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    austinpop

    RMAF 2018 Show Report

    At Chris’s request, I’ve consolidated my contemporaneous postings about RMAF into this show report. This is my second year attending RMAF at this venue, and like last year, it was very enjoyable. With the benefit of past experience, I was able to organize my time better, so got to see more of the rooms and exhibits than I did last year.

     

    Before I get any further, a word about what this report is, and what it isn’t. It IS a highly personal chronicle of my experience at RMAF. It ISN’T a preplanned show report, as the idea of publishing this on the CA front page came after the show was over.  I make no claims of full coverage, as I planned some of my meanderings based on things I wanted to see. I could not visit some rooms, often because the room was too full or “a reviewer is in there.” 9_9

     

    I am only going to mention rooms and systems that caught my ear or fancy.

     

    General Thoughts

     

    RMAF isn’t really a show with much direct intersection with computer audio. Occasionally, a few relevant vendors will show and/or announce new products, but for the most part, attending RMAF is about experiencing mainstream audiophile systems.

     

    Also, it is a tough job to show a stunning system in a hotel room. In my experience - both last year and this time - I'd say less than 10% of rooms sounded even remotely good. However, I do feel this year was a little better. Of course, this is moot, as next year the show moves to a brand new venue, so we shall see if the ratio of good to bad changes.

     

     

    It’s all about people, people!

     

    Although the rest of this report will focus on my favorite sounds, the best part of the show is about meeting old audio friends and making new ones. Like last year, @limniscate (Eric) was my show buddy, and we visited most of the rooms together. Meeting CA’ers in person for the first time was certainly one of the highlights. Shouts out to @ted_b, @barrows, @The Computer Audiophile, @Rt66indierock, @Derek Hughes, and last but not least, @David.. Qobuz, Hi-Res Music Evangelist, with whom we had a memorable happy hour. I apologize if I missed any other CA’ers I met but forgot to list.

     

    Eric and I also hung out with Jay and Siao from Audio Bacon - great guys. Beyond that, there were spontaneous conversations with everyone from industry icons to fellow audiophiles throughout the show.

     

    Making and renewing friendships is truly the best part of these shows.

     

     

    Computer Audio Products

     

     

    image8.jpgWhile RMAF isn’t really focused on computer audio, one product did stand out: the new Innuos Statement Music Server (MSRP $13,750). It was showed in a system comprising QLN Prestige Three speakers ($9,999), LinenberG amplification, Aqua Formula xHD DAC.

     

    They had their previous flagship ZENith MkII SE (MSRP $7000) hooked up for A/B comparisons with the Statement. While the Statement is a massive uptick in price, you do get a separate PSU with 8 rails, OCXO clocks for USB and Ethernet, among many other improvements. 

     

    The A/B experiment did a good job showcasing the SQ improvement with the Statement. 

     

    Photo Credit: Well Pleased Audio Vida

     

    My favorite headphones of Canjam RMAF:

     

     

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    Meze’s new Empyrean headphones ($3000) had a captivatingly smooth, dynamic, and spacious sound. I will definitely be giving this a closer look.

     

     

     

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    Warwick Sonoma Electrostatics ($5000 with DAC/amp) were my favorite electrostatics after the iconic Stax SR009.

     

     

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    Photo Credit: Abyss Headphones

     

    I enjoyed the new Abyss Diana Phi. When I first tried these a couple years ago, I found they had the clamping pressure of a vise on my admittedly large head. No more. This is one of many improvements in the Phi version.

     

     

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    Photo Credit: Abyss Headphones

     

    One of my favorite headphones of the show was the Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC. Like its predecessors, the sheer slam and physicality of this bad boy, coupled with its neutrality and dynamics, make this a real flagship.

      

     

     

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    These Quad ERA-1 planar magnetic headphones sounded very clean and smooth - reminiscent of Quad electrostatic speakers! - at the Woo Audio table at CanJam, driven by their diminutive but impressive solid-state WA11 Passport DAC/amp. Especially next to the just-released Focal Elegia closed-backs, which I found distinctly underwhelming. These Quad's may just set the new benchmark for the sub-$1k segment.

     

     

    Best sounding Rooms - Cost no Object

     

     

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    I had loved the Nagra room last year, and this year again, it was one of my favorites. This year featured Nagra HD electronics, Nagra reel-to-reel deck, and Rockport Cygnus ($62,500). As you’ll read, Rockports seemed to find their way into several great systems at RMAF!

     

     

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    Raidho’s room had these lovely TD-4.8 ($158-177k), driven by top-end Simaudio Moon electronics.

     

     

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    The Vandersteen Model Seven MkII's ($62,000) with Sub 9 subwoofers ($18,000) and Granite upgrade ($10,000) sounded mighty fine, couple with  VTL electronics.

     

     

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    Constellation electronics driving Rockport Avior II ($38,500) speakers was another standout room.

     

     

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    These $200k Von Schweikert Ultra 9s, powered by other expensive electronics, did one thing that too many other 6-figure speaker systems didn't do at RMAF - sound amazing. I visited twice, and was underwhelmed the first time they were playing Beethoven's 9th on a turntable. The second time was digital, and that was outstanding.

     

     

     

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    These Wilson Benesch Resolution ($69,500) speakers really stood out with their pinpoint imaging. I was able to play some Mahler 10th from my own music, and it was an excellent system and sound.

     

     

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    Another great-sounding room with Rockport Avior II speakers, this time with CH Precision electronics. 

     

     

     

    Great Sound with Speakers under $20k

     

     

    It is easy to lose one’s sense of perspective and proportion at these shows. The prices on the best systems are, well, obscene. $100k+ speakers are commonplace, with preamps, amps each north of $50k. Heck, the aforementioned Nagra system had a DAC north of $50k. What madness!

     

    In order to showcase systems that were not insanely priced, I’ve placed more sanely priced speakers in this section. I focused on speakers, because some systems used really expensive electronics even with sub-$20k speakers - I guess because they could.

     

     

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    Excellent sound from Canton Reference 3k speakers (MSRP $15,600), driven by electronics that were um, Esoteric-ally priced.

     

     

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    Photo Credit: Legacy Audio

     

    Legacy Focus SE speakers (MSRP $13,975), driven by Raven electronics, impressed me with their fantastic imaging.

     

     

     

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    Joseph Audio Perspective (MSRP $12,999) speakers on Doshi electronics. Another sanely priced speaker that sounded really nice.

     

     

     

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    Good ol' Vinnie (Rossi). He sets up his rooms so well. And this year was no exception. LIO L2 electronics driving these Harbeth M40.2 Anniversary Editions (US MSRP $17,990) was really rocking. Room acoustics weren’t perfect, and I've heard this setup sound better at another show, but even so, the soundstage at the sweet spot was incredible.

     

     

     

     

    Speakers under $10k

     

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    Raidho’s room alternated demos between the top end TD-4.8 mentioned earlier, and these Scansonic MB-5 (MSRP $7500) speakers. These sounded stunning at this price point!

     

     

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    Just to highlight how show conditions matter - these GoldenEar Triton References (MSRP $8498) were sounding rather nice here, paired with Hegel electronics, unlike what I heard at AXPONA where I didn't like them.

     

     

     

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    These Dali Callisto active speakers sound wonderful for the $5700 price point.

     

     

     

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    I'm a sucker for the BBC LS 3/5A design. These Falcon units ($2195) sounded fantastic for their small size.

     

     

     

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    This was one of my favorite rooms of the show! Falcon had a setup of 6 different generations of the BBC LS 3/5A, including a restored original BBC version, all the way to the latest version from Falcon. Listening to the same track switched between each generation was a real treat. I've got to say - these speakers are astounding, even to this day.

     

     

     

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    And last but not least, my first exposure to the Wilson TuneTots (MSRP $9800). Very, very impressive sound. These would be killer for a nearfield setup - at a price!

     

     


    Other Interesting Rooms

     

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    Here are some Spanish Maggies. Just kidding. These are AlsyVox full range ribbons and Omega electronics. Very nice.

     

     

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    These German Physiks Borderland (MSRP $38,500) speakers sounded great. Only downside was it made my brain loop on  "We are the robots" as long as I looked at them.

     

     

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    Can we talk about the elephant in the room? Is that a giant horn or are you just happy to see me?  These ESD Acoustic monsters were certainly worth a listen, if not my cup of tea. Plus listening to Chinese erhu music on these was a bit surreal.

    Edited by austinpop




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    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Raidho/Scansonic room.  The smaller Scansonics were very impressive to me, I was surprised to find that I preferred them, in that room, to their much larger big brothers (the Raidhos).  I suspect the big Raidhos needed a bigger room to show what they really could do.  The Scansonics showed remarkable resolution, and sounded much "bigger" than their relatively diminutive size would suggest.  Particularly on the bass drum decay/ reverberation on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" the level of resolution was impressive.

    Thanks Rajiv for the report, and good to meet ya! 

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    26 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Hi Rajiv - It was really nice to see and talk to you at the show. Thanks for the report. I had to call an audible on my write up. 

     

    Same here, and you're welcome, Chris! I'm happy to oblige after you had that blatant technical committed on you. 😒

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    22 minutes ago, barrows said:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Raidho/Scansonic room.  The smaller Scansonics were very impressive to me, I was surprised to find that I preferred them, in that room, to their much larger big brothers (the Raidhos).  I suspect the big Raidhos needed a bigger room to show what they really could do.  The Scansonics showed remarkable resolution, and sounded much "bigger" than their relatively diminutive size would suggest.  Particularly on the bass drum decay/ reverberation on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" the level of resolution was impressive.

    Thanks Rajiv for the report, and good to meet ya! 

     

    Same here, barrows. Those Scansonics sounded amazing. Of course the $50k+ worth of Moon electronics probably didn't hurt either.

     

    I should probably edit the article and move the Scansonic to the under $10k section. They're an excellent value.

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    8 minutes ago, Derek Hughes said:

    Great to meet you Rajiv, really enjoyed our session in the bar, thanks to Chris for picking up the tab. One of my thoughts was that it was good to see and hear the number of active speaker systems and the use of DSP and room correction software. I particularly enjoyed the Elac, Dali and Eikon  rooms.

     

    Likewise, Derek!

     

    I had to skip the ELAC room due to it being full. Agree about the Dali.

     

    As for the Eikon, I wasn’t really impressed with the room as setup. Given all the buzz, I suspect they are better than that, so I’ll be checking them out again in a different setting next chance I get.

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    This question might be worthy of a thread on it’s own, but having read about show reports for the last few years since I became interested in hifi, I have to wonder who actually buys this five and six figure s**t? I mean, I could understand if there was say a half dozen companies or so making reference statement gear for a handful of millionaires/billionaires, but it appears as if there’s dozens of companies making this stuff, and new ones every year. And many of the wealthy people I know seem to be just fine buying a gaggle of Sonos and calling it a day. So where’s it all going? 

     

    I’m a photographer, and I would be hard pressed to spend five or six figures on even on the most top end system (say Phase One medium format digital). I know many balk at the cost of say a top of the line Leica lens for $10k, but that’s almost nothing in comparison, and will actually hold much of its resale value in comparison to a pair of speaker cables at that price! It’s honestly totally head scratching to me. Plus there’s only about five or so camera companies that even begin to come close to the cost of some of the gear mentioned here. Some of it actually makes really high end cars look a bargain and there’s a lot more material, manufacture, r&d, etc that go into those! 

     

    FTR I’ve never been to an audio show but would like to if given the chance locally some day. If nothing else for the amusement....

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    @charlesphoto I have often wondered about the points you raise. The closest analogy I could come up with are fine watches and wine. But I think even those are not good comparisons because of the far greater number of interested consumers.

     

    I've been an audiophile since the '70's and I went to one NYC audio show around '79 and have never attended one since then. The crowds, noise, inaccessibility, crappy demonstration rooms, etc... were too much. Now I live close enough to Axpona to attend each year, but I don't see the point because of the ever increasing cost of new equipment.

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    Not to launch a political discussion, but the economic divisions in the US are getting more, not less. Those at the top are becoming obscenely rich and there are getting to be more of them. Is it really possible that there is 100k more value in the Raidho than the Vandersteen 7? Of course not, but if you can buy the Vandersteen then you can probably buy the Raidho. If you are selling to the super rich then it just doesnt matter how much it costs. So in that case it really does make sense to keep jacking up the price. Most audio companies are not huge money makers, but if you can hit the occasionally grand slam with a six figure speaker system it could help support the company for a long time. You make more profit selling a few Lexus than 20 Corollas.

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    I can't remember the details of the anecdote, but a few years ago there was a speaker manufacturer who said he showed his new $80k a pair of speakers at the Munich hi-end show and got little interest and no orders. He was sure the speaker was great, and was flabbergasted, as many more expensive speakers were getting orders at the show.

    So he basically changed the cosmetics of the speaker  (it looked nice, but conventional) to make it look different and came back the next year to Munich with the speaker priced at $200k. Got gobs of interest and orders at the show. The actual sound of the speaker was basically identical, and the added production cost of the newer model was a small percentage of the increase in price. 

    He basically said that he realized there are a lot of people who want "the best" - which for them means the most expensive and visually impressive. 

     

    I think a lot of hi-end audio works that way. Antony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity used to talk about the cost of conventionally marketed audio (distributors and dealer networks): he said the expensive cosmetics of high end gear could account for as much as 70% of the final retail price. Nothing to do with SQ. But the cosmetics sell. People who spend (multiple) 5 figures or more want the stuff to look great or impressive, not just okay. Some of them do care about the SQ, but the cosmetics are what get them to pull out the credit card, as it were. 

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    And what I find amusing is that those ‘cosmetics’ on most $200k speakers I’ve seen I wouldn't let anywhere near my living room even if they were gifted to me! But yep, I’m pretty sure Diana Krall, Steely Dan and Dire Straits sound SO much more lifelike;) through those speakers styled to look like some sort of glossy cello skyscraper coming apart at the seams...

     

    Maybe high end hifi is like a sports cars substitute for those that can’t handle the speed....  the demographic must be aging out though, because I just don’t see the nouveau rich spending their money on $100k speakers when now you can get similar or better for 1/10 or less of that. There’s only so much smoke and mirrors and snake oil to go around...

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    I always figured for the price of some of these speakers and full systems you could just pay to have Diana Krall come and perform in person.  

     

    And after every event like this I've ever attended all I want to do is go home and listen to my relatively modest system that I've built/tweaked myself, and spent a fraction of what even down to earth audiophile systems cost.

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    I agree with you guys.

     

    High-end prices - for speakers especially, but alarmingly, for electronics too - have risen to obscene levels. There really is no other word for it. The unfortunate truth is that there apparently exist enough of the "money no object" customers to make the production of such gear feasible.

     

    The second truism is that high end shows do not showcase gear to even a fraction of their true capabilities. The realities of  hotel room acoustics, noisy HVACs, lousy power and insufficient setup and tuning time make great sound quality more an exception than a rule.

     

    So why attend these shows at all? For me personally, here are some reasons:

    1. Good dealerships, where you can meaningfully audition gear, are vanishing. Inexorably. Certainly outside the major cities in the US, if not around the world. I live in a small metropolis, where good high-end dealers are as rare as bad barbecue. :D For better or worse, shows like RMAF give you a chance to get a closer look at gear you might be considering, or are just curious about, and get to hear them (or more likely, their bigger brother at the top of the line), albeit in imperfect show condition.
    2. People. People are the best part of the show. You can meet industry titans, product designers, community members (fellow CA'ers), audio journalists, and other audio enthusiasts.
    3. Learn - about new gear, industry trends, what's coming, new product types etc.
    4. Unknown gems - there are a lot of audio manufacturers most of us have never heard of, who will come to these shows. At RMAF, I was really intrigued to hear Auris Audio (from Serbia), Meze Audio (from Romania), and Alsyvox speakers from Spain. I wouldn't have even heard of them, let alone listened to their gear, had I not gone.
    5. The weird and the wacky: finally, it's always cool to just wander around and look for offbeat things. There was a Chinese record label selling some really cool recordings I'd never have even thought to look for.  ESD Acoustics with their giant-ass horns!

    I'm sure there are more reasons, but you get my point.

     

    All that said - I couldn't agree more - I too breathed a sigh of contented relief when I got home and fired up my own system. Music to my ears!

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    Perhaps we in this segment of the hobby are lucky that the super-rich high-end audio geezer set don't really grok computer audio. Yes, we gasp at the $10-20k prices for Aurenders, Innuos, SGMs etc. But think about it. These prices pale in comparison to the Nagra HD DAC-X. $65k. WHAT?!

     

    I guess we should count our blessings. Once computer audio becomes idiot-proof, can $50k+ music players be far behind?

     

    A sobering thought. :) 

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    Another random vignette from RMAF...

     

    I'm sitting listening in the MSB room, and a gentleman seated in the sweet spot compliments Vince Galbo on the truly gigantic display on the front panel of the DAC. This guy was probably north of the median age of RMAF attendees. Vince half-jokingly described how they internally called it the "old man display," and then went on to reveal that the display alone cost them over $700 in parts.

     

    Think about that when you consider the effect the rich geezer-atti have on high-end component design.

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    12 minutes ago, austinpop said:

    Another random vignette from RMAF...

     

    I'm sitting listening in the MSB room, and a gentleman seated in the sweet spot compliments Vinco Galbo on the truly gigantic display on the front panel of the DAC. This guy was probably north of the median age of RMAF attendees. Vince half-jokingly described how they internally called it the "old man display," and then went on to reveal that the display alone cost them over $700 in parts.

     

    Think about that when you consider the effect the rich geezer-atti have on high-end component design.

     

    I’ve seen really high end car displays used in audio components with similar cost results due to low quantities. 

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    1 minute ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

     

    I’ve seen really high end car displays used in audio components with similar cost results due to low quantities. 

     

    Agreed, Chris. Was just pointing it out in the context of high prices of high end gear, and what drives those requirements.

     

    I doubt a typical CA'er would have wanted to push for a part like that - which probably drove MSRP up by $1.5-3k.

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    2 minutes ago, austinpop said:

     

    Agreed, Chris. Was just pointing it out in the context of high prices of high end gear, and what drives those requirements.

     

    I doubt a typical CA'er would have wanted to push for a part like that - which probably drove MSRP up by $1.5-3k.

    Based on an average 5x-8x multiplier your estimate is low. 

     

    Dang old guys, put on glasses. Only kidding 🙂

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    I stuck one of those bar magnifiers you get at Walgreens onto my W4S preamp's tiny display. I could see it from my seated position now. LOL, it did not cost $700.

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    On 10/14/2018 at 8:42 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Based on an average 5x-8x multiplier your estimate is low. 

     

    Dang old guys, put on glasses. Only kidding 🙂

     

    My Medicare plan doesn’t cover glasses.....

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