This portion of Dagogo’s 2008 RMAF Coverage by Gary Lea
As a way of intro to this article, I want to point out that I came to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest a seasoned writer with The $ensible Sound and left a member of Dagogo.com. Meeting Constantine at the show moved me to make a switch after almost 7 years with T$S. I am very happy that I made the switch and joined the Dagogo family. That being said, I did not want my first foray for Dagogo to be overly repetitive of other coverage already in our pages. I have decided to limit my comments to the RMAF experience and primarily focus on rooms that have not been discussed much. This barely begins to scratch the surface of what was at the show but does highlight some of the more interesting offers. So without further delay….
As CES 2009 approaches I find myself at my inaugural Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. The RMAF, for those who are not aware of it, is a somewhat scaled down CES – High End show. The focus is primarily on two-channel and higher-end audio. Yes, there are lower-priced components but the focus is still on two-channel sound. Many of the same vendors that show at CES are using the RMAF as an additional show for more exposure.
For the past two years I have seen a number of smaller manufacturers disappearing from the CES scene; seems that CES has begun to price out the smaller vendors. Coupled with the CES’ policy of no sales of ancillary items, such as records, etc., they have created what may well be the first chinks in their armor that could lead to a large reduction in attendance as other venues gain steam in the same way the RMAF has done. Oh yeah – the RMAF is also open to the public. What a novel idea. Allow the people who purchase the stuff to attend and raise excitement and interest level for the people with the real money…the consumers!
After a couple of years of prodding by a few vendors in the business, I decided this was a great time to check out this growing venue. The fact that it takes place in my old and still preferred home of Denver, CO did not do much to sway me against attending. Let me preference the rest of my comments with this one line, “As long as the RMAF is held, and I can get the time away, I will attend this show!”
For those of us that remember how it was when the high-end, two-channel crowd hung out at the Alexis Park hotel, a smaller and easier to navigate venue, the RMAF has the same feel. It is more intimate, less hurried and far more relaxed than the extravagance that has become CES. The rooms were adequate and certainly on par with those at the Alexis, it was much less expensive to display and you have the added benefit of the consumers of the area being able to directly audition items that many will only ever read about. It is a great idea and judging by the attendance of non-industry folks, it is one that is working.
As for the quality and number of displays, I was not the least disappointed at having driven 800 miles to attend. As I stated earlier, most of the people at the 2008 RMAF that I see at CES year after year were there along with some I no longer see at CES and some I have never seen anywhere. It is with this last group of people that I had some of my most joyous and epiphanous moments. Following is a synopsis of the rooms and equipment that actually piqued my interest the most and some of the other items that I enjoyed during the show.
I simply spent my first afternoon at the show scouting the lay of the land and looked for things that seemed interesting, or items that I have not seen at the CES show. I made a plan for the next day and then made my way around to see industry people I have developed relationships with over the years. The cursory and courteous call as it were. I decided to get a good meal at one of my old haunts and call it an early evening.
The next day I started promptly at 7:00am ready to attack the rooms on my list. I arrived at the Marriott with a venti-load of Starbuck’s finest in me. On an empty stomach this always produces an interesting reaction not unlike being on the edge of your seat when the plane hits an air pocket and you suddenly shift altitude by 1000 feet in less than 2 seconds.
▼Planetarium Bets speaker
My first stop of interest was the Planetarium Speakers /Atmasphere electronics room. The Planetarium Bets Speakers, combined with the Swarm subwoofer system, was delivering a very coherent and smooth sound. The Planetarium Beta is a controlled-pattern, offset bipolar speaker. The cabinets measure 43” tall by 18” wide and 10”deep. These are formidable sized cabinets to say the least. The driver array consists of single coaxial type speaker to handle everything from the mid-bass up, and a 12” woofer to handle frequencies from 70Hz up to approximately 150Hz. This speaker was coupled with the Swarm subwoofer system. Comprised of four cabinets coupled with a 1000-watt amplifier, it handles a frequency range down to 20Hz. The system was being driven by Atmasphere amps. The speakers were placed fairly close to the side walls and about 40” from the back wall. They were toed-in quite a bit and delivered a very smooth, but slightly warm overall presentation. Sound-staging was great and the delivery on vocals was some of the best I heard at the show. The Beta System with the Swarm sub system retails for $10,500.
Bamberg Series 5 TMW speaker►
The next room of interest was the Bamberg Audio room. Phillip Bamberg is both an electrical engineer and a mechanical engineer and has been designing speakers since 1993. Suffice it to say that Phillip knows his stuff and graced a room of the curious with a very well-sorted and intelligent discussion of his design philosophy and the speakers that embody it. His Series 5 TMW speaker was quite impressive. It is fundamentally a three way design that is housed in two separate cabinets that are linked only by side extension panels and bottom spikes of the midrange/tweeter cabinet.
The lower cabinet is essentially a subwoofer sporting an active 10” driver and two identical 10” passive radiators. The pricing was still not finalized but expect something just shy of $6,000 per pair – and worth every penny.
▼Bamberg Emotiva room
My next stop had me at the PS Audio room (no pic). They were running their new music server system through a pair of Avalon speakers and the sound was absolutely stunning. I was caught off guard as I was not expecting the sound to be all that great. What I found interesting and something of a puzzle was the room that held the speakers and power amp had, or more accurately, did not have any room tuning that I could see with the exception of dark blue curtains covering each wall. Normally, I do not find sound of this quality at a show without a fair amount of adjustment for room anomalies. In this case, there seemed to be nothing but the heavy drapes. I made a note to myself to delve into this a bit deeper at some point in the future. The system was featuring PSA’s new music server system driving what appeared to be Avalon Eidolon speakers and the sound was absolutely holographic. Unfortunately, I could not get any information as everyone was very deep into selling the products to prospective dealers.
Through the next door I found the Ayre / Vandersteen room. The room featured a full array of Ayre electronics driving Vandersteen’s new Quattro Signature II Wood Veneer speakers. The Quattro Wood has many of the same attributes as the Model 5A including the exquisite veneers and composite plinth, closing the performance gap between the Fabric Quattro and the Model 5A. Exclusive tapered transmission-line loaded magnet system with investment cast chaises, ceramic-coated alloy dome tweeters extend frequency response to beyond 30kHz without the large peak at diaphragm resonance that can be observed in measurements of other products. Extended bandwidth allows a more accurate reproduction of musical timbre. The Quattro is completely time-and phase-accurate. The sound was liquid coherent. The highs were especially noteworthy as they sounded very similar to the sound a diamond tweeter produces: Extreme detail with no harsh edge.
I next found myself drawn into the TW-Acoustics/Thoress/Odeon room by the seductive voice of Ms. Etta James. Through this system, she was right there in the room with a small ensemble. The sound transported me to a smoky little club. Thoress is a relatively new company and new to the US. They were spotlighting their 845-driven tube monoblocks and, combined with the Odeon, produced a beautiful listening experience. The sound-staging was so exacting that I could almost smell the smoke and scotch. I have been taking more and more notice of Odeon speakers, who seem to have difficulty finding a long term distributer relationship here. The new 45” Rigolleto two-way towers sounded great with a very smooth delivery throughout with great driver integration. The wooden horn tweeter was complimented by a doped paper mid/woofer. I could not get a price on the speaker but would love to review a pair of these. The fit and finish on the display model was exceptional.
▼Oris Swing MKII horn speaker
Hard as it was to leave that experience, I had to push on to the bd Design / Kemp electronics room. This was perhaps the most startling room of the show and easily my favorite. Designer Bert Doppenberg was demonstrating his Oris Swing MKII horn speakers with a full array of his own designed electronics. Let me just say straight away that I have never seen a speaker this large in a room this small so completely and utterly disappear! I did not even have to close my eyes to remove the speakers form the stage. This is a speaker I would definitely want to audition. I have not always been the biggest fan of horn speakers, but the last 5 years I have seen some amazing improvements to reduce the “honk” that one normally associates with the horn type speakers. I showed Paula (my wife and WAF judge) a picture of these and her comment was, “Oh those look interesting but I don’t think I would want them in my living room.” It’s a good thing my audio room is not our living room because I would take these in a heartbeat provided I had an extra $33k lying around. You could tell Bert was a man of great confidence and conviction in the design of his speakers. Fellow Dagogoan Doug Schroeder appeared to be in agreement on just how fine this system sounded. It was easy to pass a full 30 minutes in this room without even realizing that much time had passed.
I moved on to the Tri Electronics / Bastani room. I had a hard time deciding what was more impressive, the Bastani Apollo speakers at $18k a pair, or the Tri tube-driven electronics, including a new tube phono stage that averaged $2,500 per piece. The Bastanis were being driven by a pair of Tri Monoblocks, $4,199 per pair, sporting 300B tubes and pushing a claimed 20 watts per channel. The sound was magical and next on my favorite list to the bd Designs room. The Bastanis are a hefty speaker and have a very tube friendly efficiency of 98dB. The Bastani Apollos put out detailed and articulate presentation. The midrange performance was outstanding on the human voice and was taking advantage of every bit of magic 300B tubes are known for. I would love to have this setup in my listening room.
The Acapella room (no pic) was a favorite of everyone’s. Coupled with Einstein electronics, the system was the stuff dreams were made of. The room had the most intense room treatment going, courtesy of Golden Sound. Acapella was featuring the Triolon Excaliburs and they sounded as good as they looked, and in my opinion that was off the charts. Then again for a system well in excess of $350k, it had better produced experiences in music that were better than our wildest dreams. It is amazing what can be produced when money is no object. Unfortunately, they are now and in the foreseeable future way out of my price league. I have kids in college, for crying out loud. To put it in perspective, we just bought a new house that is 3,800 square feet in size and it cost less than this system does!
I made sure that I got to attend Michael Fremer’s Turntable Setup seminar. I have been setting up turntables most of my life and am I no amateur but let’s face it, Michael is the industry guru when it comes to vinyl and the man most credited with the resurgence of vinyl records in the market place. Why not hear it from the best in the business. Well, I was not disappointed. While I did not learn anything astonishingly new, I did learn a few little tricks that will make future setups that much easier. Michael was funny, not the least bit condescending and was truly entertaining to listen to. It was 90 minutes well spent. He also had Dr. Fieckert speak, and that was also very interesting for those more interested in the physics and intricacies of cartridge tracking and tracing.
▼DirectGrace Records artist Jon Pousette (left); Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith and DirectGrace Records (right).
LP on the left is the label’s Dart by Jon Pousette, available among four other current titles at time of press, by various artists.
Since I have already taken up a great deal of space, I want to close with the Soundsmith room. While I think that Peter Ledermann makes some of the most interesting components around, especially his new B&O cartridges, he is probably most known for re-tipping other cartridges. He probably does this better than just about anyone and can re-tip most any cartridge out there including the venerable Koetsu’s. He was demonstrating an array of his products in a one-manufacturer system, with the exception of the VPI turntable. His Strain Gauge phono cartridge was of particular note as it used two silicon beams instead of the “normal” Magnets/Iron/Coils found in all other cartridges! See his website http://www.sound-smith.com/cartridges/sg.html for more details on this fascinating piece.
However the more important aspect of this year’s endeavors at RMAF was what Peter was doing to help support the fight against the exploitation of children. The plight is horrendous and needs as much attention brought to the subject as we can get. I have written a companion piece on this subject, but for more details visit www.stolenchildhoods.org to find out about the problem, and www.DirectGrace.org to find out what peter is doing to make an impact. Over 250 million children this year will be homeless, abandoned, sold into slavery, prostitution and drug addiction. As a parent and grandparent, I implore everyone out there to join Peter and many, many others in the fight against this travesty against humanity.
Peace Out and Happy Elections!
This portion of Dagogo’s 2008 RMAF Coverage
by Gary Lea
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