RMAF 2018 Show Report -- High-End Home Audio
The Denver Chronicles Part 1
Having ridden my motorcycle to Iowa City to start graduate school back in 1968, I'm no stranger to Interstate 80. In 1975 I risked hitchhiking to Denver, veering off I-80 on the evening the Rolling Stones were in concert, figuring the State Police, who were notorious for busting hitchhikers, would have little time for me. Still, for all the times I've passed through Denver over the years, this would be my first Rocky Mountain International Audio Fest (RMAF). It always conflicted with the International Home Furnishing Show in High Point, NC, and until this summer, the furniture business had been my main career... or at least one of them.
The day job has kept my audio show coverage closer to home in Upstate New York, which means Montreal, Toronto and New York once in a while. My audio buddy, Tom Lathrop, has been to RMAF numerous times and he always shared literature and opinions when he returned. Obviously it was a much bigger show than the Canadians put on and there were a lot of interesting manufacturers from the Western states that I was anxious to see and hear.
As tired as I was when I departed for Denver on the Monday evening before the show, it was the realization that I had forgotten my eye medicine that forced me to return home and sleep in a real bed. Tuesday at noon I was checking out a replacement Chevy Tracker in Detroit that I had found on Cars.com. My current Tracker was home in the driveway with 217,000 miles on it. (Linda insisted I take her Passat.) The Tracker in Detroit had less than half the miles, but it smelled like it had been pulled out of Lake St. Clair and the head gasket leaked profusely. An hour or so later I was dropping off my Linn LP12 at Overture Audio in Ann Arbor for Tom O'Keefe to work on while I was in Denver. A few hours after that I was hugging the granddaughters in Wheaton, Illinois.
Chicago to Denver is the longer leg of the journey and I stretched it even longer, sleeping in the car just across the Nebraska border up in Wyoming. Thursday found me on dirt roads high above Fort Collins wishing I had taken the Tracker instead. A very interesting afternoon was spent with Dr. Karl Schuemann, who is Audiomachina, listening to his XTAC loudspeakers. But that's the subject of another article. Down in Boulder the doors were locked at the new home of PS Audio so I headed for the Marriott at the Denver Tech Center where I came upon Ze'ev Schlik of Pure Audio Project whose open baffle kit speaker I had reviewed years ago. He assured me I was at the right place, so I went in, obtained my Press Pass and tipped a half a beer at the social hour for press and exhibitors sponsored by Enjoy The Music.com. Naturally, Steve was glad to see me. Health issues had made my presence questionable until the week before the show. A month earlier, I could hardly walk.
I wandered off to a C-store for some calories and found my way to the nearby Cherry Creek State Park where I found an empty campsite among the RVs and 5th wheels. Ten minutes into my vintage Sierra Designs sleeping bag and the reflections of rotating red and blue lights captured my attention. The RV in the neighboring campsite was under investigation. I continued to lay low and pretend I was sleeping. In the morning they were gone. I availed myself of the showers at the park and reached the Marriott in plenty of time for coffee. I never pay $4 for a cup of coffee, but there was no Plan B. At the elevators taking us to the top of the tower I found myself shoulder to shoulder with Andy Wiederspahn of Synergistic Research and we chatted while we waited... and waited... and waited. Of the bank of three elevators, only one was working. This would be even more of a problem on Saturday.
Straight ahead in 1107 was Martin Logan's flagship speakers dressed in gloss black. At the Canadian premier of these speakers a few years ago they were shown in bright red with all the electronics concealed behind a curtain to keep the focus on the speakers and the sound they delivered. Here, they shared the stage with D'Agostino Master Audio's new monoblock power amplifiers, Also on view was D'Agostino's $32,000 phono stage capable of being set up with four tonearm/cartridge combinations, all readily accessible. What looked like the contoured base of the phono stage is actually the power supply for the unit.
Unlike the new monoblocks that are toned down, stylistically, the phono stage receives the full-glam treatment of their top line series. If I win the billion dollar Mega-Million jackpot tonight, maybe I'll request a review sample. An Aurender streamer was at the front end along with a D'Agostino preamp.
This being the first room I walked into, it would be kind of difficult to call it one of the many Best Rooms At RMAF 2018, but I'd take that gamble. What might have been missed in this room was a sample of the new Martin Logan powered subwoofer series that can be controlled by an app on your phone, includes room correction via computer or smart phone, and by swapping the feet around, can be converted to a downward firing sub.
There is also the option available to run it wirelessly. It comes in five sizes ranging from 8" to 15" drivers with the 12" and 15" versions housed in sealed cabinets. The Stromtank S2500 battery power supply was shown on a table at the back of the room. This powerful unit (about $20,000) has already received a Blue Note Award from Enjoy The Music.com. A German representative explained the intricate design and how the eight batteries (under the Plexiglas in the photo) were alternately charged a little bit at a time so the group would have a relatively consistent charge across all the cells. The unit along the right side of the photo is the DC to AC converter.
In 1110 I met Francisco Jileta of Troy Audio, a company that is headquartered in Houston, Texas, has drivers manufactured in Oklahoma from the original Altec design (upgraded, of course) and cabinets and final assembly done in Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico — same town, and same corporate protocol as some of the Flexsteel sofas and recliners I used to sell. The large driver is a coaxial design with a compression driver for the midrange. There is a crossover between the mid and low drivers, and a separate crossover for the separate tweeter, all made from the finest Mundorf capacitors.
Interesting that the tweeters were mounted to the outside of the coaxial drivers, and not on center line of the baffle. The speakers were very finely finished. With efficiency being more than 100dB/W/m, it is not surprise that they were driven by low-power Triode Lab monoblocks. A Triode Lab preamp was fed by a Thrax phono stage with a new Thrax turntable sporting a Frank Schroeder tonearm and a cartridge from a French company Anna Mighty Sound (you read that right).