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RMAF - 2006, 500,000 Furious Watts Hit the
Mile High City
Greetings PFO readers, and thank you for queuing up my show report/rant direct to you from RMAF 2006. First let me start by saying there were lots of great sights to be seen and music to be heard, and I know I missed lots of rooms despite my best efforts so forgive me for all the exclusions. Before we get into the juicy details, a brief introduction…
My previous exposure to audio shows came in the form of CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man of electronics shows. CES, for those who have not attended, sprawls between several hotels as well as the Las Vegas Convention Center and even the parking lots in the area, and brings in over 100,000 attendees annually. On display is everything from high-end …shall I say adult…toys to high-end audio with plenty of deal-making going on as well during this wholesale and retail focused show. My viewpoint of CES was like a squirrel crossing a highway, no time to slow down or look around much, just stick to the task and get out before you get run over. These and other vibes from CES always seemed to leave a bitter taste in my mouth despite getting to see lots of cool new gear, although the lack of personal hygiene among many of the attendees could have influenced that perspective as well.
The beauty of RMAF is the more "consumer oriented" atmosphere (which dare I say would seem preferable for retailers as well), which allows more time to chat, gawk, take pictures, and generally soak up all the toys we waste our hard earned money on. Most of the rooms were staffed by either designers or distributors of the gear, so attendees had the rare opportunity to get the facts, or at least the hype, about lots and lots of products. The show was also in a much more modern hotel, the Tech Center Marriott, and offered a more user-friendly layout making it easy to hit all the rooms on your list.
Seen and heard at RMAF…
Friday and Saturday I tried to get my arms around the 100+ rooms as well as numerous other displays and demonstrations within the show. With many rooms inviting Average Joes to spin their own tracks, I heard everything from Destiny's Child to Pantera …yes, MF'in Pantera, on all manner of gear. I am a firm believer you should listen to music you would listen to at home when you demo equipment. No need to dust off your untouched copy of Jacintha's latest, just bring in your scratched up copy of Wilco or let it all hang out and spin some Madonna, let the world know you are a material girl. Musical variety in my opinion makes for a much more engaging show, sad that too many people insist on being taken so seriously they feel the need to play only "approved" pieces, rock on with your bad self mister Pantera listener.
On Sunday I brought a couple discs I had compiled, but due to some type of burning glitch only the first few tracks of each disc would play with all the others having read errors in several players. This was a major bummer and prevented me from popping some KMFDM in the MBL room (I was hoping to lay waste to the entire hotel floor with the pressure wave), or Tindersticks in the Kharma room (Dutch speakers deserve something a little off-center). I did however have a chance to listen to the following tracks in many rooms;
The Coral Sea: Volcano & Heart, Under the Westway
KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope, Silent Sea
The Cardigans: Long Gone Before Daylight, And Then You Kissed Me
Chris Issak: Heart Shaped World, Blue Spanish Sky
Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous, More Adventurous
Robin McKelle: Introducing Robin McKelle, Bei Mir Bist Du Schon
Without further ado, here are some of my observations from the show:
Fastest clearing of a room MBL managed to clear roughly 12 people from their room when they played (at their own discretion) an unidentified metal disc. The music alone probably wouldn't have done it, but when cranked up to 110dB people scattered in a vain attempt to retain their hearing. I fled as did my grandfather who said it was the most noise he had heard since the WWII.
MBL system with phazers set to stun
Room worth losing a vestigial tail for (my favorite sound of the show) The Evolution Acoustics/DarTzeel /EMM Labs room was the only spot in the show other than the Kimber Isomike room that the speakers truly disappeared and you felt like you were listening to music instead of equipment. I was shocked that the speakers retailed for less than $40,000, still way out of my price range but well under many of the other flagship speakers at the show which impressed me far less. I liked this room so much I somehow forgot to take pictures in it, but thanks to Dave and Carol Clark you can check the setup out on their show report. Evolution has smaller versions coming soon as well, be sure to keep on the lookout as these seemed to have great potential.
Best Eye Candy There was lots of competition for this honor and as always we audiophiles are a shallow bunch, from the teutonic Behold/Ascendo room to the fancy shiny wheelie things in the Thiel/VTL room, and even the machined aluminum Sonicweld gear. I suppose I am a sucker for the one thing that always eludes me in my own creations however, a really gorgeous wood finish. After lots of deliberation it ended in a dead heat with the Salk Sound speakers and the Dodd Audio amps. Since it was such a close race, all of them are pictured below for your salivary stimulation.
Gorgeous wood veneers and a mirror-like finish on the Salk Sound cabinets.
Picture doesn't do justice to the high-gloss Tiger Maple on the Dodd gear, nothing like tubes glowing over that finish to set the mood.
The Ascendos stand guard over the two Behold amps.
Sonicweld made the entire towers and subs out of aluminum, gorgeous work.
The new Thiel 3.7's, cool sci-fi looking stuff.
Sign of the Mechanical Apocalypse I personally watched as the helpless man pictured below was swallowed by a trio of Soundlabs in the Kimber Room. I had to leave when one of the Pass Labs amps finished off the guy on the sound board and came after us. Too bad really as the recording of piano in this room was incredibly lifelike and full scale, would have loved to be able to hear something more familiar but I guess that would defeat the purpose of demonstrating the Isomike recordings.
Kimber Isomike room
Second fastest clearing of a room I actually liked the sound in this room for the most part, but to preserve their purportedly good reputation they shall remain nameless and faceless. The cardinal sin as I see it at a consumer show is to argue, swear, or otherwise act curmudgeonly in front of a group of consumers who seek out your very exclusive and fringe products. My grandfather and I sat with several others while the two perps in this room argued about music selection, dropped profanity, and then stomped around the room like toddlers who lost their toys until everyone left midway through one Satchmo song. Hopefully those who I speak of read this and understand that regardless of how highly a product performs or the art required to manufacture it, this type of atmosphere leads to negative impressions.
Little Guys Showing the Big Guys a Thing or Two The Selah Audio/Blue Circle/Home Audio Connection room was really a surprise. The Selah 3D speakers featuring an open baffle for the mid and tweeter with a vented woofer cabinet were both articulate and dynamic and made some beautiful music with the BC gear. These speakers were one of my favorites of the show, and in my opinion bested many highly hyped big name brands by a mile. The sound was anything but clinical and the imaging was lifelike and tangible.
Most accents in one room- The lads from Linn, or is that the Klads from Klinn, ran away with this one. Friendly group and nice choice of music while I was there, nice sounding room too especially considering it was the only system at the show that would meet the required WAF anywhere in my house other than the audio cave.
Best Sound from a $199 DVD Player- The Reference Audio Mods room was running the Oppo DVD player in both stock and modded form even offering a comparison to the mighty Esoteric DV-60. The visually unimposing Oppo actually sounded acceptable in stock form, and in modded form had excellent weight, detail, and musicality for their $999 asking price.
Reference Audio Mods with their mighty Oppos
Best Sound in a Photo-Proof Room Despite my best efforts, I could not get a photo I felt could do justice to the GamuT room. I really enjoyed this system and their slim and sexy L7 speakers filled a room much larger than they would normally be expected to perform in with ease. It would be easy to overlook this room as nothing grabs your collar and yanks your head around, but it had a sound that would never fatigue and plays well with all types of music.
Viagra for High-End Audio Two products struck me as great tools to reach a new audience for our hobby, the Hagerman Ripper ($400) and the Funk Firm tables (Starting at $1259 with Moth arm). About the only thing that can improve the future prospects for high-end is an image resuscitation, and what better way than to make a style statement that fits with the MP3 lifestyle. I would suggest someone display affordable gear in attractive packages, like the Arcam Solo and Zu Druid loudspeakers, along with a Mac Mini, a Funk Firm TT, and the Ripper. This system would provide younger buyers some cache, and the stylish Funk table would be a great conversation piece for non-audiophiles. Has anyone seen how much 20-somethings spend on crap at Urban Outfitters just to make a fashion statement in their apartments? Why not some audio jewelry instead? Vinyl has become quite fashionable with many Gen Y'ers, but most of them play it back on pawnshop tables plugged into Sony shelf systems. By giving them the option of buying LP's and ripping them straight to their PC with full convergence of all their media, having a great looking and sounding system could become cool again.
I had a lot of fun at RMAF 2006 and judging by the participation from manufacturers as well as the public, this show is destined to continue to grow in the coming years. I highly recommend attending next year if you are able, and don't forget to bring along some good music!