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."
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.
At least two people I know came up to me in the hallways of the Marriott to urge me to check out Intuitive Audio's new Gamma Summit speakers ($10,000/pair). As soon as I walked into the room, the fabulous bass on Patricia Barber's rendition of "Keep on Using Me Until You Use Me Up"I'm guessing at the titletold me why. The system's riveting presentation also featured the kind of musical highlights for days that audiophiles love. Next I heard the same Mahler Symphony 2 recording I've been playing a lot at RMAF 2009. The speakers did an extremely fine job of controlling and highlighting the bass line, and also sounded very vibrant on top. Congratulations to designer Dale Pitcher for a job well done.
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.
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.
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.
When I walked into the room of Chicago-based Acoustic Technology LLC, I thought I was listening to speakers that only had tweeters, because the only visible drive-unity was a single 3" unit. Yet the sound, a recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Schererazade, was definitely full-range,and the soundstaging, as you might expect from such a small radiating diameter and a narrow cabinet baffle, was well-delineated.
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.
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.
John Atkinson was one busy camper at RMAF. In addition to blogging the show and moderating Saturday afternoon's information-packed, standing room only Computer Audio Panel, John presented four hour-long seminars entitled PC AudioSqueezing the Music Till the Bits Squeak, playing all his music examples from his MacBook laptop via a Metric Halo FireWire interface. The setting was Evergreen E, the large, excellent-sounding exhibit (Sony and JBL speakers, Mark Levinson amplification, EMM Labs preamp and digital source components, Kimber kables) assembled by Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable.
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.