One feature of this year's RMAF that has catapulted it into the major leagues of audio shows was the sheer number of well-attended workshops and panels scheduled at the Hyatt. Over the course of three days, one room featured "Let's Get Digital" with Robert Harley of The Absolute Sound, "Music Everywhere" by Steven R. Rochlin of EnjoytheMusic.com, "The New Music Label" by attorney Ned Hearn, "Adventures in Digital Formats, Unsampling & Dithering" with our own John Atkinson, "Digital Playback Equipment Design Considerations" with David Solomon of Signal Path International, and "Music Discovery" with consultant Sean Leonard. Many of these were panels, with a host of additional participants.
On Saturday night, Bay Area Audiophile Society coordinator Bob Walters gave me a list of rooms he urged me to visit. Since two were on the 10th floor of the Marriott Tower, on which I had not yet set foot, I resolved to check both out. I'm glad I did. The tenth floor of the Marriott was like a gold mine. All I had to do was walk down the hall to the next room, and more glorious sound awaited me.
Boy, is it hard to take a good photo when a company purposely leaves the shades behind their equipment wide open. But given that Darren Censulo of Avatar Acoustics (now relocated to Fayetteville, GA) had tuned the room with Frank Chang's Acoustic System International Resonators so that it would sound great with all that exposed glass, asking him to close the shades in order to snap a clearer picture was out of the question.
It takes people of vision to advance sound quality in an errorthank you, Mr. Freud, I mean erawhen record companies often seem set on anything but advancing the quality of music and musical reproduction. Hence, for his panel "Adventures in Digital Formats, Upsampling & Dithering," John Atkinson and RMAF's Kurt Bauer assembled an extraordinary panel.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Ann Poor. That's Ann there, two-fisting it, standing beside On A Higher Note's bow-tied Philip O'Hanlon. Audiophiles may be more familiar with Ann's husband, Balanced Audio Technology's Geoff Poor. Oh, yeahI got to speak with Geoff, too, but Ann was way more interesting.
Here's a more modest system than some of the others featured so far that really nailed the raucous highs on a curious wind version of Revueltas' wild, ritualistic Sensemaya. Veteran high-end designer Frank Van Alstine was justly proud of his Ultra 550 hybrid power amp with its 300Wpc ($2395), Transcendence Eight vacuum-tube preamp ($1299 with optional remote and phono stage), and Insight Solid State DAC ($999). Paired with the Jim Salk Sound Veracity HT3 3-way loudspeakers with their 10" woofer ($4895), this system was making sounds worth checking out.
Over in the Tech Center Hyatt, Mark Schifter's AV123 corralled a huge room in which to showcase their soon-to-be-shipped flagship LS9 Focus Line Source speaker ($5999/pair). Powered by gorgeous Dodd Audio KT-88 monoblocks (approx. $40,000/pairthere was no literature on hand), the brand new Ultra Fi Music Stream USB-connectable DAC ($3499) with a proprietary analogue output stage designed by Larry Moore, a Ridge Street Audio USB cable that he waxes ecstatic about, and a laptop equipped with every kind of classical music (except what I wanted to hear), the system was creating astoundingly large-scale, believable images and enveloping sound. While designer Danny Richie's proprietary woofer array was issuing tremendous bass, a touch of brittleness on the highs gave evidence of the fact that the planar-magnetic tweeters had hardly broken in. You can bet that I'll be back again on Sunday to hear how they sound with some more hours on them. What this speaker does for the price is astounding.
After a short visit to the Daedalus room, during which time Peigen changed speakers and cables, I returned to hear the F200's big daddy, the F300 ($14,900/pair). This is a 3-way, 4-driver vented box, with a rear-firing supertweeter, Air Motion Transformer tweeter, and copper shorting ring on the woofer to facilitate tighter bass. Frequency range is 24Hz40kHz, sensitivity 89dB, and weight 158 lbs each. The speaker comes in two parts, so that the mid-and high-range unit can be used separately as a center channel with an impressive frequency range of 40Hz40kHz. Associated components were the same as with the F200.
And how! Spinning the vinyl in the room shared by Musical Surroundings, Boulder, and Focal was the 770 lb Clearaudio Statement turntable with its integral stand. Omigawd! Magnetic bearings, a magnetically driven subplatter, an 80kg pendulum counterweight, an automatic horizontal leveling device including the tonearm platforms...
More beautiful woodwork was found in the Daedalus Audio suite. The Ulysses ($10,950/pair; add $500 for matching plinths) is Daedalus Audio's top-of-the-line speaker. It uses a 1" Eton dome tweeter, two 5" custom-modified Fostex midrange units, and two 8" proprietary woofers, and has a rated sensitivity of 97dB.
In my opinion, few rooms at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest could compete with the sound produced in the Ayre Acoustics/Vandersteen Audio suite. To me, the music created by this combination just sounded right. It was effortless, involving, and realistic without being overly etched or bright.