Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015 • TABlog

by Dennis Davis | October 10, 2015

hose who make the pilgrimage to shows can generally anticipate what to find in specific rooms without the crutch of a show guide. At the RMAF, room 2030, a large suite found at the far end of the second floor (third if you count the mezzanine level), is always occupied by Bea Lam and Luke Manley of VTL, often in partnership with dCS and Wilson Audio. VTL electronics have the ability to drive the larger Wilson speakers, but this year was a bit of a change and perhaps a bit of a risk. Rather than use the Sasha 2 or Alexia, speakers that would be on the wish list of most audiophiles and large enough to fill a big room with big sound, Wilson used the Sabrina ($15,900/pair) instead. Similarly, instead of its usual stack of top-of-the-line dCS digital gear, this year saw the introduction of dCS’s new entry-level player, the Rossini ($28,499), in conjunction with the Rossini Clock ($7499). Thus, at first glance, focused only on speakers and digital playback, shrinkage was the impression. VTL supplied its TP-6.5 Signature phono stage with MC step-up ($$12,000), TL-6.5 Series II Signature line-stage preamp ($15,000) and MB-185 Series III Signature monoblocks ($7499 each). Analog replay was supplied by Brinkmann’s Spyder Turntable with 10.5" 'arm and RöNt power supply ($24,600) guiding a Lyra Etna cartridge ($6995).

Nothing was spared in the peripherals, with the entire system connected with Nordost Odin 2 cable (price: if-you-have-to-ask range). All the components were supported by Harmonic Resolution Systems Signature products, including RXR ($8770) and SXR ($22,855) audio stands and two RXR amplifier stands ($2030 each).

Rather than leave assembly of these components to chance, VTL hired the services of setup guru Stirling Trayle of Audio Systems Optimized (behind the racks) to fine-tune the arrangement. Stirling spent almost an entire day getting the turntable and cable layout just right and then worked with Wilson’s John Giolas to help perfect the Sabrina setup.

Standing only 38" tall, the Sabrinas are not exactly the type of eye candy that draws showgoers into a room by virtue of their imposing size. You have to actually sit down and listen to these speakers, rather than dash in and take away an impression built to some extent on size. The whole point, of course, was for Wilson to design a speaker that most people actually have a chance to afford. Too often, music lovers go to a show to escape to fantasyland, to see and hear things that they have no hope of actually owning, and the audio press certainly fuels that compulsion. The challenge of this system was to draw in listeners based on sound rather than vision.

Of all the rooms at RMAF 2015, I spent more time here than anywhere else. I visited during setup to watch Stirling adjust everything from turntable to speaker placement, and came back to listen during the final hour on Sunday afternoon. During the opening hour of the show’s press day, dCS held their press conference here, and that was the first, and for some the last, opportunity to spend time with the system. Quite a shame for those who did not return, as the choice of material and a few other hiccups during the presentation (limited of course to digital) left some of the press underwhelmed. Returning on Sunday, after most of the traffic had moved on, I listened to a few LPs that have been constants on my turntable (and on a few other 'tables at the show) of late. In particular, I listened to two sides of the two-LP release of Cčcile McLorin Salvant’s For One To Love [Mack Avenue 1095]. Although a digital recording, this LP is blessed with excellent sound, and it sounded that way in this room. The little Wilson speakers played much bigger than they looked, and the system revealed inner detail I’d somehow missed before.

Chalk this up to outstanding electronics, cabling and setup, all adding up to a coherent assemblage of audio components whose sound was matched by few others at the show.

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