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Discussion Starter #1
Reporting LIVE from Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015 at the Marriott Denver Tech Center:

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Dennis Young and Wayne Myers are in Denver and ready to rock and roll. Check back often, there is lots to tell you about, and we will be posting through the weekend.


Table Of Contents:

Argentum
Audeze
Audia
Audioengine HT6
Audioengine A5+
AudioKenesis
Avantgarde
Audiomachina
BorderPatrol
Cambridge Audio
Dan D'Agostino
Dynamic Sounds Associates
Eclipse
Einstein
ELAC
EMM Labs
German Physics
HiFiMan
IsoMike
Jeff Rowland Design Group
Joseph Audio
JRiver
JTR Audio
KEF
Kimber Cable
Legacy Audio
Linkwitz Lab
Madisound
Martin Logan
Neat Acoustics
Oppo
Parasound
Pass Labs
PS Audio
PSB Speakers
RIVA
Sennheiser
TechDAS Turntables
Technics
Tortuga
Triangle ART Turntables
TW Acustic Turntables
Usher Audio
U-Turn
Vanatoo
Vandersteen
Vapor Audio Perfect Storm
Vapor Audio Nimbus
Volti Audio
VPI industries
Well Rounded Sound
Wilson Audio
YG Acoustics


In Summary (link):


Appreciation:

  • The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Organization always does quite a job pulling together a top-notch high-end audio show. This is my third RMAF in a row, and it is without a doubt the show that I feel I simply must attend. Hats off to the RMAF people for an excellent 2015 event.
  • Marriott Hotels: Their organization is a marvel and is exemplary in the running of their facilities. Time and again I have seen their personnel go out of their way to accommodate, help, assist, direct, and go the extra mile to make life easy for their guests, and always do so cheerfully and efficiently.
  • VerticalScope receives thanks from Dennis and me for sending us to RMAF to report for Home Theater Shack members and readers.
  • Home Theater Shack members and readers. You are what it is all about. We appreciate your support, friendship, discussions, and feedback.
  • Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska. We stopped at Ole's going and coming this trip, and decided it is definitely the place to catch a meal while crossing the outback of western Nebraska. Not much to compete with, of course. Still, we enjoyed our meals going both directions and it is nice to know of a reliable restaurant to stop at on a trip like this.
  • I personally wish to thank my travel partner and fellow reporter Dennis Young. This is our fourth audio show trip together. Dennis does most of the driving and puts up with my sometimes-slipshod navigation patiently. He is a fun travel companion and has become a good friend. Any of you who know him personally will recognize that he is merciless in his pursuit of truth and fairness and accuracy in all that he does. While that can be occasionally frustrating, I appreciate the way he keeps my own thinking processes honest and working clearly and logically.
 

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Hello, dear readers! I decided to start the 2015 RMAF show off in a BIG way.

IsoMike 4 channel SACD recordings piped via Kimber Cable into gigantic EMM Labs amplifiers and four (4!) Martin Logan Neolith hybrid loudspeakers.

Wow'ed from the start, I must say. One of my favorite recording techniques played through one of my favorite speakers.

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Imagine all that went into creating this experience:
  • The Blue Knights drum corp travels from Denver to Salt Lake City.
  • The University of Utah football field is reserved for the performance.
  • The football team gives up the locker room for a day for the Blue Knights to use.
  • The streets surrounding the stadium are blocked off for the day to eliminate traffic noise.
  • Air traffic controllers divert all air traffic from the air space above and around the stadium.
  • All air conditioning for the University of Utah campus is shut down for several hours.
  • The stadium is set up for the special IsoMike recording process.
For the RMAF room:
  • The huge MartinLogan Neolith speakers are brought to RMAF for the demo.
  • The four bathtub-sized 1500 watt EMM Labs amplifiers are set up to drive them.
Wayne's Comments:

This was not just a room to visit to hear and see equipment. This was a once-in-a-lifetime listening experience I will never forget. Max volume probably reached 110 dB plus. The dynamic range of the recording, from soft passages to loud passages, was said to be 60 dB. Compare that to 10 or 15 db for most modern studio recordings. It was simply awesome.
 

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The Vanatoo Transparent One is a wonderful little all-in-one audio solution, just add a source through one of many various inputs. DAC and amplifiers are included internally.

Said to be only 3 dB down @ 48 Hz, lower register

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weight seemed to extend at least another half octave below that.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
PS Audio demonstrated their new BHK Signature Preamp, which will ship next year. No price is yet set. It played through all PS Audio electronics, all built in Boulder, CO by the small (number of employees = 30ish) company. The YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 speakers, $106,800 per pair, rounded out the setup. They gave a very balanced and natural performance.a piano/violin duet was delightfully detailed. Even in an off-center seat, I was unable to locate the speakers by the music, the soundstage was that natural. Diana Krall's vocal and piano sounded fantastic.

Center hot seat: Wow, great, sharp imaging. The soundstage simply exists in the room. Yeah, I could live with this setup. Very detailed. I did not hear them ROCK, but everything I did hear was pretty near perfection. Nice!!

I have complained from time to time at shows like this that speaker setup is often less than optimum, sending me looking for the best listening position in the room. This room was set up perfectly, with TLC and great attention to detail.

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I came back with my test CD, and yes, the system ROCKED for sure. Kurt Vie's guitar rock sound, Wailin' Jennys, Civil Wars, Muse, orchestra, Rachmaninoff on the wonderful Overs piano, this system can do all.

This might very well end up being the system to beat at RMAF this year.


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Discussion Starter #5
OK, I have been waiting for years for a vinyl system to convince me that it is possible for vinyl to beat digital, or at least to feel that it could be possible. I just heard it.

The 3-armed VPI Industries Avenger turntable with Magnetic Drive, two 12.7'" Classic 4 arms and one JMW 12" 3D-printed arm, with Miyajima, Zero-Mono, and Ortofon cartriges, and the Dynamic Sounds Associates 3-input Phono Peamp, through Parasound Halo JC-1 amps and Joseph Audio Pearl3 speakers... with this system I would be a vinyl freak in a heartbeat. I heard a mono 1949 recording played with a mono cartrige that gave me chills.
It all comes to almost $100,000 without exotic cables, but why stop there? I have heard it, and I now believe it. Vinyl CAN rival digital. Simply Amazing. Clarity. Dynamics. Smoooooth response. Engaging. Amazing. You have never heard anything like it. Did I say Amazing? I might have, but I am going to say it again. AMAZING!

If you are thinking about high-end vinyl, Dynamic Sounds Associates is the company to talk to. Want to save some serious cash doing it? Fagetaboutit, ain't gonna happen. Their man Dave Sckolnik is more an authority about vinyl and vinyl reproduction than any other 10 men I have met, and is a lot of fun to talk to. If you live within 100 miles of Denver, COME HEAR THIS ROOM. It won't cure hair loss, but it might change your life. In fact, for that sound, take the hair loss. Easily worth it in trade! (It will still cost you the $100 grand, too, though.)


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I have heard it said that the only thing happier than a 3-legged dog is a 4-legged dog. Does the same apply to turntables? Come hear for yourself? Did that make any sense? I do not know. But I can say for sure, that is one amazing turntable! There, I finally said it -- AMAZING!

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Discussion Starter #6
Legacy

Legacy's V-System and Aries on display. A fellow listener felt prompted to tell me about his own Aries system and how happy he is with them. They did indeed offer an effortless delivery.

The Aries were my favorites in the room. They were interesting and accurate at the same time. The use of the AMT type tweeter definitely contributes to the clarity of the Legacy speakers.



V-System

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Aries

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Discussion Starter #7
AudioKenesis featured their Promethius Sigma system with Space Generator modules and Swarm Subwoofers. Toed WAY in for a BIG sweet spot, a consideration for home theater users.

I personally go for tighter imaging, but the spaciousness was very enjoyable.


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Dennis' impressions:

While the Prometheus Sigma did quite well on their own, I dug the spacious soundstage of the Space Generators and would add them to any one of the multiple pairs stereo speakers I have.

The award winning Swarm Subwoofers System was completely invisible acoustically, as a great sub system should be.

All in all, a well rounded system, designed to work with the room, rather than against it.
 

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Room 2016 with JRiver Media enhanced JTR Speakers 210RT (Reference Tower) with Captivator 1400 subwoofersin 5.2 configuration was a literal show stopper. Be it the crushing dynamics of a Book of Eli gunfight, the subtlety of an Adele live concert or the bombast of John Williams' "The Emperor's March", I sat transfixed, unable to write, even as superlative adjectives flooded my mind. A few scenes from Tron Legacy actually blew the hair on my head back. Of particular note, no EQ was used or needed.

Should I ever be fortunate enough to have my own dedicated theater room, I'll be knocking on the door of JTR, and likely, JRivers.

Wayne's comments:

I heard the intro to Mad Max Fury Road on this system at bone-jarring levels. Then the next day had my test CD played through. JTR as done an admirable job of creating a system that can do surround cinema to satisfy the most demanding cinema user, and two-channel with true finesse and clarity. That is no minor feat. A great speaker to consider for a system that will do both jobs.
 

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The Cambridge Audio room features new loudspeakers with a feature I have been waiting for, for years. An affordable high frequency driver that handles most everything above the Schroeder frequency, freeing the woofer from beaming, which allows it to relax and reproduce modals, only.

A really wonderful design, value priced as is Cambridge's want, at $599 for the monitor and $1299 for the floorstander.
 

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The Technics $1700 SB-C700 is probably the most capable small monitor I've encountered. I sat waiting patiently to listen to the $27,000 floorstanders, but was in absolutely no hurry. Once the larger SB-R1 came online, it became apparent that the sound grew larger as well, but the little monitor gave up nothing to it's big brother except that sense of scale. Those with small to medium sized rooms would do well with the SB-C700.

The Reference Class R1 Series SU-R1 media server/preamp passes it's signal to the unusually large, for a Class D amp, $17,000 SE- R1 (seems like their accountants are fond of the number "7") via CAT6 cable keeping the signal digital all the way.

For me, the biggest surprise of the show. Technics is back, folks.


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Wayne's Comments:

VERY impressive. The digital design carries the bits clear into the power amp, regardless of format, where the system D to A stage is the pulse-width-modulation power stage itself - running at 1.5 MHz, many times faster than most digital amps. Gallium-Arsenide output devices are the fastest available. Linear power supplies keep noise to a minimum.

When first paired with speakers, the amp analyzes the impedance curve and phase corrects for impedance variations. Read that last sentence again. This is digital amplification done right.

Mid/tweeter driver is co-axial and time co-incident, and sounded superb. The tower and small sealed model (in white) sounded almost identical, it was very difficult to tell which was playing.

Techniques demonstrated not just the state of the art, but, in many ways, the future of high-end audio.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Spent the morning in can jam listening to headphones. Started out with the Sennheiser HD 800 for a reference check. These used to be considered about the best headphones you could get, but they have a huge amount of competition these days.



At the HiFiMan booth, the new $3,000 planar-magnetic flagship HE1000. One of two 'phones that really impressed me this year. Where most 'phones pull back the mids a bit, they are strong with the HE1000, providing detail galore - and as clean as any sound you ever heard. Highs and lows are extended - go on forever? - and are FLAT-FLAT-FLAT. A candidate for ultimate reference 'phone.


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The $299 Oppo PM3 in new colors. Jason, who is over the engineering team, was fun to talk to. Oppo is one of those companies that just does everything right.


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Audeze LCD3 - $2,000


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Audeze LCD4 - $4,000 - their planar-magnetic flagship model, the other really impressive 'phone I heard. Strong, scarey-clean mids and electron-microscope detail. Extended highs and lows like you never dreamed of - and are FLAT-FLAT-FLAT (yep, these too). Another candidate for ultimate reference 'phone.


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Discussion Starter #12
I spent a very special, very private, almost intimate hour with the Vapor Audio Perfect Storms last night after hours. A re-review is in order.



Vapor re-designed the crossover, and I was anxious to hear the result. When I walked into the room, music was playing that caught me off guard and for some reason I did not want to hear them like that so I left. When I came back later, the room was quiet and we (the Storms and I) had the room almost to ourselves. I had a full CD of tunes for them to delight me with.

The Perfect Storms are far more than what they might look like to some. The design might appear like a three-way on a subwoofer, but in reality it is a carefully integrated 4-way design making use of the some of the highest-performing drivers available in the industry. A woofer that delivers distortion in the 1% range clear down to 20 Hz is not easy to find or deliver operating at a reasonable efficiency level. A subwoofer with anywhere near that kind of performance is pretty much unheard of - perhaps only dreamed of. The Perfect Storm is designed to utilize the full efficiency of its two most efficient drivers and carefully tailor the other two for the smoothest possible transitioning between drivers at crossover points. There are no "rough edges" in the drlivery. Smooooooth, natural sonic quality is heard in every note and tone.

The straightforward guitar-oriented rock of Kurt Vie had an easy-going nature that could be enjoyed at any volume level. The sometimes rough quality of his recordings is not hidden or covered over, nor is it over-emphasized. "Here you go," is the straightforward delivery style from the Perfect Storm (PS). The folk sound of the Wailin' Jennys calls for a delicate, detailed touch and the PS drivers can do delicate with dynamics and finesse. Inner details of vocals and plucked guitar and mandolin are a delight. Atoms For Peace, Put Together Pieces, with what I can only term "micro percussive" sounds - a click or pop often serves as a percussion sound instead of a drum - demands instant responsiveness and cohesive timing, and the PS accompllish this easily.

I have fallen in love with the properly recorded tone of the Overs piano, produced in Australia. Rachmaninoff's Lilacs by Scott Davie on the Overs has piano tones that are as delicate as just about any instrument tone recorded that I know of, and they have never sounded better than on the PS. When Muse comes crunching through on the next track, there is no need to pull back on the volume, the PS have immense reserves when it comes to playing loud and doing so effortlessly. The tube amps in use had no trouble with high volumes. I have heard the PS driven by 300W class-A solid state monoblocks, and the clean volume available from them is truly a little frightening and exciting, like a pyro's first experiments with big, hot flames. I should probably put this out. Or I could let it get just a little bit bigger.

Civil Wars - guitar with male and female vocals, then string ensemble playing Gayne Ballet from 2001, both call for more delicate tonality and detail delivery, spot on again. Getting a speaker to completely disappear in a room is a difficult task, involving near-perfect driver matching, mercless insistence on crossover design and matching perfection, solid cabinet design, freedom from diffracting edges, and careful room setup. A show room at any show like RMAF will throw tough challenges into the mix. The PS almost become invisible on some tracks, just peeking out from behind the soundstage on others. The width of the design might make the task a little tougher. Internal cabinet bracing is unmatched with the PS, daring a microvibration to even think about leaking out anywhere but through the driver surfaces. Finishes are particularly beautiful, and fit and finish are obsessively perfected by the Vapor team.

Midlake's dense mix, Nickel Creek, Todd Rundgren - Compassion - with delicate high bells and beautifully sampled cymbals, no challenge for the Perfect Storm drivers. I thought the upper mids and highs might be a smidge - no more than a dB at most - laid back compared to what I heard in July. Ryan was pleased with the improved smoothness of integration at crossover frequencies, and it showed in the complete sense of effortless delivery I heard, although they sounded pretty sweet before. Tower of Power brass and Mindy Smith's clear, glossy vocals further confirmed the seamless nature of the mids and highs. A final high-volume CRUNCH from Devin Townsend had to repeated just for fun.

And that might be a good nick-name for the Vapor Audio Perfect Storm high-performance speakers, Just For Fun. They are fun and accurate and make everything seem easy. The best speakers make it seem like speaker design must be the easiest job on the planet. I kinda doubt it, even though the Perfect Storm seemed to insist that Ryan and Pete and team did very little. They have a life of their own, and I fell in love with them for the second time in a year. I have to stop listening to them, walking away gets harder every time.

Sunday Update: GREAT NEWS! One of Vapor Audio's amps melted down in the night! How is that good? The amps were replaced by an excellent Jeff Rowland Design Group solid state amp.

My immediate impressions (I listened for awhile to be sure):
  • The high end was back up to the level I remembered it, and I liked it there.
  • The performance seemed tighter, more together, more succinct.
  • The soundstage separated from the speakers more completely than before.
  • Overall, I liked them better than with the tube amp.
My vote is drive the Perfect Storm speakers solid state, every time.
 

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The Neat Acoustics Momentum SX7i speakers captivated me with a new vinyl pressing from Intervention Records of Joe Jackson's Night and Day album. The system's realistic portrayal of tone and timbre supercedes the average, keeping me pinned to my chair.

Anchored by the TW Acustic Raven GT SE 'table, Ortofon TA-110 arm and Cadenza Black cartridge an powered by the Audia Flight FL Three S w/DAC and built in phono pre, the Neat Acoustics room was a joy to spend time in.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I missed the PSB room at AXPONA. The iMAGINE T3, at $7496/pair, performd very nicely. It is clear why they are highly regarded in the price range and class.


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They deliver a very solid, natural sound, go deep without a subwoofer, and easily disappear in a very large soundstage.

I find myself thinking of the PSB Imagine T3 as a speaker that does everything very well. You can spend a lot more and not get much benefit, and it is versatile, being equally well suited for two-channel or home theater (with a subwoofer).
 

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Linkwitz Lab and Madisound are holding build seminars for the Linkwitz 521.4 and LXmini kits. I picked up some good pointers for the LXmini kit I will be building and reviewing, to be used in the next HTS GTG/eval event in November. Oops, did I say that out loud? Guess we have to announce it now.





The unassuming little speaker will not play super loud, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. The sound quality rivals that of speakers costing well into the thousands.

I will be doing a detailed build thread, including a YouTube video, a detailed review, and at the November get-together the evaluation panel will use them while evaluating DAC performance.





Madisound is a regular at these events, and always has some fun built-up kits to listen to. They pack a lot of value into a box of parts if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and plug in your soldering iron and jump into DIY mode.
 

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The system in Room 1021 spun vinyl on a Triangle Art Concerto turntable, handing the signal off to a Pass Labs XP-25 phono stage, and the wonderful new Pass Labs INT-250 integrated amplifier. That's right, Pass has finally given us an integrated amp.

A nice, warm, lush, full sound, with a soundstage larger than the room, aided not only by the Usher Audio X Tower's large size, but also by proper placement within the confines of the small room.


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I've heard the larger Blade before, in a crowded room, sitting way off axis. Still impressive.

Today, I got a chance to sit and listen to it's little brother, all proper. Now, the KEF Blade 2 is one of my favorite all time speakers.

Wyed4Sound has resurrected the old GAS (Great American Sound) Ampzilla name and design, with the SST Thebes II preamp and Son of Ampzilla II powering the KEF loudspeakers. Source was the Wyred 4 Sound MS-1 Music Server.

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There is just a rightness to the sound of Vandersteen Quatro Wood CT loudspeakers w/optional M5-HP passive subwoofer crossover circuit, certainly a product of the effort to bring all drivers together in time and space. Toe-tappingly enjoyable, this is the type of sound that gets my blood flowing.

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Discussion Starter #19
The Eclipse TD712MK2 bullet shaped speakers did not look like they would be good down to 35 Hz. The first recording I heard sounded shallow, but the next showed how far down they could reach. Paired with the accompanying TD 725SWMK2, the system could reach 20 Hz flat.

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As one might expect with such a design, imaging was pinpoint sharp. One very special quality I noticed was well-defined depth acuity, or depth of soundstage. It is rare that a speaker naturally creates a soundstage with well-defined depth qualities. The Eclipse did this better than any other speaker I heard at RMAF.
 

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I have never, nor will likely ever again, hear Neil Young's "Needle and the Damage Done" sound so good. The trumpet from Ella and Louis "A Foggy Day" on vinyl surprised me, a former horn player, with the dynamic capabilities of the Wilson Audio Alexia juiced by Dan D'Agostino monoblock amplifiers. Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride " was spacious in both width and depth, great fun to listen to, as well.

No equipment list was available, so I can not detail the gear, but this was simply one of the best systems I have heard, period. I had to reluctantly peel myself out of the chair and move on to other rooms.

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