• Notes From Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016

    Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016 is in the can. It was one of the best audio shows I've attended in recent memory. I'm sure some people have found reasons why the show wasn't their favorite, but I tried my best not to get caught up in the minutiae. Sure, half the building was under construction, but who cares (from a show attendee's perspective). There was no audio being played in the under construction portion of the venue anyway. Moving on, I didn't get to all the rooms. I go for quality over quantity. This means I will spend 30 minutes or more in a single room if I think there's something good happening. The downside to this is that I miss other rooms or I only have time to stop in and say hello. It's just how life goes as one person covering an entire audio show. In other words, first world problems. In addition to covering the show, I spent a lot of time talking with people in the industry to get information that's not typically shared with the public. I say this in a cool way, not in a way to make me look special or important. I think it's cool so many people will share inside details with me, because it helps me help the CA Community, even without revealing sources or information. I also participated in three seminars and attended a couple others covering interesting topics. Of course the best part of RMAF, like other consumer shows, was meeting readers and contributors to Computer Audiophile. One guy stopped me to let me know the Android version of the CA app sucked, but it was still great to meet him and I am very grateful for his other kind words and patronage of CA.

    Before diving into further thoughts about the show, I want to mention a very cool experience I had with Uber. I absolutely love Uber and use it in every city I visit. Note: Last May when leaving the Munich High End show, the Uber driver drove me to the airport at 125 mph (I loved it). In Denver, I requested an Uber ride after dinner one evening. Shortly after this request, the Uber iOS app asked if I wanted to select specific music for the ride. I thought, cool why not. I had the option of using Spotify or Pandora. I selected Spotify and of course selected some tracks from Pearl Jam. Keep in mind this was all done in about a minute while waiting for the car to arrive. As soon as the car arrived and I stepped into the vehicle, Park Jam's Alive started playing automatically. On the way to the hotel, the driver asked me about the song and I also was able to share my favorite tunes with a friend riding along. It's the small things in life that can be memorable and make a difference.

    The Show

    This year I'm going to really focus on a describing a couple different rooms, rather than do a brief hit and run on several rooms. First, I thought the Magico / Soulution room in the Presidential suite at the Hyatt Regency was terrific. M3 loudspeakers with a pair of Q-Subs and top of the line Soulution electronics, in a properly setup system / room, sounded wonderful. It was a system I could live with for a very long time and never think about upgrading.

    More interesting to me and what made me more excited to spend time listening, was the the room with Focal Sopra 2 loudspeakers ($13,995 pair), Micromega M1 100 integrated amplifier / DAC ($3,995), IsoAcoustics Gaia 1 isolation devices ($1200 for a set of eight (Under the Sopra speakers)), and Piccolo speaker cables from Crystal Cable ($1,400 pair). This entire system was far less expensive than a single component of the Magico / Soulution system, yet it provided more enjoyment for me at the show.

    The system was being fed by a laptop with Roon (local and Tidal music). Audio Plus Services' John Bevier and I were going back and forth selecting our favorite music for what must have been 45 minutes. When a system sounds this good and is so inviting, it's hard to stop listening. Several tracks into the listening session John played Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways". This is great song that exudes a certain innocence of the time period it was recorded and it can sound so terrific on a good system. through the Micromega and Focal system I was sold. I could have listened to it on repeat a couple times. I countered this track with my own selection of Peter, Paul and Mary's "All My Trials". Another favorite of mine from another time. The harmonies in this track and the delicate solo vocals of the trio were undeniably seductive. After the track I was ready to turn into a hippie and march for the cause, whatever that was. I didn't care, I just enjoyed the music that much. John followed this up with a track from London Grammar called "Hey Now". This track has become a show favorite for some exhibitors, as evidenced by the playing of it no less than five times in five different room I entered. I hope it doesn't get burned out, but until such time I will continue to enjoy the music. "Hey Now" isn't the typical acoustic music recorded as a group in a single space type of music. It's full of electronics and studio created sounds, with a great vocal from singer Hannah Reid. Good music is good music. I don't care what type it is or who sings it, I will always enjoy good music. Through this system London Grammar sounded very enjoyable. It's not audiophile perfection, it's real music. The audio system was fully capable of reproducing this track at a level of quality that should please nearly everyone. By far my favorite track of the session also includes a cool story. As many CA readers know, my wife and I attended a Park Jam concert at Boston's Fenway Park in August of this year. With this in mind, I played Eddie Vedder's album of music created for the soundtrack of the movie Into The Wild. Specifically I played the track named "Society". As soon as I heard the opening lyrics I was all-in.

    It's a mystery to me
    We have a greed
    With which we have agreed

    - Eddie Vedder, "Society"

    Eddie's baritone vocal sounded so great through this system. If this level sound quality and realism didn't make everyone in the room at least consider the message in the song, I'd be surprised. Eddie metaphorically just hanged there between the loudspeakers as his voice and ukulele floated throughout the room. Now for the cool story part of this experience. After the track finished, a guy behind me said he was the monitor engineer for Pearl Jam at the Fenway Park concert my wife and I attended. This guy agreed with me that the sound of the Eddie Vedder track through this system was absolutely awesome. Testimonials don't get much better than that.

    Two other items worthy of mention are both related to Focal. After the Micromega / Focal visit, I entered a room with Naim and Focal being demonstrated. The entire system consisted of the Naim Atom ($2995.00 (Dec avail)), Naim Core server ($2595.00 (Nov avail)), Focal Aria 926 ($3,299 pair), Naim NACA 5 speaker cable ($250), and a barely audible subwoofer hidden in the corner (SUB 1000 F ?). There's no way this system could be as pleasing as the previous, but for the price it was also very enjoyable. I played a couple of the same tracks, and really liked what I heard. This inexpensive system certainly had its limitations and couldn't compete one-on-one with the other system, but for half the price it was great. Only at a HiFi show, and after listening to a system at twice the price, would this system be considered inferior.

    Last but not least, I want to briefly mention my experience with the new Focal Utopia headphones ($4,000). I visited the Can Jam area early in the morning so I could listen to the Utopia before the level of noise rose to an unacceptable level. once it gets loud in this area, all open back headphone listening sessions are null and void. The Utopia was connected to a Cavali Audio amp and Astell&Kern source. It's easy to notice I'm not the biggest connoisseur of headphonia, as I don't recall the specific models of each unit. I can't forget the Utopia headphones. The pure beryllium drive in the Utopia sounded amazing. I don't recall ever hearing anything like this in a headphone. The sound was a bit reminiscent of my TAD CR1 loudspeakers in that both a very fast. The immediacy that can be heard in the Focal Utopia headphones is fabulous. After finally giving up my seat to another person waiting for a chance to listen to these headphones, I tried to find a pair of Stax electrostatic headphones for a quick comparison. I couldn't find the Stax, but if my sonic memory serves, I'd probably select the Utopia as my headphone of choice. I've wanted Stax electrostatic headphones for many years, but after hearing the pure beryllium driver in the Utopia, I'm a convert. I'm jumping on the Focal Utopia bandwagon.

    I look forward to seeing everyone again in 2017 and to seeing those of you who messaged me about missing this year and attending next year for certain.

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    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Superdad's Avatar
      Superdad -
      Cool pics Chris!

      But that selfie with Fremer is a bit scary...
    1. YashN's Avatar
      YashN -
      Ha, looks like they patched up.
    1. esimms86's Avatar
      esimms86 -
      Next year bring someone like Ted Brady and divide up the coverage between the two of you. I understand that Ted knows a thing or two about DACs. :~>
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -

      Good write up.
      I'm really interested in that Micomega "all in one". There is going to be at least one model with an option for full DRC.
      Any chance you can get one for review?
    1. matthewpartrick's Avatar
      matthewpartrick -
      Chris--what was the Roon endpoint in the Focal room?

    1. Camb's Avatar
      Camb -
      How did the Devialet/Focal combo sound vs. The Micromega/Focal room?
    1. hvbias's Avatar
      hvbias -
      Did you have a chance to make it to the Vivid Giya room? They were one of the best at the show for me, probably helped by the large room.
    1. sphinxsix's Avatar
      sphinxsix -
      ' It's the small things in life that can be memorable and make a difference.'
      I totally agree! Well.. obviously big things can be memorable and make a difference too.. Especially if they sound good
    1. MayfromSOtM's Avatar
      MayfromSOtM -
      Thumbs UP!