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RMAF 07: Ragan Mena Reports

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by Josh Ray on November 26 '07

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So what if the Colorado Rockies were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Look on the bright side Denver, They did clinch the NL Pennant and this years Rocky Mountain Audio Festival was bigger and better than ever. Suck it up and just repeat the old Cubbies adage, “There’s always next year.” As for the 2007 RMAF, those of us who made the pilgrimage to the Denver Marriot Tech Center, we were rewarded with great sound, great company, and interesting seminars led by industry professionals. Besides the central theme of 2ch music, this year’s festival had a much welcomed showcase of manufactures, distributors, and dealers with digital music on the brain. Everyone knows the mood-altering benefits of vinyl music, but it was nice to see emphasis placed on digital music in a good way. (Bye-bye MP3, Hello FLAC) The only bad thing about the show was its enormous size. Wait, isn’t that a good thing? So many rooms, so little time, perhaps next year I’ll start hitting up manufactures in the parking lot….Enjoy the eye candy!

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Could this simple, yet elegant setup be the future of Hi-Fi? I’d like to think so. Uncompressed music on a MacBook hard drive sent straight to a DAC via USB cable (PS Audio Digital Link III $995.00) Add in a PS Audio GCC-250 Control Amplifier ($3495.00), Power Plant Premier in Black ($2195.00), and a pair of Avalon speakers for an outstanding digital music experience.

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So, after what I just explained, you STILL want to spin those shiny little discs? In the 1st quarter of 2008 PS Audio will be shipping this gorgeous CD transport (Exact price TBA $1000 ~ $2000).

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Avalon Acoustics unveiled their new Ascendant loudspeakers ($9,300-pair) in conjunction with Denver’s HD Home Cinema & AV Design. The Ascendants incorporate a 1" inch proprietary composite neodymium tweeter and two 7" Kevlar composite cone woofers. Connected to Ayre electronics and Cardas cables made for a very enjoyable presentation.

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“Sounds great, would you mind turning off the sub?”
“The Sub IS turned off.”
“What? No really, please turn it off”
With an air of confidence, PSB representative Eric Rochon walked over and unplugged the subwoofer used for multi-channel demonstrations and threw the disconnected cable at our feet in a triumphant fashion. Very dramatic indeed.
The PSB Synchrony Ones have certainly made a good impression, and bass response isn’t the only thing going for these sleek new speakers. Consider the $4500 price tag a bargain, thanks Mr. Barton. (Electronics and Power Filter provided by Arcam & Tributaries)

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Usher Audio’s new Be-718 ($2795 pair) will soon be known as the speaker the world built.(A.K.A.Global Design Project) Basically, companies from the U.S., Taiwan, Great Britain, Germany, and Texas (might as well be its own country) all pitched in to created the Be-718. What does all this amount to? An outstanding loudspeaker that will rival even floor-standers at twice the price. The Be-718 found synergy with the Power Modules equipment, Lector CD player, and Blue Marble Audio cables. (Featuring the new Big Blue speaker cables Price TBA).

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David Belles, founder of Power Modules Inc. has taken a perfectionist approach to 2ch and made it look damn good. For this year’s show, Mr. Belles unveiled not one but two sonic marvels, the LA-01 Stereo Pre-amp and MB-200 Monoblock Amplifiers.
The LA-01 ($6750) is a linestage pre-amp that makes no apologies about its uncluttered signal design. No tape loop, tape output, or theater bypass, just a simple and direct sonic path. For even greater clarity, the pre-amps balanced power supply is housed in its own separate enclosure. Designed to aesthetically and sonically complement the LA-01, the MB-200s ($6750 pair) are built like a tank and use class AB amplification circuits with virtually no unit distortion. (200W into 8 ohms) For prospective buyers, the hardest part will be picking between the black or silver finish. Equipment rack, amps stand, and cones all supplied by Stillpoints.

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Silicon Arts Design showcased their new CF-080 LS Linestage Pre-amp and
ZL-120 solid state monoblock amplifiers. Prices TBA

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I have no introduction, but I will tell you it was gooood. Talon: Hawk 2-way Monitors and Thunderbird 13" Passive Sub (Both $10K sub not pictured), Wadia: 581se CD player ($9950), VAC: Alpha Integrated Amp (Prototype $12,500), Rives Audio: Sub-Parc ($4500), Kubala Sosna Cable and REAL Traps.

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In case you’re wondering, this beautiful speaker from Selah Audio is not sporting a white fez but rather sharing the picture with an inconsiderate and camera hungry lampshade. The Galena loudspeakers ($4895 pair) are a 3-way design showcasing a Fountek ribbon tweeter, AuraSound 10" woofer, and a 7" Scan-Speak Revelator. Very enjoyable.

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After listening to some horn speakers the size of my car (and many times more expensive) finding the Odyssey Audio Syren was a definite crowd-pleaser at $1795 a pair.

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Is calling someone a “Digital Vinyl Junky” an Oxymoron? Hold your answer until you’ve heard what Channel D Software can do for vinyl playback. Check out http://www.channld.com/pure-vinyl.html for pricing & details.

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My, how you’ve grown. At first glance you might assume this is an Acoustic Zen Adagio speaker on steroids, but in fact it’s really the debut of Robert Lee’s (AZ founder) latest audio creation. The $12K Crescendo loudspeaker beefs up the AZ speaker line with dual 5" and 8" underhung voice coil drivers and a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter. Source, preamp, and amp were provided by Halcro and of course all the cables were Robert’s finest.

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We entered the Sjöfn Hi-Fi room looking to score some free Scandinavian food but we left completely intrigued by a little bookshelf speaker from Guru Pro Audio. Designer, Ingvar Öhman proudly strikes a pose next to his QM10 Bookshelves ($1995) and QM40 two-way towers ($9995). The QM10s sounded wonderfully smooth and engaging, yet despite the near wall placement, the speakers delivered killer imaging and tremendous bass response. We couldn’t get enough. In fact, Ingvar played so many great songs on his QM10s we never actually heard the debut of the QM40 towers. We’ll be back next year Mr.Öhman, you can count on it.

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How to Get the Most from your Digital Music Seminar was definitely a highlight for RMAF attendees. A panel of five industry experts led a two hour tutorial on all things digital music and ended with a Q & A session. We touched on so many topics I feel this deserves it own dedicated article. In the near future, I will post a detailed report.
From right to left, Moderator: Walt Stinson, President of Listen Up.
Panelist: Peter Carroll, Regional Sales Manager for Logitech. Bobby Oster, Sales Engineer for Sonos. Gregory Grubbs, CEO of Magic Home Entertainment & manufacturers of the MoodSeer. David Solomon, Sales Manager for Signal Path.

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Apparently no seat is worth sitting in unless you’re in the sweet spot.

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Linn is known the world over for its revolutionary LP12 Turntable and now they can add a new reference to their list. What you see is a high performance digital music system that is setup to stream digital music over a normal home network. Rip your music onto a secure and upgradeable network hard drive and control everything with a wireless touchscreen remote. Whole house audio with Linn engineering standards? Nice.
Pictured is a Klimax DS: (network digital source), Klimax Kontrol: (pre-amp), Klimax Solo x8 (mono-amps), Komri Active Crossovers, Komri Loudspeakers: (5-way design with a 4-way passive crossover and built-in active bass)
I didn’t get a total system price but if you have to ask….well you know the rest.

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Tired of the same old audio gear? How about combining the capabilities of an interconnect cable, amplification system and speaker cable? The Harmonic Technology Photon Amplicable (by Inex Innovation) allows you to connect your source, or preamp, directly to your speakers for outstanding sonic reproduction. (Price $9000 - $11,000 depending on power rating).

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Regardless of price, no audio system can beat the real thing. A big thanks to The Fry Street Quartet for reminding us what a live musical performance should sound like. (So let’s say you have around $400K to spend on a really high end audio system. For 100K a piece do you think the Fry Street gang would agree to be your personal “live-in music system”?)

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Attention all of you financially depraved coeds with embarrassingly bad audio systems. Your monetary issues are no longer an excuse. Audioengine’s A5 ($349 pair) is a respectable sounding entry-level audio system minus the source. (Don’t you already have a computer and ipod?) Plug in practically any music source with a 1/8 mini-jack or RCA output to the self-powered speakers and your off and running. It’s even Wi-Fi ready for Apple’s Airport Express or the soon to be available AW1 (~$149) from Audioengine. If you’re like me and desire an exotic finish, Audioengine will release a new A5 later this year with a cabinet made from solid dark Bamboo. (~$449) If your budget or room still requires something smaller than the A5, Audioengine also carries the A2. (Pictured in black and $199 pair)

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Coming in at 6 foot 5 inches tall, Lars Goller, President & owner of
GamuT International is hardly a man of diminutive stature, and neither is the new
L9 “L Negro Diablo” Flagship Loudspeaker. ($114,000 pair)
Usted tiene que oírlos! (Check out Josh Ray’s RMAF coverage for details)

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The good people at Signal Path Intl. (U.S. distributor for Peachtree Audio & Musical Fidelity) and Listen UP (One of Denver’s top A/V custom retailers) just seem to get it. They embrace digital music not as a fad or unavoidable industry niche but as a full blown high performance vehicle for listening to music. For example, the Decco ($799) from Peachtree Audio is a 50Wpc intergraded amp (tube pre-amp section) with build-in DAC and three digital inputs including USB. To prove their devotion to digital music and one particular company, the Decco has a specifically designed rear-panel slot for a
Sonos ZP80 ($350) wireless music system. Now why didn’t I think of this earlier?
It’s brilliant!

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This setup may not have had a designated spot for a Sonos product, but it sure has the look and sound of a truly high-end digital music system. The Musical Fidelity A1008 Intergraded Amplifier ($5000) has a built in 24 bit 192K upsampling DAC, four digital inputs including USB, an out-board power supply, and the power of 250W pch. To up the ante, a Musical Fidelity Supercharger 550K ($2500 each - not pictured) was added to the A1008 amp to boost the power rating to 550W pch. The rig was connected to a pair of gorgeous looking Sonus Faber Elipsa speakers. ($20,800) The music source was periodically switched between the SonosZP80 and Music Fidelity A1008 CD Player ($6000) A little digital variety can go a long way. (Power filter and cables provided by Shunyata Research & AudioQuest)

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Gary Dodd of Dodd Audio has created a true monster amp. Could you think of any name more appropriate than Doddzilla? A parallel push pull mono-block tube amp operated in ultra linear mode with 280 Watts into 8 or 4 ohms. Take a look at that incredible chrome finish, a surface so reflective, all we see is the hideous hotel carpet. The amps aren’t alone; Mr. Dodd has also decked out his terrific sounding Battery Powered Pre-amp and Balanced Power Supply with an eye catching high gloss blue coating and chrome finish. (Speakers provided by GR Research). Beauty and the Beast can be yours for $50K.

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Congratulations to Audio Unlimited & Audio Plus Services for producing quite possibly the best sound at the show. A testament to the art of speaker placement and setup, the Focal: Nova Utopia Be loudspeakers, Boulder Electronics, and Tara Lab Cables remind me why I got into Hi-Fi in the first place.

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Right down the hall, Clayton Shaw of Emerald Physics was effectively demonstrating the benefits of a DSP controlled, open-baffle dipole speaker called the CS2. (Notable imaging and striking dynamics just to name a few) $2995 gets you a pair of CS2s, DSP unit, microphone, mic stand and cable.

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One driver to rule them all…and one big down firing horn which most people (myself included) completely missed. The MaxxHorn Lumination Loudspeakers have the appearance and dimension of conventional speakers with the acoustic advantage of horns; which will make any space deprived horn fanatic ecstatic. Priced between $16,500 and $19,500 depending on driver options.

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Try this one on for size, monoblock amps, 200Watts, 100% tubes, and zero output transformers. Say hello to The Quadrature Z ($30K) from The David Berning Company. Why call it Quadrature Z? Because “Interleaving of the Impedance Conversion Process Z” sounds terrible. If you have the chance and the bankroll, you must have a seat.

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Moodseer is a digital music system that automatically creates a music playlist based upon your existing mood. Long day at the office? Choose a “relaxing” mood. Hot date? Go for a “romantic” mood. You can even create your own wacky moods with a customizable playlist. Just load all your music onto the MoodCenter 1.5 TB hard drive and place Moodspot units in any room you want music. The system connects through Ethernet or Wi-Fi and has a slick table top or hand help remote (MoodBeamer) for music and room selection. System price is $4100 for MoodCenter and MoodBeamer remote. For additional rooms, each Moodspot will set you back $1500.

RMAF 2007 DEMO DISC

The Hudsons: Hibernation

Arturo Sandoval: Rhythm of the World

Money Mark: Pick up the pieces

Jamie Cullum: Photograph

Dallas Winds Symphony: Trittico >Allegro Maestoso

Bela Fleck: Reminiscence

Eva Cassidy: People get Ready

Mike Garson: All Blues

Johannes Linstead: Guitarra del Fuego

D. Shostakovich: Sonata in D minor op. 40

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