Part-Time Audiophile

RMAF 2018: Old Forge Studio and The Times They Are a-Changin’

I haven’t written a show report in nearly eight years, so it makes sense to start it off with a room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest that has a definite story behind it, a deep meaning, particularly for me.

I didn’t know if it was proper for me to cover David Cope’s room at RMAF, since up until a couple of months ago I was the US importer for New Zealand audio brands PureAudio and The Wand (David recently took on both lines for his Mystic, Connecticut-based Old Forge Studio). Still, I felt like I was meeting up with my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. What was I going to do, go in there and say how great everything sounded while wiping the tears from my eyes? Or was I going to waltz in there and say, bitterly, that I was able to get far better sound from these components back when I represented the brands?

The Old Friends

If I did the latter, I’d be lying. I was elated when I first learned from Gary Morrison and Simon Brown, the proprietors of Pureaudio and The Wand respectively, that David was going to take over for us at Colleen Cardas Imports. I knew these two brands well, made by caring and talented designers, and they were now in David’s very capable hands. David has really made a name for himself at audio shows over the last several years, especially with his minimalist Audio Note set-ups that usually snag great press coverage. He took that same minimalist approach with this system, placing each component horizontally on a single table.

What made my visit even more bittersweet was that David was showing not one, not two, but THREE new products I was never able to evaluate in person: the PureAudio The One integrated amplifier (about $9500), the new entry-level PureAudio LV-1 phono preamplifier (about $1500) and the new turntable from Simon (price to be set) from The Wand. I’d been looking forward to hearing all three of these products for quite some time, but fate intervened. Now here I was, at RMAF 2018, just two weeks after I joined the Part-Time Audiophile team on a permanent basis, and I was staring at a system that featured brands I had represented for years, with models I didn’t know. You would think, naturally, that I’d be somewhat familiar with the house sound. I wasn’t.

The Stranger

David chose a pair of Rethm Maarga loudspeakers (around $9500/pair) for this system. I’d never mated a high-efficiency single-driver loudspeaker to PureAudio amplification before—I use fairly low-efficiency premium two-way monitors from the likes of Brigadiers Audio and Trenner & Friedl at home. David’s inclusion of the Rethm and its 97 dB sensitivity coaxed a different kind of sound through The One’s solid-state pure Class-A power amp section, which produces around 30 watts per channel—unless you flick the bias switch in the back that gives you extra class-AB headroom if you need it.

I noticed a sound that preserved the best parts of SET amplification such as a pure, realistic midrange and that ghostly way voices just hang perfectly in space. That thrilling presentation was backed up with the strengths I already knew, such as the Pureaudio’s ability to sound warm and romantic without losing any details or dynamic contrast from the music.

The turntable, called the 14-4 because it has a 14” platter made from four layers, was also a stunner. Simon Brown based this ‘table on a design he had been working on for years, and it’s a simple yet solid rig that also produces a solid sound. The noise floor was incredibly low—I’m not sure if that was the analog rig or David’s quiet and well-maintained LPs, especially an intriguing copy of Charles Lloyd and the Marvels + Lucinda Williams’ Vanished Gardens. Matched with a Plus tonearm from The Wand and a new lime green EMT cartridge, this rig offered confident big-league performance in a relatively compact package.

I walked into the Old Forge Studio room with some trepidation, and I walked out feeling relaxed. I’ve believed in Pureaudio and The Wand for many years, and it’s gratifying to know that their presence will continue in the US under David Cope’s wise tutelage.