Are we Stereophile's yin and yang, the Mutt and Jeff, or the Lois Lane and Clark Kent of blogging? (I'll leave it you to decide who's Lois). Only our hairdressers know for sure. Que sera, sera and all that, here are two thirds of your loyal RMAF team, Stephen Mejias (right) and yours truly (or not so truly, as the case may be), shortly before trekking the Rockies to the summit of audiophile nirvana.
This is very important (and encouraging!): There were more young people at this show than at any other hi-fi show I've attended. Whereas in past years, at other shows, I have felt like the youngest dude in the house, this year, at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I met many people who were actually younger than me.
Much of Keith O. Johnson's invaluable presentation consisted of a series of graphs that demonstrated everything from jitter to the noise created by certain power cables. One of his many messages was, if folks think there are no differences between cables, I have the graphs to show otherwise. He also exhibited graphs that show how the quality of manufacture of CDs makes a huge difference in the ultimate analog signal. Want to see what a bad DAC or amplifier does, and compare it with a state-of-the-art unit? Keith can show you. Pictured is a tone-cluster wave he developed as a diagnostic tool that resembles music.
In my last blog report from T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas, I waxed ecstatic about the extraordinary, highly efficient, hand-made washi-paper Feastrex drivers distributed by Joe Cohen's Lotus Group of Northern California. The units are hand-crafted in Japan by Haruhiko Teramoto, who hand-rubs the frame, phase plug, and voice-coils of both his Feastrex D53 III 5" field-coil drivers ($39,000/pair) and D9e II 9" field-coil drivers ($31,500/pair) with traditional urushi lacquer.
After my first day of blogging, one dedicated Stereophile reader dropped John Atkinson a note to lament that I was mainly concentrating on large systems to the expense of smaller ones. Happily for all parties, one of the smaller exhibits he urged me to visitthe Feastrex roomsI had already checked out and have since blogged about.
A surprise outside the Hyatt as I went to get ready for my Sunday morning hi-rez audio dems was this SCCA Mazda race car. Sponsored by RMAF, Focal, Aesthetix, and Tara Labs, among others, driver Christine Jerritts had me enthralled telling me what it was like to take the infamous corkscrew turn at Laguna Seca Raceway. I could have lingered for a long time , but I had to get to work...
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.
Seriously, it's almost as if I haven't listened to any music at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I just walk from room to room, running into people in the halls. These two weren't even exhibiting. They were simply here to have a little fun.
There's nothing like ending a day at RMAF with a reminder of what the real deal sounds like. If Ray Kimber had his marching band blasting their way around the lobby, the fabulous multi-feted, Grammy Award-winning recording engineer/producer Cookie Marenco gifted us with her renowned piano teacher, Art Lande tinkling the keys in the Marriott's Atrium on Saturday night.
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.
In one of Musical Surroundings' many rooms in the Denver Tech Center Marriott, the Clearaudio Anniversary AMG CMB turntable ($10,000), with its 80mm platter and Ceramic Magnetic Bearing of the Master Reference; Benz-Micro LP S-Class Cartridge ($5000), the company's new flagship; and Helius Omega Silver Ruby 10" tonearm ($4750) were paired with the Aesthetix Rhea Signature phono stage ($7,000) and Aesthetic Atlas stereo power amp ($8,000); Focal Diablo Utopia speakers and stands ($14,000/pair); Tara Labs ISM The One speaker cable ($3850/pair for 8') and The One ISM onboard 1m interconnects ($2495/pair; and Running Springs Audio Jaco ($2500) and Audio Duke ($1900) Powerline Conditioners.
Veteran speaker engineer Albert Von Schweikert wasn't in the room at the time, but his astounding VR-9SE ($90,000/pair) was making the quite a sound in his absence. The smaller sibling of the flagship VR-11SE, this 350 lb, two-module mini-behemoth was paired with VAC's brand-new Phi-200 100Wpc amplifier, Signature linestage ($14,000), and recently-released Phi Alpha D/A Converter ($7500). An older Oracle transport and what appeared to be Cardas Golden Cross cabling completed the system. Any notion that tube equipment lacks control in the bass was blown to pieces by this system's tremendous authority in the bass region and beautiful presentation on high. Fabulous sound.
The room was standing-room only, with three rows of chairs, both side walls, and the back walls filled with folks eager to hear one of the dream systems assembled by Denver retailer Audio Unlimited. Where shall we begin: the dCS Scarlatti Stack which consists of the CD/SACD transport, DAC, master clock, and upsampler/digital-to-digital converter (by my math $81,000 total, and by anyone's math a fair hunk of change); the BAT REX linestage ($20,000), BAT VK-P10SE phono stage with new Super Pak Premiere ($16,000), BAT VK-600M SE monoblocks ($26,000); Running Springs Audio Dmitri Conditioner Premiere ($4,000); Hansen's new Audio Emperor loudspeakers ($60,000/pair); or the little bundle of TARA Omega Gold and 0.8 cables that together cost at $36,000 but probably far more? The take-no-prisoners sound was stunning. So stunning that some of the people were pinned to the back wall. Wow!