ever-shifting lighting ribbon, buried in the rack, made photography hell, it did kinda set the mood form the tunes — visual textures to match the sonic ones? Maybe. Whatever. It’s fun.

  • Rogue Audio Hydra stereo amp: $2995
  • Rogue Audio Ninety-Nine Super Magnum line-stage: $2995
  • Rogue Audio Ares phono preamp: $1995
  • Music Hall MMF 9.1 turntable, mounted with Goldring Eroica LX: $2195
  • Torus RM-20 power conditioner: $3295
  • Oppo BDP-105: $1199
  • Mac Mini running JRiver
  • Also on Display:
    • Rogue Audio Pharaoh integrated: $3495
    • Rogue Audio Atlas Magnum amp: $2195
    • Rogue Audio RP-1 preamp: $1695
    • Joseph Audio Prisms: $3700/pr

In a not-too-surprising twist, Jeff was also showing off one of his newest toys, a “vintage” Technics RS-1500US reel-to-reel tape player. Did his last experience move the mark? Hmmm.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll underscore it here — this is an interesting twist. 10 years ago, we were all listening to CD players at audio shows. Pretty much everywhere. Pretty much exclusively. Then, about 7-8 years ago, it was DACs and computers driving the audio and capturing the imagination (and the air time). Then, in the last 3 or so years, turntables began popping up like mushrooms — and now they dominate the demo room. But here comes reel-to-reel. You want some of the best available in high-end audio playback, this may be the time to scoop up a deck. Don’t want to go vintage — with all the challenges that this move entails — there are a couple of vendors out there that will take that work off your plate, but however you get there, tape is hot right now. And it’s sweet!

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