The sixth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest had already closed when I finally had the time to stop by Reference Recordings’ booth to check out their latest mouth-watering HRx high-resolution master WAV file DVD-Rs. There I encountered Demian Martin, who, together with Ray Burnham, has produced the Auraliti (pronounced Aurality) disc player ($800).
As the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest draws to a close at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, what is now the largest annual audio show in the USA could boast an attendance of 3700, 200 more than last year. Prominent among attendees from 49 states and overseas was a notable increase in the number of under-40 attendees. No doubt they were drawn by the rise of audiophile computer-audio playback, the resurgence of vinyl, and the large exhibit hall populated by the Head-Fi headphone community. The younger attendees included an influx of students, who responded to RMAF’s concentrated outreach to local colleges.
There was full program of seminars and workshops at RMAF, as well as my own "Squeezing the Music Till the Bits Squeak," the session featuring Harry Pearson, and Michael Fremer on "Turntable Setup," I moderated a panel session, "How to Get the Most Out of Computer-Based Audio," on Saturday afternoon. The A-List panel(from left to right) Gus Skinas (SACD Center), John Stronczer (Bel Canto Design), J. Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), Charlie Hansen (Ayre Acoustics), record producer Joe Harley, and Chris Connaker (www.computeraudiophile.com)discussed the best way to use a computer as a legimate source component in a high-end audio system. All concerned felt this was the way forward for the high-end audio industry, particularly with the increasing availability of hi-rez downloads, and it was a shame that the session was limited to an hour.
One of my best sounds at RMAF was the room organized by Colorado dealer Audio Unlimited featuring the Emperor speakers from Canadian manufacturer Hansen Audio that had so impressed Jason Serinus at the 2008 RMAF. The three-way speakers were driven by Accuphase monoblocks sitting on Critical Mass Systems platforms, with the front end based on a Trans-Rotor turntable. I was drawn into the room by the full-range sound of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and didn't leave for quite a while. Wes Phillips said it best in his CES 2009 coverage of the Emperor: "the music had me melting in my chair."
As expected, Bel Canto Design's complement of components fully lived up to their reputation for affordable excellence. The top-of-the-line e.One CD2 CD transport/player ($2995), prototype DAC 3.5 (price not yet set), two REF500M Balanced mono amplifiers ($1995/each), REF VBS1 Virtual Battery Supply, which can power up to three front-end products ($1495), USB Link 24/96 USB to /SPDIF link ($495), and new USB Lightlink High Speed Optical ST glass-fiber link (price not supplied) were fed by an Airport Express-equipped computer server. As Bel Canto President Michael McCormick explained, "The DAC 3.5's excellent jitter rejection is at the center of the system." A Running Springs Power Conditioner completed the chain… except for one major component, the speakers.
My attention was caught by the USB flash drive sticking out of the side of the Aura Premier CD player/receiver/headphone amplifier ($2595) in one of the April Music/May Audio rooms. And so it should have caught my attention, because it was styled by noted English industrial designer Kenneth Grange, responsible for some of ther classic B&W designs on the 1970s and '80s. The Premier will play MP3, WMA, and Ogg Vorbbis files from its USB-B input and it also has a USB-A port that will accept data sampled at up to 48kHz with 16-bit resolution.
Both Art Dudley and Michael Fremer have praised Gingko Audio's isolation platforms in Stereophile's pages, and at RMAF, the company was showing the benefit of its Cloud 10 platform on an Atmasphere tube power amplifier. Projected on the wall above Gingko's Vinh Vu (and onto his forehead!), real-time analysis showed the outputs of B&K accelerometers fastened to the stand the amp was sitting on and to the amplifier chassis, which was supoorted by a Cloud 10. There was indeed a dramatic reduction in the excitation of the amplifier compared with the standespecially at low frequencies.
After several years without distribution in the US, Peder Beckman of Norway's Electrocompaniet (kneeling on the left, next to company head Mikal Dreggevik) has quickly established a revitalized US dealer network that should number a good 10 by CES 2010. Without a long-standing reputation for affordable excellence, this would have been next to impossible to achieve in the current climate.
On Saturday evening, at show's close, Bea and Luke Manley of VTL, with the support of Nordost, hosted a Martini tribute to the recently departed founder of Stereophile, the inimitable J. Gordon Holt. Located outside Nordost's Humboldt Peak room on the Denver Marriott Tech Center's mezzanine, the tribute drew a huge crowd of industry icons.
I first discovered the Eficion F300 loudspeaker ($14,800/pair) at RMAF 2008, where its full-range sound deeply impressed for the price. Since then, the speaker has undergone numerous refinements. Split into two separate compartments, separated by Stillpoints, this is a 3-way 4-driver vented box with a frequency response of 25Hz40kHz, 89dB sensitivity, and 8 ohms impedance, with a minimum of 6.4 ohms. The front tweeter is an Air Motion Transformer, its rear-firing super tweeter a Heil ESS aluminum ribbon, and its 7" midrange and 12" woofer both from Aurum Cantus. All this has produced a more controlled and detailed sound. Other refinements are identified on the Eficion website.
Since the demise of of its own Show, Stereophile has been supporting North American audio Shows, which was why you can find us at RMAF in Denver and SSI in Montreal. Next March, we are partnering with the Axpona Show in Florida, which had a booth at RMAF. The booth was manned, er, personed by two beautiful girls but, of course, when I went back with my camera, they had left for the day.
Listening to a Toni Braxton cut on the LSA1 Statement speakers ($2599/pair), driven by an Exemplar-modded Denon 2910 DVD player and LSA's hybrid integrated amplifier (reviewed by Stereophile when it was called the DK Designs VS.1 Reference Mk.III), I was struck by how much low-frequency information was coming from this nicely finished two-way stand-mount.
Bless Ray Kimber's heart. For at least the last three years, Kimber Kable has transported live musicians to RMAF so that we could always have a fresh, live reference in our heads as we traipsed room-to-room listening to canned performances.
Having just heard a Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) demo of the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport ($2999), Perfect Wave DAC ($2999), and Power Plant Premier ($2199), all hosted by the ever-engaging Paul McGowan, I was very eager to hear PS Audio's front end powered by an early prototype of PS Audio's forthcoming class-D Perfect Wave amplifier. Using Focus Audio Master 2.5 speakers ($20,000/pair), two MartinLogan Descent subs, and a complement of Perfect Wave AC12 power cables ($699/meter) and older PS Audio speaker cables not currently on the market, the system delivered the kind of clean, impressively full range sound that has made PS Audio a legend in the industry.