At this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, there were no fewer than eight members of the TAS reporting corps in attendance to cover the show. Given the number of writers in the queue, others were tasked with category assignments that required visiting every room (insofar as is possible); however, for my assignment at this RMAF show—as opposed to my coverage of analog and digital sources at this year’s CES and AXPONA, for instance—I was relieved of those particular challenges. On the plus side, having a less comprehensive assignment allowed me to present a more manageable overview of a select few products and systems that produced good sound and/or interesting technology. Because this is a very short piece and words are precious, I’ll get started without further ado.
Audio Union’s Döhmann Helix 1 Turntable with Schröder Captive Bearing Tonearm
This formidable analog front-end was supported by EnKlein’s David Series cables, and a full suite of Thrax Audio electronics driving Lyra speakers. The dual-tonearm-capable Helix 1 ’table features an internal dual-belt-driven motor that has a separate chassis containing the power supply and servo controller. One of the main features of the Helix 1 is its suspension and isolation system—a custom-designed “Negative Stiffness Mechanism Vibration Isolation” licensed from Minus K. Much of the Helix 1 design is based on what Audio Union calls “Micro Signal Architecture” and is claimed to be a cohesive approach using advanced techniques to combat physical, mechanical, and electrical noise. Looking through the Helix 1’s specification and design guide, it is evident to this writer that there is more to this ’table than what is printed in the text (which is a lot). Listening to a few of my LPs with the Helix 1 and Schröder CB ’arm (with very low-bearing friction with an ingenious adjustable damping system on the counterweight) tells me this $40,000 combination will most likely be reviewed by a lucky someone at TAS.
Apex Audio (Maroon Peak room) – Focal Grande Utopia EM sourced with four VAC Signature 200 iQ amplifiers in a bi-amp array from a VAC Master Preamplifier. A JR Transrotor Orion Reference FMD with TR 5009 tonearm and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, connected with Shunyata Cables using the Critical Mass Systems’ QXK Rack System, played all of the recordings—from jazz, pop, rock, folk, to classical—with ease.
Apex Audio (Blanca Peak room) – Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers with an impressive selection of electronics from Accuphase (A-70 amp, C-2820 preamp, DP-720 CD/SACD), Soulution (711 amp, 725 preamp, 755 phono), and Air Tight (ATM-2001 amp, ATE-2001 preamp) were fed by a JR Transrotor Tourbillon ’table ($55,000) with Graham Phantom Elite ’arm ($12,000) containing the production version of the new Air Tight Opus cartridge ($15,000). Connected with TARA Labs cable and supported by Critical Mass Systems’ QXK Racks, the system produced room-filling sound thanks to the electronics options from that illustrious trio of brands.
VTL/Wilson/dCS/Nordost room – The Wilson Sabrina produced the most balanced sound this writer has ever heard from a Wilson speaker. While other Wilson setups have been more impressive in terms of macro-dynamics and absolute excitement, the Sabrina was more of a full-scale, unabridged sonic piece this time around. While connected with Nordost Odin 2 cables and powered by VTL’s MB-185 Series III mono amps, TL-6.5 Series II pre, and TP-6.5 phonostage with my choice of either the Brinkmann Spyder with Lyra Etna cartridge, or the dCS Rossini digital player and clock, the combination could very well produce long-term listening satisfaction.