Rock Mountain Audio Fest 2011

Well, another RMAF (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest) is in the bag and what a time it was! It was a shorter event for me as I had to use miles to get there and I arrived Thurs and left at 3am on Sunday. But I saw most rooms and had enough beer and Marriott ginger chicken salads at the bar to last me another year. I also enjoyed the long debates over speaker design, international politics and the direction of America. Overall I think the show was great but there were a lot more mediocre rooms this year than last. I was disappointed in missing the demo of the re-release of Pink Floyd but I could not figure out when the demo occurred (or how to get there).

For me the highlights were the seminars. The room with Sean Olive alone was worth the trip. It was great to see the Harmon philosophy put into charts and get some idea of what they think. I did ok on the listening test until the over 9k section which I know I have lost. It was great that he was patient with our (stupid) questions. The Jitter and digital volume control seminars were also amazing. Very complex science put into layman’s terms. The “fathers of audio” was not so great and I think that one needs to be redone with a different moderator. The potential was very high but the session never even got to the runway for takeoff.

At first I could not believe the number of new manufacturers and rooms without great sound. Thinking about it on the flight home I think I am happy to see people coming out and trying new things or to simply be starting a new business in this down market. Takes a lot of balls and who knows, I may have heard the next Harmon International or Apple this weekend.

The top rung was pretty easy. I don’t have the time to list every component in every room but generally:

Any room with a Wilson Sophia or Sasha speaker was pretty good.

Any room with a Sonus Faber Speaker was pretty good.

Joseph room was good

Focal rooms were good

TAD rooms were good

Magico room was good. They had the small unit this time and it was very good for a small unit. I would get the Sasha for that amount of money over a 7” two-way were I in that market. Magico always sounds good to me but I always feel like I would have to have one in my room for a careful test to really make the call. Compared with the Wilsons where I think I would like it right off. (But of course nobody should be buying these without a long careful listen).

The Emerald Audo room was surprisingly good. Based on the driver makeup I would have thought not, surprise, surprise, it was good. Very affordable as well.

The NAD room was good this year. I understand Paul Barton (PSB) actually did the setup and that was a great improvement over last year.

Ray Kimber’s big room sounded good (as always) but I never stayed long as the kid running it kept making it too loud.

The Vivid was on my list as they are having their 15-minutes-o-fame. But every time I stopped by it was terrible music or too loud. Never got a listen and I feel I missed something.

There were a bunch of YG Acoustics rooms and I really tried to hit every one to get what this is all about but not a one sounded anywhere near decent. This is the third show and maybe 12-15 rooms total I have heard them so far and have yet to be impressed. I must be deef.

VonScheigart is generally good everywhere.

Theil still does not do it for me. This time they had a smallish floor stander that seemed to cut off around 90Hz. I am pretty sure they blew it with the two subs in the corners and cancelled the bass totally. The question is how the three people running the room could not hear it. It was not subtle.

The ESS room was interesting but I only had about 3 minutes in it. The guy fired up the big units in the corners and I was really impressed. I thought they were historical markers only but they sounded pretty good. Wish I had more time to take a real listen. Their regular speakers were pretty top heavy. I guess if you have a speaker that does over 1k really well you turn up that section.

The Harmon International rooms were a disappointment again. The Revel speaker was ok but sounded flat with no depth. The JBL room with the big horns never sounds good to me. The somewhat smaller JBL horns (with the vertical horn) were ok with their music but surprised me in a good way when I played my tracks. I really had to drop my head to a low point so I could get the right ear height, but once there it was ok. Interesting that my music was so much better than theirs. I wish Sean Olive would have taken a walk to hear some of the other rooms so he could see that a lot of rooms were out-doing Harmon by a lot. All challenges with a hotel room and whatever else, Harmon should be the “wow” room and it never is. I got the feeling that they arrive sure of their measurements and they don’t do enough listening. In this case it may have been a dealer setting it up but that is no excuse.

The room with the red PartsExpress kit curved line array was interesting. It was not quite to my liking but an interesting design and it was a LOT better than I thought it would be. I understand there is a larger woofer version and I would like to hear that with no DSP or sub and a passive XOver. I think there is a lot of potential here. Also, not having a CD player kept me from testing against what I know, a mistake. Anyone who is a real potential customer will want to hear their music, even in a hotel room.

Whining alert! - Every show and every year I have the same complaint about the music played in these rooms. While I cannot expect everyone to cater to my (awesome) standard, there has to be some basic standard of quality. Why can so many rooms sound pretty damn good and then other rooms sound so poor? My only thought is that the people setting up cannot hear or don’t know how to set up a system. If so, why are they setting up a room? I often wonder what their system sounded like in their house or shop or what they heard that made them think it was good. Or why they think loud is good. Perhaps loud is good for selling to some audience who want a *Who* concert in the living room. That along with bling factor probably does sell a lot of equipment. But I hate it. Okay, except the bling factor, I love it. But I don’t like loud. I am also not impressed with crappy quality music. If you cannot tell this is a poor recording then you should not be here! We are not talking about nuances here, you have all heard it and there is something wrong here at a basic level. I also am not talking about country music, if it is done well then I can stand it for a while. I am talking about poor recordings.

Thanks for listening.

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Copyright Peter Jay Smith 2005 Return to helarc.com