NG's Rocky Mountain AudioFest Highlights and Impressions

Show report
Multi-format disc players,
NG's Rocky Mountain AudioFest Highlights and Impressions

Frankly I was concerned how well RMAF would fare this year in the face of west coast competition like the high energy T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach but exhibitors tell me that RMAF continues to serve a loyal regional contingent and beyond­–it’s the show of choice for many East coasters. Clearly, with the contraction of a robust brick and mortar network of dealers it still represents a royal opportunity for attendees.

Traffic was good in general for most of the marquee exhibitors. The lavish MBL room was relatively crowded throughout and no wonder–with the Corona line of electronics and the wondrous mbl120 loudspeakers and a cave full of Reference Line gear, this room was catnip for attendees. And equally so for the room premièring the Wilson Alexia. Driven by monoblock/monolith VTL Siegfried II amps/VTL 7.5 Series III preamp, Spiral Groove table/arm (Air Tight PCM 1 cart), and the amazing dCS Vivaldi stack (a four box contraption of stunning construction and innovation) and mega costly Transparent Opus cabling, the sound was nothing short of breathtaking. The system suited the room better than the Wilson Sacha did last year. The Alexia has just the right level of mid range dynamics and low-end resources to fully energize the large space.

However others that I spoke with commented that although RMAF got off to a good Friday noontime start, the show didn’t sustain into Saturday as in prior years. Naturally responses vary but my seat-of-the-pants impression fairly confirms these statements.

Two unrelated moments stand out for me this year. The first occurred in the Apex Audio room on the upstairs mezzanine. Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings was DJ-ing analog aboard a Clearaudio table (Aesthetix electronics and Focal Maestro Utopia speakers). He placed an ancient Sheffield direct-to-disc LP of  Harry James & His Big Band. Ka-Pow! The blast of brassy, percussive energy seemed to envelope the room in a way that made the system seem extraneous. Whether you were a lover of big band swing or not was no longer the question. We all just stood, gob smacked in amazement at the authenticity and scope of the presentation. Later I joked with TAS Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley about the experience saying, “this was equal to any master tape I’ve ever heard.” RH quickly answered, “Better than any master tape because there is no master tape.” Amen to that.

Finally in an irony to all who slowed down long enough to listen, the most purely musical moment came not from high-end electronics. It came from a pair of high-end human beings. Iconic “kable” guy and occasional music impresario Ray Kimber, founder of Kimber Kable had invited Taiwan-born pianist Fan-Ya Lin, a Weber State University attendee and recipient of a multitude of piano competition awards to perform short programs throughout the Audiofest. Perched at the keyboard of a Steinway Model D in the lobby nearest the mezzanine staircase, the willowy, young pianist played Bach, Beethoven and Chopin selections from her new disc Emerging, an SACD Surround, SACD stereo and CD-Audio hybrid available on Kimber’s label.  The sound, the dynamic touch of Fan-Ya, the sweetness of the upper octaves, basically all the meaty elements that audiophiles pursue so avidly in this hobby were on display in real time in an unamplified acoustic space. It was a reminder not only of how far we’ve come in the high end but just how far we need to go. Thanks Fan-Ya. Thanks Ray.