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Mountains of sound: RMAF 2017 preview

  • What is RMAF?

    From their website: “The 14th Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) is the largest consumer audio and home entertainment show in the United States. Simply put: “mega stereo systems!” Denver’s own audio wonderland now features over 160 exhibit spaces representing more than 400 companies from North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia.”

    Why attend?

    For journalists, it’s an opportunity to chew the fat with colleagues, to meet with manufacturers, to report on what’s new, to scope out review candidates and, if necessary, to tee up review loaners. Sound quality calls can wait until the the gear comes home.

    Having covered the last five out six RMAFs, I’m sitting this one out with a view to showing up again in 2018.

    In its place, November’s Warsaw Audio Show and CanJam Europe each get the nod. Every audio show is a cultural event that reflects its host nation’s specific passions and interests. DAR’s international focus must be maintained. In other words, the road less travelled, especially by English-speaking publications.

    For paying attendees arriving to RMAF without a professional interest and/or access to review loaners, the Denver show remains a long weekend’s immersion in the world’s best high-end audio gear. Three days of audio hardware/software show-and-tell at the Marriott Tech Centre hotel.

    What follows is a preview of five global product debuts infused with thoughts on how the RMAF exhibitor and audition-focussed attendee intersect.

    Zu Audio / Peachtree Audio

    It’s an exhibitor’s prerogative to play music of his own choosing. It’s his room and he paid to be there. This presents a unique challenge for RMAF attendees (like yours truly) whose music tastes don’t adhere to classical, white-dude blues, couch-comfortable jazz or chick-with-guitar. Without proper breaks, hall wanderers can find themselves adrift on a sea of musical uniformity.

    Respite comes from the Zu Audio room where warm smiles are more likely to greet requests for LCD Soundsystem, The War On Drugs or the latest Bowie box set than blank stares. Zu Audio’s Sean Casey remains one of the very few RMAF exhibitors to consistently reflect this site’s Music-First Audiophile mandate.

    From the spacious Pikes Peak suite located on this Marriott hotel’s mezzanine level, Zu Audio will demonstrate three loudspeaker models: Druid MK VI (US$10000), the Soul Supreme (US$5000) and the Omen (US$1000). A loudspeaker for (almost) every budget.

    For electronics, Casey and Co. will again partner with Peachtree Audio who recently celebrated their tenth birthday. Southern Gentleman David Solomon will introduce the most affordable integrated amplifier to spill from the company’s 2.0 reboot. Like the nova300 and nova150 before it, the 120wpc decco125 amplifier wraps DAC and phono stage in an attractive sleeve for US$999. The (optional) wireless SKY module will sell for an additional US$200.

    “SKY is Peachtree’s new wireless ecosystem – allowing direct streaming from TIDAL, Spotify or your favorite streaming service. SKY Directmode even lets you play music right from your phone when no WiFi is available. Download the free app and away you go”. A retrofittable SKY module for the nova150 and nova300 will reportedly arrive in 2018.

    At RMAF, Zu Audio remind us that it’s just as important to play music that people like as it is to play music that maximises a hifi system’s sound quality. Peachtree remind us that consumers buy audio gear with their eyes as well as their ears.

    Wyred 4 Sound

    For manufacturers, RMAF provides a convenient platform for product launches where the bonuses of ‘being there’ are two fold: 1) a chance to be first to see/hear what’s new; and 2) to plug engineers, like Wyred 4 Sound’s EJ Sarmento, with technical questions.

    When it comes to the Young Guns of Hifi, they don’t come younger than Sarmento. Still in his early 30s, the man has many years of ICEPower implementations and an in-house designed Class D module under his belt. Said module will debut in Wyred 4 Sound’s forthcoming nextGen statement amplifier: 250wpc, bridgeable into 750wpc, that features “a super-sized toroidal transformer with substantial energy reserves all wrapped in a custom designed aluminum case fabricated in-house.” US$3625.

    Also enjoying its first public outing will be Wyred 4 Sound’s “ultra quiet” PH-1 phono stage: 44db, 50db, 56db, or 62db of user selectable gain; 100W (0.047uf), 511W (0.01uf), 1kW(4700pf), 44k (47pf) of cartridge loading; all aluminium enclosure. Like the nextGen amplifier, the PH-1 is 100% made in California.

    Rounding out Wyred 4 Sound’s trio of product debuts, the MS Music Server, which offers Spotify Connect, Logitech Media Server, MPD/DLNA streaming and Roon Readiness. From the horse’s mouth: “The server features the powerful Intel® Core™ i7 processor, 8-16 GB RAM, built-in slot drive for easy CD ripping, internal SSD hard drive for storage and superior-sounding playback” plus the ability to stream from a NAS or direct-connected USB drive. Once again, the server is housed in an all-aluminum enclosure. All cooling is passive. Outputs number four: USB, I2S, S/PDIF, and TOSLINK.

    Well Pleased AV

    US distributors also have a strong presence at RMAF. Visitors to the Well Pleased AV in the Summit Tower’s room #4009 will bear witness to a slew of new gear:

    From Portugal, Innuos’ flagship Zenith SE music server (US$7000). From Italy, the recently revised Aqua Formula DAC with xHD upgrade ($14700). From Audio Hungary, the Qualiton A50i Class A push-pull vacuum tube integrated amplifier ($7500). From Sweden, the QLN Signature 3 reference monitor $7000 – a re-launch of the renowned signature speaker from designer Mats Anderson.

    Despite an unfamiliar listening room, show attendees should still find themselves capable of discerning the QLN standmounts’ basic sonic characteristics. Visitors attempting to gauge the contribution made by the Innuos server (for example) will come unstuck. Listening through the Audio Hungary amplifier and Aqua Hifi DAC to the top of the chain is a fool’s errand. Here an A/B comparison with another digital source is called for. But an audio show is not a hifi store. The majority of exhibitors tend not to swap out gear at an attendee’s request.

    Instead, the softly spoken Mark Sossa will offer a chance to hear a carefully compiled high end audio system with top flight hardware pulled from all over the globe.

    Vinnie Rossi / Spatial Audio

    Taking a different angle on the A/B comparison, how about assessing the same modular super integrated amplifier but playing in two rooms with two different sets of speakers? At RMAF 2017, you can do that.

    Via email, Vinnie Rossi writes “I’ll be in room #3018 (with Spatial Audio) and #3021 (with Harbeth) this year. Both rooms will have fully-loaded LIO Integrated Amps configured with our show debut of the LIO DAC 2.0 module. Clayton [Shaw] has a new speaker debuting in room #3018…. the X2″.

    Specifics on the Spatial X2 are as follows: 42″ (H) x 18″ x 14″ inches, open baffle, 2-way with passive crossover. The mid/bass driver is a smaller version of that found in the X1; here it’s 15″. Upper frequencies are dealt by a horn-loaded Air Motion Transformer. Price: US$9620/pair.

    Ready for the twist? The X2 is also modular loudspeaker with the bottom bass unit (as pictured above) available separately as a dipole subwoofer.


    Side-stepping the highest of hifi hurdles (hardware matching, room integration), intensified by show demonstration, will be Australia’s DEQX. Their proposition at RMAF 2017 is a complete US$17K system in which ISR 3-way Isobarik monitors (US$7995) designed by Legend Acoustics’ Dr. Rod Crawford have their crossover executed in the digital domain by the (now Roon Ready) HDP-5 digital pre-amplifier (US$5995) with each driver receiving amplification directly from one of three channels spilling from DEQX’s newly announced Hypex nCore A250x3 monoblocks (US2795/pair).

    “The ISR use ultra-low distortion drivers with Beryllium tweeter and Magnesium cone midrange coated with ceramic “Keronite” on both sides to form a sandwich construction. The bass driver uses an isobaric configuration (2 x 7” driver – one mounted within the cabinet behind the visible driver) to increase the bass output extension from a small monitor size speaker.”

    The icing on the DEQX RMAF demo’s cake will come from the HDP-5. Its room calibrating guts ensure the ISR loudspeakers output is matched perfectly to the Denver Marriott room’s acoustic make-up. The upshot being that one can buy with confidence that what you hear from the DEQX system at the show won’t deviate from what your hear from the same DEQX system at home.

    RMAF runs Friday 6th – Sunday 8th October at the Denver Marriott Tech Centre.

    Further information: RMAF

    Written by John

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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