I just got back from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015 in Denver, Colorado. Kudos to Marjorie and everyone else involved, they really did a great job of putting on the show!
It’s been quite a while since I’ve ventured out to an audio show. I got burned out on them years ago, but I really enjoyed RMAF 2015 and seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and just having a great time seeing what’s been taking place in the audio creative arts since the last time I checked in.
It was a real treat to meet Dave & Carol Clark of Positive Feedback.
By the way that’s Henry Winkler in the blue shirt left of Carol, who came out for RMAF this year. No, its not really Henry, it’s actually Alan Kafton, who is handsome enough to be a movie star, and who happens to look remarkably like Henry Winkler back when Henry was younger. Some guys have all the luck!
It was also a treat to see Dr. David Robinson of Positive Feedback fame. We did the dueling camera thing, and Doc won. I think he needs to change his name to ‘Doc Holliday’! David’s got a big lens, I felt quite inadequate with my tiny Leica!
A mixer was just getting started, so I walked over to hear the Mark Diamond Trio featuring vocalists Lillian & Tanya Boutte, from New Orleans. They were awesome! Lillian Boutte holds the title of ‘Ambassador of Music’ from the city of New Orleans, and Lillian is only the second musician to hold that title after Louis Armstrong. What a treat!
The mixer was really really well attended, with lots of fun being had by show attendees.
The free booze and snacks really helped get the conversation flowing.
You’ll never guess who I saw at the mixer! See the gentleman in the middle holding his cell phone? That’s Mr. Yoshi Hontani who exports SPEC, Leben, and Acoustic Revive to the USA.
I’ve known Yoshi-san for many years, but this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Yoshi-san hinted to me that there might be a new Leben on the way to tempt all those Leben fans out there. Details will be forthcoming.
Do you recognize that handsome fellow with the big smile in the photo below?
If you guessed it was Mr. Shirokazu Yazaki you’re exactly right! On the left is Yazaki-san’s friend & colleague at SPEC Corporation, Ishimi-san, and of course the goofy looking fellow in the middle is yours truly.
Below is a great group shot, left to right, of Yazaki-san, Nishimiya-san, Dave Clark-san, Ishimi-san, Henry Winkler-san (Alan Kafton-san), Yoshi Hontani-san, and Elia Hontani-san.
The lady to the left was awed by such a collection of manly talent!
After the mixer we all went out and had a little dinner at Il Fornaio just around the corner from the Tech Center where RMAF was held. The service was exemplary, the food great, and the company superb!
Many thanks to the very generous Yoshi-san, who bought us all dinner! Thank you Yoshi-san!
I enjoyed Il Fornaio so much I went back the next night solo, and the night after that with Pete Riggle after running into him in the lobby! Good times!
Ok, how about a little Hi-Fi gear?
I’m not going to cover every room I walked into for a listen, as there were lots of bad sounding rooms at RMAF this year, mostly associated with digital sources, I noticed. Rather, I thought I’d just mention the standouts (I wasn’t able to make into every room of course).
Free tip: If you want the best showing possible at an audio show use vinyl, it just sounds more like music. I guess this tip doesn’t work as well for the guys selling digital gear.
The Tone Imports Room
One of my favorite rooms was Jonathan Halpern’s Tone Imports room, featuring the stunning SPEC GMP-8000 turntable, SPEC electronics, and DeVore Fidelity loudspeakers.
Definitely my favorite turntable of RMAF 2015!
Here’s a closeup of the SPEC GMP-8000 turntable mounted with an EMT arm and EMT TSD-15 phono cartridge.
In the photo below that’s Rafe from Part Time Audiophile, who was shooting the show. I got a chance to talk to Rafe briefly in Jonathan’s room, and he’s a heck of a neat guy.
It turns out Rafe & Malachi (also PTA) are relatively close by Jeff’s Place, so I invited both Rafe & Malichi over for some audio tomfoolery. It’ll be a blast!
Jonathan put on his mono EMT phono cartridge and played some albums, it was amazing & wonderful!
The Volti Audio Room
Greg Roberts’ of Volti Audio is a master craftsman, and I was blown away with how good his Vittora loudspeakers were at playing music. The quality of construction of Greg’s Vittora loudspeakers was just stunning!
The sound & music coming from the Vittora’s was impressive indeed, and it was one of my favorites of the fest. If I had the dough, the Vittora would be on my short list for another pair of speakers, they’re impressive. They come with a sub, but it wasn’t in the system when I was there, and it didn’t really seem to need it.
In the photo above Greg is pointing to the Border Patrol 300B amplifier, and those two big boxes to the side of the equipment stand are its power supplies. See the closeups below.
But for those of us who don’t have $22K burning a hole in our pockets for a new pair of loudspeakers, what should we do? Well, not only does Greg handcraft the state-of-art Vittora loudspeakers, but he also offers ‘hot-rod’ kits for Klipschorns, Belle Klipsch, and Klipsch La Scala loudspeakers, which he says produces a big slice of the Vittora performance without breaking the bank.
That’s pretty intriguing, and Greg and I talked about the possibility of a speaker project in the future. I had already been thinking about a K-horn project before I met Greg, and Greg was encouraging me to give a Belle Klipsch project a try. We’ll see if the stars align for a speaker project!
Audio Note UK Room
Another favorite room for me was the Audio Note UK room.
That’s their new loudspeaker in the corner, and I thought it sounded pretty darn good, and it seems like it was priced at a rather friendly $3200 dollars or so.
There was an abundance of digital sources at RMAF 2015, the equivalent of a biblical plague of frogs. I didn’t hear any of them sound enticing enough for me to want to lay down my own cash for, although the one in the Audio Note UK room was better than most, and was rather musically engaging I thought.
However, I will say that the Audio Note UK room gets the nod for my best sound of the show, but not for their digital source, but rather their analog source.
The analog source was none other than the superb cellist, Vincent Belanger, who absolutely wowed us with a couple of selections. It’s a real treat sitting just a couple of feet away and listening to Vincent play, and he was hands down the best sound of the show!
(Please forgive the advert that pops up with the video below. For some reason Naxos has claimed copyright to the video I shot on my iPhone at RMAF 2015 a couple of days ago and is spamming me with advertisements to make money. Please bear with me, I’m trying to get it fixed, and if I can’t I’ll delete my friggin’ video, as I refuse to have any advertisements on my web site!)
I’ll tell you what, it takes some real balls to have live music playing in your hi-fi show room with the stereo providing support, as that can really show the limitations of your hi-fi system, so kudos to Audio Note UK, and they should stand proud, with their big balls tossed up over their shoulder, as their Audio Note UK system fared very well with such an exalted comparison as Vincent Belanger. Well done mates!
The Acoustic Sounds – Sony Room
This rather unassuming looking system of Sony loudspeakers & Pass amplification, with a turntable as a source, was probably my favorite room for its rich, natural, spacious, dynamic, and musical presentation.
It didn’t hurt that Chad Kassem played DJ in the room, playing great album after great album, often one-off test pressings from his Analogue Productions label, with some cuts that were one of a kind, and which will never see commercial sales.
Chad Stelley (please correct me if I got the name wrong) did the room setup for Mr. Kassem, and he really hit a home run! It’s hard to get that good of a setup at any time, even at home with lots of time, and almost impossible under show conditions where you have feisty non-optimum rooms to deal with and very little time to get it right.
Chad & Chad are a couple of terrific guys and I really enjoyed the short couple of times I’ve talked with them.
I had hoped to spend some more time talking with Chad Kassem, but he was one busy guy, so that’ll have to wait for another time.
I feel a little silly that I didn’t take more photos in Chad’s room, but I got so mesmerized with the great music I sort of lost track of what I was doing. Sorry about that.
Dave Slagle & Saskia Turntable Room
Another favorite of mine was the great sounding room shared by Dave Slagle (Intact Audio) and Saskia turntables.
The loudspeakers are bespoke, made by Dave, which incorporate Quad 57’s in custom stands, with amplifiers built into the stands that directly drive the Quads, kind of like the vintage Beveridge loudspeakers that Pete Riggle has, which are driven by an internal OTL amplifier, and like Pete’s Beveridges, they sounded great!
A closeup from the front.
The Saskia turntable was unassuming looking, and sounded fantastic. It’s an idler drive turntable (like a Garrard) with a solid slate plinth that weighs in around 200 pounds, which is probably more that one of Dave’s loudspeakers. That’s one of Frank Schroeder’s tonearms on the Saskia. I really liked the combination!
Ok, that’s a little summary of the rooms that I visited that really impressed me. My apologies to all those audio warriors whose rooms I didn’t get around to, there were just too many rooms and too little time.
Also, I want to give David Ratcliffe of Ultrasonic Records a mention, as I was really impressed with his ultrasonic record cleaner that could clean eight records at a time. The machine on the left rotates the records on a spindle through record cleaning solution while the UltraSonic vibrates all the crud out of them, just like you do with surgical instruments. Then you put the records you just washed in the machine in the middle (closeup below) and it blow dries them.
It’s a really nice way to clean records, and the price was fair, around $1800 if I remember correctly.
It was fun to venture out to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this year and visit all my old and new friends, listen to some good music, see some cool hi-fi gear, and eat some good food.
It was also pretty great to get back home and settle in with my own system and spin some records. Ahhhh …
That’s it for my RMAF coverage, but I’ve got a lot more to tell you about, which I’ll cover in some separate posts before too long.
I hope you enjoyed my RMAF coverage snippets, and thanks for stopping by!