I felt a very relaxed atmosphere this year at RMAF; despite the two power outages from an overloaded electrical service, and local fire department sweep of the building, there was a pervasive sense of ease. The haughtiness of HiFi headspace was deflated a bit by the recession, and manufacturers along with distributors and music fans were more appreciative of each other.
I was grateful for the efforts of industry experts who took the time to set up rooms to their fullest hotel room potential. There were many decent sounds, a few exceptional ones, and a handful of “difficult” ones. Here, without preference to ranking is my listing of some of the oddities and extravagances of this year’s show. On principle I’m not selecting a ranking of rooms, because there are simply too many ways of attaining excellence. Instead, I’ll share some components and systems which either displayed or have the potential to display musical excellence. Regarding the latter, I’m going out on a limb a bit to praise them as I have not yet heard these components in my room, but they are the kind of items I would like to explore based on my first encounter with them.
I make reference to several brands and products that I have reviewed, and I make no apologies for this. I greatly enjoyed many of the components I reviewed in past years, and I enjoyed them again at the show. If they were not worthy of further comment I would pass them over. If I have mentioned them again here, it is because they won that praise anew based on the performance at the show.
DYNASTIC SOUND (Legacy Audio Whisper loudspeaker)
Legacy Audio is new to RMAF, and they entered the show in a big way by claiming the Pike’s Peak room! They needed that space to demo the Helix speaker system. In my review of the Helix I use the term “dynastic sound” to describe the sense of scale and import it delivers. Previously the Whisper had not the deep end of the more affordable Focus SE (shown with great effectiveness in the Ayon Audio room). That has changed, as Bill Dudleston has now upgraded the woofer drivers on the Whisper and it digs deeper, deep enough to remind me of the Helix’s bass capabilities. Now, in every respect, the Whisper is a fitting intermediate between the Focus SE and the Helix. Recording engineer Steve Hoffman has ordered a pair.
If You Liked the Ayon Audio Room
I have reviewed and used Legacy Audio and Ayon gear together a fair bit. The sound of the Ayon room (under show conditions) I found to be quite pleasant. I enjoy big power and big speakers with clarity and full-bass extension. If you thought the Ayon room was good, then you might find my ears to be “tuned” somewhat similar to yours. I saw a fair number of Ayon players in use in systems throughout the hotel. Having used extensively the CD-2 and CD-3, the CD-5 as heard through the Legacy Audio Focus SE’s (my current reference floor standing speaker), and powered by Ayon’s Triton integrated, struck me as pristine and well balanced from top to bottom. Ayon gear has a “brighter” tubed sound as opposed to a “darker” tubed sound (Think of Van Alstine as an example of darker tubed sound). In one article I compare the Ayon sound to pepper and the Pathos sound to Salt; both potent but differing in “taste”. I was pleasantly surprised that as close as the listening position was, the speakers not bi-wired, and as powerful as they are, the system was not as “in your face” as might be expected.
“I THREW THEM TOGETHER A WEEK BEFORE THE SHOW” CATEGORY
(GR Research and Balanced Power Technologies)
If these guys weren’t audio designers, or if the speakers didn’t sound so good, I would scoff. But these offerings are no laughing matter. Both the Balanced Power Technologies unnamed speaker and the GR Research V-1 were highly involving. The GR room is worth additional comment, as Danny Richie put himself out to create a suitable listening environment for enthusiasts – a much appreciated effort! I lament the fact that so few manufacturers and distributors “finish the job” with room treatments. It strikes me as unproductive to establish a system which is allowed to be hindered by the environment and just hoping that the audiophile will forgive it and be enraptured by the quality of the product despite the conditions. It’s a gambit that often only pays off for the rare component which can rise above tough circumstances.
Anyone who doubted the efficacy of room treatment but who heard the GR Research speaker likely has reassessed their doubts. The speaker was good, but sounded wonderful because of the room condition. Many eyes should have been opened to the potential for enhancing performance when a room is outfitted for “prime time” listening!
The Balanced Power Technologies towers were prodigious, but need refinement through further development. The prevalence of vast arrays of ribbons made them a bit bright, but not intolerable. The scale of the music they made was invigorating, nearly mountainous! I would love to hear a second or third generation version of these speakers.
While there might be some rough edges, from cabinet construction to crossover, both of these products deserve to be brought to the public – the sooner the better! Go ahead, guys, we’ll give you an extra week to finalize them!
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