I had to think about this one, the biggest issue being the fact I could listen to my own tracks in some rooms and not others. Hearing my own music also gives me a point of comparison between all the different systems I hear. I understand that rooms that are constantly crowded can't play everyone's requests unless you're a pro reviewer or serious potential customer, but IMO playing requests WITH a friendly attitude is a serious positive attribute and makes me feel welcome and not someone who is inconveniencing the people running the room. Mojo audio and Wisdom in particular had a very negative attitude when I asked to play my test tracks. Peachtree, Daedalus, Bud Fried and many others were very friendly and welcoming, and I'd like to thank you for that. I have been to RMAFs in the past where it seemed like every room was happy to play test tracks, the attitude is obviously shifting and this is something that hopefully manufacturers will do a better job accommodating in the future. I am here to see the product, but if the person running the room is rude and condescending it makes for a much poorer experience and makes me much less likely to recommend your products. BTW, I am almost 40, dress well and always ask nicely if they can play my tracks.
The tracks I chose this year are ones I presently like a lot, I want to see if the system can get me involved in the music as well as judging performance. No, I don't listen to classical music at all and I do not own a turntable.
1. Bela Fleck - A Moment So Close (Live)
2. Bonobo - Walk in the Sky
3. Thievery Corporation - Lebanese Blonde
4. Beats Antique - Daze
5. Infected Mushroom -Becoming Insane
So with that said, coming up with top picks is very difficult, and rooms I could not hear my test tracks in are much harder for me to evaluate.
Nevertheless, my top pick this year was a vinyl only room. The gear is a good value for what it does. The speakers are very efficient and feature a tuned resonant membrane inside the speaker that returns backwave energy and increases the system's efficiency. The tweeter's horn doubles as a bass port. The sound is very coherent, imaging is great. I was really skeptical about the backwave resonant membrane, but it's completely transparent and actually increases sound quality and sensitivity. Here's dc10 audio and Tektron amplifiers:http://www.dc10audio.com/index.htmlhttp://www.robyattaudio.com/TektronProducts.htm
Next are the Hornings. Man, these things just kicked butt. They did a great job presenting music, but maybe lacked a bit of high freq. sparkle... all the detail is there but the paper cone tweeter is very laid back. It is still better than 99% of speakers with dome tweeters. The Puresound amps were great too, making for an awesome room. I just looked up the price of the speakers, $15k... ouch.
Oh, and how can I forget Merlin, one of the best speakers made. They are very neutral, sound great on all kinds of music and don't cost a fortune. They aren't cheap, but are really a good value for the performance. These are speakers I'd actually consider owning.
Feastrex gets a mention for the incredible reproduction of vocals and acoustic instruments in simpler recordings.
There were some others I thought were good, so honorable mention to Daedalus, Legacy, GR Research, Peachtree w/ TAD speakers, Rosso Fiorentino, Voxativ, Vaughn, and probably some others I am forgetting...