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Properly affordable audio announced for RMAF 2015

  • Ordinarily I don’t announce details of upcoming audio shows. Commentary usually arrives after the fact and only about events that I’ve attended in person. Being there serves as its own filter.

    For this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest I’m making an exception. Here’s why: a year after planting the seed, allowing it to germinate and then watering it, properly affordable audio exhibits are coming to RMAF in 2015.

    Show organiser Marjorie Baumert is giving over three rooms to systems totalling $500, $1000 and $1500. In each room a digitally-fronted rig, a vinyl setup and a headphone listening station. All up, nine different ways to slice thinner wallets will be on show.

    Furthermore, it’s an explicit attempt to increase high-end audio’s broader relevance. None of these systems could be classed as state of the art. However, they do represent valid/ated entry-points into a world sign-posted ‘Better Sound’.

    Time to break it down.

    In the US$500 room:

    For your big black discs, a Music Hall USB-1 turntable (US$250), that comes with in-built phono pre for line level output, will feed a pair of Emotiva’s Airmotiv 3B active standmounts (US$200). Total spend: US$450.

    On the digital audio front, those same active monitors will see input from an AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.2 (US$149) which in turn (almost) allows for a year’s worth of lossless streaming from Tidal Hifi (US$220). Total spend is a little over at US$570.

    Headphone listening will come courtesy of Emotiva’s Little Ego DAC (US$170), Schiit Audio’s Magni headphone amplifier (US$99) and Pendulumic’s Stance T1 cans (US$249). A total of US$518.


    In the US$1000 room:

    The Kickstarting U-turn Audio will serve up a double whammy of their Orbit Plus turntable (US$310) and Pluto phono pre (US$89) as analogue signal providers to Audioengine’s A5+ (US$400) – yes, another pair of active standmounts. Sum = US$799.

    On digital duties, an all Audioengine affair: A5+ speakers, B1 Bluetooth streamer (US$189) and D1 DAC (US$169) plus a year’s worth of Tidal comes to US$978.

    Headphoning it in with simplicity: a Wyred4Sound uDAC-HD (US$499) and a pair of the elegaic-sounding NightHawk from AudioQuest (US$599). Doing the mental arithmetic is a cinch: US$1098.

    Finally, US$1500:

    For your rekkids: A Pro-Ject Debut Carbon USB (provided by ListenUp, US$549) will provide digitised ones and zeroes to a pair of Vanatoo Transparent One actives via its in-built DAC (US$500). Said loudspeakers will be placed on Tweak Studio 24” speaker stands (US$50) and paired up with a MartinLogan Dynamo 300 subwoofer (US$299). Total = US$1547.

    Martin Logan, Vanatoo and Tweak Studio play double duty in the digital setup fronted by a Bluesound Node (US$499) and, again, a year’s worth of Tidal Hifi (US$220).

    Head-fi here is all Audeze (“Or-duh-zee”): Their Deckard DAC / headphone amp (US$699) will drive a pair of their open-backed EL-8 headphones (US$699). US$1398 all up.

    Attendees are encouraged to hook in/up their own devices loaded with music.


    For those readers who skim-read the above, one theme pops out more than other: all loudspeakers being deployed here are of the active variety. That is, their amplifiers come built into the speaker enclosure/s.

    Nit-pickers will probably want to point out that cabling hasn’t been factored in. To head off pedants at the pass, those unable to control their comment section urges are directed to click through to Blue Jeans Cable Co. here.

    The point isn’t that these systems adhere to hard and fast budgetary constraints but that they are being demonstrated at a high-end show at all, traditionally where such budget-sensitive hardware is easily missed or not shown at all. RMAF are giving affordable audio a proper platform from which it can present its case. Attendees will be able to witness what’s possible from a more modest budget.

    In other words, RMAF is paying more than lip service to future relevance.

    Doubling down on this wallet-friendly strand, Baumert has organised a seminar for the Friday afternoon. Entitled “Affordability: How Low Can You Go?” and kicking off at 2.15pm 1.45pm, a panel of industry luminaries – Steve Guttenberg (CNET), Kathleen Thomas (AudioQuest), Pål Bråtelund (Tidal) and David Solomon (Audioengine) – will discuss these aforedetailed rooms in more detail as well as other issues that relate to keeping the audio industry price-relevant.

    Moderating this seminar will be yours truly. Go me.

    RMAF 2015 runs from Friday 2nd – Sunday 4th October at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, Colorado.

    Further information: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest


    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. This is great to hear!! I enjoyed reading your article on actives and think that this is probably my next move. While I’ve been struggling with Tidal HiFi since it’s purchase by Jay-Z, I’m glad that’s been included in the price.

      • In the budget sector, streaming services’ price advantage really step out. US$220 gets you a whole year of Tidal Hifi, access to millions of ‘CDs’. What does that get you in the vinyl world? 8 or 9 new LPs (if you’re lucky).

        • I like this idea… while seeing the unobtanium components and systems at RMAF is interesting to a point, it gets old quick. I find the more modestly priced gear (thousands of dollars rather than tens or hundreds of thousands) far more interesting since the designer / engineer has to be both clever and pragmatic (not to mention, I might actually be able to justify the expense).

    2. John…out.freaking.standing!! It really is exciting to see the audio community (namely 2 channel) focusing on the affordable bracket with legitimate quality sounding products, and not just “afterthoughts” anymore. The future of the <$500 (per component) segment will be very fun to watch in the coming years. No longer does the consumer need to worry as much about the law of diminishing returns, but can now look into the law of increasing returns!

      My <$1000 system coming this holiday season is: Elac Audio Debut B5, Nuforce uDac-2se (already have), NAD c316bee integrated, and stands. Cannot wait to hear how this combo will sound!

    3. I’d heard that this was under discussion, glad they decided to go forward. Now if only we could get some 20-somethings to show up. I’ve sent the info to my kid who is in college in Boulder, but unless they are giving away free weed, I doubt he will show.

    4. That’s cool. More high-end dealers should do the same.

      It’s about time the powered monitor segment got more exposure. I’ve been rocking KRK’s on my desktop for over 10 years. The latest generation of monitors have set the price-performance bar pretty high.

    5. Very nice Darko! Younger demos don’t typically buy TVs, and uptake their video via computer, tablet, or even phone. And with audio they certainly aren’t buying Magico, Wilson, D’Agostino, McIntosh, and Pass. PS Audio tapped into the leaner more grounded trend with the Sprout, and as you’ve reported numerous times Schiit is in the right place for many of these consumers. You make a great point about modestly sizes and amplified speakers. Great to see the coverage in this space. 🙂

      • Thanks Junker. Interestingly, PS Audio last night dropped the price of the Sprout from US$799 to US$499.

        • Exactly. Hope it works as they stated in their reason: to get entry level (younger) customers to buy it. It’s pretty much a killer item for a center to a system at that price.

    6. Love it. Weirded out a little by taking turntable output and digitizing it but the wallet is happier.

    7. Congratulations! That will be a fun panel to lead.

      I’m trying to get a friend of mine–a big blues fan–to take the plunge on a starter system. When I saw that the Sprout was dropped to $500, I immediately suggested he connect it to a pair of 95 dB sensitive Tekton Mini Lores for a total system price of $1150 plus cables. 32 watts into an easy 8 ohm load at that sensitivity will rock a room. The Mini Lores play down to 38 Hz. Throw on a U-turn and you have a suh-weet digital and vinyl system for around $1500.

    8. Great initiative and kudos to all involved.
      I have a feeling that everyone will be surprised by the quality as well as the interest generated and numbers through these rooms.
      I think we can look forward to this spreading through all shows in all countries and quite rapidly too.
      Good luck, not that I think you’ll need it.

    9. How is this going to work? The speakers are not a USB host?

      “A Pro-Ject Debut Carbon USB (provided by ListenUp, US$549) will provide digitised ones and zeroes to a pair of Vanatoo Transparent One actives via its in-built DAC (US$500). Said loudspeakers will be placed on Tweak Studio 24” speaker stands (US$50) and paired up with a MartinLogan Dynamo 300 subwoofer (US$299). Total = US$1547.”

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