I went into the SimpliFi room expecting to see the excellent Weiss MAN301 media player and effective DSPeaker room correction and D/A devices. Yes, there were there at RMAF but SimpliFi's Tim Ryan wanted to talk about the Swiss Klangwerk Ella active speaker ($15,000/pair) shown in my photo. This modest-looking floorstander uses DSP to make it work as a time-aligned virtual point source. A constrained layer-damped Corian front baffle supports an advanced Aerogel-dome tweeter from Audax and a 5.5" woofer; two more 5.5" woofers covering the same passband are placed on the speaker's sides, and all three are reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port. The advantage of this design is that it has a wide listening window on both vertical and horizontal planes, explained Tim, and indeed, on Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," I found that I could move up and down and from side to side without any significant change in the perceived balance.
Sonus faber mated its Olympica 3 loudspeakers ($13,500/pair) with Audio Research’s Reference CD9 CD/DAC player ($13,000), Reference 75 amplifier ($9000), and SP20 preamplifier ($9000). Heard through AudioQuest Redwood cables, the system uncompromisingly conveyed the take-no-prisoners nature of the demo CD that was playing during my time in the room.
The very first room I visited at the 2013 RMAF was Sony's, where they were demonstrating the HAP-Z1ES hi-rez file player ($1999) that I reported on in September. This neat device features a 1TB internal drive, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, and can be controlled by an app running on a tablet or phone. It will upsample any format to double-DSD as well as handling native single-DSD and double-DSD files. It comes preloaded with 20 hi-rez albums from Sony, Warner, and Universal and the goal was to make file playback as easy and as fast as playing a disc. It doesn't, therefore, allow playback from a computer or NAS but a rear USB port allows the internal storage to be supplemented with an external drive.
Sergey Sorokin, who deserves kudos as Russia’s first high-end manufacturer, arrived at the Marriott Denver Tech Center from Moscow a day before other exhibitors to ensure that his set-up was as close to ideal as the room allowed. Nonetheless, as John Atkinson and I learned upon listening, one of his Israeli-sourced, hand-wound transformers was damaged in transit, and insisted on humming/buzzing along with the music. Despite the unexpected accompaniment, the voice of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Handel (Avie SACD) exhibited absolutely gorgeous tonalities. The great artist’s hushed sounds, even through the transformer noise, were something special. The period instrument orchestra’s bass foundation was also solid and superbly rendered.
I discovered the popularity of the “Cartridge Alignment” seminars presented by Vana Ltd.’s Stirling Trayle and the “Speaker Set-Up” presentations by AudioBeat.com’s Roy Gregory were when I passed the closed doorway to their seminar room and discovered people already lined up for the next presentation.
Shame on me for not writing down the name of Ron Sutherland’s adorable pooch, who stayed on my lap as we orbited to bliss with the great Johnny Hartmann. Partnering with some guys named John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, Hartmann made magic of “They Say It’s Wonderful.” Of course, that was on LP, soundingyeswonderful thanks to a Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 table with Tri-Planar arm, Sutherland N1 full-feature line/phone preamplifier ($18,000) and Sutherland Power Block amplifier ($6000), arrayed on a Krollo Rack and connected to each other and Avalon Transcendent loudspeakers by Incline cabling.
SVS Sound’s Gary Yacoubian explained that his company’s speakers are designed to combine the dynamics of a home theater system with the neutrality of an audiophile system. “When voicing the speakers, we used real music that real people listen to in their homes.”
With up to 75 rooms to cover on multiple floors of the Marriott’s tower, I decided to check out Synergistic Research’s much-heralded new products before the show officially began. Inventor Ted Denney decided to dem his new babies, not with the expected megabuck system, but rather with a Bose radio. Positioned atop one of his Tranquility Bases, used as shelves on a Solid Tech rack, the radio played a vocal track by Anne Vada and Aki Fukakura as Denney demonstrated the cumulative effects of his tiny aluminum passive HFTs (High Frequency Transducers, $299/5 pack), active FEQ (Frequency Equalizer, $750), and Tranquility Bases. (In the photo, Ted is pointing to the HFT affixed to the front of the radio.)
I walked away from Diana Krall only to run into Elvis Costello, this time thanks to T+A's new MP3000 HV digital media player ($12,500). (A couple of weeks ago, I saw the couple walking along Prince Street in SoHo. Apparently, they’re stalking me.)
In addition to the MP3000, this small, attractive system was made of Dynaudio’s Confidence C1 loudspeakers ($9000/pair), driven by T+A’s new PA3000 HV integrated amplifier ($16,500).
Did that title get your attention? Andrew Jones’ TAD Evolution 1 loudspeakers ($29,500/pair) usually do by themselves. But, in this case, they were paired with TAD’s visually understated M600 amplifiers ($68,000, presumably for the pair), C600 preamp ($42,000), and D600 (CD/SACD) disc player ($32,000), as well as Ron LaPorte’s forthcoming Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems’ Black Box II digital music server/client ($3995) and USB to 384/32 digital output ($2995both expected late 2013).
Every music lover/audiophile with vision longs for the same thing: those magical moments when the system disappears, the time-space continuum parts, and we find ourselves mystically transported to a place where only the transcendent wonder and beauty of musical creation exists. For me, one of those unexpected listening experiences that make life worth living occurred on the Marriott’s mezzanine, when Kevin Hayes of VAC (Valve Amplification Company) played my JVC-XRCD of Sarah Vaughan and the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.”
We end this show report as we started, with a photograph (this time by John Atkinson) of singer Lillian Boutté, who both opened and closed the RMAF with her band Eric Gunnison on piano, Mike Marlier on drums, and Mark Simon on bass, in the Denver Tech Center Marriott’s Atrium.
Every year, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, which starts today in the Denver Tech Center Marriott, kicks off with a pre-show gathering for exhibitors and press in the hotel’s Atrium. With each attendee handed two coupons for free drinks, it’s a great way to come down after an intense day of travel and room set-up. Show organizer Marjorie Baumert, shown with Ric Mancuso of Reference Recordings, was having an especially jolly time celebrating the show’s 10th Anniversary.
Everyone's favorite audio show is about to get underway. The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest returns to the Denver Marriott Tech Center on October 1113.
RMAF may not be the biggest consumer audio show in North Americathat honor recently passed to T.H.E. Show Newport Beachbut even without a cigar show, car show, wine show, and airport right across the street, RMAF's 440 brands spread over 138 hotel rooms, 25 big rooms (and three more at the Hyatt across the street), a CANJAM headphone ballroom hosting a record 37 exhibitors, 14 software vendors (CDs, LPs, etc.), and 26 lobby exhibits is definitely something to get excited about.
The Marriott's lobby area was packed with booths, with exhibitors actively engaged with showgoers all weekend. Shown here is the booth shared by The Cable Company and sister company Ultra Systems, which was opposite the Nordost Sort Füt booth Jason Serinus wrote about below. Ethan Wood is helping an audiophile through the process of using his computer as a high-end audio source while Robert Stein looks on.