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'RMAF 2011'

Show Report Updates

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 by Mike

At this time the current plan is to duplicate all of our past show reports and convert them to the new website look and feel.

The first one we did is of the most recent show, RMAF 2011,

RMAF 2011 Photo Gallery

This is all brand spanking new, so please be patient with the little gremlins…

This also commences the start of the creation of our Show Photo Database - something I have wanted to do for many years [but got talked out of it for some reason each time :-) ].

Show Photo Database

Only 50 photos have been indexed so far, and we have at least 30,000, so there is a ways to go.

Speaking of which, we will be adding better navigation tools for the Show Photo Database as well as the show reports - to more easily jump around in the galleries.

Our plan, for CES 2012 anyway, and at this moment in time :-) , is to do the show reports both here on the blog and in the show galleries.

RMAF 2001 - Audiocircle Show Report

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 by Mike

[Hi Pez :-) ]

Uh oh. Someone is expressing opinions in a show report:

Pez on Audiocircle: RMAF 2011

Luckily we never do that around here. :-)

I’d like to address the ‘room treatment cures all’ philosophy later, first, and I quote:

‘”the ______ aren’t fully broken in so there’s a bit of glare” Absolute dumbest thing you can say as a manufacturer. ‘


I am sure I have written this exact kind of thing in one of our show reports. So now I will take the time to elaborate on why my very similar statement back then was not as perceptive as I would have wished it to be.

It is indeed indicative of a lack of communication between the exhibitor [who wants well broken in happy happy speakers] and the manufacturer/importer [who was not able to get the brand-spanking new model of this or that out the door until the last minute - just as they did last year, and the year before that, and …]. Shows are THE place to debut brand new gear. That is just the way that spacetime works - not much we can do about it.

Audio Note electronics are the only things I have yet seen or heard of that sound good brand new and cold out of the box [makes me feel like giggling madly].

But the point that I want to make is that are a lot of subtle messages being passed to the listener here:

1. Yes, I can hear the glare too. I am not an idiot.
2. Yes, I respect you enough that I am not writing you off as a fan boy/girl/reviewer and that you can actually hear the glare
3. I am making a big assumption here that you do not like glare [some people have learned to expect it, and it is not high-end without it, poor souls]
4. If you like the sound of the speaker except for the glare part [and likely associated compression/constrained dynamics artifacts] then maybe you want to consider this speaker: if you are ever in the market/if you see it again sometime/not to be a piece of trash
5. Feel sorry for me, my life sucks
6. I am going to shoot the manufacturer if I live through this [but then again, I got this as a loaner, and they do help pay for the room, and the speakers will in fact sound great in, like, a month or two… so maybe not]

They are really asking you to do them a favor, to ‘listen around’ the glare - to use your mind to blot it out. Try it. Is there else anything interesting about the system? Maybe not. And this ‘listening around’ something takes a bit of effort that is hard to expend on all 160 rooms at a show… but be choosy… sometimes it will be really worth it.

On the other hand, some rooms are just for show - often everything is new out of the box. Sometimes they just consider their room to be a store front and intend to sell it all at bargain demo prices. These rooms are not for listening to [though they will be upset if you say so, especially in show reports :-) ] and woe to the poor show attendee who gets confused about this.


Our Traditional Report on Jonanthan Valin’s RMAF 2001 Report

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 by Mike

His report is over at: JV’s RMAF 2011 Report.

I hadn’t gone over to check out his report until now - thinking that this high-end show that was not really high-end might not have enough interesting rooms for him to review, and his report would be as short as mine. But lo and behold, speakers above $20K is actually a broad enough category to include quite a few rooms.

JV’s report this year seemed very polite to me, saying nice things about rooms with sound that had serious problems, always finding some nice things to say about SOMETHING or another, just like the Stereophile reports.

In fact, JV’s reporting seem quite uneven this year. For one, he relies too much on the idea that he does not like gemütlich, by which he seems to mean warm sounding systems by virtue of the fact that they are not ‘real’ enough for his taste. We can take him at his word, but all too often if he does not like a system’s performance in some area, any area, he blames it on being too ‘as you like it’, another phrase he assigns to systems that are not ‘cold as ice’ [my words :-) ]. In my opinion, these systems have flaws because they have no separation and blur notes together, or because the harmonic color has been removed, or the tonality is all wrong, or because the imaging is non-existent or too precise…, not because they are too polite or beatific or wonderful sounding.


JV is a reviewer so he got special treatment [but check out the Audiocircle reports - which we will get to later - boy oh boy they earned themselves some real enmity amongst the people who will actually pay real money for their amps]. He heard it before the show, I heard it the last hour of the show. It was certainly the best I have heard VTL sound - though still missing micro-dynamics, realistic harmonic color, continuousness, linear dynamics as things went from sssssoft to lllloud, etc. But given all this, at this show, it was my choice for best big system.

Magico Q1

JV has a way better description of what I heard than what I wrote :-) [I was annoyed they did not bring the Q5]. JV still gave it a runner up position in his top rooms of the show - presumably the sound got improved.

Let’s just say that on Saturday, I believe it was, it did not sound as good as your everyday ordinary high-end audio monitor [and not as good as the old Magico Mini, which several of our customers ended up buying, some many times :-) ]. I figured it was trying to be too ambitious with such a small speaker in that large a room. JV apparently thought it was upstream electronics - doesn’t really matter. We report on the sound and move on…


Skipping several rooms because I just did not find them interesting… [and too much marketing-speak for my taste, JV, eeewwwww!!!].., some confusion between Acapella and Lansche with the Lansche room review [to, no doubt, both companies chagrin. Need to throw in Avantgarde next :-) ]. Sorry I missed the new MBLs.

YG Acoustics Anat Reference Professional II Signatures

[Best speaker in the world AND longest name too ;-) ].

OK. JV says Tenor [he does not like Tenor] makes everything sound [too] beautiful. Well, for one, this system sound was not beautiful. Just because he found it hard to get a handle on these ANATs, he decides to blame it on being too listenable [essentially]. Well, I did not find this especially listenable.

I also had a hard time getting a handle on these speakers - in fact I never did figure them out, even knowing the Tenor sound to some degree. I blamed it on the source - the computer audio playback.

The problem for me was that the notes sounded OK by themselves, as far as I could tell, but they were so separate from each other, my brain could not string them together into music and then run pattern matching against other music on other systems I have heard before. It was just ’single note’ followed by ’single note’ and on and on.

Schimmel Voxativ Ampeggio

I liked this room too, although in my opinion I liked it because it was so very listenable, very Enjoyable, to the point of being even a little Druglike. This should be the opposite of what JV likes. Anyway, we both agree, I think, that we want to hear them again. Hopefully I will be able to spend more time analyzing what they do at CES.

Cessaro Affascinate I SE

I was much unhappier about the severe lack of integration here. JV said it was very coherent but the slightest bit discontinuous? Seems like we are going to disagree on this one. I know these can sound good, so they were a disappointment but I would still go see them next show.

Estelon XA Diamond

These sounded OK, and JV seemed to like them. They also seem popular with people, the look or something striking a chord. To me, though I like them there seems to be something missing, some midrange energy or dynamic structure or something - not sure what it is but I find it off-putting and do not stay all that long in this room [I get like a double personality here - I want to stay but I want to go].

Skipping… skipping … skipping the Venture Grand Ultimates room but I do not think JV and I heard the same system here. Then JV plays nicey nicey with system sounds that are so far from real that, well, let’s just call an end to this “Review of the JV Review”.

Hopefully CES will *rock* [so to speak] and we will have a lot to talk about. We plan on doing a traditional hugemongous show report and the pursuit of the Ultimate [ultimate] Music [music] Experiences [experiences]. ;-)

RMAF 2011 - Wrap Up

Friday, October 21st, 2011 by Mike

Yeah, a smaller show report than usual.

There just wasn’t a lot of high-end at this show this year. Magico and Evolution Acoustic brought monitor speakers, IsoMike just had the Sony speakers, Venture had one of their smaller floor standers, etc. etc, *sigh* etc. This year the Mixibiters [who go around at night moving equipment from room to room setting up an ultimate system or two by pairing bestest equipment with other really cool equipment … listening to these super systems, and then reassembling the equipment back to where it was by morning without anyone being the wiser] would throw up their hands in despair.

People don’t like it when I add our own room to the rooms that I liked at the show - probably not even if there were only two rooms and the other one was a $1K setup from Wall*Mart. So. Well. What is left?

Best of Show

Big VTL on big TAD was about the best that this show could offer this year in the large scale boy toy category, a system usually ignored because it is more of a gee whiz, boy toy kind of system and therefore typically has stiff competition. This year they had little to none.

[When we were in this room we were told in a very loud whisper several times to - essentially - not take any more pictures than the one I had already taken [I guess they - a woman hosting the room I have not seen before - must have been upset that I had taken that one, OMG] because a ‘reviewer was here’. In fact it was Larry Borden [hi Larry :-) ] from Stereotimes. Considering how often *I* experience rude behavior from exhibitors in these circumstances, one can imagine that many, many attendees are brushed aside each year like they are, I don’t know, 3rd class audiophiles? No wonder reviewers are afraid to take the elevators. :-) [the majority often do not leave the 1st floor and mezzanine levels, and then only in well armed packs]. [OK, I exaggerate a wee little bit :-) … and I guess that would put us audiophiles in the role of hungry vampires…All these Halloween movies are getting to me]

In the large scale system category the Nola room seemed to be the best of the bunch. They play difficult music and are always palatable, if not as engaging as one [well, me] might want. They are here every year with this setup.

The Acoustic Zen room tied for the best sound in the small room category to my ears, the new Tri amp adding more control to the notes than we have heard on the Crescendo speakers at show before [better tube amps do this in a way that solid state has yet to accomplish].

The Avalon room also tied for best sound in the small room category, at a somewhat smaller scale [aka a smaller speaker] than the Acoustic Zen room, and requiring to a somewhat larger degree a solidstate amp solution than the Acoustic Zen speakers. [This is ostensibly a competing dealer’s room and we have traditionally been silent about the local dealers rooms at this show - but the pickings this year were so slim… ]. It is these 2 small room systems that I personally could live with and enjoy out of all these rooms I saw at the show this year.

People and companies I did not see this year [although they may have just been hiding from me :-) ]… John Barnes [we’ll miss you John!], WinAudio [and many other recent manufacturers], Krell [but Madrigal had several rooms], Avantgarde, Soundings, [but ListenUp had a massive presence], Jim Linstrom, Mike Mallory, Rick Halterman [but good to see you, Jim and Linda Rebman - the photos I took did not turn out right, the autofocus had gotten switched off], Dave & Carol, J.A. and J.V. [presumably they were there but…]

Thanks to John Geison and Kevin O’Brien for their most valuable help.

And thanks to everyone who visited our room - we met a lot of new people and got to see a lot of old friends. About 20% of the visitors brought their own music - almost none of which was familiar to us. As usual, the show was a BLAST!

RMAF 2011 - Optimal Times of Day for Music Genres at a Show

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by Mike

The first day or two of the show, when it became 3 or 4 o’clock, with just a few hours to go until closing at 6:00pm, I thought: “Everybody [including myself] is getting tired, we should play some nice loud rock and roll to wake people up!”

But on average people did not seem to react all that well to this.

Then It finally came time to have another thought: “Maybe people are burnt out, their ears are so blasted by loud unpleasant sounds, that ANYTHING loud is just too painful to bear”.

So, to test THIS theory, I played opera and jazz and country music at modest volumes instead.

People seemed to like this a lot more - their faces had a relaxed look as they turned around to leave and resume walking the gauntlet of exhibit rooms.

So, taking this model into account, that people come in with ears affected by the sound in other rooms, as well as by the time of day and blood sugar level, I came up with this tentative optimal schedule:

Morning ear wake-up: classical, new age, …

Morning pick-me-up: rock and roll

Before lunch blast off: heavy metal, techno

Post lunch digestive period: anything but heavy metal and techno

Nap time: gentle jazz and classical, opera and ‘audiophile music’

Closing wrap-up: quietly play gentle jazz and classical, opera and ‘audiophile music’


And, if the show ran long enough, and for those unfortunate enough to venture into enough unpleasant rooms, then the mere drop on a pin! would cause the most hardy of audiophiles to flinch :-) .

I am not sure the above schedule has all the bugs ironed out yet - but you get the idea, the idea that the groups of people coming into an exhibit room have by-and-large experienced the same thing all day, whereas at home, some of us had a bad day with the boss [Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal, Gangsta Rap], or a bad traffic day coming home [new age music, baroque, slow saxaphonish jazz], met a potentially significant other [Neal Young, Pink Floyd - or maybe that was just me :-) ], … etc.

RMAF 2011 - Silbatone, Sound and Fashion

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by Mike

This room played modern tube equipment on old Western Electric 757 speakers from 1947.

These speakers sound very different from most speakers of today. The resolution was much less than average, the notes ended a little too quickly, lots of midi-dynamics, but minimal micro- and macro-dynamics.

But the sound was immediate and very, very honest. - by which I mean that nothing was exaggerated and the sound was very predictable [lots of speakers sound different if a note happens during a complex passage versus happening during a quiet passage].

Silbatone preamp

Silbatone amp

So, as the world turned and the decades passed by like cars on a train…

So some companies built speakers with lots of resolution, some with notes that decayed slower and were ‘warmer’, some added lots of micro-dynamics (ceramic drivers) or macro-dynamics (big tall speakers with lots of big drivers)… AS IF many of these companies tried to address a weakness in this classic design while ignoring its other weaknesses and ignoring its strengths.

So now we have a plethora of flavors, a veritable Wall-mart of flavors, some even fashionable for a year or two, and only a very few designs that actually improved on this original by doing many things better, and very few things worse.

Anyway, that is what I think is the attraction to so many people when they listen to this system - and those like it. Its like a body-builder who only worked on their biceps for 64 years seeing a Olympic gymnast for the 1st time. It’s like ‘uh, maybe some of the ways we have been doing things have gotten kind of to the point of grotesqueness…?’

RMAF 2011 - Galibier room

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 by Mike

Joan waiting for the music in the last few grooves on the LP to be played.

I love this photo because, if you have ever done this yourself [and who hasn’t?] there is a interesting state of mind that occurs [usually]. You now just have one single task in life: listening to the music until the music’s over. A good deal of calm settles in and one [me anyway] listens to the music not so much intently as in this casual, enjoying the moment kind of way.

Serious Stereo’s 2A3-based amp

The Galibier turntable

For me, this was the best this room has sounded over the last few years. Simple, enjoyable, musical. [Never did get to hear Blows Against the Empire though, you guys. :-) Then again, the end of Sunrise should approach (virtually) 150db reflecting the dawn-apocalypse that is humankind’s arrival on this planet ;-) and I’ve never heard any system be able to do this… yet. We’ll have to try it with the Gaku-On’s someday]

RMAF 2011 - Inexpensive Audio Note Room

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 by Mike

This was about a $25K system including cables.

The AN/E SPe with high efficiency hemp drivers, in olive wood veneer cabinets

Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amp

CD 4.1x player

RMAF 2011 - Sightings

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 by Mike

Wes Bender Studio NYC, Hansen, Red Point Audio, Wavestream amps… Wes really knows how to make the Hansen speakers sound powerful and enjoyable.

Magico brought monitor speakers this year (the new Q1). Bass was not as tight this show compared to how I remember Magico Mini’s sounding.

Alon Wolf turning up the volume in the Magico room.

Blue Light Audio brought the tiny Evolution Acoustics speakers to this show this year. We do not listen to many [any?] $2500 speakers so hard to eval how these compare to the competition. We did not get to the larger Evolution Acoustics room.

Cool looking Wave Kinetics turntable in the Blue Light Audio room.

Vitus Audio brought their new, lower priced integrated amp and CD player to the show this year. They also had noisy-neighbor issues and it was hard to hear what the equipment really sounded like in this room.

The Kimber IsoMike room was relatively downscale this year as well, like the rest of the show.

The pianist here had a lovely voice that we all heard coming out of a not so lovely sound system.

The d’Agostino folks, bad show neighbors though they may be, had a nice looking preamp on static display.

Avalon came out with yet another pair of small speakers, sounding excellent [dynamic and rich and detailed] as always. Worked really well in this room.

Tri came out with a new, very nice-looking and sounding [in the Acoustic Zen room] 150watt 845-based amp.

ESS Labs brought a lot of speakers that are using the Heil drivers. There were some bass integration issues I thought on the medium sized speakers I heard here.

RMAF 2011 - Audiogon Show Reports

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 by Mike

Al works for Audiogon and takes photos for Audiogon’s show reports [Albert Porter also takes photos for Audiogon, sometimes, though not at this show this year]. He covers every room (like I do at shows besides this one) and we usually run into each other several times in the hallways and exhibit rooms - commiserating about the difficulties of covering every single room. He likes Heavy Metal music which, of course, is almost never played at these shows [We had Dream Theater but forgot to play it while he was in our room (but we did play it later in the show :-) )].

Anyway, Al is one of the unsung heroes behind our hobby.

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