Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings (right) has built an enviable reputation as one of the finest producers of quality audiophile recordings on the market. The repertoire is remarkably diverse. From performances of Bach organ music and the Chinese GuZheng to such one-of-a-kind gems as Buenos Aires Madrigal and the fabulous Será Una Noch albums, MA Recordings are as notable for their diversity of instrumentation and repertoire as their full range sound.
It's always nice to see yourself, or at least the vehicle for your thoughts, in the spotlight. That's certainly what happened in the Peachtree-Zu room, which paired the Peachtree Audio Nova ($1200) integrated amplifier, which was featured on Stereophile’s August cover, with Zu Essence speakers ($3500/pair). Add in the Apple TV and $500 worth of Zu cables, and you have quite a nifty system that delivered excellent sound.
Nothing convinces more than a fabulous recording wonderfully reproduced. Wilson Audio scored big time when it engaged recording engineer Peter McGrath as its marketing VP. McGrath's recordings are legendary. When sourced from master hi-res computer files, played back using the superior Amarra Music Server software, they're pretty riveting.
For those of us with DACs that lack USB and/or FireWire inputs, getting uncompromised, full-range sound out of our computers is a bit of a challenge. There are a number of interfaces on the market, but most are slaved to the computer's inferior clock. I've tried one of these, and it conveys neither the bass nor the clarity of my transport.
Okay, boys and girls, does size really matter? Certainly in the case of Legacy Loudspeaker Systems. These $46,000/pair behemoths, which dwarf Legacy President Bill Dudleston, possess tremendous authority below the belt, and project an image big enough to do justice to a full symphonic orchestra. It was hard to get all the details down amidst the din leaking in from other rooms, but I'm pretty sure their lower 15" sealed woofer is driven by its own 1000W module, while everything else, including the open-air top 15" woofer, is driven by external amplification.
Thanks to a first-time alliance between RMAF and Head-Fi.org, the Denver Marriott Tech Center's large Event Center was ringed with exhibits and displays from headphone component manufacturers and Head-Fi community members. Strategically positioned at the show's entrance, for example, was JH Audio's custom in-ear monitor booth, which proclaimed, "We call it the JH|13 ProYou'll Call it Aural Sex." Thank God they didn't come right and say, "We give you know what."
It's hard enough to take a good photo when your subject is rapt in conversation. But when your subject is Michael Fremer, and his subject is Turntable Set-Up, the challenge is immense. Standing before a packed house of analog devotees, Michael was so animated, and so filled with information, that even my camera had a tough time staying still.
There was a time when Harry Pearson, founder of The Absolute Sound and one of the high-end's true living legends, rarely ventured from the confines of his kingdom at Seacliff, Long Island. Rather than trolling for equipment at shows like countless other audio reviewers, he invited manufacturers to come to him. Flock they did, hoping that their equipment and set-up expertise would warrant a sales-insuring rave or Golden Ear from HP.
I thought I was seeing a familiar sight when I went into the RMAF room shared by Dynaudio, Wadia, and XLO. The loudspeakers, driven by humongous Octave monoblocks, appeared to be larger versions of the Accent 3 that Dick Olsher reviewed for Stereophile in the 1980s. There were more drive-units but as in the earlier design, the tweeter was placed at the bottom of the front baffle. This is the Consequence Ultimate Edition ($70,000/pair) explained Dynaudio president Wilfried Ehrenholz. The original Consequence was launched as the Danish company's flagship 25 years ago at the then astronomical price of 30,000DM/pair and has sold some 2500 pieces since then, even though it was not promoted in any major way after the mid-1990s.
Is that Billie Holiday singing, I asked? No, it turned out to be Madeleine Peyroux, to these ears a Billie copycat who learned her lessons well. Singing "Don't cry baby" on the vinyl Original Masters release of Careless Love, the performance was as clear and colorful as could be. I just loved the sound of the Aesthetix Audio Atlas mono power amps ($16,000/pair), Reah Signature phono preamp ($7000) and Calisto Signature line stage ($7000), paired with Benz's new flagship LP S phono cartridge ($5000), Clearaudio Innovation Compact Wood turntable ($7000), Helius Design's new Scorpio IV tonearm ($950$1100 depending upon length), and the solid-looking Hansen Prince speaker ($48,000/pair).
First introduced at RMAF 2008, where their ability to fill a HUGE (and I do mean HUGE) conference room in the Hyatt with a full Mahler orchestra blew everyone away, the Kaiser Kawero speakers ($55,000/pair), sound better than ever. And for good reason. Newly revised, and slated for import into the US, the speakers boast the marvelous, some would say incomparable Raal 7020XR double-ribbon tweeter. With 14 sq. cm of area, this tweeter seems to have no boundaries. The cabinet is of so-called bulletproof tankwood, and the special tuning feet contain more than their fair share of ebony.
It's hard to resist the pairing of Avalon Indra speakers ($19,900/pair) with the superb VTL MB 450 Series II Signature Monoblocks ($15,000/pair). Demmed by Luke Manley of VTL (left) and Lucien Pichette of Avalon (right), the duo was mated with the VTL TL 5.5 Series II line stage ($6000) and TP 6.5 phono stage ($8500), Ayre C5xe MP ($6900) and justly praised QB9 USB DAC ($2500), Cardas Clear Cables, Rega P5 Turntable ($2200 and unheard by moi), and beautiful Finite Elemente Pagoda Master Reference Rack. This set-up from Blu Note audio & home theater especially excelled for its spacious presentation and timbral beauty. The system seemed devoid of boundaries. It was also capable of notable and rewarding low extension. A winning combo.
Accustomed as I am to the beauteous sound of mbl gear, nothing prepared me for the combination of mbl speakers and electronics, hghi-resolution files played back on a Macintosh G5 tower equipped with the latest Amarra music server software, and Wireworld cabling. Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" was gripping when downloaded from a 24/96 Rumours DVD-A. The depth was "this" short of unbelievable, the bass and clarity astounding, and the tonal envelope very well represented. Even FIM's 16/44 version of Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen sounded hi-res due to the amazing depth of this system's images.
That the Sixth Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is even taking place at the Denver Tech Center Marriott this year is something of a miracle. Just as preparations for the show were getting underway, its universally loved founder, Al Stiefel, died at the age of 66. Knowing how much the show meant to her husband, his co-show producer and greatest fan, Marjorie Baumert, vowed to preserve Al's legacy to the audiophile community. Thanks to Marjorie's dedication, perseverance, and love, and the able assistance of everyone from Marcie Miller and the Colorado Audio Society to several members of Marjorie's family, the show continues as a tribute to Al.