‘Feast on the Future of Sound’
Denver, CO – I was led to believe, whether through the folksy website, or the discussions of previous exhibitors, that the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) was a small, audiophiles only show — one, where enthusiasts would gather in mid continent and hang for three stress-free days. Much of what I’ve heard is true. The vibe here is wonderful — very friendly and laid back. But, the size of the show has grown. It has become a huge audiophile festival. As such, I’d say that in the here and now RMAF is the premier audio show in the world, no matter what they say in Las Vegas or Munich.
The brainchild of Colorado Audio Society members Al Stiefel and Ron Welborne, and now continued by Al’s wife, Marjorie Baumert, RMAF debuted in 2004. This edition was based at the massive Denver Marriott Tech Center. 150 rooms housed many hundreds of manufacturers. The best were here from around the world. The big difference from discussions with exhibitors is that they choose and enjoy coming to RMAF and that heading to CES in January is something of a chore.
The flight between Toronto and Denver (and its amazing airport) was smooth, comfortable and 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I was in my rental car and at the show in no time. The hotel even had early check in. And I was placed dead center of the 5th floor show rooms — I didn’t complain. Best room location, ever.
The city is lovely. Nestled at the foot of the Rockies and already at 5500 feet, Denver is a modern, clean jewel. I didn’t get much time to see the city, but did get time to hear some live music. I spent a very enjoyable evening reviewing the Colorado Symphony Orchestra playing Bernstein, John Cage and Beethoven.
The exhibitor’s rooms were solid and comfortable. AC was good — the weather this weekend was in the 80s. The first day was spent photographing and catching up. The second day was scheduled for straight listening — from 9 - 6, with a Starbucks break for lunch. Sadly, my scheduled demanded missing Sunday. Even though a traditionally slow day, the sound was so good in the rooms, and the gear so varied and brilliant that as soon as I left the show, I was wishing I was there. Aching feet, and all.
Because the show was so large — Showrooms, Main Lobby and seven full floors — the large numbers attending spread out comfortably. The rooms were not too crowded with lots of chairs and sweet spots for all. Only a few rooms had execrable sound — poorly set up gear, speakers out of phase, volume out of control, poor music selections, etc. Your basic audiophile nightmare. Happily, most other rooms had great sound that would suit audiophiles various. Mellow horns, etched top ends, tight subs, great imaging, wide and/or deep soundstages, analogue galore, files servers that worked, and even ‘Canjam’, a show floor of headphones and their accoutrements. Then, there were those that got it spot on. Music.
It was great to meet Mojo Audio’s Benjamin Zwickel [disclosure -- Audiophilia advertiser]. Finally! He had his DAC and server hooked up to Audeze LCD-2 headphones (Burson Audio amp) with his superb cables. I chose some Vivaldi Viola d’amore concertos. What a gorgeous sound — relaxed but detailed. Music, music, music. I thought the viola of love would steal the show, but what I loved was the chugging mechanics of the portative organ. Splendid.
Lots of turntables at the show. Interestingly, the sound I was hearing, while still very fine, did not seem quite as good as from many of the same ‘tables at the recent Toronto show. Conversely, the file servers and DACs were shining, no more than through Harbeth Super HL5 speakers.
Not only did the electronics sound great, they looked amazing. Some had a little too much of the blue light, but the milled aluminum was gorgeous. With all the analogue present, I thought the balance would be in favour of tubes, but I’d say it was 50/50 with solid state. Nelson Pass’ PassLabs XA200.5 behemoth sounded delicate and detailed, the Audio Analogue Puccini CD player is an old favourite and is still a steal in its umpteenth generation, and the German AVM CD 3.2 was rocking some Legacy speakers.
Beautifully designed top and front plates were the flavour of the weekend. Stunning. Looks like Jeff Rowland and Boulder has competition, my two benchmarks for casework. Not forgetting the intriguing and truly beautiful Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum monos. Wow, they sounded superb through Wilson Audio Sashas playing Peter McGrath’s recordings — Carmen and Liszt never had it so good.
Many loudspeakers looked immaculate, some downright unique. As usual, the sound qualities varied with topology — some love the horns, the transmission line, the electrostats, the boxes and the unboxes. It’s wonderful to see how designers continue to come up with new styles and new media with which to build, with and without crossover, hybrids, etc. Many speakers sounded as good as they looked.
I haven’t heard an Acapella speaker since I reviewed the Campanile Loudspeaker back in 2003. The Violincello II looked exquisite and sounded spectacular. The sound was deep, rich, detailed, and very powerful.
The famous signature sounds of Magico and Wilson were rocking popular rooms. Not many companies get the sound/look and feel/marketing balance as well as these two. Uber professional. Other speakers of note included the Volti Audio Vittora horns, a new kid on the block and one to watch, the Penaudio Ceyna, an exquisite 7K monitor from Finland, and the Sonus Faber Futura paired with Audio Research solid state monos and a Rel sub in the Sumiko room. All splendid and worthy of your audition time.
The people at audio shows make the difference. All rooms were welcoming, with lots of literature and smiling faces. After a year of toing and froing on the web, I finally got to meet Mike Mercer. A force of nature within the industry, Mike reps companies’ social media strategies and writes for Positive Feedback and The Daily Swarm. We had time for lunch together and plotted to carve up the audio world. He agreed to a 60/40 split in my favour for an extra Sprite.
It was wonderful to meet Dan D’Agostino of Krell fame and many others. It was especially nice to meet Evie Rein of Coincident Technology. She runs the company for Toronto designer Israel Blume (who’s room sounded very good) and was by far the loveliest presenter at the show! All the folks I spoke to mentioned the great vibe and the friendship. It really felt like an audio happening. It was great to be slap in the middle of it all.
Now, to what I thought sounded best at the show. A thankless task, considering the number of superb rooms I heard. But this room was superlative. In fact, two rooms were in the running, with one edging ahead upon the fourth visit.
The room that competed for the best but fell short at the very last watt was the Kaiser Acoustics Kawero loudspeaker at 66K. A bloody beaut of piano black and spectacular sound. Helping the speakers maintain this excellence were Concert Fidelity ZL-200 monos at 40K and 70K (yes!) of Fono Acustica cabling. The sound was exquisite — refined, detailed, hifi without the hifi with only the music remaining, if you know what I mean? But, even this awesome room had its better.
Magico. Yes, lots written over the past few years about this company and its products. It was my first experience with them. Beautifully presented in the room with simple elegance by Irv Gross and designer Alon Wolf, the Magico Q1 monitors, at 24K driven by BA labo amplifiers, connected with the most amazing cables from Denmark’s Argento Audio under the auspices of the Clearaudio Innovation turntable, Graham arm and Zanden Model 1200 MK III phonostage, were incredible. All the music played was wonderful, but the new Reference Recordings Mastercuts Series ‘Chant du Rossignol’ (Oue/Minnesota Orchestra) was one of the finest replications of an orchestra I have heard through a speaker. Through these small technological marvels, Oue’s orchestral blend of sections, timbre, spacing, chord voicing, soundstage, imaging was simply fantastic. I could have listened for hours. Congratulations.
I would like to apologize to the many exhibitors whose rooms did not received a mention. Space, time, and all that. Suffice it to say I was honoured to be among everybody’s company. You were all a credit to the show and our avocation. I cannot wait until next year. Thank you.
Photo update — Wed Oct 19