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RMAF 2009 - Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2009 Report / Coverage
RMAF 2009 Show Report (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest)
Report By Scott Faller

It has been a while since I've covered an audio show…and now I remember why. Don't get me wrong, shows are extremely cool but when you do coverage for a major eZine, you don't have much time to sit, listen and enjoy all the great systems that are gathered in one single location. Even the people reveling in the show were having trouble finding time to make it to all the rooms they wanted to experience. This is a good problem.

Just some quick stats provided by the wonderful staff of RMAF. This year the show saw approximately 3700 attendees pass through the front doors of the Denver Marriott. Exhibitors were up about 20% from last years show at 470 filling over 150 rooms. The RMAF staff also said that Friday's attendance was the largest Friday they had seen yet. All in all, the show was quite a success despite the 45 minute recess we all took out in the parking lot while Denver's finest (Denver Fire Department Engine House 22) tracked down what caused the power to go off and the fire alarm to empty the buildings Saturday afternoon.


Shows like this are always fun. I get to rekindle old friendships with party goers, industry associates and manufacturers alike that I've met over the years. More often than not, our daily lives get in the way of keeping in touch.

As we all know at shows like this, sometimes a given manufacturers room and gear can get some decent synergies going on but on other occasions they don't. Personally I don't put much credence on the sound I hear at any show. I know how long and difficult a road if can be to get a room and system to walk hand in hand and produce good sounding music. Expecting it to all come together in the six or so hours they have to assemble a room is sometimes unrealistic.

With that in mind, I set out to visit rooms that caught my eye, things that interested me. As many know, I'm a single ended triode and high efficiency speaker freak. That means most of what I sought fit that profile. On the other hand, I wanted to stick my head in a few rooms with either extremely cool looking gear or stuff that was new and inventive. This means I actually listened (and liked) some of the solid state gear I heard. How's that for an open mind? 

So, in no particular order, her are the rooms I visited. Oh, some of the rooms I forgot to ask how much the gear cost. Oh well. One last thing before I really start typing, I may comment on the sound of a given room but the ones that I don't comment on, you shouldn't read anything into it as manufacturers are trying to get the best sound they can out of sub-optimal settings.


Fritz Speakers and BSP Audio

In the first room we had the Fritz Carbon 7 monitor loudspeakers being driven by the Korato Anniversary solid state amplifier. In front of the amp was the great sounding Korato KVP-10, a two chassis fully tubed, dual mono preamp including tube rectification. The source was the excellent sounding Bolder modified Squeezebox 3. The power for the SB3 was derived from the dead quiet and dynamic Balanced Power Technology BAT battery power supply. For the revelers showing up with CDs, there was a JoLida JD100 tubed CD player. Anchoring the system were the great sounding power cords by Kaplan Cables with interconnects and speaker cables by Soundstring.


In addition to all the great sounding gear, Bryan brought a fair amount of his GIK room treatments to dampen the room. If you were unaware, Bryan Pape and Glen Krauss at GIK are offering Art Panels for room treatments. These things are WAY too cool. Pick your favorite piece of artwork (assuming there are no copyright issues) or photo you've taken and they can silkscreen it to one of their acoustic treatment panels. In addition, GIK had their Pillar Bass Trap in the back corner of the room and their Tri-Traps in the front corners.

One of these days I need to get my act together and get my ArtPanels ordered for a couple of my rooms. I've been using some DIY treatments which work just fine but burlap isn't exactly what I'd call tasteful decoration.


Lowther America

Next on tap was the Lowther America Room to see what Jon Ver Halen was up to. As you can see, Jon has been busy playing with Lowthers in an open baffle. What we have here are the PM5As on top with a pair of Great Plains Audio Altec 416Bs (reproductions) filling in the bottom end. Driving the OBs was a pair of the brand new First Watt J2 amps being used in a vertical bi-amp configuration. The small box you see between the amps is the extremely nice sounding and soon to be released, First Watt B4 crossover.



Jon's sources of choice were master tapes that have been converted to digital and stored on his hard drive. The 24/192 files are then fed to the E-MU 1616m digital I/O converter feeding the Pass Labs XP-20 preamp. On the vinyl side was the ultra cool Artemis Labs SA1 and the Schroeder Reference arm with the ultra rare Artemis Labs cartridge (only two exist) being fed to the Pass Labs XP15 phonostage. All of the wiring in the room was from Jena Labs.

When I was in the room, Jon was playing a phenomenal sounding piece of lacquer that Peter Lederman of Soundsmith Corporation recorded in his studio. The recording was of John Hart playing improvised Jazz solos on a hollow bodied arch top guitar hand built by Ken Parker, inventor of the Parker Fly guitar. If you noticed, I said lacquer which means the actual recording isn't quite ready to be distributed yet. If you go to Direct Grace Records website you will see that Peter has set up a recording label dedicated to 'direct-to-disc' recordings. He currently has five LPs available for purchase at very reasonable prices. The John Hart offering will be a double 45rpm release and from the brief preview, it will have exceptionally good sound. A more than notable item that you may want to consider also is the fact that all of the proceeds from all of the records sold go to a very worthy charitable organization. The initial cost of each recording is sponsored by outside parties. In turn, the subsequent proceeds from the record sales go directly to charities dealing with children living in extreme poverty. Personally, I ordered the Jon Pousette-Dart and the Frisell-Wamble releases, soon to be followed by the Mark Cosgrove….oh and of course the John Hart but that one I might order as a lacquer in lieu of traditional vinyl. Although the lacquers aren't listed on the website for purchase, they can be special ordered, just give Peter a call. 



On the second day I went back to the Lowther room to give a quick listen to the Lowther Field Coils which will be going into production soon. Needless to say, the Field Coil Lowther sounded considerably better to my ears. The sound was much more relaxed and open. Jon was using an off the shelf HP lab power supply to drive the electromagnets. Sometime in the coming months, expect to see a full write up on the Lowther Field Coils as I've got one of the first pair reserved once full production starts. This should be loads of fun.


One of the coolest pics I took all weekend was of Jeffery Jackson's mercury vapor power supplies. This one was just a display but it utilized the Western Electric 354A Thyratron which can put out up to 16 amps at 1500 volts (enough ampacity to kill an elephant) and was to have been used to power the Lowther Field Coils. Unfortunately, the mercury vapor power supply was basically just a display so Jon opted to use a HP lab supply. Shame, I would have liked to hear what a good tubed rectified power supply sounded like next to a solid state design.


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