October 14th kicked off the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. For a
Friday, the crowd was pretty fair sized. Hundreds of people waiting patiently
in line in anticipation of hearing and seeing some of the finest audio gear
the Industry has to offer. Along with all of the manufacturers demonstrating their gear, loads of people
were taking advantage of a darned nice selection of vinyl.
This year I didn't make to as many rooms as I
would have liked to but I hit quite a few. It's just impossible to hit every
one, listen to a familiar tune, make a judgment, then take a pic or two. So I
decided to spend a bit more time and limit the number of rooms I visited. Of
course, I sought rooms that closely align with my musical tastes (read: tubes)
though I did hit a couple of rooms that were out of 'my' norm.
Overall I thought all of the rooms I stopped into
sounded pretty good actually. Sure, one or two had problems but nothing
horrible. Best part as an average fest-goer, if you didn't care for a sound
of a particular room, there was another one just down the hall that you could
probably relate to. There was plenty for all to enjoy.
As you can see, Jon from Lowther America
showed up with his latest open baffle take on the Lowther PM5. Jon's design
uses a highly modified PM5A where he has removed the magnet and installed a
field coil which was co-designed by Dave Slagle and Jeffrey Jackson. On top
was the highly acclaimed RAAL open baffle tweeter and below was a 15"
servo-sub in a sealed cabinet. All of the front end was provided by Pass Labs
including the crossover which is set to cut the Lowthers off to the Servo-Sub
at around 150Hz. Sources were the Avid turntable and HiRez digital. The room
sounded quite nice. The sound was open, airy and the system had really good
Empirical Audio, BPT, GIK
Acoustics and YG Acoustics
This room was a pleasant surprise. I've
listened to the YG speakers a number of times and have always left thinking to
myself that they should sound better. This year they did. Empirical chose the
Kipod II speakers with the bass modules. They drove them with modified
Parasound JC-1s. The Front end was Steve Neugent's digital gear with an
assortment of Balanced Power Technology power conditioners and battery packs.
Surrounding the room was all kinds of GIK acoustic treatments. This year the
room sounded quite fine. Imaging, depth and placement was quite good. The
lowest octave was a bit off but you can't expect an 8" woofer to do that
kind of duty in that large of room. On the other hand, it did a respectable job.
The Art Panels from GIK were really cool. These were stand
mounted but they can also be attached to the wall. I've got some of the
standard GIK panels and love them. One of these days I need to send in some of
my concert venue pictures and have them transferred to room treatments.
Reproductions and Atmosphere
Again this year Classic and Atmosphere have teamed up on a room. Classic had
their big T-3.4s running in front of the Atmosphere M-60s. It's a pretty
cool sound if you are into horns.
Purity Audio Design and
Von Schweikert Audio
Bill Baker paired up with Albert VS this year and offered one of the coolest
looking rooms. Bill had his two chassis preamp driving a variety of different
amplifiers. The speakers were Albert's new VR-44 Aktive speakers. When I
visited the room Bill was having amp issues. As I'm told, later he borrowed
the monster Kronzilla 1630 amp and the room came alive. I wish I had been
there to hear it.
Mike showed up this year with all kinds of
Teresonic goodies. Besides the Ingeniums (reviewed here) he brought the cool
little Magus speakers. In addition, he brought the Teresonic Reference 2A3
integrated and a Reference 845 integrated.
As always, Peter shows up with a great sounding system. Not to mention,
turntables and cartridges I'd give my left arm for. This year was no
different. Soundsmith with the prodding of Frank Schroeder (of the Shroeder
tonearm fame) has developed a new cartridge, the Hyperion. This time Peter and
Frank have thought way outside of the box. The Hyperion uses a cactus
needle as the cantilever. Reports from several that I know were
that when Peter did an A/B of the Hyperion versus his ever so cool Strain
Gauge, they were extremely close in sound quality. One of these days I'd
sure like to get one in my system to play with.
Take another look at that picture. Notice the CDs? When I
saw that I laughed out loud and looked at Frank. He shrugged his shoulders and
said "Hey, I don't want to scratch the glass." Classic!
Herr Klaus showed up this year with his latest
creations, the Kismet line of monitor speakers. These happened to be the
prototypes and they flat rocked. He's decided to use beryllium tweeters on
the top side. Driving the speakers was his two chassis Kismet integrated
amplifier with a phono stage.
The Kismet integrated uses a tubed line stage which helps to bring things to
life. Quite nice and tons of fun to listen to.
This room really surprised me. I've not
heard of Doshi before. Well I have now and I have to say I'm sufficiently
impressed. The sound coming out of this room was deep, rich and full of life.
I've not hear the
sound this good before. Doshi was driving the Sashas with a pair of EL34 mono
blocks putting out about 90 watts of power. Doshi also had their relatively
simple tubed preamp driving the rest of the system. I liked it. Check it out
if you can.
Well, TAD showed up with tons of…TAD gear, imagine
that. All kidding aside, the folks from TAD have done a fine job engineering
not only great sounding speakers but electronics to mate to it. As you can
imagine with all Pioneer the money behind them, they have R&D resources
that most others can't come close to matching …and the sound proves it.
This was a fine sounding room if you are a solid state lover.
Next up was the JoLida room. As most of you know, I'm a big JoLida fan. Mike
makes good sounding, very reliable tube gear that is more than affordable.
This year Mike offered up many of his newly redesigned gear. JoLida has chosen
to change the look and go with a traditional powder coated black casing. I
like the look personally. This year Mike joined up with Albert Von Schweikert.
Here they were running Albert's VR-5 MkIIs in front of the JoLida Fusion
Monoblock 211 amps.
Another thing you guys should note, Mike has started installing premium caps
(Clarity ESA) in the signal path of all his tubed gear. You might be able to
squeeze a few extra drops of music out of his amps by having them modded (as
others have done in the past) but the premium caps are going to get you 80% of
the way there. The good news is they now come standard without the 'modded' price tag.
VTL and TAD
Well, this room was big... oh and awesome looking.... and had a tape deck in
OK, I've got a handful of audio heroes. These are the
guys that live on the fringes of our little obsession and really
push the envelope of our audio reality. These guys are creative geniuses in my
book, pure artists not just in the appearance of their gear but the way they
voice a piece. Josh Stippich at Electron Luv is probably at the top of my
list. Running a close second is Jeffrey Jackson of Experience Music. It's
not just Jeffrey at EM. He's partnered Dave Slagle of Intact Audio and John
Chapman of Bent Audio to create some of the absolute coolest gear on the
As you look at this, you can't even call it a 'retro' look. This stuff pre-dates retro by about 50 years. The EM gear
takes you back to the early days of radio and the beginning of the last
century. To top it off, Jeffrey uses some of the coolest tubes in his designs.
Pentode? What the hell is that? Give me a triode that uses a mercury vapor
rectifier and now we can start having a legitimate discussion.
Believe it or not, the pics you see there are going to be
either a two chassis preamp or a two chassis phonostage. How awesome is that?!
When it comes to the partnering, Dave Slagle provides the custom wound
transformers (output and interstage) and John Chapman provides his TAP volume
attenuator modules. When you put all of this coolness in one (or two) cases,
don't expect it to be budget gear. Honestly, who cares when you hit this
level of coolness. OK, I'll stop gushing now... can you tell I'm jonesin'
for a review sample?
Click here for the