RMAF 2016: Day 0 with Jana (and John Jameson)

Thursday, October 6th, 2016. Heart revving. Mind blackening. Bones liquid. Chills. Aches. Slight fever. The works.

As soon as we got to the Denver Marriott Tech Center, the anxiety began. I am not normally an anxious mess, but this was a special occasion: I was about to attend my first major audio show, the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival 2016. (I did attend the 2015 New York Audio Show, but that doesn't compare to the size of RMAF—even taking into account this year's construction-induced compaction.)

AudioStream's Michael Lavorgna and I made the 50-minute ride from Boulder to Denver in a compact UberX. (We had arrived in Boulder the day before to visit Ayre Acoustics; a A full report will soon be available on AudioStream.com.)

Upon entering the hotel, I was welcomed by Dennis, a kind man at the front desk. Dennis is the best. We briefly bonded over both being Filipino, and I attempted to converse with him in my broken Tagalog. He kept my anxiety at bay—for the moment, at least.

After dropping off my bags in the hotel room, I headed toward the mezzanine to meet fellow Stereophile writer Jason Victor Serinus. Nothing crazy, I told myself. No need to get worked up. I'm just meeting Jason in person for the first time. We're probably going to have a quiet chat over some snacks and tea. Then I'll head back to my room, listen to Debussy, put on a moisturizing Korean facemask, and pass out early. Lovely.


The mezzanine is packed with maybe thirty or forty industry people, chatting, drinking the free alcohol, and having a good time. What to do? These are esteemed audiophile professionals: people whom I deeply respect, and whose ranks I aspire to join. Will we get along? Will they like me? Do I smell?

There's no scotch in sight! There's no side stairway in sight! I've reached the point of no return. I must go on.

I spot friendly faces of Internet acquaintances I've never before met in person: Michael Fremer (one of my four bosses!), Mat Weisfeld of VPI, Bill Leebens of PS Audio, Brian Hunter of Audio-Head, and of course the one and only Jason Victor Serinus.

As we begin chatting, and as I keep gulping down the cheap rosé, I realize: it's alright. This isn't so bad. They're really cool audiophiles, but they're still just mortals. I still feel shy and slightly out of place because I don't know most of the people there…but I begin to feel comfortable.

Some time passes, then a small group of us begins to leave for dinner at Shanahan's, a nearby steakhouse. (The wagyu rib eye satay was so tasty!) The group consisted of Philip O'Hanlon (On A Higher Note), George Vatchnadze (Kyomi Audio), Dominique Brulhart (Merging Technologies) and his wife Irene, John Atkinson, Jason Victor Serinus, and myself.

During the dinner, I learned that, in addition to being an audio-shop owner in Chicago, George is also a renowned classical pianist who plays a mean Rachmaninoff 2!

Somehow, the conversation started to lean toward the topic of whiskey—as it usually does (and should). Philip, the confident ball of Irish energy, proudly states that Irish whiskey is the best.

He begins to tell me the story of the Irish: "While we taught our cousins [the Scots] how to make whiskey, we didn't teach them how to make the best whiskey. We left a few small things out." And from there, he proceeds to elaborate on why Irish whiskey is superior to all others.

So of course, I must have a taste for myself after hearing Philip's Irish whiskey spiel!

Philip (right), George (left), and I return to the Marriott, and enter Philip's showroom on the mezzanine level, where his stash of (then-) unopened whiskey was hidden. (I'm quite proud to be the first room visitor to experience this!)

Philip first poured me a dram of Green Spot (a single pot still Irish whiskey) and we listened to Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. I found the Green Spot to be soft and creamy with slight vanilla…but wasn't completely sold on Irish whiskey from that single dram.

We listened on a TechDAS AirForce 3 turntable ($29,750) with a Graham Elite tonearm ($12,500) and TechDAS TSD TCd01 Ti cartridge ($15,000), installed on an Artesania Krion turntable platform ($3,390), with a Luxman EQ-500 tube phono stage ($7,500), Artesania Exoteryc four-shelf rack ($7,990), Artesania Aire amplifier stand ($3,790), Luxman C-900u control amplifier ($19,900), Luxman M-900u stereo amplifier ($19,900), Merging Technologies NADAC Multichannel-8 music Server–DAC ($14,000), Shunyata Research Denali line conditioner ($6,000), and Magnan Cables of varying lengths (ranging in price from $2050-3400). (Jason will report on this room in the days to come.)

Philip then handed me a dram of Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel, and we switched from Miles to London Grammar. At this point, I learned that I preferred the wider range of flavors (and probably the added sugar) in the Jameson over the Green Spot. But unfortunately (for the Irish), I am still a die-hard peat girl at heart. Nothing can compare to the smoky, peaty finish of an Islay malt! I also learned that I actually enjoy London Grammar. I had not disliked them before, but I had just never got around to listening to them much.

What I thought was going to be a quiet, early evening before the start of RMAF turned into a night of meeting new people—and Irish whiskeys.

volvic's picture

First day is always the toughest, smooth sailing from here. Look forward to the reports.

jim davis's picture

If I wanted to see an aging overweight hairless fart, I could look in a mirror. On to the good stuff (non-liquid variety) please.

Anton's picture

I will live vicariously through you all this weekend.

In case it comes up in conversation with that same crowd, ask them if they know why God invented whiskey?

So the Irish wouldn't rule the world.

c1ferrari's picture

Thanks for your report.
How about that Duterte?!

Best regards,

Anon2's picture

When we get onto the equipment, we'll all be tuning back in.

Anton's picture

I remember my first show and how amazing it felt.

I totally loved her intro!

I hope she gets to meet Roy Hall!

zimmer74's picture

The show, three days long, is now over, and there has not been any coverage of what was on display. How about it?

Venere's picture

Your new Irish friend Phillip will never forgive you, but when you get the chance please try some Suntory Hibiki 12 or 17 Years Old. You may balk at the thought of a Japanese whiskey...but those thoughts will vanish the instant you taste it. Simply sublime.

music or sound's picture

I thought that Stereophile is for reporting about sound reproduction and not about the booze some overweight baby boomers like!

Anton's picture

Vote with your 'feet' so to speak!

Venere's picture

and all it's amazing possibilities. Great music and sound are just two of them. Have you been reading it all these years and not realized that?

Allen Fant's picture

Nice start- Jana.
what is your fave Scotch?

Jana Dagdagan's picture

Talisker 175
Laphroaig Triple Wood
Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1


Allen Fant's picture

Good Afternoon- Jana

my fave Scotch is Johnnie Walker- Blue Label.
I am certain that you have an incredible (better) selection in the locale of NYC ;)

Happy Listening!

MilesFerg's picture

I've been enjoying the Triple Wood, but I have to say I don't like it nearly as much as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. The Triple Wood, to me, has too much up front wood taste and it kind of overpowers the peat. The Quarter Cask has the right balance. I think after this, I'll go back to some of the Ardbeg that I like: Corryvreckan or Uigeadail. It's hard finding a good variety of Scotch in VA as the stores are state owned.

Thanks for the reporting you do and the perspective you bring!

torturegarden's picture

While I do like a good Irish whiskey (Redbreast 15) and Bourbon (Old Granddad Bottled In Bond) there is nothing like a Laphroaig or Ardbeg, neat.

kuroda99's picture

Glad to see you're at RMAF 2016. You should be be so lucky.
We all cannot be there... I'm looking forward to hearing/reading your follow-up in the coming days.

Also, nice touch for including associated equipment and its Cost.

Let us know if there is anything new from BAT (Balanced Audio Technology). I just love their equipment and sound.

Wavelength's picture

Sorry we didn't meet at the show. This story is so funny because while you were there, a group of us including Michael Lavorgna, Darko, Roon, dCS, ESS, AudioQuest and others were doing the Scot side of Scotch at the Hyatt.

Just back from the home land we had a pretty good tasting of Macallan and Oban 15 Distillers Edition single malts. My fav being the Oban as they let us crack open a 18 year old cask while we were there in June and taste as is. All Scotch is watered down to the exact proof to be legal. So this was really tasty.

Wavelength Audio, ltd.