RMAF 2018: Audio Research, Sonus Faber, and UHQR

Fast on the heels of a successful AXPONA show which saw Audio Research introduce the Ref 160 monoblock amplifiers with Wilson Alexia 2 speakers, the team showed up again with the 160s but this time the towering Sonus Faber Aida 2s were on display.  Musical Surroundings brought in its big guns on the analog side loading up a number of gorgeous HRS SXR audio stands with M3X isolation bases.  Here was the equipment on offer:

Clearaudio analog:

  • Clearaudio Innovation turntable with piano white lacquer ($17,250)
  • Clearaudio Olympus turntable stand with piano white lacquer ($15,500)
  • Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement phono cartridge ($16,000)
  • Clearaudio Statement clamp ($1,000)
  • Clearaudio Outer Limit periphery clamp ($1,350)
  • Clearaudio Absolute Phono Inside ($15,000)

Garth Leerer was not done and also had a second table from AMG:

  • AMG Viella V12 Doppio turntable ($29,250) with AMG 12J2 and 12JT tonearms
  • AMG Turbo tonearm cable ($2,250)
  • AMG Reference tonearm cable ($1,500)
  • DS Audio Master1 Optical phono cartridge and EQ ($22,500)
  • Hana ML moving coil cartridge ($1,200)

Electronics were top flight as well:

  • Audio Research Reference 3 phono stage ($14,000)
  • Audio Research Reference 6 line stage ($14,000)
  • Audio Research CD9 CD player and DAC ($13,000)
  • Audio Research Ref 160M mono amplifiers ($30,000/pair)

And of course the Sonus Faber Aida 2 loudspeakers.  Connecting it all were upper-end Kubala-Sosna cables.

Now as fond of Audio Research as I am, I have always thought their Achilles heel were the digital products.  Well, I am not so sure now.  The digital playback was really quite organic.  My toes were tapping.  “That CD9 would sure look good sitting next to all the other Audio Research gear on my stand”, raced through my mind.  I think ARC has stepped up their game in this regard.  On top of this superb source, the linestage, phono pre, and amps in this setup were really singing.

Let’s point to one of the best LPs I heard at RMAF, the UHQR pressing from Analogue Productions of the Jimi Hendrix classic Axis: Bold as Love.  This sounded simply phenomenal on the Clearaudio Innovation and Olympus stand.  Like all recent show installations from Garth’s team, this system had such musicality that I remembered it as a top moment at the show.

It wasn’t the clarity that several systems could reproduce but the absolute disappearance of the Aida speakers and the wah-wah sound wave of Jimi’s guitar coming at my ears that exhibited both a beautiful amount of detail but a natural sound like we were in a control booth and Jimi was just on the other side of the glass.  Hendrix’ recordings are mostly rough around the edges but dammit I think Chad’s mastering team really nailed this one.  Jimi’s vocals on Wait Til Tomorrow were as clear as I have heard.  Ditto for the backing vocals.

On Ain’t No Telling, the driving guitar line was expressed with all the drive the track demands.  My listening notes from this room have “tremendous bass!” underlined.  The Aidas have crazy good bass that served this fine side of UHQR very well.  The clarity of Jimi’s guitar on Little Wing was sublime.  Guitar tone was spot on.  I cannot wait to get ahold of this pressing.

There was something magical with the ARC and Aida speakers, not too surprising given that they are “sister brands”.  The AMG and Clearaudio table sounded excellent, rounding out the trio of sources.

The Ref 160Ms?  Yep, I’m already a fan.  The AXPONA showing convinced me of that.  Think that tube amps can’t do bass as well as solid sate?  The Ref 160 is here in the Crestone Pedddddak room saying, “hold my beer.”  The Aidas were a capable accomplice.  The Aidas play deep, taut, rich bass.  At the opposite of the spectrum was a nice airy treble, unlike some super bright rooms I encountered at the show.  The craftsman in Italy have produced a very musical instrument of artisan grade beauty.

This was one of the finest systems at the show.  The whole system came together quite nicely.  The Aida’s being Italian by birth look as good as they perform.  Beautiful cabinetry and curvature.  Many thanks to the Musical Surroundings team.  Also many thanks to Chad for providing an early copy of Axis: Bold as Love for us show goers to hear.

Hey Chad!  Are there any reviewer copies of the Axis pressing?  Asking for a friend.

About Lee Scoggins 118 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.