Pez and Tyson's Best of RMAF- the ultimate guide to awesomeness 2013

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Pez

This year... Wow were there a lot of great GREAT rooms. Last year when there was one single clear 'best of the best' from me (Odyssey audio/ GIK acoustics). They were far and away ahead of everything else I heard. This year was different. There were so many systems that just dropped my jaw that I've had to readdress the way I do 'best of'.

It is encouraging and greatly enjoyable to be in the position where I feel like multiple rooms deserve the title 'best of the best'. And among the 'best of the best' I have decided to break it up into 3 tiers. Think of it like the Michelin restaurant list, if you're on it at all rest assured, you are the best performers at the show.

Here's how it works:
1 star rating - you are among the subjective best in my personal opinion.
2 star rating - you are elevated within the 'best' category and stand out as the top in your field.
3 star rating basically means you are defining/redefining what 'state of the art' means. Within the final 3 star tier I am going to name The absolute BEST OF SHOW.

Ironically naming bests at a show like this is akin to having 100 Miss America contestants, only judging only 30 of them, and then appointing one of them Ms America. We weren't even close to seeing a majority of the show (less than 50%!) so please take this with a grain of salt. In my estimation it would take 3 Tyson and Pez teams to cover the entire show. 4 if you include CanJam.

One last thing, if I forget any vendors who were in these rooms please send me a PM and I will fix it. Do not list these kinds of issues in thread please.

Any way without further adieu:

Pez's Best of RMAF

One Star Rooms




Zesto/WyWires/TAD




First room we hit and to my ears it was fantastic. This is one of those systems without any particular weakness, yet unlike many other 'hifi' sounding systems this one preserved the soul and beauty of the music. We even went back to the room friday night for a little cheese and wine, very fun time!

MA Recordings Woo Audio



Every year this is a great room regardless, I particularly liked the Stax system.

Dynamic Designs, Marten, Modwright




This room did everything right. I liked the detail, fullness and presentation. A little on the lean side, but not so much that it took away from the overall experience.

Prana Fidelity



As I said in my post a top tier performer for a reasonable amount of scratch, but very plain jane appearance that slightly undermines the actual sound quality of what I was hearing. Not saying this is why it's not a 2 star or 3 star system, just sayin' is all.

King Audio, Shaker Audio, Kaplan Cables


Very impressive system. Best Stat setup I have heard at this show ever period.

Two Star Rooms



Zellaton


Two years running this room has made it to best of. No room treatments, yet still phenomenal I wonder how great it would be with treatments? Really had to go back and forth on this one as a potential 3 star, but ultimately it's just lacking a little umph in the dynamics arena.

iFi Avatar





For as absolutely cheap this stuff is it doesn't make sense to me. I have never heard the Audeze headphones sound soooo good! Every year AMR/Avatar/iFi always make it on our list, this year they pulled something completely out of left field and still managed to make it work and work well. Another note, Darren and Vincent are two of the greatest guys at the show. They are passionate about what they do, they really take the bull by the horns and put themselves out there every year and triumph every single time.

Vapor Audio, Empirical Audio



Yes there was a LOT of buzz about this particular setup at the show. I really really liked this setup a little too much sparkle up top IMO to be 3 star, but everything else about this system actually screams 3 star.

MBL


Pretty amazing, probably 3 star material as well honestly, however the soundstage just suffered way too much in this room. Where other systems knock down the front wall this wall faceplanted right into it. if you had both Daniel Plainview oil tycoon money and oil tycoon sized listening room then I'm sure you could create your own 4 star room with these speakers, but it just didn't happen in the Marriott hotel. I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!!!!

Three Star Rooms



Before I talk about which rooms made the absolute best of the best 3 star let me just say, if you're on this list yours is a system that is truly unique sonically. The sound I heard from these rooms any other year would, without a doubt, have been the undisputed best in show. This year was absolutely mind blowing the way the entire show was way better than ever and therefore there was an inordinate amount of superb rooms. I don't just dole out high praise so if you made this list you have earned my highest accolade. And yes, this is no particular order.

Daedalus Audio, Modwright



Really superb sound in this room. Absolutely the best tone in show period. The V2 Ulysses stepped up an already superb tower speaker. This room was hot hot HOT this year, always crowded. Dan and Lou are among my favorite people at the show and every year I enjoy seeing them. What else can I say about this setup? well, certainly the best I have heard from either vendor in any room past or present, best looking speakers still after all these years and there's a flavor to this room that you just don't get from any other manufacturer that is unique to Daedalus audio. Well done.

TAD



It should be Best of the Best. Why it's not? first, the room is too small, second while this system sounds amazing there is no room treatment at speak of and this nullifies quite a bit of refinement. TAD does an amazing job every year and they are without a doubt the tip top best of the best in show, but these few nits are holding it back. Andrew is a legend at this point. So down to earth, so brilliant, so hilarious and whimsical. I would stop by his room if he were selling skullcandy headphones just to chat with him, but he just so happens to make and sell the industries best. Kudos.

GR Research, Dodd



Wow doesn't really encompass the way this system sounded this year. HOLY SHIT!!!!! comes close. I could not believe how this setup really pulled everything together and really REALLY kicked ass on everything we heard. Aside for being underdriven a bit (big amps were just sitting looking pretty while the small Dodds were running the panels) they did everything else right and really stood out from previous years. Absolute grand slam home run with this system in every way. Danny and crew are always a great group. I'm not sure how Danny pulls it off, but he always looks like he's totally laid back despite all the chaos. Fantastic setup.

Audiokenesis, NBS, Atmasphere, James Romeyn Music and Audio



Duke and crew, this is the best I've heard from you all and just like every other 3 star system here I really enjoyed and loved what I heard. This room had the most locked in soundstage and imaging I have ever heard bar none with dynamics to match. The sweetspot is just an incredible experience and really musical top to bottom. So glad I heard this system, it absolutely elevated my impression of all of this gear! I was absolutely blown away... Please don't kiss me.  :wink:

Odyssey, GIK




Klaus played us Ana gadda da vida while using an oil lamp to trip us out. A RMAF first.

Two years running this system was inspired. Last year I distinctly remember the emotional response I had in this room. It was strong, it was vivid, it was awesome. This year I had the same response. Yet the system was actually BETTER than last year. Soulful, dynamic as hell and just plain great. Klaus, Alex, Alex (no that's not a typo), Brian, Glenn, Shelley are amongst my favorite people at the show. Such a CRAZY eclectic brilliant and hilarious group of people really fun to be around! Out of any system on this list the Odyssey/GIK room offers the best performance for the dollar bar none. Odyssey will sell these towers like hot cakes.

...and the winner is

Absolute Best of the Best in show RMAF 2013.



Vapor Audio, GIK, Empirical, Arte Forma



I remember the first time I came to this show and walked into a room similar to this. I thought 'OH MY GOD!!! I have never EVER seen anything so beautiful and amazing in my life!!!!' I excitedly sat down in the sweet spot, they put the music on and I thought 'why does it sound so terrible?' That has been a repeating theme in these shows. Oddly, the big impressive looking systems usually don't sound.... well big or impressive.

When I first walked in to the Vapor room and saw this setup I had the same initial jaw to the floor reaction when seeing this masterfully crafted gear. But I have since built up years of a jaded exterior after being disappointed so many times by big systems like this. Much to my surprise When we sat down and listened to the system my jaw remained on the floor. I loved that SET sound. I have never heard it sound so big and so rich. HUGE imaging incredible soundstage. As Ted_b put it 'larger than life' and I loved it. The gear is all drool worthy. The Arte Forma amps are gorgeous the richness and smoothness of the SET at incredibly powerful levels is something I don't think I've ever heard at this show. Ryan does incredible work and clearly has vision for not only what state of the art is, but where state of the art should be. The Vapor Nimbus speakers are a sight to behold. The meticulous nature of all the Vapor gear is extraordinary, but something about the Nimbus really inspire awe.

Now sound quality, why did I pick this particular system over the others? This system fits perfectly into what my tastes are. Big SET sound, effortlessly conveyed with top to bottom integration that makes you forget you're listening to a speaker. While every other setup on my 3 star systems had many great cards to play this one had the strongest hand. While people were going back and forth most arguing that the Joules were 'better' I personally feel the Nimbus/Arte Forma/Empirical/GIK are probably the best I have heard period.

Ryan, GIK crew, and all the rest; Congratulations, you have managed to put something together that was special, well thought out and well executed.
_______________________________________ _______________________________________ _______________________________________ __________
As stated before, overall this year was simply incredible. Much better show as a whole. All of these systems were judged solely on their sonic performance. Of course it doesn't hurt when the setups are attractive as well. For me it was a close call between Odyssey, Vapor, GR Research, Audiokinesis and TAD for my absolute best of. The truth is any one the systems I have listed here are phenomenal and should be on anyone's short list to demo. Hope you all enjoyed!
« Last Edit: 16 Oct 2013, 05:28 am by Pez »

Tyson

Tyson’s Best of RMAF

Oh man, where to even start?  This year was, as a whole, much better than last year.  Probably because Jason and I kicked a bunch of consistently mediocre rooms to the curb and were able to focus more on the historically better performing manufacturers.  So this year we had a great experience with a lot of really excellent sounding rooms.  In fact, I’d say that we heard more good sounding rooms than bad ones (or even mediocre ones).  Quite a change from previous years.


SPECIAL MENTION

There were a couple of vendors that don’t really fit into the standard categories very well, but they were both doing such an outstanding job that I felt compelled to create a new category just to acknowledge them. 

GIK Acoustics
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  These guys are the Rolls Royce of room treatments.  Not only is their equipment better and more comprehensive than anyone else’s, it is also the most beautiful.  The art panels and the diffuser panels are particularly impressive and can be proudly hung on the wall of any home.  And that would be enough.  But it’s not all.  With GIK you also get expert customer service and technical advice on how to best use the treatments.  Room acoustics can be intimidating.  These guys make it easy and painless.


Avatar Acoustics

Normally there’s an actual Avatar Acoustics room, with $7k speaker, $5k CD players, etc… This year they had a booth at CanJam.  And these stupid-small little component boxes in a little stack.  I was rather dubious about the whole enterprise.  Darren, the vendor, told me a whole lot of technical stuff in a very short amount of time, including terms like “trickle down technology from AMR”.  I’m pretty sure my eyes glazed over.  I do know from past years that AMR makes seriously high end gear.  But these boxes were so……tiny.  Sat down and put on what I considered to be pretty mediocre headphones (Audeze), and had one of the best musical experiences of my life.  Lets put it this way:  In 10 years of RMAF I have never bought any equipment from anyone.  I left the iFi booth with 2 boxes.


HONORABLE MENTION

These are vendors that were all GREAT.  Really excellent sound in these rooms and a strong showing at RMAF.

Zellaton

Last year they were the shocker of the show – a wideband based speaker with what looked like metal drivers.  Recipe of disaster.  Except they sounded great.  And they sounded great again.  If they treated their room, they would have a very good chance of getting our top award.


Daedalus

They are the opposite of TAD – good to great at everything and a much nicer tonal balance.  Lou really stepped up his game this year, and the Ulysses sounded the best I’ve ever heard them.  Personally I still like the Athena’s the best, I’d love to hear them in V2 config. 


King Speakers

One of the rooms we went into on Sunday during our “wander around and have fun” time.  Has none of the traditional planar weaknesses.  Strong bass, no need for a helper woofer, not thin sounding at all.  And it keeps all the strengths – coherent, fast, transparent, and very little room interaction due to their dipolar radiation pattern.  I consider this one of our best “discoveries” this year and will be back next year.


PranaFidelity

Similar house sound to Daedalus in a much smaller package.  Incredibly musical.  Just lacking a little bit in ultimate resolution and transparency compared to the very best systems.  One of the best value in speakers at the show.  Only suggestion would be to work on their aesthetics a bit, they deserve to look as good as they sound.


Fritz Speakers

Everything I just said about Prana applies to Fritz’ stuff as well.  I’ve hit his room for years and years now and every time it’s the same – a musical balm in a sea of cacophony. 


Selah Ottavo

Huge sweet spot and great integration/coherency on these guys.  Only thing keeping this room from challenging the very tip top rooms is the lack of room treatments.  Brian at  GIK could definitely help boost this room to the top echelon.  Well, that and  promising to never, ever bring Spotify to the show again!  ;)



BEST OF RMAF RUNNER UP (tie)

TAD

Every year TAD knocks it out of the park.  In very many ways it was clearly the best speaker at the show.  But I like a warmer tonal balance in my speakers, so for me it takes it out of the very, very top spot.  But from an imaging, clarity, dynamics, coherence standpoint, they are at the top of the heap.


Vapor Nimbus

Last year the Vapor room was great.  This year they took it all the way to the top.  Just like TAD, the only reason I only don’t give them the highest ranking is they don’t have a warm tonal balance which I prefer.  But make no mistake, these are not analytical speakers, at all.  Dead on neutral is more like it.  Compared to the TAD room, they were equal in transparency and detail, almost as good at dynamics, and better at soundstaging and imaging.  Oh, and no surprise that yet another top performing room has room treatments.  In this case, THE BEST room treatments – GIK.


Odyssey Audio

Last year Odyssey got our best at RMAF, and this year they were even better!    So how did they slip back a bit in the rankings this year?  Because it’s a moving target, and other vendors improved their rooms even MORE compared to last year.  On the other hand, I should point out that the entire Odyssey system costs less than a pair of cables in some of these other rooms.  Yes, I am not exaggerating.  Don’t mortgage your house, don’t  sell your children, don’t harvest your body for organs to sell on the black market.  Just get the Odyssey gear and enjoy musical bliss alongside financial security!



UBER KING OMG VOICE OF GOD BEST OF THE BEST ROOMS (tie)

AudioKinesis

Basically did everything as well or better than any other speaker at the entire show, plus had an incredibly musical and warm tonal balance, which puts it at the top of the heap for me.  And, amazingly, they did it with zero room treatments.  And with a brand new technology, LCS, which debuted and this show.  Not even sure how that is humanly possible, other than they really have their act together.  AK didn’t make it to the last few shows, I’m REALLY glad they came this year.  One suggestion though – see Brian at GIK, get some of his incredible room treatments, and next year you might not have to share this award with anyone ;)


GR Research

Every year Danny has one of the best rooms at the show.  And every year he has the best bass of any room, period.  Not even close.  What has always kept him out of my personal top spot is that his speakers were never in the “warm and musical” camp.  That changed this year, dramatically.  Every single thing I would want in a state of the art speaker, these guys did with ease, grace, and style.  Slamming bass, crystal clear mids, effortlessly extended highs, sledgehammer dynamics.  All while maintaining an unflappable musicality.  And as always, they treat the hell out of the room with great room treatments.  The final result is out of this world.  Outstanding work guys!
« Last Edit: 15 Oct 2013, 05:54 am by Tyson »

Duke

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Wow.  Where do I send the checks??

Seriously, thank you both very much.   And congratulations to Vapor Audio and Danny Ritchie.   

Duke

jhm731

I appreciate your Wiki wiki coverage of RMAF, but I don't understand how you can post that the Wilson Audio room was:

"OMG, the absolutely freaking best sound at the whole show.  No, check that, best sound of any show ever!  Best sound in the whole entire world, I mean entire universe!!!!!!" 

and then post that something else was the BEST OF RMAF.  :?

BTW, I'd love to hear the Vapor Audio speakers, but until they get a dealer network, that will never happen.

SearchOfSub

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Thank you for the RMAF report! Just wondering, did Evolution Acoustics not attend the RMAF this year or did the other speakers mentioned here just sound better than the Micro Ones?

FullRangeMan

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These awards are a useful thing to know who is who.
A system price tag would be interesting.
Congratulations for the good job.

klaus@odyssey

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Hey Guys,

Well, can't speak for others,and OF COURSE, from our standpoint total pricing is the most important part,,,also, you always listen to a complete system,  speakers are just (albeit an important one) part of it......

So,  the system cost of the Kismet speakers, Candela pre, and the Khartago monos  is exactly  $ 6700.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rest of the system then is obviously Quattro power cords, appr. $ 100. each, GIK treatments, which are by far the best and not that much $ at all....and then we have a 20 year old VPI table and arm, and a bastardized vdHul cart,  don't really know what the $ would be,  but look at under 4k used....as for the CD Player,  it was probably the most expensive part as it was from Symphonic Line to stay in the family....older unit,  look at about 3-4 K used.

Oh yes, and the phono stage,  $ 1,900 for the 2 piece reference units.

So,  figuring with either digitall or analog, you're somewhat in the 10 K neighborhood for the COMPLETE rig....

Late,
Klaus

brj

Klaus, what GIK components were specifically used in your room, and what was their total cost?

Thanks!

klaus@odyssey

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Would be a question for Bryan......also, forgot the furniture, which to me is also an integral part,  especially since I make them now...the rack shown and used is in the $ 1,500, range.................

Daedalus Audio

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Thanks much guys! great company to be put in with, I did get a chance to hear Duke's newest and was VERY impressed, and I always like the TAD speakers, of course both Duke and Andrew are true gems as people!
I wish I had been able to get to the room with the Vapor but I had to work and the two hotel gig just didn't make that possible.

anyhow thanks again and I'll try harder to get that bass bloom out of the room next year  :wink:

gregfisk

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I appreciate your Wiki wiki coverage of RMAF, but I don't understand how you can post that the Wilson Audio room was:

"OMG, the absolutely freaking best sound at the whole show.  No, check that, best sound of any show ever!  Best sound in the whole entire world, I mean entire universe!!!!!!" 

and then post that something else was the BEST OF RMAF.  :?

BTW, I'd love to hear the Vapor Audio speakers, but until they get a dealer network, that will never happen.

I believe It was a joke, if you read the whole paragragh I don't think they even got in.

FullRangeMan

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I believe It was a joke, if you read the whole paragragh I don't think they even got in.
With those multi ways monsters it is a joke indeed.
Usually this brand make sound is a room, not music.

Tyson

To clear up any confusion, here is my full review of the Wilson room:

Quote
Wilson Room

OMG, the absolutely freaking best sound at the whole show.  No, check that, best sound of any show ever!  Best sound in the whole entire world, I mean entire universe!!!!!!

But I have to warn you, only the cool kids are allowed access to this room.  Press badges seem to the be magical, golden key to unlock the doors to this mythical realm of audio bliss.

No, not really.  We were actually turned away at the door and informed that "structured" presentations were being done and allowing us in 5 minutes after a demo started was on par with showing up late to the ballet.  NO WILSON FOR YOU!!!!!!!!  Wow, 2 dickish rooms in a row.  Amazing.

And lest you have any more questions about how I feel, someone else asked about Wilson in the show threads and this was my response:

Quote
Yes, I can say the sound from the lobby outside their locked doors was awesome!

I don't care how good it sounded, they were dicks.

brj

For what it's worth, the Wilson demo was fairly impressive on several fronts, many having to do with the people involved as much as the gear.  I've definitely heard Wilson systems that I didn't care for, but this wasn't one of them.  (And the fact that I will never be able to afford the system displayed did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the demo.)  David Wilson flew to Denver in July to scout out possible rooms, performed acoustic measurements of the room in which they ultimately demoed, and selected the system to match.  The intent was to bring a system that they felt highlighted the limits of what is possible the realm of audio reproduction, and to that end they chose to play select songs intended to spotlight particular areas of focus (sound stage, imaging, etc.), rather than open it up to walk-in music.  Some of the selections were recorded by David Wilson himself, which are starting to get released again.  The U.S. Air Force wind band piece recorded in the late 70s I enjoyed in particular, and the conductor was actually in the audience later that day.  During the session that I attended, the audience included John Curl, who designed one of the microphone pre-amps used in some of the recordings as well as the Parasound amps used to drive the subs, and 3 different recording engineers.  (They were rather notable ones from what I've been told, though I don't know the profession well enough to judge myself.)

There were positives and negatives to the scheduled, fixed demo approach they selected.  To be frank, I was slightly annoyed that they were running late, as I felt that they should keep to their schedule if that was their chosen format.  In addition, had I actually been looking to buy, I definitely would have been frustrated at the inability to play my own music, though I suspect some accommodation could have been made had that actually been the case.  As it was, I was happy to be exposed to several new high quality recordings that I hadn't heard, and on a system that was certainly impressive even if it might not be everyone's personal choice.  The biggest benefit in my mind, however, was that I could actually hear the music.  No one was talking during the demo when the music was playing.  Perhaps T&P didn't have to worry about that thanks to their press badge, but I can't tell you how many rooms I walked out of during the show because the room proprietors, much less visitors, were talking over the music.  And besides enjoying the music, the experience was further accented by the chance to talk to some of these long-time audiophiles to learn of their rather interesting audio journeys from within the business.  (Despite Wilson's current success, for example, I found it interesting to learn that the company was surviving at one point thanks solely to having its costs spread across 17 credit cards.  I'm no more or less likely to buy a speaker because of this, but I do admire perseverance.)

For what it's worth, I enjoyed some of the recordings in the IsoMike room as well, which was also not accepting walk-in music.  (Though I would have enjoyed demoing the DAC2X they were using...)

For perspective, I went to the show to meet both new and old friends and wander where my interests took me.  I had only a small number of "target" rooms, and the rest were opportunistic.  TAD, Marten, Bryston, Emerald Physics, GR, Daedalus, AudioKinesis, Vapor and Odyssey were all on my hit list, for example, whereas Wilson initially wasn't.  Those rooms covered everything from the modest to the mega-buck.  I wasn't researching any specific gear besides room treatments and the occasional DAC, and I wasn't looking to buy, so I wasn't carrying music and didn't have specific demands or expectations of the vendors.  I'm always interested in what sounds good, however, and if the approach leans in a different direction than my current philosophy, then I consider that exciting and a chance to learn.  This made for a fun, relaxing weekend.

Take it for what you will...

KJ

Quote from: brj
I can't tell you how many rooms I walked out of during the show because the room proprietors, much less visitors, were talking over the music.

Or worse yet, having the host stand in front of the speaker while trying to listen (oddly enough, it was in the "uber king best of the best" AudioKinesis room).  I would think that one is in the demo room 101 manual somewhere, but perhaps they mistook it for room treatments.

a.wayne

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 Thanks for the post BRJ , it does appear after talking to to others , Wilson and the big Lansche's were top tier standouts ...

BobM

Congrats to GR and Dodd on their outstanding sound. But one vendor in that room is not credited and I'm certain contributed a lot to the overall beauty of the sound. Please don't forget that the system was powered with Triode Wire Labs cables.

Congrats Triode Pete!

sharpsuxx

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Great Job Danny and Ryan, its great to see that my Cirrus' speaker pedigree is growing.  Best in show mentions 2 years in a row for Vapor,  by as far as I'm concerned the best coverage of RMAF you can find.  I hope that the emergence of these cottage industry guys shakes up the old establishment of high end audio to make things competitive again.

Don_S

brj,

Thank you for adding perspective to the Wilson saga.

Don_S

Pez and Tyson,  Thank you for a great show report.  :thumb:  I am looking for the "perfect" speaker for me so I wrote down most of the speakers you mention in this thread for further research and hopefully to hear them someday.