RMAF 2009 Show Report

                                             
                                     

 

  
As at CES, I enjoyed the Acoustic Technologies speaker. This is a small footprint, single-driver floor stander. Retailing for just $2,450, and driven by a Pass F3 amp, the speaker has remarkable dispersion, such that it sounds good irrespective of where one is standing or sitting in the room. In my opinion, this speaker represents a fantastic product for those intrigued by single-driver speakers, those with a limited budget, or those interested in a “life style” speaker that offers the antithesis of the “head in a vice” sweet spot of many modern speakers.

 

 
It is always nice to encounter excellent products about which one has no familiarity. One such system featured eFicon speakers ($14,9900), Berning OTL amps ($33,00/pair), and a new John Tucker-designed Exemplar Audio DAC, all supported by Stillpoints. The eFicion speakers use a Heil Air-Motion tweeter, a 6.5” non-woven carbon fiber sandwich cone, a 12” non-woven carbon fiber sandwich cone, and a rear-firing super tweeter. This system had impact and dynamics that were staggering, yet it did surprisingly well with delicate music as well. A definite high point of the show.

 

For the last few years at RMAF I have enjoyed listening to the Analysis Audio Magnetic-Planar speakers, but unable to shake the feeling that they were not living up to their potential. This year U.S. importer Michael Kalellis used the Omega model, which retails for approximately $22,000 (I forgot to write down the precise number) and is about midway in the product line. I am delighted to report that they not only reached my expectations, but surpassed them. The obvious difference from past years is that Michael is now using his own amplifiers, marketed under the moniker Arion Audio. The monoblock amps are Class D with semi-proprietary modules, producing 500W into 8 Ohms and 1,000 W into 4 Ohms. They are housed in a billet aluminum housing, and use extensive filtering and shielding. They retail for $3,900 which, based on what I heard, is an incredible value. Using the PS Audio PWT and PWD for a front-end, the sound was everything magnetic-planars should be: fast, incredibly open, transparent, and coherent. As Michael is a fellow New Jerseyan, I hope to drop by his shop for some more extended listening, and perhaps an informal review.

 

 

 

I have saved the best for last. Last year at RMAF I wandered into a large room in the Hyatt, and heard a system that immediately caught my attention. The system was based around the Kaiser Kawero speaker, with cabling from Echole. In addition to some unusual room acoustics, the system was challenged (if memory serves) by a passive volume control, which replaced the active preamp which had been damaged in shipping from Europe. Despite this, I heard great things. I next heard the system at CES and here too, it was plagued by a terrible room. Yet still, I sensed greatness. This year at RMAF the system came alive in a way that far surpassed my expectations. In the interest of full disclosure I should acknowledge that in the intervening time I have established a friendship with Kerem Kucukaslan, President of Echole, and Rainer Weber, Technical Director for Kaiser. In addition to the Kawero speakers (approx. $55,000) and Echole cables, amplification was provided by a heavily modified MasterSound 845 parallel SET amps, and a the new Absolare Pure Preamp ($23,000) of their own design. The digital front end was a computer feeding a Weiss Vesta Firewire converter, which passed the signal on to a German-made Trinity DAC ($75,000). As you no doubt have guessed, it sounded incredibly good, which is of course, the bottom line. But to speak just of the sound is to miss much of the story. Kucukaslan and Weber, and their colleagues and associates, exhibit a passion and commitment to excellence that are rare in audio. Compromise and mediocrity are simply not part of their vocabulary. In choosing a part they will test dozens of alternatives, ultimately choosing only that which harmonizes with the others. And while their designs are of course founded in science, equal footing is given to the organic, as regards both the materials they use and the sound they seek.
The Kawero is a modestly sized floor-stander with a midrange driver on the front, a ribbon (Raal) in its own compartment on top, and a 10” woofer and 8” passive radiator on the rear (the later in the midrange chamber). In the superficial sense, its design is quite ordinary. Though it speaks with a very different voice from the vintage driver-horn-based speakers with which I am so enamored, it speaks to my soul in the much the same way. This of course is a testament to the fact that its essence is far from ordinary. And of course, that voice, that ability to communicate, is equally a function of the Echole cabling which extends throughout the system all the way to the drivers themselves, and of the amplifier, preamplifier and digital front end which drive it. It is my belief that this system, or some derivative of it (with a turntable perhaps?), will make a significant mark in high-end audio. If the opportunity presents itself, go listen to it. I think you’ll be glad you did.


Concluding Remarks
Since its inception six years ago, RMAF has made a name for itself as one of the most enjoyable audio shows in the country. Attendance was down this year and while that is not good from a financial perspective, it actually benefited those aspects of the hobby which many of us value most, namely camaraderie, sharing of ideas and experiences, the making of new friendships and the maintenance of older ones. In this regard, RMAF 2009 was a smashing success. My thanks go to the organizers, and of course a special debt of gratitude to the late Al Stiefel; may his memory live on, and may he rest in peace.