When TAS editor Robert Harley handed me the plum assignment of covering analog at RMAF, I initially thought of turntables and cartridges. But in attending the show, it quickly became clear that analog extends to far more than that—in the veritable cornucopia of rooms that made up the show, tape decks were to be discovered again and again. I was surprised at their ubiquity, but not the sterling sound they produced.
Two rooms stood out: the first was the Magico Q5 room, where a Nagra T audio tape machine spun a staggering rendition of the justly famous Nojima performance of Liszt. The transparency, dynamics, and low noise floor were spellbinding, suggesting that the $68,000 Q5 deserves many of the encomiums already being showered upon it, though I would like to hear the loudspeaker in a larger space, as the soundstage wasn’t as spacious as I would like. Another intriguing system was the $15,000 Evolution Acoustics MM Mini Twos, coupled with a Studer A 810, which fed a gorgeous-looking integrated Dartzeel CTH-8550 amplifier. The cut I heard of Oscar Peterson playing “We Get Requests” was rivetingly pellucid in the mids and highs, though the speaker was a little bass-shy, which isn’t surprising giving that it only has two drivers.
Did the proliferation of tape decks mean that turntables were hardly in evidence? Not a bit of it. So abundant was the presence of various ’tables, in multifarious sizes, shapes, colors, and materials, that “renaissance” may no longer be the operative word when it comes to vinyl. It hadn’t simply made a comeback; it’s becoming a dominant format. Brian Ackermann of Aaudio imports showed off the elegant—and pricey!—Bergmann Sleipner Reference turntable and tonearm ($54,000) with the Lansche No. 5 loudspeakers and a magnificent set of Ypsilon preamplifier, phonostage, and Aelius push-pull mono amplifiers, all containing no capacitors and using hand-wound transformers. The sound via the Lyra Titan cartridge was fast, clear, and articulate on an EMI recording of Thomas Beecham conducting a Haydn symphony.
Perhaps the most exotic-looking room was the Soundsmith room, which featured Harry Weisfeld’s expansive VPI HR-X turntable and the Soundsmith SG-600 strain-gauge phono cartridge and preamplifier system—the cartridge emitting an ultra-cool-looking blue glow. Weisfeld’s HR-X turntable always has a big, generous, and sweeping sound, probably one of the most best values in audio when it comes to a high-end ’table. But perhaps the most intriguing feature was the forthcoming Soundsmith Cartright system—a module that you can hold in the palm of your hand that allows you to adjust and check vertical tracking force, azimuth, overhang, and stylus rake angle. This ingenious and outstanding product may further revolutionize turntable setup, turning a laborious and once-mysterious process into an easy, repeatable, and verifiable one. What more could you ask for, but then the fertile mind of Peter Ledermann, the head honcho at Soundsmith, is never at rest.
Producing stellar sound was the VTL/DCS/Wilson audio room. There A.J. Conti, impresario of Basis Audio, impeccably attired in a dark blue suit, starched white shirt, and cufflinks, presided over his $47,000 Basis Inspiration ‘table, which according to him is also his top-selling unit. It produced Stygian bass on a cello and organ cut; Fritz Wunderlich’s mellifluous voice soared through the room on a Handel aria. Conti’s ‘table, which is mostly made up of acrylic, sounded superbly luscious and detailed. A killer.
The sound in the Galibier Design room was not quite as potent, but the turntable was hardly the culprit. The Galibier Design Stelvio-II ’table, which runs a cool $27,500, was coupled with a Dynavector SV1-S cartridge, and Atmasphere MP-1 preamp and M-60 amplifiers. The large ’table, as you might expect, sounded precise, clean, and speedy, but was somewhat handicapped by the Daedalus Ulysses loudspeakers used for the demonstration. Of particular note in the Galibier room was Joel-Francois Durand’s beautiful second-generation Talea tonearm, which he constructs in Seattle and which has created a lot of buzz among audiophiles. The Talea has an armwand made out of Bolivian Rosewod that looks and sounds delicate and refined.