Rocky Mountain Audio Fest by Key Kim
The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was in true celebratory mode as this year's event counted as its 10th! Normally, I look through CP's extensive reports wishing I had attended. Not this time! A direct flight from NYC's Laguardia airport got me to Denver, CO. in a little over four hours. Since I heard the high altitude can cause headaches, my only precaution was to drink plenty of H2O. Denver Intl sure is a big airport but with great help and easy direction, I was able to navigate to the airport shuttle bus (which got me to the Marriot in less than one hour for only a $5.00 tip). Upon entering the hotel, I promply checked my bags at the front desk, got my press badge, texted CP (clement Perry) to check on his whereabouts, then looked up and stared at the utter size of this Marriot hotel and started thinking ...damn, this is a big show!
Fortunately, I made it through this festive three-day event wondering what took me so long to get here in the first place. The RMAF appears very well organized by a host of great people. The rooms on the main and mezzanine floors were huge while the upper floors were actually not bad either. I never got a headache thanks in a large part to all the free water going around. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how many wonderful sounding rooms there were to appreciate at RMAF.
And, in no particular order....
The first room I visited was Darrin O’neill of Hifi Imports who also serves as the official US distributor for Thrax Audio of Bulgaria. I was really impressed by the sound and size of this suite. The Venture Grand Ultimate MKII loudspeakers ($98,000/pair) created a wonderful sense of volume despite the size of this cavernous space. The Grand Ultimate is a three-way design (using a first order crossover), with a sensitivity of 92 dB. This made them an easy ride for the Thrax Audio Hero ($38,500) hybrid power amplifiers (two-gain state design using a single tube at the input stage). Their Dionysos line level preamplifier ($21,500) uses a single gain stage with zero feedback and also utilizes a single triode tube at its input (review in works). Completing the system was a Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with Graham Phantom MkII arm/Transfiguration Orpheus cartridge ($37,000), Thrax Orpheus phono preamplifier ($21,500), Thrax Maximinus DAC ($38,500) which boasts a universal DSP controlled 32bit/384 kHz DAC. Player used was the Weiss Man 301 Music Archive Network player with DAC ($12,262 - without $9,083), All cabling was EnKlein Cables and racks were Krolo Design’s Tomo aluminum Audio Rack from Canada. Overall, this system created a big, but not overly-sized, three-dimensional stage that was impressive to me considering how far away the seats were from the loudspeakers. That said, I felt an uncanny sense of ease to the music. Especially at how effortless the music floated through this space. In the end, it was satisfyingly open, weighty with great overall musicality.
High Water Sound
Jeff Catalano presented another exceptional sounding room. The Cessaro Horn Acoustics Liszt ($165,000/pair) four-way horn speaker system (with two front-loaded 12” bass driver units, driven by a self-powered 1,200 watt amplifier. The low-mid section is made within a sealed enclosure using an 11” Alnico driver, a new spherical compression driver with a beryllium diaphragm and cobalt magnet makes up the midrange while a modified TAD compression driver using a beryllium diaphragm makes up the tweeter section. The entire Cessaro system was bi-amped using Tron Electrics' Telstar GT SE 211 ($65,000) and Syren II GT ($55,000). The Tron Seven GT ($15,000) preamplifier controlled the TW-Acustics Raven AC Anniversary SE ($32,000) turntable with TW 10.5” tonearm/Ortofon cartridge combo. The system produced an extremely wonderful, transparent sound and with vocals, particular were projected with an uncanny sense of beauty, unheard of dynamics and an unusual sense of realism and immediacy. In a word, unreal!
Doshi Audio/Wilson Audio
Paragon Sight and Sound managed to put on an outstanding sounding room. The Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair) is an attractive three-way floorstander that sounded very authoritative, yet non-aggressive. The Alexia sounded great at handling complex material driven by Doshi Audio’s new 3.0 Series Jhor mono amps ($36k) and linestage ($20k), phonostage ($20,000), a tape stage ($20k). Source was a Audio Research reference CD9 ($13,000) and the very handsome Pro-Ject HL Signature turntable CP went gaga over ($12,000), supplied with an Koetsu Azule Platinum cartridge ($12,000). All cabling came by way of Transparent XL series.
Border Patrol/Volti Audio
Border Patrol and Volti Audio put on a sonic demonstration that was quite an accomplishment considering they were using the same sized room as everyone else on that floor. CP, his friend Dr. Baker and I agreed the sound of this system was refreshingly alive and full of dynamic swing with a such a high level of musicality that it captured our attention even before getting a chance to say hello. I don't know about CP or Dr. Baker, but I went back for a second and third trip and each time proved more impressive than the previous. The Volti Audio Vittora ($20,400/pair), is a three-way fully horn-loaded loudspeaker composed of a single 15” bass driver, 2” outlet midrange compression driver set in a wooden Tractrix midrange horn, and a 1” high-frequency compression driver using an elliptical Tractrix horn. The outboard 18” dynamic subwoofer and hand-wired passive crossover networks) was powered by the stunningly musical Border Patrol components. The Border S20 EXD PSU’s ($25,750), handmade dual-mono parallel SET 300B, 18 watts per channel were strapped to a massive pair of 90 lbs dual external power supplies. The PSU’s contain three independent tube rectifiers, choke input filter supplies and employs twin heavy duty power transformers. The Border Patrol EXT1 ($12,250), a triode line-stage preamplifier utilizes a single triode amplification stage per channel and is housed in heavy gauged copper chassis. Their DAC2 ($9,750) is a zero over-sampling, zero filtering DAC using a 6SN7 tube output and designed around dual external transformers.
The Rockport Technologies Avior loudspeakers ($29,500/pair), three-way floorstanders were driven by Absolare's newly released Passion Signature 845 Single-Ended monoblock amplifiers ($48,500) and a Passion Signature preamplifier ($32,500), The Beat MagDrive Kodo signature turntable ($34,500) and Schroder LT arm ($9,900), Lyra Atlas cartridge ($9,500), and Allnic H-3000 phonostage ($11,900) made up this analogue rig. Cables chosen for this system were the new Omnia series from Echole. The overall performance of this setup was as expected: musical by way of its spot-on tonality, image specificity and depth and its toe-tapping sense of pace. Another Stand Out Performance!
For the first time, I saw a loudspeaker that wasn't a Reimyo that was being driven by Reimyo electronics! The four-way turbine-shaped Magic Flute ($85,000/pair) loudspeakers were showing alongside a multitude of Reimyo components that included their KAP-777 ($27,500) power amplifier, a CAT-777 MK2 ($20,500) preamplifier, CDT-777 ($12,500) transport and DAP-999EX Ltd ($11,500) DAC.
As expected, Harmonix was the cable of choice while an excellent series of classical XRCD's were in great supply! The sound was bigger than what I normally come to associate with the Reimyo sound. This was far more expansive and dynamic with impressive low-end detail. This was easily the best sound I heard from the Magic Flutes having heard them in Munich on more than one occasion. My only regret here was, I wanted to come back for a more extended listen but never got around to it. My lost.
Von Gaylord Audio
Ray Leung always manages to set up outstanding sound, year after year. This year was no different. The VG-8 ($3,495/pair) loudspeakers (review in works), are a gorgeous sounding two-way bookshelf monitors composed of a 1 ½” titanium dome tweeter and a custom designed 8” fiberglass woofer. Their Starlet 4 ($3,495) Integrated amplifier lets out ample amount of power (50 watts per) in triode mode and. For its modest asking price, the Starlet features a dual-mono configuration and and point-to-point wiring using the company's Legend silver wire through and through. The cables were the Legend II speaker cables ($1,495/10 ft pair), Lemaa Interconnect cables ($395/ 1 meter) and a Power 3 AC cords ($495/6ft). The overall performance of even this affordable Von Gaylord setup is similar to their more expensive in the areas of speed, body, transparency and neutrality. These are the hallmarks of Von Gaylord sound. The midrange/midbass isn't as fast as its more expensive sibling, but it maintains ample amounts of detail and a clarity that brings about a sparkle to the music. Considering the cost, I find these sonic attributes AMAZING and a steal at their asking price. Finally, you don’t have to break the bank to get seriously good music playback.
Coincident Speaker Technology
The Coincident Speaker Technology room sounded very good once again. I was very impressed with the sound of the Coincident Technology Dynamo 34SE Stereo Integrated amplifier but STARTLED at the Introductory asking price ($999). This little bugger boasts a single SE (EL34) 8-watt tube alongside a 6SL7 input/driver tube and 5U4 GB rectifier tube - all hardwired I'm told. For those on a beer budget, but who demand performance and high-quality look no further. The Dynamo 34SE's drove the Super Victory II loudspeakers ($9,999/pair) far better than their price would have suggested. The sound was stunningly vivid, detailed and most importantly musical.
TAD/Blue Smoke entertainment Systems
Andrew Jones demoed his TAD very effectively with the Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems. The TAD Evolution 1 ($29,500/pair) loudspeakers produced an impressive sound driven by all TAD electronics. Transparent, open and detailed with a natural presentation was my overall impressions. The TAD Evolution 1 sounded better than I have heard it. The rest of the system consisted of the M600 ($68,000) mono amplifiers, a C600 ($42,000) preamplifier, a digital source was a D600 SACD ($32,000) used as a DAC only for Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems with the new Black Box II ($3,995) and 32Bit/384kHz Digital Output ($2,995).
Wyred 4 sound/Emerald Physics
I really enjoyed the sound of the Wyred 4 Sound room and best of all it was very affordable. The Wyred 4 sound electronics consisted of the W4S mAMP mono amplifiers ($1,798),a W4S ST-1000MKII ($1,999) stereo amplifier, a W4S STP- SE2 ($3,749) preamplifier, and a W4S MS-1 ($1,999) music server poured out surprisingly smooth through the new and improved Emerald Physics CS 2.3 MK2 ($5,950/pair) DSP'd loudspeakers. I got a sense that although a tad hot in the upper extremes when played loud, this again was another example of excellence at an affordable price.
Soon as I entered into this room, I liked what I heard. Surprisingly the small Genesis 7.2 p ($4,800/pair) loudspeakers were playing when I sat down before them. The 7.2 p have a pleasant easy way about them which is sort of odd when you consider how much detail they possess. Driven mostly by a Burmester 956 ($19,000) stereo amplifier and Burmester 089 CD ($33,000) player, I did notice a Thorens TD 2035 ($6,399) and Burmester Phono 100 ($20,000). All cabling was Genesis.
Devore Fidelity Orangutan 0/96 ($12,000/pair) loudspeakers were driven by the LM Audio 518 IA ($4,450) Integrated amplifier supported by an 845 SE tube with wonderful sonic results. The sound was detailed, warm and very easy to relax by. Source was the Well Tempered Versalex ($4,400) turntable and DPS power supply ($400), EMT TSD-15n ($1,950) tonearm, Acoustic Plan Phono Master SE ($4,495), an Auditorium 23 103 Hommage T2 Step Up transformer ($4,495) and all equipment was set up on the Box furniture S3S three-shelf stand ($2,550), AIS Amp-Stand ($825). Auditorium 23 cables are a Devore Fidelity favorite I'm told.
Audio Video Logic
I really enjoyed the sound of the all-aluminum cabinet Magico S1 ($12,600/pair) two-way, driven by Krell electronics. Clean, ultra-transparent and dynamic. Overall, a very enjoyable setup .The Krell EVO 2250E ($8,000) power amplifier; Krell Current Mode and Surface Mount circuitry combine to offer both phenomenal bass control at 250 watts per side (at 8 Ohms). A Phantom III ($5,500, $7,000 with module) preamplifier and S-350a ($2,500) CD player completed this impressive sounding and affordable setup.
I was very pleased to see Daniela Manger, chief owner and operator of the company. She teamed up with Lindemann and presented an impressive sound that was as transparent as it was musical. The system consisted of the MSM s1 ($20,000/pair) active two-way system and music source was a Lindeman Musicbook i25 ($5,500), Network Music player. Hey, what's that on your wall? It's set of Franck Tchang's Acoustic Resonators used to enhance the room's acoustics.
Until next year