RMAF 2016: PS Audio flexes muscles, goes HUGE with Scaena speakers

Scaena la Maitresse Ultime speaker system driven by PS Audio.

The PS Audio suite at any hi-fi show I’ve attended is always something to behold. The Boulder, Colorado-based company always goes big, and RMAF 2016 was no exception. Massive gleaming silver boxes of PS Audio power conditioners, pre-amplifiers, DACs, streamers, and power amplifiers, all with cables as thick as my arm snaking in between them. As impressive as the massive altar of aluminum, and steel gear was, to see it dwarfed by the massive bass bins, and soaring tweeter/mid assemblies of the Scaena La Maitresse Ultime speaker system ($125,000/pair USD) was something to behold indeed.

BHK Signature 300 mono block.
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest coverage provided by Noble Audio.

I love the clean lines, aesthetic, and neutral sonic signature of PS Audio gear, I also own some of their kit for my personal system, so I’ve put my money where my mouth is. The company’s founder – the affable Paul McGowan – was carefully helping assemble the system when I arrived early Thursday afternoon, and was still overseeing the smallest detail on Saturday when I returned to listen to the set-up. He was discussing the power coming out of the wall sockets at the hotel into the room, and examining a graph on the color touch screen of one of the several P10 AC Power Regenerators ($4,999 USD) in the system. The screen was showing rather large fluctuations in the current of the incoming AC. Luckily, thanks to the P10, it wasn’t having any deleterious effects on the gear, and McGowan’s smile remained firmly cemented in place.

Paul McGowan of PS Audio.

The gear on hand consisted of the BHK Signature 300 Mono Amplifiers ($7,499 USD) bi-amped, and driving the Scaena La Maitresse speakers, being fed by the BHK Signature Preamplifier ($5,999 USD), which was being passed ones and zeroes from the DirectStream Memory Player ($5,999 USD – factory fresh at Rocky Mountain this year), and the DirectStream DAC ($5,999 USD), the massive Planus IV AG ribbon speaker cables ($8,000 USD per/8ft pair) were provided by MG Audio Design.

From PS Audio on the new Directstream Memory Player:

35 years after the introduction of the CD, PS engineers have perfected the art of data extraction and delivery so you can finally hear what’s been locked away in your CD and SACD collection. The DirectStream Memory Player (DMP) is a universal optical disc transport with a twist inside: an advanced Digital Lens. The Lens, first invented in 1993 by PS Audio’s Paul McGowan and Bob Stadtherr, electrically isolates the mechanical transport/laser mechanism of optical disc readers, improves audio quality to a degree few systems have yet achieved, and focuses audio data into a single, bit-perfect, timing-perfected stream to your DAC.

CD reproduction through DMP now comes closer than ever to high resolution PCM and DSD, uncovering new layers of dimensionality, soundstage, depth and musicality previously unobtainable in other optical readers or server based audio systems.

DMP opens the long restricted DSD layer of SACD to PS Audio DACs. Through a unique code-handshake, DMP will deliver the raw DSD layer of copyright protected SACD directly into your PS Audio DAC. This means that for the first time you’ll uncover the wealth of audio’s finest digital medium, DSD, and hear exactly what the mastering engineers who created these discs have enjoyed all along.

Welcome to DMP, the last optical disc player you will ever need.

New at RMAF, the PS Audio Directstream Memory Player (top).

I’d heard the set-up for about a New York minute on Thursday, and while it was obviously a work in progress during set-up it sounded huge with an incredibly deep-V sound stage. So when I went back to give it a longer listen Saturday, I was surprised that there were still some sonic issues, particularly in the upper-mids, and treble. I had seen Scaena’s main man, Sunny Umrao late Friday night looking exhausted, and when we spoke he’d intimated to me that he’d been working to dial-in the La Maitresse speakers, and was hopeful he had sorted the issue. Unfortunately I didn’t hear them fully tuned, but I’d heard that Sunday afternoon the system was absolutely powering through material, so whatever bugaboos had been haunting the speakers, apparently they had been banished.

La Maitresse mid/high towers by Scaena.

Despite the issues, the sound in this room was incredibly impressive, with a dynamic of scale, and impact that few other large array systems can convey with such authority and finesse. I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to hear Umrao’s designs in action, hopefully backed by PS Audio again.

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream