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RMAF 2011 Show Report
RMAF 2011 Show Report (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest)
Show Coverage By Scott Faller

Galibier Design
Well, here is something a bit different. This year Thom Mackris with his awe inspiring turntables partnered with Lou Hinkley of Daedalus Audio and Serious Stereo to provide tunes via an extremely low wattage pair of monoblocks. By extremely low wattage, I mean [right at] one watt. I know Lou's speakers reasonably well, though they are efficient, I would never consider driving them with a 1 watt SET. Know what? It worked fairly well, far better than I would have imagined. The bottom line was it was resolute enough to show off Thom's great sounding turntable. I'll be interested to see what Thom comes up with next year for pairings.

 

Daedalus Audio
Again, this year Daedalus Audio teamed up with Wayne of Bolder Cables to provide another really nice sounding room. Lou's speakers were being driven by the big Modwright KWA 150se monoblocks. In addition Lou had some fine sounding Abbingdon Music Research gear on had to use on the digital side behind the heavily modified Bolder Logitech Touch. Knowing the sound of Lou's speakers, I was really curious to hear how well the Daedalus BOW (Bass Optimized Woofer) integrated into the Ulysses speakers. From the limited time I spent in the room, the integration was flawless.

 

Fritz Speakers
It was just a couple of years ago I heard my first pair of Fritz speakers. Since then, they have made quite an impression on a lot of folks. Fritz makes affordable monitor speakers that come in a variety of finishes and with your choice of drivers. This year he teamed up with ModWright on amplification and also showcased a cool looking phonostage from Zesto Audio.

 

Wavelength Audio
There is one consistent thing about going to a show and that is Gordon Rankin is going to have a good sounding room. It's no different this year. Wavelength was driving a pair of sweet sounding Vaughn Audio Triode speakers with his 300b monoblocks. The source was his 71 based HiRez DAC. Very nice.

 

Silbatone Acoustics
It's not very often that you walk into a room at a show and find a pair of speakers  being used that date back to … oh say, 1940. Some, I'm sure didn't get it (it being the sound). But when you sat down in the sweet spot and let folks from Silbatone spin a few songs for you. Even though these speakers weren't for sale, Silbatone makes some very fine sounding single ended triode amps and preamps that might spark your interest. That and they are quite nice to look at which helps too.

 

Musical Concepts and Musical Design
I've known John Hillig for a number of years now and have become quite familiar with the sound of his gear. Musical Concepts was awarded the Al Steiffel Memorial Room this year and deservedly so. John makes some gear sounding gear. He paired with ParanaFidelity speakers to showcase his wares. Speaking of wares, all you TUBE LOVERS PAY ATTENTION.

John makes a tubed preamp called the Chameleon that lets you switch driver boards so you can experience the sound of eight distinct tubes (and counting). That's right, you can swap a 12AX7 for a 12BH7 for a 6SN7 for a 6922 for a... and the list goes on and on. No more do you have to sell you preamp to get a different sound. Just give John a call and order a new board for about $150 bucks. How awesome is that?! Besides his preamp, Musical Design makes some fine sounding amplification and also offers modification services. Such a deal.

 

Luxman
This year Luxman and Vivid audio exhibited in one of the larger conference rooms. Besides the Vivid Audio speakers being serious eye candy, the Luxman room (overall) had really  nice sound. One of the more interesting things that happened in my couple of visits to this room was that Myles Astor stopped in and played almost the entire release of Yes Fragile on a (near) third generation master tape. Speaking of something that seldom happens, real music at a show! Anyway, it was fun giving that a listen. The Luxman/Vivid's did a fine job loading the room with bass plus projected a really good image. Very nice.

 

Zu Audio
This was one of the more fun rooms to walk into. Sure the music was way too loud. There wasn't much of a display as they blacked out the room but what you did get was (the first time I walked in) was a live DJ mixing real time from the Mac based system they were using. The second time I walked in (pictured above) they were just playing cool music. Stuff you'd never hear in the other rooms.

 

Wes Bender Studios
Wes Bender Studios arrived this year with a bang. Showing the über cool WaveStream amps, Hanson speakers and Red Point Turntable made for a great pairing. The speakers were 'right sized' for the room and did a darned fine job projecting music.

 

Common Threads
What follows isn't anything more than some things that I noticed as I visited numerous rooms.

Kaplan Cables
Kaplan cables is another manufacturer that is making real inroads into the high end market. Besides great sounding power cords, Paul is now producing speaker cables and interconnects. Though I've not heard his latest offering, I can guarantee you his power cords are worth every penny. To give you an idea what manufacturers feel about the sound of his product, I think I counted six rooms with major manufacturers that were using his product.

Daedalus Audio Speakers
Here is another manufacturer who is starting to gain serious traction with audiophiles and manufacturers alike. Whether you mate them with tubes or solid state, Lou's speakers seem to mate rather well and sound quite good with a variety of different amps and front ends. Again, the Daedalus Audio speakers were in four rooms at the show.

Tape Decks
This was more than a bit surprising. I've always known that a good deck crushes the sound of vinyl providing you have source tapes that are fairly close to the masters. I was amazed to see so many top shelf decks in so many rooms at the show. Best part was, everybody was using them. I saw everything from studio decks to a little portable Stellavox 3 1/2" deck that will blow your mind. Good sounding open reel decks aren't exactly inexpensive, neither are the source tapes, but boy does it sound good. One of these days I'll get back into this. Like vinyl, I've kept all of my open reel tapes.

Mac Computer Servers
I'm sorry, I don't care what anybody says, I'll probably never be a Mac convert regardless of how good they sound. I wandered the entire show with my little FAT 32 thumb drive that had a couple of reference tracks that I use regularly. I found exactly two rooms that could read and play my music. That is pathetic. Most of the people used the excuse of "I don't know how to operate this thing" even though they were likely the ones to set the system up. Others said it would take too long for the system to recognize the drive and have it integrate back into the database. The couple I found that would play my music, plugged my drive in and within a minute or so we had hard drives spinning. For all my complaining hear, I can say with complete surety that CD players are on life support taking their final breaths. I was one of the first to declare CD players are dead. The proof resides with the manufacturers at these shows.

Von Schweikert Audio
And finally, Von Schweikert. Albert had four sets of lautsprechers scattered across the show. As usual VS speakers have been getting lots of attention from audiophiles on the interweb. Good reason too, they do a fine job on both construction and sound quality. No wonder several manufacturers wanted to showcase their gear with Albert.

 

My Favorite Sounds Of The Show
You might think that since I'm a Single Ended Triode and Lowther guy that I would immediately pick the Lowther America room as my best of show. Sure, that system has many of the same characteristics that my system displays but Jon's room sounds significantly different (and it is the room…plus amplification). Instead, my picks are based upon musical involvement rather than detail and articulation. By involvement, the best systems had to give enough detail that it didn't leave you wanting yet provide a full, warm, inviting sound that just sucks you in to the point that you forget you are listening to gear and you get swept away by the music. Systems like I just described are extremely hard and sometimes really expensive to put together. I've decided to list my three favorite rooms in ascending order.

Honorable Mention
Doshi Audio
I've heard the Wilson speakers a number of times and never really coddled up to them until now. Doshi Audio doesn't have an extensive offering of gear but what they manufacture mated extremely well to the Wilsons. In fact, it turned out to be one of those 'ideal' matings that are so hard to come by IMHO. This system provided ample detail and could be just a smidge hot on the top end but it really drew you into the music. I enjoyed what I heard and wish I had more time to hang out in that room an get a better feel for that system.

Number Three
Wes Bender Studio NYC
Wes' room was a complete surprise for me. I've heard Wes' system before with the bigger Hanson speakers. It sounded really nice in a much larger room but it didn't compare to this smaller pair of Hanson's in this room. This system was detailed without being overbearing. Had great control and reached into the depths without sounding artifice. More than anything, it sucked you into the music. Again, forgetting about the gear which is all important to me.

Number Two
Soundsmith
If you can count on one thing at an audio show, it's Peter Ledermann to have a consistently good sounding room. In fact, his setup doesn't change much from year to year. It seems he always sets up the gear on the long wall and seating across from it. As you likely know, I'm not a huge solid state fan but this is one system I could sell everything, buy this, and live the rest of my life without a single regret. You want to talk about a seductive sound? Peter's system delivers it in spades. The mating of his amps, speakers, cartridge and the Fosgate phono-pre are always a show stopper for me.

Number One, (my) Favorite of the Show
Silbatone Acoustics
You know... when you are standing in a room and have to immediately take a picture of the room and email it to a friend, something is inherently "right" with the [musical] world. That's exactly what happened when I walked into the Silbatone room the first time I walked in. Sure, I got sucked in there because of the vintage Western Electric Studio Monitors and 300B tubes but all too many times I've been let down by triodes and horns. Not this time. This room absolutely changes the way you listen to music. In here, you aren't listening to gear. In this room the artists perform for you. I can't say that I've heard more than one or two systems over my 50+ years that have done this for me. This system isn't about cost. It isn't about coolness factor, though it ranks at the top of my vintage coolness chart. This system simply draws you in and says "Relax, take a load off your feet and let me play some of the finest music you will ever hear."

This system didn't have extremes on either end but I didn't care. It didn't have hyper realistic dynamics or leading edges to notes. It didn't have crushing bass and it surely didn't have tons of bling. Crap, just take a look at the shipping container the amp is sitting on and the hotel towels on the walls used as room treatments. The sound was completely natural (on good vinyl) and only got better when the guys with the Master Tapes showed up. Funny part of this room, they didn't show up to sell anything. Joe Roberts and Mr. X simply wanted to share how good music can sound. In fact, Mr. X played DJ, just spinning records, one cut at a time while I was there. This system did everything well. From jazz to classical to rock, complicated, dense, man it did everything.

To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this room, I spent my last two hours at the show in this room. I only got up for a short time giving Michael Lavorgna the sweet spot so he could experience it for a spell (sorry for being a hog). So you think you want to replicate this system? Fuggettaboutit. The last pair of Western Electric 757 Studio Monitors like these sold on eBay for over $100,000. I seriously doubt you'll ever see another pair in our lifetime.

 

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