Incredible as this may seem, RMAF 2013 was my first experience attending the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. What first struck me about the show was its sheer size. This is far from being simply a regional audio show. While I have covered many regional shows over the past several years on these pages, I must say that experiencing RMAF was more like experiencing the CES and T.H.E. event. Even to the extent that the show exhibitions spilled into a second hotel. Another similarity to the big Las Vegas Shows was the number of rooms that were not actually playing music. The equipment was either simply in static display or the exhibitors were conducting business inside the room in lieu of playing music and taking their business outside to the hallways.
Given my very brief visit to Denver for this event, I decided that even attempting full coverage of the show would be nearly impossible and would simply ruin the experience of being there. I depend upon my fellow Dagogoans to “pick up the slack” (no pressure, eh guys?)
Overall, I must say that as is the case with many shows, large and small, there was still quite a bit of variation in sound quality amongst the rooms. There were plenty of rooms that insisted upon using iPods and “lossy” digital files as sole music source. Those rooms were my source of headache if I visited for any length of time. There were those rooms that of course still had digital music as their sole source, but it was done right and those sounded reasonably good. I typically visited those long enough to grab a few pictures and listen to a tune or two. Then there were the vast number of rooms that had turntables and played analog either exclusively or at least most of the time. Those were predominantly the places where I lingered and listened for as long as time and the traffic flow’s patience permitted. To be fair, there were some rooms where analog was played where it was just plain obvious that turntable/tonearm/cartridge were in discord. I fled those rooms as well.
That said, here is my first set of rooms (in no particular order) where I was able to sit and listen without getting that pesky “digital headache”.
(You’ll need to excuse the quality of the pictures. In some cases they are not up to my usual standards. I made the unfortunate decision to upgrade to the latest iteration of Fuji camera just prior to this show and didn’t realize that although a much better camera than my previous Fuji SLR, the software was radically different and I didn’t take the time to learn how to use it. DUH!)
Audio Alternative (Vandersteen / Audio Research / AMG / Audioquest)
A local dealership, Audio Alternative, was serving up excellent sounds in two rooms that featured Audio Research Ref 10 preamp and phono, electronics, AMG Viela turntable with arm and what appeared to be a Lyra cartridge. Speakers were the big (and bright orange!) Vandersteen 7’s. The sound big, bold, and very transparent. Thanks to great electronics and analog front-end, the Vandy’s came through with that signature Vandersteen mix of ballsiness and huge stage that they do so well.
Bricasti / Tidal / Kimber
This was my first encounter with the sound of the Bricasti DAC and I must say that I was impressed. While the music being played was not known to me I was instantly taken by the ease and almost analog-like presentation of the orchestral piece. The system configuration consisted of Bricasti M1 dual mono USB DAC with DSD playback, power amplifiers appeared to be also of Bricasti design but was not able to confirm, speakers were beautiful Tidal Cera featuring their ceramic tweeter. These are one of those speakers where you just simply cannot hear the drivers crossover despite being specified as being a 2.5 way design.
Eficion / Plinius / Exemplar
Eficion designer Mr. Peigen Jiang was on hand showing the Eficion F300 speakers in white lacquer mated with his favored Plinius SA-103 power amplifier and Exemplar preamp and DAC. As was the case in California last year, the F300’s did not sound as good as they should have due to the challenges of the room and perhaps the lack of attention given to cables. Despite those shortcomings, there were moments of brilliance that shown through during my stay in the room. Overall, a bit of a disappointment because I know just how amazing these speakers are in my home.
Zesto Audio / Merrill-Williams / TAD / WyWires
The always gracious and very talented Carolyn and George Counnas had cause for joy since they were introducing the latest in their audio component family, the Zesto Audio BIA-120 all-tube Class A stereo power amplifier. The BIA-120 is also blessed with the talents of Carolyn Counnas’ excellent industrial design that absolutely preserves the “family’s” look and feel.
Mated to the Zesto Audio Leto linestage, and the superb Zesto Audio Andros PS-1 phono stage, this was a family affair to be sure!
Rounding out the system were the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable, Tri-Planar Ultimate II tonearm, Dynavector XX2 mk II phono cartridge, and the wonderful TAD Evolution One speakers. The sound was rich with warmth and detail and at the same time blessed with immediacy and realism. It would appear that once again Zesto Audio has hit a home run with their new amplifier.
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