RMAF - wow, what a cool weekend. This was my first audioshow and it was a blast, but it was also exhausing and a heck of a lot of work. I spent a big part of 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) going from room to room, listening to the test tracks on my compilation CD's.
I'm going to post some impressions of some rooms, mainly about rooms that sounded particularly good, or rooms that didn't sound as good as I know they could have (ie, I've heard the equipment in other settings that sounded better than the rooms at the show).
Before starting, I should point out that after hearing a slew of digital amps, I DO NOT LIKE THE WAY DIGITAL AMPS SOUND. That means any room with a digital amp in the chain is going to get, at best, a thumbs sideways vote (most get thumbs down). This is strictly my personal opinion, so take it for what its worth (not much, obvously). I also have a preference for large speakers, and tend to dislike horns and single-driver speakers.
First room I hit was the Bolder/VMPS
room. I'm a friend of Wayne, and I helped do some of the initial setup (Hagerman tube preamp, JaZZ digital amps, Trinaural processor). I came back by on Saturday after the system had been tuned by Brian Cheney (VMPS Prez & Owner). I thought it sounded pretty bad, not nearly as good as it sounded back when I heard them in a stereo setup a week before. I figured it was just the Trinaural setup screwing everything up. But I was wrong. Came back the next day after all the equipment had been on for 24 hours and the sound was "much" better. I'm still not convinced about the Trinaural setup being an improvement over stereo (especially in a room as small as the hotel's), but it didn't sound worse than the stereo setup I'd heard the week before.
One room that was a big disappointment - the Rowland Design Group
, with Rowland digital amps (the 201's, I think) and Cabasse speakers (the ones that look like War of the Worlds aliens). Sounded terrible. Not the worst sound of the show, but not far from it either. Vocals alternated between chesty and nasaly.
A room that really stood out to me was the SP Tech
room. They had a HT setup in one room and a 2 channel setup in another. The 2 channel setup is what really got my attention. These things could play LOUD and CLEAN. Very dynamic (macro and micro) and very smooth. They were the most impressive speakers at the show. My only criticism would be a touch of hardness in the 1khz-2khz region. Overall I was very impressed. Pic borrowed from zybar
The Boulder amps and Avalon Acoustics
room sounded good, but the dynamics were rounded off. It was certainly a musical and pleasant sound, but quite phasey sounding (ie, backup vocals sounded like they were in a seperate room from the main vocalist, etc). Some people might really like this ("Wow, listen to that HUGE soundstage"), but I thought that particular aspect was pretty unnatural.
My vote for most musical room of the show goes to Red Rock audio
, they were running ESP loud speakers (really excellent speakers, IMO), and their own Renaissance Power Amplifier. Normally I'd consider the sound too laid back for my tastes, but it was so involving and seductive. Superlative sound.
The room that gets my vote for 2nd most musical and overall best value goes to the Odyssey rooms
(both of them). The big room running all Odyssey gear (Stratos, Tempest, SL CDP and SL turntable, and a pair of Lorelei speakers) was very musical and involving and way, way cheaper than the Red Rocks room. And to top it off, they had a 2nd room with speakers (Epiphony), amp (Khartago), preamp (Etesian), and cables (Groneberg) for under $1500 total that was almost as good as their main room. My non-audiophile friend who I brough along said point blank he liked the sound of that room better than anything else he heard.
Pic borrowed from zybar
room was a disappointment, running his Truth modded Sony 999 player into the new line stage, to a pair of Channel Island digital monoblock amps and a pair of GR-Research Delucio speakers. I'm pretty sure the hashy and fairly unmusical sound was due to the CI digital amps as I've heard the Delucio's sound excellent in another system, and the warmth of the tubed CD player did not come through at all. Replace the amps and I have no doubt that this would have been one killer sounding room.
Speaking of GR-Research
, I got to hear both of their rooms. Both were using Dodd Audio Electronics and GR-Research speakers. The AV-2 Speakers in their "small" room sounded really excellent. Not quite on the level of their excellent Delucio's, but very good none-the-less. But, the big shocker for me was the Alpha's. I've heard the Alpha's before at a local Denverite's house before and I thought they were seriously flawed and I could hardly listen to them. But at the show, with more room treatments and being run off 120 watt Dodd Audio tubed monoblocks they sounded fantastic. Every criticism I had of them before was gone except for the lack of extension in the very high treble. But other than that they were very musical, very natural, and had GREAT dynamics - my kind of speaker!!! The sound of the Dodd and the Alpha's really embarassed a lot of other very expensive rooms using very, very expensive tube amps and preamps.
The Audio Federation
room was a very pleasant sounding room running Edge Amps, Marten Design Coltrane loudspeakers and Nordost wiring, but I didn't think it sounded appreciably better than a lot of other rooms running much less expensive gear. Very smooth, very musical, but a bit lacking in microdynamics and a bit slow on macrodynamics. Not worth the $150k or so price tag....
The Usher Audio
room had absolutely beautiful looking speakers, superbly finished. The sound was good but not great. In the same price range I think the Odyssey and GR-Research speakers sounded better (but the Usher's win on looks).Tyler Acoustics
was a bit disappointing. Not sure if it was the small room, or the tube amps, but their Woodmere speakers sound much, much smaller than they were. (zybar's picture)
I was also disappointed in the AV123 room
. At least when I was in there, the RS1000 had bright highs and very boomy bass. But the bass problem was most likely a room issue. And I have to say the midrange was remarkable smooth and free from the ringing I thought the metal driver would have. (zybar's pic)
The Cherry Creek Audio
room was a room I liked a lot. They were running Magnepan 20.1's of a pair of Krell monoblocks. The sound was very good overall. My only criticism would be that there was definitely some ringing to the sound, and there was far more room/speaker interaction than I like.
I heard the Daedalus Audio
room on Saturday, and I thought it was pleasant, but a bit lacking in drive and dynamics. A little soft sounding, but very nice and easy to listen to.
I skipped the JMLabs room and the B&W
rooms because I know from past experience I don't like either of those speaker lines and there was too much else to see & do at the show.
room was also a bit disappointing. Not that it didn't sound good, it did (sounded pretty similar to the Marten Designs Coltrane & Edge amp room), but it was just a bit soft on microdynamics. Tonal balance and smoothness were very good, but honestly overall it was a bit boring sounding.
I'm sure I'm forgetting some rooms (I'll check my notes when I get home), and there were quite a few rooms I didn't get to go into, but that's a pretty good list of my impressions.
Other notes, it was very cool to meet my fellow AC'ers (you know who you are) and the various manufacturers, many of them putting on a good show and all of them gracious (they let me play my "room-clearing" music
Also, I found that there was absolutely NO relation between price and performance. Some very, very expensive high end gear did not perform any better than some much more reasonably priced gear, and that is despite the fact that the expensive gear usually was in bigger and (acoustically) better rooms. My advice to everyone is to listen to as much equipment as possibe and form your own judgements. Some highly touted (and very expensive) gear at the show sounded terrible, and at the same time some relative unknowns sounded excellent.
I also didn't hear any speaker or setup that I liked as much as the RM40's I have at home. The speakers at the show that had the smoothness of the 40's didn't have the dynamics or resolution, and other speakers that did have the dynamics didn't have the musicality and smoothness of the 40's. Of course every piece of gear in my system has been bought based on my personal preferences, so the fact that I like it so much should hardly come as a suprise