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.”
I am only going to mention rooms and systems that caught my ear or fancy.
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 Steve and Jay 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
While 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:
Meze’s new Empyrean headphones ($3000) had a captivatingly smooth, dynamic, and spacious sound. I will definitely be giving this a closer look.
Warwick Sonoma Electrostatics ($5000 with DAC/amp) were my favorite electrostatics after the iconic Stax SR009.
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.
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.
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
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!
Raidho’s room had these lovely TD-4.8 ($158-177k), driven by top-end Simaudio Moon electronics.
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.
Constellation electronics driving Rockport Avior II ($38,500) speakers was another standout room.
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.
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.
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.
Excellent sound from Canton Reference 1k speakers (MSRP $16,500), driven by electronics that were um, Esoteric-ally priced.
Photo Credit: Legacy Audio
Legacy Focus SE speakers (MSRP $13,975), driven by Raven electronics, impressed me with their fantastic imaging.
Joseph Audio Perspective (MSRP $12,999) speakers on Doshi electronics. Another sanely priced speaker that sounded really nice.
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
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!
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.
These Dali Callisto active speakers sound wonderful for the $5700 price point.
I’m a sucker for the BBC LS 3/5A design. These Falcon units ($2195) sounded fantastic for their small size.
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.
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
Here are some Spanish Maggies. Just kidding. These are AlsyVox full range ribbons and Omega electronics. Very nice.
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.
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.