Stuart from Hifi Pig and his first report from the incredible Rocky Mountain Audio Show 2019 at the Rockies Gaylord hotel and conference centre (“center” if you are American). Here Stuart looks at an overview of the show, its facilities and a handful of the rooms he spotted on the Press day for RMAF.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, or Rocky Mountain International Audio Fest as it seems to have been variously called took place at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Centre the weekend of 6/7/8 September and was a rip-roaring success from this newbie’s perspective. Marjorie Baumert and her team did a fantastic job, particularly given that this was the first year that RMAF had moved to the Gaylord resort from its previous venue in a more central Denver location.

We arrived a couple of days prior to the start of the show which gave us a good opportunity to pop into the city of Denver itself and experience a bit of what the city is like. We visited SoBo and the fantastic Sputnik bar and venue and whilst much of the rest of Denver seems pretty straight-edged, this area had a nice alternative edge to it with great food, drink, record shops, and more. The people of Denver were universally friendly and helpful and the city feels safe, clean and “our kind of place”.

David Cope of Old Forge Audio, just one of the lovely people we met at RMAF 2019. Great to put a face to a Facebook name.

The venue itself is gargantuan in scale (see pics) and loomed large on the horizon from our off-site hotel near the airport. Yes, the location of the venue is isolated to a great extent, but in the same breath, it is also very accessible, with an Uber from our hotel a few miles away costing around $14 each way – a whole dollar less unsubsidised parking at the Gaylord. Once inside the resort you are pretty much captive until you choose to leave for the day and that can get expensive. There’s a couple of restaurants and a few bars dotted around the venue with us using the Italian-style restaurant (the oriental didn’t open during the day) where the choice was limited for me (vegan) but good for others. Drinks, like the food, were relatively expensive, but that is the nature of the beast and to be fair we knew what we were going to be offered before we got there. The number of staff and their enthusiasm to ensure you were well looked after was commensurate with the cost of things inside Gaylord. All in all, a nice place to visit, though I’d still want to stay off-site when we next visit RMAF.

Linette found the lovely Pam Merrigan of Tellurium Q who are sponsors of this coverage.

It sure is a big place but we managed to find the bar..

Marjorie, the main woman behind Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. See you next year, if not before….

Tom Hackforth from Hifi Plus on the right with Stu. Tom writes for Hifi Plus.

I don’t know really what to make of Gaylord’s itself and perhaps this is more down to my European perspective of scale and authenticity. Gaylords serves a purpose and it serves this purpose well, though I found it a bit contrived in a theme park kind of way; indoor waterfalls, a caboose (railway wagon) and “themes” at every turn, though there was a good deal of original, and very good, artwork hung around the corridors. The sheer amount of space in the corridors and walkways was vast, with plenty of places to sit and chill out away from the crowds.

Just some random art from Gaylord Rockies. Later in the weekend a woman asked Linette to be photographed next to this artwork…

Perspective is a wonderful thing. This is a view across towards the Rocky mountains from The Gaylord.

Thursday was described as “Press Day” and arriving at the show bright and early we did bump into a good number of fellow journos from around the globe, though mainly from US-based publications. Registration was a hike from the entrance lobby but was quick iand efficient once we got there with name badges and lanyards waiting for Linette and I, though sadly there was no show guide arriving until afternoon which made planning what to do and see a tad more problematic than it should have been – in the end the show guide didn’t arrive until much later in the day, in fact after we had hung up our pens for the day. A guide is essential for us to know how to best plan a show and to make sure we have everything covered and the time to cover it and good and plentiful signposting is also vital for visitors. As it was, we managed to see a handful of rooms on Thursday and to chat to folk we know, including a good few brands from the UK including Chord Electronics, Tellurium Q, Keith Monks, Atlas Cables, Schiit Europe and others.

Again for scale…one of the side corridors.

The guys (Kevin and Martin stood with Bryan sat) from Atlas Cables keeping up the Scottish end,

Early evening was spent sharing a cocktail with other members of the press and exhibitors at a cocktail party hosted by Steve of Enjoy the Music – cheers Steve – where we got the opportunity to chat with friends old and new.

You meet the nicest folk. David and Carol from PF Audio with David Solomon of Qobuz (our preferred streaming service), Lin and I.

Layout-wise Rocky Mountains felt a little disparate to begin with, with larger exhibition rooms, seminar halls, headfi and sales halls been at one side of the venue and then nine floors of exhibitors’ rooms at the other end – or what felt like the other end – of Gaylords. One of the things I particularly did like in the “Tower” where the smaller rooms were being hosted was that they weren’t all packed onto a couple of floors; the benefit of this being that there was space between rooms enabling exhibitors to play their systems without the huge amount of sound bleed you get at most other shows we have visited. On the negative side of things this spacing gave the impression that the corridors were devoid of visitors, which was not the case at all on the days that followed with most exhibitors saying they were very pleased with the attendance – we tried twice to get in the PS Audio room (for one) and failed both times as it was packed to the rafters. Then again, on the positive side the size and scope of the venue meant that corridors weren’t so full of people that you couldn’t move without bumping into people.

The main atrium at Gaylord Rockies, the venue to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019. Huge isn’t the word!

Linette meets Mark Conti of MC AudioTech…more of which later in our coverage.

We’ll go into more detail on the individual rooms at the show (we think we managed to visit every single room) in this and following reports, but what did impress was the effort that exhibitors put into the feel and sound of their rooms.

Reading the above back, it looks like the venue didn’t really do it for me, but as I said earlier, I think this is reflecting my sense of awe at the scale of the venue and indeed Denver itself. We got to spend time with friends old and new and thoroughly enjoyed the show.

So, wandering around and getting our bearings was the order of the day on Thursday and we stayed over where the big exhibition rooms were to be found in the main.

AlsyVox and Omega Audio Concepts

AlsyVox make ribbon speakers that are Italian in design but made in Spain. The speakers used on the day were the Botticellis that stand an impressive !770mm high and have a woofer that has a surface area of 4544mm squared. Botticelli is the second smallest speaker in AlsyVox’s range with there being Tintoretto below and Caravaggio and Michelangelo being the larger two models. For RMAF AlsyVox used the Botticellis with their external crossover, which adds a further $25K to the $89K for the standard speakers.

Joining AlsyVox at RMAF were Omega Audio Concepts who we have experienced previously at events in Europe. Omega is also an Italian company that specialise in electronics and cables, though they also make a couple of frankly stunning looking loudspeakers themselves (Essenziale and MicroXL) and the frankly stunning (depending on your perspective) CDP Stream CD Player. For RMAF Omega had brought along their DNA system which is a full, top to bottom system of pre, amps and player with its white and red livery looking stunningly high-end.

Sonically this combination delivered a surprisingly tight and deep bass, where I was expecting the speakers to be a bit light in the bass. We were treated to a drum track that highlighted the very dynamic and fast characteristics of this system with loads of detail too. Later we were treated to a choral piece where again dynamics and detail shone through from a very quiet (read silent) background.

This was a big space to fill for these relatively modestly sized speakers and they did it with aplomb with both Linette and myself commenting that this was a very (VERY) good start to the show.

Troy Audio and Thrax

Roman at Thrax is a regular at may of the shows we visit and we are always really impressed with his offerings, which at Rocky Mountain were paired with Troy Audio Hellena MK II speakers which we enjoyed at Munich, though they were in a very small booth then.

Hellena II comes in two separate enclosures per side and uses a crossover with “ultra-premium” elements from Duelund. The top box uses a 604-8E alnico driver from Great Plains Audio which comprises a 15” lower frequency driver and a 1” compression driver in one 16” frame. In the bottom unit there’s a Great Plains Audio 515-C driver that is handmade and uses a massive alnico V magnetic assembly. The tweeter is an alnico horn super tweeter and overall the speakers are over 100dB sensitive. The speakers are entirely handmade and frankly look stunning in the natural wood veneer here, though they are available in a range of RAL colours. Also in the room but not playing was a system using VAC electronics.

Initially, I felt that this system was a little on the bass-lite side of things, and I did comment on this which prompted a much more upbeat track on and we were rewarded with a much more dynamic presentation that was very pleasing indeed. These speakers can indeed move air and yet manage to stay in contro of the bass and with great imaging properties.

Here’s the thing, if an exhibitor is playing a track that doesn’t really show of what their system can do, then visitors may well get a skewed impression of the system. Personally, had they not played a better suited track I’d have walked away with a negative (and more importantly wrong) impression of what this system can do – we did a seminar on this topic on the Saturday evening.

Had a great chat with Roman of Thrax and so expect reviews of their products soon on Hifi Pig.

High End By Oz

Ozan Turan is a larger than life character and owns the self-titled High End By Oz based in Los Angeles, California and whilst this was the first time we had met in person, we had been friends on social media for a good while – it’s always good to put faces to virtual names.

Even before we walked into this room we had a good inkling that it would be a good showing given that it contained one of my favourite amplifiers on the market at the moment, The Vitus Audio SIA-030 made by Hans Ole-Vitus who was also in the room personally. I heard this amp first at Munich earlier in the year and whilst at $40K it’s certainly not cheap, it certainly, in my limited experience, delivers sonically. Vitus Audio’s SIA-030 was introduced in Munich 2019 was making its USA debut at RMAF 2019. SIA 030 is a 30w Class A integrated amplifier with options of built-in DAC Streamer module and Phono amp module. To say I want one of these is a bit of an understatement but one can dream!

In the room with Oz and Hans was Greg Beron from United Home Audio who was showing off his Ultima OPS-DC reel to reel tape deck. The reel to reel player itself is a highly modified Tascam unit using Greg’s own tape heads, but Greg was more interested in telling us about the new DC powers supply that it was using, can be added to virtually all reel to reels and costs $6500.  The OPS unit converts AC power from the wall outlet to DC power and so the deck it is attached to 100% on DC Current. It consists of two custom wound toroidal power transformers that have been made especially for UHA, one to run the motors and one to run the dual mono designed preamps. There are banks of AC to DC conversion devices that convert AC to DC and the entire deck is running on DC current. The tape transport, the lights, logic circuits, VU meters, everything has been rewired to operate 100% on DC Current and lights on the deck can be turned off to further improve sound quality.

Oz was also introducing to the US market the AudioSolutions Virtuoso M loudspeakers ($32K). I first heard AudioSolutions at Munich earlier in the year where they made a real impression on me and have been taken up by G-Point Audio in the UK.

Ok, this was always going to be a good sounding system and I was over the moon that they offered to play my Mascara Quartet reel to reel that I’d brought all the way from Hifi Pig Towers especially to play on this system. Huge sound stage with detail and control is what I took away from the system and I was a more than happy camper who could have stayed in the room for hours on end but Oz had other ideas and turned to play us a CD. Moreover, he then plonked the CD on a negative ion generator and played it again – there was definitely an improvement though I have no idea what the hell is happening here. OK, for those interested the unit is by Audio Revive and costs $950. Not content with this Voodoo Oz was keen to disappear behind the curtain behind the kit and turn on and off “something”. “Ok, I give in, what was that?”. Turns out what Oz was switching off and on was a Schumann resonator (two actually) made by Acoustic Revive and costing $650. The effect was pretty dramatic with a more open sound. I’ve looked into Schumann Resonance and it’s very interesting and will be experimenting in the future.

Martin Logan, Paradigm and Anthem

Mention Martin Logan and you’ll no doubt picture in your mind’s eye a pair of electrostatic hybrids but did you know that this Canadian company have been making non-electrostatic speakers for twenty or more years, but they are not so well known for this in the United Kingdom. In the room we had the Motion 35XTi standmounts costing $1300 a pair and featuring a Folded Motion® XT tweeter and 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofer with a rear-firing bass port.

They also feature proprietary Vojtko crossover networks using polypropylene and low-DF electrolytic capacitors, custom-wound inductors, and thermal and current protection. Vojtko crossovers are named after MartinLogan’s chief audio technologist, Joe Vojtko. His unique approach to crossover design is as big of a part of the “MartinLogan Sound” as are electrostatic and Folded Motion thin-film driver technologies. Vojtko crossovers are designed in such a way that all drivers are kept within their optimal frequency range and balanced with one another. The drivers themselves are as much a part of a Vojtko crossover as are capacitors and resistors say Martin Logan. Before the design of any crossover begins, drivers are carefully selected or designed to operate within a very intentional frequency range and with precise and predictable performance parameters. Vojtko crossovers are always built from high-quality parts, and care is taken to avoid overly complex topologies. The final (and most critical) aspect of a Vojtko Crossover is that final voicing is conducted in a space that is indicative of a real-world environment.

On the day the standmounts were helped along by a pair of Dynamo subs costing $2900 and again from Martin Logan to give a punch and dynamic presentation that had loads of air and detail that belied the very modest price of the system. The subs are fully DSP controlled and can be controlled by listeners using an app for iOS or Android.

Great value is what I took from this set up powered by Benchmark electronics.

Paradigm speakers were also present in the room in the form of a $39K pair of 7F speakers and Persona subs ($10K) that were paired with STR pre and STR amplifiers. The pre is fully DSP controlled but is bypassable on this preamplifier and uses Anthem’s own room correction. The DSP certainly works well and in this less than ideal small hotel room did a great job. In the real world this system should have sounded all over the place in this room but it just didn’t and when they played Daft Punk’s Contact for us the notes I took stated “Tops just start and stop with no splash and bass is tight but still with texture to the electronic sounds. Excellent sounding system in my honest opinion.

Emm Labs, Focal and DS Audio

We had only a very quick pop into this great sounding room which felt effortless and balanced playing Rickie Lee Jones. Amps in the room were the Emm Labs MTRX2 monoblocs which output a very healthy 1000W into 4Ω and weigh a cake guzzling 82kg or in old money 180lbs. The streamer in the room was the new model from Emm Labs. On the SME turntable was the most wonderful optical cartridge from DS Audio for which Emm Labs say they are creating a new phonostage for…can’t wait to hear this.

So that was us pretty much done for the Thursday and we headed off to bed to make sure we were bright and bushy-tailed for the next few days at the show.

More coverage of Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

Show Report 2 

 

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