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.
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