Rocky Mountain 2011-Full Coverage

The 2011 installment of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest turned out to be the tale of two technologies. I am personally something of generational a ‘tweener’. I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom Generation – but I’m not really a Baby Boomer and I’m not really a GenXer. I am young enough that there was a computer in my HS math class. I am old enough that I completely grew up on analog audio.

It warms my heart in a number of ways to see and hear the resurgence of vinyl. You will find a lot of pictures of turntables in my blog below. I also enjoyed the rooms with active open-reel tape demos. Nothing can get your foot tapping better than analog audio.

However, this was the year that I really started to appreciate the vast potential of digital music. The first point is access and diversity as artists can make their own recordings and sell them directly over the web. The second point is convenience with wireless streaming and music servers. The third point is the quality. I now declare that the digital revolution has evolved to the point that it can satisfy hardcore audiophiles everywhere.

Almost every manufacturer has music streamers and DAC’s on the market. Many of them have their own twist on how they think the bits should be sliced and diced. In the end, though, the winner is you, the audiophile consumer. Because the sound quality of digital is really coming into it’s own these days. The Resolution Audio Cantata shown above is a major realization of this new breed. Heck, I even think Class D amps are finally starting to fulfill their potential.

Now I need to learn more about jitter, bits, bytes, asynchronous, and on and on. Me thinks this will be fun!

CD/DAC and integrated amp from Aura as seen in the Verrastar room.

April Music was one of a number of companies who were using amplification from Pass Labs.

This was the system in the Cary Audio Design room. Cary has always made quality equipment and the sound in their room was downright gorgeous. Kudos especially to the Chapman T-8 loudspeakers. They have a nice finish but with a utilitarian bent. Let me tell you, though, their sound quality was nothing short of fantastic. Full, rich textures, clean and airy response in the treble with a solid foundation in the bass. They are only $8,995/pr too.

Burmester had a new media center at the show (2nd shelf). You see what I mean about digital these days?

This is the whole Burmester system in their room. This is another manufacturer that has always turned out high quality, solid build units. This is a drool system for sure!

Martin Logan was showing the new Motion LX16 which is an upscale version of their popular Motion line of speakers. They are bigger with more bass extension than the original series. They still have the Folded Motion tweeter. It is all wrapped in a new wood cabinet with a real-wood finish.

Martin Logan was also demoing their new Montis electrostatic speakers. The panel and powered sub on these is bigger and better than what came in the Ethos speakers I reviewed last year. The sound was articulate and transparent with the big Mac amp driving them.

Audio Note UK was at the show with the CD 4.1x player and the accompanying Oto Phono SE Signature 10 wpc single-ended tube integrated.

This is a wider shot of the whole Audio Note system. I tried to cover so much at the show that I never spent more than 20 minutes in any single room. I also don’t know how people can give a best sound at show award, even at RMAF. There is too much background noise and doors opening and closing. But for my money, I can say that this minimalist system really connected with my soul and I was taken away to a very happy place as I listened. Bravissimo!!!!

Soundsmith had a wide array of product offerings on display.

These are the Cessaro Affiscinate 1 SE 3-way horns. They claim you only need 2.5 watts to drive these spherical horns! They are available in a wide array of finishes and trim elements. I’ll take 5, please.

The Zu Audio “DJ” was rockin’ the house through their Definition Mk IV speakers.

Sony had a demo of their SS-AR1. Pass Labs amps again. This must be a theme.

Volti Audio is a new start-up company. Their first product line are these folded horns. They were pure and honest sounding.

I have added some more photos and information from my time at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I will upload my last series of photos and comments tomorrow morning.

They were showing these sweet Lowther speakers, an Avid Turntable and electronics from Pass Labs and First Watt in the Lowther room.

Here is a close-up of the Avid table in the Lowther room. It is clean.

The sound in the Jones room was extremely luscious. I can see why Jason Victor Serinus basically raved about these amps. Jones was also showing a working prototype of their soon to be released preamp. I will be requesting a review unit for one lucky Secrets reviewer.

Here is a collection of new offerings in the Wyred 4 Sound room. The Wyred 4 Sound music server is on the left ($1,999). The m-INT mini integrated is on the right while the mu series mini DAC is in the middle. Their room was really bustling with activity when I came by. Get specs on these products here Wyred 4 Sound New Products

These Emerald Physics CS3 speakers can be had for just $2,995/pr. The driver complement includes a 12″ coaxial driver with a 1″ compression driver and passive crossover at 900 Hz. EQ is by the Behringer DCX2496. The manufacturer bills these as a controlled dispersion design that is less sensitive to room effects. They make a larger model, the CS2.3 which is a 3-way bi-amplified design. These speakers really caught my eye and my ear.

Here is the Bryston/PMC system. Bryston is coming out with a new headphone amplifier, commercial multi-zone amplifiers and new power isolation components.

Bryston was also demoing their new BDP-1 Digital Player link. It had an ethereal and expansive presentation.

Daedalus Audio was there with this system anchored by the big Daedalus Audio Ulysses speakers. New product launches included the Daedalus BOW (bass optimization woofer) ($2,290) and the Abbington Music Research DP-777 DAC ($4,995).

These big Thiels were being driven by the Jeff Rowland Model 625 amp ($13,500) and the Aeris DAC ($9,800).

Here is a unique system from Silbatone Acoustics with vintage Western Electric studio monitors (circa 1947). The source was a turntable, the amps tubes. How short a distance we’ve traveled in so long a time, I thought. It was that good.

Here is a close-up of the Artemis SA-1 turntable and Schroeder tonearm.

Thiel was showing their SCS4T speakers and the new USS 10″ powered subs.

Here is a pair of speakers from the first production run of Vandersteen Treo’s. They have promise with a Vandersteen house sound, but were perhaps a little bass shy in comparison to past Vandersteen efforts. I’ll need to get a pair in my system to do some more validation work. You understand, right? ($5,990).

The source in this Salk/Van Alstine system was the new Salk Stream player ($1,295). It has 2 USB and 2 Ethernet inputs. Also new in the rack were the Van Alstine FET Valve preamp ($2,500) and the Van Alstine FET Valve DAC ($2,500). Considering the masterful performance laid down here, this was a high-value system.

Here is a close up of the aforementioned rack.

LA Audio and GamuT. Heavy, man.

This line-up of LA Audio components were available at an amazing price point with the show specials they were offering.

The Lindemann room was a great sounding room at the show. The Birdland BL-20 speakers really sang in this system. They were showing the 825 Digital Player. Also in the rack were the 885 Integrated amp and the Zesto tubed phono stage that turned up in a number of rooms.

This is the Luxman PD444 direct drive turntable from the Lindemann system.

These omni-directional Unlimited MkII speakers from German Physics were able to reproduce the whole of a concert hall on a Rogers and Hammerstein selection.  The technology resembles that from the Ohm speakers of old but benefits from modern computer modelling and materials science. The cones are made from a thin flexible, but strong carbon fiber resin. These speakers are ones that need to be reviewed on Secrets.

This Kodo “The Beat Magdrive” turntable and Reed Tonearms just simply ooze with high class and haute sounds.

The Wilson Sashas lit up the room with a hyper realistic presence when driven by the associated Allnic Labs Directly Heated Triode Amps.

This is the Hanns T-60 Turntable.

The sound of the new Estelon XA Diamond speakers reflected the tasteful, modern presentation of their room. I hugged one of them and wouldn’t let go until they threatened to call security on me. Pricing starts at $64,000 USD.

This is the new April Acoustic Eximus DP1 DAC-Pre/Headphone Amplifier. It has six inputs including an AES/EBU, I2S and a USB 2,0. Balanced and single ended outputs. The circuit boards are even orange!

This was the new power cable in the Estelon Room. It’s the Verastar Cryo Grand Illusion Series. Featuring cryo-treated high purity metal metal foils.

This was the view from my room on the 4th floor of the Denver Marriott Tech Center. I love the Rockies, but I spent the vast majority of my time this last weekend visiting room after room at the show. There were around 170 rooms set up altogether so my plate was very full. After this post, I’ll do one or two more posts to put up the last set of photos I have. I will also provide some comments regarding the vast array of digital servers, streamers and DACs along with my closing comments.

This is the Linn Akurate stack from the Velodyne room. There is a NAS on the bottom shelf which was feeding the Akuarte DS Streamer/DAC which played through the Akurate Kontrol pre amp/Akurate Power amp.

This cute little lifestyle system included a Wadia 151 Power DAC Mini, a Wadia 171i Transport, Sonus Faber Toy speakers and a REL T-5 Sub-bass System. Cute, right?

Here is the Clearaudio Compact Wood table. You can see it wasn’t set up or being demoed, but that didn’t stop me from trying to fit it into my back pocket when no one was watching. It didn’t fit 🙁

The new Music Hall DAC 1.52 was on display and sounding pristine in the Music Hall room.

This is a working prototype of the Peachtree Grand Integrated. It is rated at 400 wpc (Class D). It includes an ESS Sabre 9018 DAC. 24/192 asynchronous USB input, BNC, Optical, Coax, etc. for $4,200. This amp didn’t exhibit the characteristic Class D glare or harshness through a pair of large Sonus Faber loudspeakers.

Vivid Audio was driving their B1 speakers in a large room with a Luxman stereo amp. These speakers filled the large room with an expansive sound that preserved an alarming degree of air and delicacy considering the show conditions.

This is the Luxman M-600A amp that was driving the Vivid speakers. 120 wpc at 8 ohms, $8,500.

The source in the Vivid room – ahh, Luxman.

There were actually a total of eight of these speakers in the Iso Mike room. They were being used to simulate a pipe organ. Yes, it was “different”.

The beautiful Oracle Paris table is available in a number of very colorful finishes.

Induction Dynamics brought along a new speaker model. These are the S 1.8 T’s which are floorstanders modeled after the S 1.8’s. The new model has an additional 8″ Kevlar woofer. These speakers were in a huge hall but had no trouble providing an exhilarating performance. I was also smitten by the Oracle source and amplification components in the room.

This Micromega lineup includes the Airstream ($1,595) as well as a pre amp, amp and CD player.

The Devialet component may be the most unique product I saw at RMAF this year. It is an all in one solution which is essentially an extremely flexible integrated amp, music streamer, DAC and control amp.

The remote control is a flywheel affair that is reminiscent of an iPod interface. The unit is controllable through an intuitive web interface where you can set up the inputs, even setting the phono inputs for MM, MC, variable input impedance and all that as just one example. The internal amps are rated at 240 watts a side (2 channels). The unit has been on the market for about a year. An upgrade wireless bridge is in the works.

It was on display driving a pair of Focal floor standers. The sound was extended and articulate.

Besides the Devaliet above, Audio Plus Services was also demoing the Arabesque Mini speakers shown here. The have an interesting back story that I don’t have the time or space to get into here. Needless to say, the units were very new and needed many more hours of break-in, but showed a great deal of promise nonetheless.

Here is the top of line Eddie Current single-ended headphone amp.

I’m not sure what drew me to this Bottleheads headphone amp, but I was downright shocked by the name. It delivered a very solid sonic performance and has enough power to drive a small pair of desktop speakers.

Audeo is the world’s premier manufacturer of hearing aids. They were showing these dual-chamber ear buds with selectable filter to tailor the sound to your own tastes. I enjoyed the audition I heard and I have requested a pair for review. (PFE 232’s $599.)

Beyerdynamic has two new sets of headphones that will work well with small mp3 players. The models are the T50 p and the T70 p. The 50 p’s are on-ear design while the 70 p’s are over-ear. The T50 p’s are shown here. The styling is based on a classic set of Beyerdynamic headphones. I found the T 50p’s to be light weight, comfortable with a dynamic sound that had surprising bass extension and slam. They are available in a wide range of custom colors and finishes.

This is the famous CanJam area of RMAF where you can audition hundreds of headphones, headphone amps and earbuds. It was a center of a lot of activity throughout the show.

The Naim room is shown here. This big system included the the brand new Naim SuperUniti All-in-One player, the Naim UnitiServe 1 TB Server and the Naim Ovator S400 speakers.

Here is a close-up of the Naim SuperUniti All-in-one player. It has wired and wireless UPnP streaming, internet radio, AM/FM radio, USB playback, DAC and an internal 80 wpc stereo amp. You can have all this for $5,995.

This system sounded excellent. The sources were an Acoustic Signature Thunder table and a Trigon Chronolog CD/DVD player and music server. The amplification was by way of a Trigon Energy integrated amplifier. The speakers were the new Audio Physic Avantera 25th Anniversary Model. I’ve always enjoyed the Audio Physics speakers I have heard in the past, but the supporting cast here was capable of wringing out the best these speakers had to offer.

This is a close-up of the Acoustic Signature Thunder turntable. $13,250 for the table, arm and cartridge not included.

This was another system to write home about. The principals were the Dynaudio Confidence C2 Signature Loudspeakers, the Octave RE 290 Stereo Tube Amplifier, the Octave Phono Module Modular Phono Stage/Preamp, the T+A G1260 R Turntable, the T+A C10 MC Cartridge, the T+A SACD1260 R SACD/CD Player with cables and interconnects from Audioquest.

ESS was back and showing a full-line of limited edition vintage speakers featuring the Heil Air Motion Transformer mid/tweeters. They were being driven with Channel Islands monoblocks. I remember spending lots of Saturday afternoons listening to music at a friend’s house who had a pair of the ESS AMT’s. Nostalgia.

PTE was on hand at the show demoing two sets of powered speakers. The smaller ones are the Phoenix and feature 3x130w power amps per channel with a claimed frequency response from 32 Hz -22 kHz +/- 2 dB. The larger speaker is The Statement. It has a 15-inch coaxial driver on top, underpinned with an 18″ overhung woofer. The bass response is rated to 20 Hz and the maximum output is claimed to exceed 120 dB! PTE also makes a phono stage. This was another fine sounding system.

The Music Hall room was bright and cheery. I was duly impressed by the Epos Epic 2 loudspeaker with optional flush grille. The flush plate can be removed using a sort of ball driver to ream it out from behind and then you can replace it with a standard cloth grille.

Nice display of Creek and Bellari phono stages along with other phono-related accessories in the Music Hall room.

Nottingham turntable shown here.

The Voce Audio V2 speakers feature horn-loaded neodynium ring radiator tweeters, 6″ mid ranges and two 8″ bass driver in a solid vented cabinet. The crossovers are 12 db/Octave.

The Aaudio Imports room was featuring the Acapella High Violoncello II MKII Speakers ($83,000) fronting Einstein electronics. The system gleamed in every possible way.

The Einstein equipment in the room comprised the new Final Cut OTL amps ($60,000) the new “The Preamp” ($26,000) and the “The Source” CD player ($18,400). I’m going to start saving up my pennies right now!

Harman Luxury Group was showing this system that had a pair of Revel speakers being driven by a pair of the new No 531H amps that I reviewed a few months ago. Dr. Sean Oliver of the Harman R&D team was next door giving very enlightening session on the subjective testing that Harman performs in developing and refining their products.

Here is the front end from the Revel/Levinson system in the last frame.

This Jolida/Von Schweikert system includes the VS Unifield Model 2 speakers at $8,000/pr. along with the Jolida Fusion 3502 Tube Stereo amp and the Glass FX Tube DAC. The DAC supports data rates up to 192 kHZ and word lengths of up to 24 bits and retails for only $379! It’s performance really surpassed it’s price.

This was the Von Schweikert big system in the next room. The speakers are the new VR-5 Anniversary Mk2, $30,000. The Jolida amps are 200 wpc mono blocks. The United Home Audio UHA Phase9 open reel deck was making beautiful music with a selection of classical and rock tracks.

Bergman table with linear tracing arm.

These Nola Baby Grand Reference speakers feature open baffles for the mid/tweeter arrays.

Here is a novel equipment rack from Dynamic Contrasts that is said to reduce vibrations. The load bearing members are solid steel and weigh around 35 lbs. each. The components are then clamped to the skeletal frame. I wish they had an identical system on a typical rack to do an A/B comparison to see what the effect really did with the sound.

It is Saturday morning at RMAF and bigger crowds are expected over the weekend. The annual elevator crisis is about to begin!

Joe Perfito is seen here announcing a new cable brand that is under the same parent company as Tributaries. The new brand is named Clarus and the design of the cables is based on a patented technology that involves stranded conductors of various sizes and cross-sectional shapes. This is claimed to provide a neutral voicing. The system shown here featured B&W speakers and McIntosh amps along with the Clarus cables.

I was mighty impressed by the sound quality from this Clearaudio Ovation Wood table with Clearaudio Clarify Magnetic-Bearing tonearm and Benz Micro ACE S MC Cartridge.

In the same room as the Clearaudio Ovation Wood table, Gold Sound was also showing the Wharedale Jade 7’s and Jade 3’s. They were being driven by the Parasound JC1 monoblocks and the Parasound JC2 preamp.

Dr. Hsu was demonstrating the new VTF-15H subwoofer. The big sub was underpinning a pair of his mid-sized HB-1 speakers. This entire 2.1 speaker system clocks in at under $1,200. This is one of those systems that makes the case for a leaner budget.

Primare was showing their new universal player. The menus are strikingly familiar. The power supply and output stages are Primare’s own design and implementation.

I had a chance to swing by Aaudio Imports to demo this massive reference system. The electronics are from German manufacturer Balanced Music Concept (B.M.C.). The player is the BDCD1 and the DAC is the DAC1. They feature Superlink signal transmission with proprietary Current Injection gain stages. The speakers are the No. 5.1 models from Lansche. Their most striking feature is the Corona Plasma Tweeter. The speakers were virtually brand new and in need of additional break-in, but they sounded downright terrific in this demo.

Here is a system with the Modwright Oppo BDP95 tubed player. The Fritz speakers, Wy Wires cables and Zesto phono stages were demoed here as well.

Here is a close-up of the new Zesto PS 1 tube phono stage. It’s hand built in Southern California.

T+A was showing a system of their entry level equipment. The amplifier is the A 1560 which is rated at 340 watts. The turntable is the G 1260 R “High-End” turntable which comes complete with arm, cartridge and internal phono stage. On the far right, you see the MP 1260 R Music Player which is a network client sitting on the P 1260 R preamp.

KEF was heating things up in their room with the big Parasound amps driving their Blade speakers. KEF attempted to create a full-range speaker with point source qualities. The effect is quite striking.

This new Mistral 35w tube amp is only $1,199. Another high-value piece. It sounded warm, rich but detailed driving the little BOW-3 bookshelf speakers.

Bill Dudlleston of Legacy was on hand to demo the new Signature SE’s. They filled a large room with clean and accurate sound without straining. They are available starting around $6,000/pr.

A new Emotiva brand, Emotiva Pro, was at the show with three pairs of powered studio monitors. These speakers are internally bi-amped and feature the exclusive airmotiv HF drivers. These would work nice in a lot of settings, not just the studio. I was impressed by the sound of these little babies.

Velodyne was featuring their Digital Drive Plus 10 subs in a system that included Tannoy speakers and Linn electronics. The sound of this system was of a high order with clean, flat bass that was not bloated or boomy. I’ll blog about the Linn electronics tomorrow.

The Velodyne Digital Drive Plus series of subs comes with a high quality condenser mic with a serialized mic compensation file. You control the sub with a very slick computer interface that includes a highly flexible parametric EQ. You can even daisy chain several of the subs and control them all at once.

Greetings from Denver and welcome to the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I will be bringing you coverage of this event over the next several days. This first post is just a brief sampling of what I saw and heard on the first day of the show. I will plan to post a much more substantial blog Saturday evening and I’ll wrap up my coverage on Monday.

Paul Barton of PSB fame is seen here enjoying the new PSB noise-cancelling headphones. They can be set for 18 dB of noise cancelling or for 15 dB of boost without noise cancelling so your mp3 player won’t have to work so hard. They can also be run passively so they will still operate without batteries. They are quite comfortable and sounded nice in a brief listening session.

Seen here is Greg Stidsen from NAD showing the new NAD 2 Tb RAID Array music server and DAC. Behind him you can see the PSB Imagine mini. These speakers were sounding wonderful while being driven by NAD’s newest integrated amplifier which features Class D amplification and wirerless streaming of digital audio.

Another new product announcement from NAD was the Viso1 docking station. The electronics are by NAD while the internal speakers were designed by PSB. I have an idea that this component might wind up on my daughter’s wish list for the holidays. And on mine, too for that matter!

Emotiva was at the show. This system features their new ERT 6.2 floorstanding speakers being driven in bi-amp mode by a set of four XPA-1 amps. I would seriously recommend people try Emotiva gear before making any audio buying decision. They carry products in every product category from cables, to DAC’s, to subs, you name it. I can’t imagine a better value line of audio products.

Here is a shot of Lonnie Vaugn from Emotiva discussing the system. The whole system in this room comes in at $5,643. For that you get a dsic player, a pre amp, four power amps, a pair of floorstanding speakers and a pair of subs. Emotiva Pro was also on hand at the show with a line of powered monitors. I’ll post a blog on that later.

Ayon had a large room with their gleaming tube gear and speakers. Very nice.

This is the much anticipated Rega RP3 table. This table features a stiffened connectiion between the spindle and the arm mount. An optional speed box is also available.

Dali was showing the new Fazon 5 speakers. These beauties feature aluminum monocoque cabinets. The sides and back are stiffend so the cabinet walls can be thinned. This means they provide increased internal volume with the smaller form factor. They were being driven by Rega’s new half width integreted with matching DAC.

This is Steve Daniels of Sound Organisation showing off the new Rega USB phono stage.