The excitement at Hifi Pig Towers, as we prepared to head to Denver, Colorado for our first USA Hifi Show, had reached fever pitch. It was a bit of a step into the unknown, even though we know many of the exhibitors and brands very well from other international shows, it was thrilling to be venturing onto new ground and meeting the Americans on their own turf.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest also moved to new grounds this year, with it being the first show at the brand new Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Centre. Now, we are used to big venues for Hifi Shows, like the MOC in Munich, but this place was huuuuuge on the scale that only somewhere in America could be.

The Thursday was, so we thought, a press and trade day, although some rooms were actually setting up on Thursday, which meant we didn’t get to cover a lot of the show. We were a bit concerned when we didn’t have a show guide until the end of the day, but these were really only teething issues. The layout of the show was actually great, with two separate areas; The Tower, with nine floors of hotel rooms and suites at one end of the resort and The Convention Centre, with larger rooms in the purpose-built conferencing area. Had the registration desk been more central in relation to the two areas, that would have helped and, to be honest, once you had your bearings it was very easy to navigate. Happily, that bugbear of many a Hifi Show, insufficient/slow lifts was never an issue here, with traveling between floors a breeze. I would say a tip if you attend next year is to treat each part as its own entity and do one and then the other to save walking long distances between the two parts. The rooms were excellent quality, even the small rooms being well sized. The best ones for me were the suites, which had large living areas that mimicked a real-world home environment and gave a relaxed feel to sitting and listening to music, more intimate than the massive conferencing size rooms but without that ‘stuck in the doorway’ problem you encounter with many hotel room shows. Although the show was busy (reports back from exhibitors were very positive) the layout and room sizes made for it feeling comfortable and not a complete crush like some shows…there were just a few instances where we couldn’t get in a room or get a seat.

Having a pleasant venue is really important to the ‘feel’ of a show. The big windows, airy corridors and, it has to be said, totally epic views of the Rockies and surrounding countryside contributed to the overall enjoyment of RMAF, you didn’t feel that you could be ‘just anywhere’, this venue had ‘Rocky Mountains, USA’ stamped all over it. Where its sheer size could have made it anonymous, the decor, art, views and other touches kept it regional and personal. There are a few Hifi Shows that I could think of that have maybe outgrown the venues that they have been in for years, and could look at making a similarly brave move to a more suitable and modern environment.

As ever, we are bringing you in-depth coverage of every room at the show, with loads of pictures, in our main reports. I have the luxury of picking out some of my favourite rooms at the show, though this was quite a difficult task as the standards were very high indeed…this is by no means an exhaustive list as there were plenty of other rooms that I really enjoyed, but for one reason or another, these ten stuck in my head.

All the exhibitors deserve a big round of applause for their efforts and in making this a truly excellent Hifi Show.

Endow Audio

Let’s start with something that surprised me. Anyone that knows me knows I love loudspeakers, they are my ‘thing’ and I’m not afraid of the big, the wacky and the different…in fact, I like to ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to loudspeakers and I rather like a challenging design. However, Endow Audio’s new $39,000 FS 301 loudspeakers were pushing it, even for me, in the ‘challenging looks ‘ department. When I ran their pre-show news I got the pictures and there was a definite ‘what the heck is that?’ moment…indeed the great audiophiles of the interwebs reacted similarly, these were not the prettiest things I had ever seen. With an open mind, we went in to listen and were pleasantly surprised. That top point array driver was still odd-looking in the flesh, the multiple radiating drivers backed with an 8” driver was not a conventional look by any means, but it worked. The sound was incredibly nimble and dynamic, with an exceptionally fast bass. Proof that you can achieve great sound by taking a different approach. The speakers come with their own outboard Passive Signal Processors and were running on a Hegel integrated amp (H590, I think). It will be interesting to see where Endow go with this in the future as they are promising more products in the future.

Audio Alternative – Vandersteen

Audio Alternative is a high-end Hifi dealer from Fort Collins in Colorado. They were showing a system featuring the new four-way Vandersteen Kento Carbon loudspeakers. The new $37,500 speakers from American brand Vandersteen make use of their Model Seven tweeter and the midrange driver from the Seven, the mid-bass from the Model 5A Carbon and an all-new side-firing pair of 9″ bass drivers powered by 400w amps. Richard Vandersteen himself was on hand and seemed very happy with the reaction to his new babies. They looked stunning in red (seems you can have them in any colour automotive paint finish that you fancy) and the sound was exceptionally clean and clear, one of the most beautiful sounds of the show in a show where standards were exceptionally high. Vandersteen’s new M5-HPA monoblock anps were used in the system, along with Audioquest, AMG, Aurender and VTL.

AGD Productions And Sigma Acoustics

This was one of the big, Red Rock rooms in the conference centre part of the show. AGD is a Calfornia based company, with high-end electronics engineered by Alberto Guerra. They featured their Vivace and The Audion GanTube amplifiers and Andante Pre/Dac/Phono/streamer. These were paired with the huge, and room dominating, Sigma Acoustics MAAT Vector XAC loudspeakers. This was seriously high end, with the speakers costing around 184,000€. The massive speakers weigh in at 340kg each and are 100db sensitive. Extreme Audio is the Italian manufacturers of Sigma Acoustics speakers. A system like this, in all it’s hugeness, could have come across as ‘too much’ but in fact the opposite was true. We were listening to classical and opera, not my usual taste, but it was utterly captivating. The sound was unforced and delicate in a way that was almost at odds with the visual look of the speakers. A very clever pairing of brands with a natural result.

Wavelength Audio

Gordon Rankin from Wavelength is a really interesting chap. He’s worked for years in the high end and pro audio fields along with developing guitar and bass amps. In fact several well-known brands use his designs, and, having been busy designing for other brands, Gordon has now made the time to focus more on his own Home Audio Hifi brand, Wavelength Audio.

The Wavelength brand both looks and sounds the part, with a well designed, tactile combination of metal and wood cases for the valve amps and DACs. Gordon wasn’t afraid of trying different music and, armed with Qobuz, he treated us to Hardfloor’s ‘Acperience 1 ‘ from the Hifi Pig playlist. The Vaughan Zinfandel line array loudspeakers, with their plasma tweeters worked very well in this system and we were treated to a very lively and open sound with all the swirling 303 energy that you want to hear in the Hardfloor track…it can be way too much for an inferior system but here it sounded perfect. Most enjoyable. More info here on the individual gear used in the room.

MC Audiotech

MC Audiotech was on my ‘must hear’ list after seeing their highly interesting speakers when we ran their pre-show news. The two way Forty-10 loudspeakers were a real eyecatching design, with their Spaced Array high-frequency drivers and dipole bass drivers in a Folded Cube enclosure. They had a very stylish and distinctive Art Deco appeal to them and were extremely well finished. Not just style over substance though, the $35,000 speakers sounded very nice indeed, powerful but also delicate and airy and very easy to listen to. I liked Mark Conti’s approach of asking visitors to the room what they would like to hear, and he wasn’t afraid to put the Forty-10s through their paces with any kind of music. The speakers were bi-amped with Pass labs (XA25 for the array and X250.8 for the bass) with a Pass XP22 pre. VPI had their prime Signature turntable and JWM arm in the room, with an Air Tight PC-1 cartridge and Luminous Audio Arion phonostage. DAC was PS Audio, Wolf Audio supplied the server and cables and power conditioning were from Audience.

Well Pleased Audio

It was very nice to meet Mark Sossa of Well Pleased AV who have just taken on the Vinnie Rossi brand. The new Vinnie Rossi L2i SE class A integrated amplifier ($18,995) was on show, partnering with the Innuos Statement server ($13,750) and QLN Prestige Three SE (12,000/pair) two-way floorstanding speakers from Sweden. The system also included GigaWatt power conditioning, SGR rack, Swisscables, and Blackcat cables. This was a very nicely put together system that gave the room a very immersive 3D feel.

The Music Room

This was the Al Steifel Legacy Room up on the seventh floor. The Al Steifel room is given to an up and coming exhibitor each year, in remembrance of RMAF organiser Marjorie Baumert’s husband, who originally founded RMAF. The Music Room from Colorado, were selected by the Colorado Audio Society and were a bit different in their approach of having systems set up with second-hand and vintage audio gear. They had achieved an excellent and cohesive sound with both of the systems that I listened to and it was great to see and hear systems that showed just what can be achieved with vintage gear…which is what a lot of people are using at home. I particularly appreciated the main system with Harbeth 40.2 speakers, with vintage McIntosh MC60 mono tube amplifiers, Line Magnetic 25-B vintage tube preamplifier and Rega RP8 turntable with Luxman EQ-500 phonostage or an Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC for digital. Speaker cables were Kimber Select KS 6055, Audioquest Tornado power cables, an Audioquest Niagara power conditioner were also in there along with two REL T-9i subwoofers. I imagine that they inspired many visitors to explore the vintage side of Hifi with what they achieved in their room.

Zu Audio

Zu Audio was showing off their $9,999 a pair Druid 6 loudspeakers, these looked particularly stylish in all black and an equally dark and moody room in the Red Rock rooms area. Amplification was Pass labs with a MoFi Ultradeck turntable and Zu Audio cartridge and Zu cables and racks. There was a definite younger vibe to this room with a big selection of vinyl that they were not afraid to spin. Someone else in the room had requested Forest Swords’ ‘Compassion’ album which was new to us, the dark and complex music worked perfectly with the atmosphere of the room. Nice to be discovering new music at the show.

High End By Oz

A very much ‘larger than life’ high-end room this, with the Vitus Audio SIA-030 integrated amp featuring. At $40,000 it is a lot of money, but you do get a lot for your money with it. We particularly enjoyed listening to the Vitus combined with AudioSolutions Virtuoso M loudspeakers ($32,000) and fed by the United Home Audio Ultimate4 OPS-DC Tape Deck ($30,000) playing our own Mascara Quartet Reel to Reel. It was a great combination of American and European gear together…plus Oz himself had some tricks up his sleeve with a negative ion charger for CD’s and an Acoustic Revive Shuman Resonator. I’m a firm believer in if you can hear an improvement with these kinds of tweaks, then there must be something going on there. I know a lot of people dismiss tweaks as voodoo, but I would say keep your ears and mind open and give them a listen.

Joseph Audio

On floor three, this was one of the last rooms that we visited on the Sunday of the show. Jeff is a very familiar face on the show circuit who we are used to seeing at High End Munich. Looking at my notes I have written ‘brilliant, dynamic and fun’…can’t remember what was playing but it had my toes tapping, as ever Jeff’s room felt like you had walked into a party at a friends house, which I imagine is just the kind of vibe he was intending.  Doshi amps were used along with Cardas wiring and Polish high-end brand  J.Sikora’s turntable and new KV12 tonearm. A great combination.

More coverage from RMAF 2019 can be found here:

Part One

Part Two



Headfi and Static Stands At Rocky Mountain Audio Fest
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019 Part 2

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