Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010

RMAF 2010

For the seventh successive year, numerous audiophiles and music lovers converged on Denver, Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF). Unlike CES, which is open to trade members only, RMAF is open to all. This was my first RMAF outing, so I was very much looking forward to it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the neat stuff on show, so I decided to concentrate my attention on vinyl-related stuff.

I met lots of people, both within the industry and not. I like putting faces to names, so I was pleased to meet a few members of some of the audio forums I hang out in. I also met a few people I met earlier this year at CES; it was great catching up with them too.

But enough reminiscing. What about the gear?! Judging by the number of turntables being used by various exhibitors, and the sheer number of records for sale in the marketplace, vinyl’s renaissance is still going on strong! Here’s a roughly alphabetical summary of some of the stuff I saw, with my apologies to manufacturers I’ve neglected to mention. Bear in mind that most vendors were demonstrating their wares in hotel room with questionable acoustics, so my comments about sound quality should be taken with a pinch or two of salt. Don’t worry about the briefness of this article: we’ll be publishing an article with more details and lots of photos in a forthcoming issue of the magazine.

Artemis Labs demonstrated their SA-1 and SA-1S turntables with the Schröder Reference TA-1 tonearm and their own cartridge.

Danish turntable designer, Johnnie Bergmann of Bergmann Audio, was in the Aaudio Imports room playing his new $54,400 Sleipner Reference air bearing turntable and arm. With a Lyra Titan i cartridge, Ypsilon amplification, Lansche plasma tweeter speakers, and Stage III cables, I thought the sound was very good. Johnnie was kind enough to indulge me by playing Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road and Private Investigations in their entirety.

The main attraction for me in the Burmester room was their new 100 phono stage, which starts at $16,995. The 100 supports multiple MM and MC inputs, and an optional internal ADC.

In the Xact Audio room, Steve Dobbins was playing his new Kodo The Beat magnetic drive turntable ($24,000), coupling it with the Reed 3Q Laser Guided tonearm ($6,500) and the Allnic Puritas cartridge ($4,950), playing through a pair of MBL 111F speakers ($39,500) driven by an all-Allnic amplification chain (including their new H-3000V phono stage).

Galibier Design had turntables in three rooms, from their entry-level Gavia-I ($8,750) to their top-of-the-line Stelvio-II ($27,500). Tonearms were by Durand and Schröder, cartridges by Benz, Dynavector, and Ortofon. Meanwhile, Kubotek were demonstrating their Haniwa HCTR01 MC cartridge and its matching HEQA01 phono stage.

Odyssey had their new $2,500 tube/bipolar Kismet phono stage on static display. Talking of new phono stages, Ron Sutherland was proudly showing off his latest phono stage, the $2,200 20/20.

Oswalds Mill Audio were using their OMA Tourmaline turntable ($12,000) with tonearms from Thomas Schick and Schröder, and cartridges from Miyajima and Soundsmith. Talking of the latter, Soundsmith were demonstrating all sorts of neat stuff including their new Cartright, which is a $900 cartridge set up device designed to be used with the supplied test record. With one simple tool, the Cartright claims to make optimally setting one’s VTF, SRA, overhang, azimuth, and anti-skating easy.

TT Weights were playing their new Gem rim drive turntable ($6,500) and showing their $15,900 Black Onyx turntable. The latter was only on static display because it had only recently been finished, and wasn’t run in. One of the last rooms I visited was Walker Audio’s, where the $57,000 Proscenium Black Diamond II was playing with an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, electronics from Walker Audio and Technical Brain, and the TAD CR-1 speakers. I don’t know if I had accidentally saved the best for last, but this room certainly was, in my opinion, one of the best I heard at the show (I didn’t do much critical listening, but the Aaudio Imports room would also be on that list).

In addition to spinning vinyl, several exhibitors were using reel to reel tape decks as one of their sources. Digital streaming was very prevalent, but CD players were conspicuously almost absent. If RMAF is anything to go by, I’d say that CD’s days are numbered but vinyl has nothing to fear. Adding weight to this assertion is the number of vinyl records for sale in the marketplace compared to the relatively few numbers of CDs. The software selection in recent years has never been so good; it’s certainly a good time to be a vinylphile!