RMAF 2010: Audiogon Sound Samples

Sound clips from RMAF that Audiogon (mostly Arnie, I think) recorded in some rooms.

The buffering algorithm sucks – so you have to let the sound sputter and die several times and then reload the page and then play it again if you want to hear more than about 5 seconds of music at a time [at least that’s how it was for me].

You CAN hear the character of the rooms, depending on the quality of your computer speakers. It will be not as stark as real life, but I think it is VERY much like going to the show.

I would suggest using standard Show Protocol. If, after some amount of time the sound in one room makes you feel like going postal… DON’T. If you have no reason WHY you want to go postal all of a sudden – don’t worry about it – just STOP trying to figure it out and go to (click on) a different room / sound clip.

I thought these all showed very clearly what we have been talking about except the Walker room, which, at least on my speakers, took more serious listening effort to hear the issues with the sound than just the ‘Do I Want To Break Something’ test.

Audio Federation Sound Clip at RMAF 2010
We did not get to choose what music we wanted to play when Arnie came in the room. In hindsight, he took some time to set up, and we could have quickly chosen something else… but what? We usually only play the 1st track on this CD, it is one of the more complex and interesting, but we figured it would be bad to change anything, CD or volume, since Arnie had already adjusted his recording volume and so here you hear the 2nd track on the CD [Neli and I kind of looked at each other, using hand signals and stuff as we agreed that doing nothing to the CD or volume was probably the best choice. Its not like Arnie *told* us he was going to do this :-)]. Sounds pretty good – certainly kind of hints at the quality of playback the system was capable of.

Too bad they did not get a sound clip of our Audio Note room. THAT would have been interesting.

YG Acoustics / Soulution Sound Clip at RMAF 2010
[Significantly more bass than the other systems]

Magico / Spectral Sound Clip at RMAF 2010
Both this and the Walker room are playing more challenging music. That first cut on Santana Abraxus *is* one of the more complex pieces of rock and roll out there, but… not quite up to the complexity of the tracks being played in the Magico or Walker rooms]

Walker / TAD / Technical Brain Sound Clips at RMAF 2010

One of the mental tricks I use when evaluating a new sound is to imagine myself having just paid a bundle for a new system that was making the new sound – me RELAXING [NOT concentrating on the sound] in my own room listening to it and trying to enjoy it. Would I be happy? Would it drag me into the music? Would I turn it off?

Anyway, interesting to hear what people think. My computer sound system is somewhat better than average, but not audiophile quality by any means.

Our traditional critique of JV's RMAF Show Report

[This is the only show report which we have found, over several years, to have any in-depth content.]

I will only talk about rooms we both saw that he commented on.

The link to his report is here:

JV’s RMAF 2010 Show Report

=== Evolution Acoustics / darTZeel ===

I was originally going to cover this in our show report, but, even though I made an attempt to get back to this room – and got really, really close, I only heard it once. Neli also heard this room and I will take her observations into consideration with respect to my comments here.

I think we all agree that this was the best sounding EV / dartZeel room at a show in years. I heard the R2R only, and I did NOT hear any “slight edge in upper mids”. What I heard was a nicely fleshed out sound [as opposed to a somewhat midrangy sound at previous shows]. What I also heard, and Neli seemed to as well, was a highly separated sound that did not seem to congeal into a whole. I spent my time there trying to determine if it was the fault of the R2R, but Neli heard the Playback Designs digital and had the same experience. This is often a symptom of sitting too close to the speakers – which in these small hotel rooms is not all that uncommon.

=== Magico ===

Well, surprise surprise JV is on the Magico bandwagon in spite of the “There was just a trace of dryness and sterility” comment.

One has to wonder what the spectacular Magico marketing budget has been this year – and other speaker manufacturers, all kinds of audio manufacturers in fact, must be wondering if such an all-out effort may be worth it or not. Depends on the eventual backlash I guess – usually campaigns like this are staged so that they unfold over years.

We’ve already talked this room to death, lets just say that this year’s cheerleader system, the Magico / Spectral system is Waaaaay better than last year’s cheerleader YG Acoustics / Soulution system, and that both speakers, although good, are not very useful for our purposes because they cannot generate sufficient micro-dynamics, in large part because they are so darn hard to drive, requiring very large [and to date] inferior amps to drive them with.

=== JBL / Levinson ===

[I did take pictures of all these rooms, maybe I’ll insert them in here…]
[[Oh look! I did!]]

JV says “very dynamic, … and maybe a slight edginess in the upper mids.” Hmmmmm… I guess this could be described that way. The sound of the Levinson electronics came through clear as … it came through very clear. Levinson, which we’ve owned plenty of, is somewhat dull-sounding when it is not being somewhat edgy. The JBL speakers are dynamic horn-like speakers [wanted to hear these speakers last year on the Pass Labs… but considering the Pass Labs [excluding the First Watt amps] is somewhat similar to the Levinson, maybe not.

=== Walker / Technical Brain / TAD ===

“lightning quick on transients and nearly dead-neutral in midrange balance, without a smidge of the darkness, phony warmth, sibilance, or spittiness”

… yes, yes, TAD speakers do dynamics, not sure what he means by midrange balance unless he means overall balance of things in the midrange region. He seems to be talking about perfectly neutral in terms of warmth versus coldness… and I guess I would not argue with that. But

“Absolutely phenomenal when it came to low-level detail,”…

Say what? JV should be very familiar with the Walker sound, he may even still own one, so I am not sure where this is coming from since almost no low-level detail was present during my visit on the last day.


“slight brightness and dryness of the tiny room”

explains the problem – if he heard this room early in the show, and they did something to ‘fix’ the brightness, then perhaps they removed the low-level detail as well…? Because I heard no brightness in this room.. and no real dryness beyond what is kind of expected for solid-state systems.

Then again, “dryness” versus “phony warmth” versus “dead-neutral” ? Not sure that this isn’t just a tad confusing…. JV tries to say something good and then gets down to business about what he really thinks [when he is not prohibited from doing so by commercial realities].

So he really found it “bright and dry with good low-level detail and midi-dynamics” and we found an “extreme lack of low-level detail and micro-dynamics with good midi-dynamics”. Somewhat of a disagreement on the ability of that system to render the details that were no doubt coming off the Walker like water from a firehose.

=== Big YG / Soulution room ===

Don’t really disagree with any of his impressions except that my conclusions are very different. With all the problems that he notes with the sound, this system from my point of view is unable to produce sound that goes much beyond the “Plays Loud with Disappearing Speaker Act” that Boy Toy systems seem so very, very proud of.

=== Venture / FM Acoustics ===

“… exceptional resolution of low-level detail and very good recovery of ambience. However, I thought I detected a trace of brightness in the midrange, which also sounded a little forward in this room;…”

Ah, we reviewed this room, and a pattern is forming here :-)

1) there was a lack of low-level detail here – and in fact these speakers are not known for their low-level detail [they are known for being beautiful to look at, laid back, hard to drive and pleasant sounding].

So, obviously, we are looking for a LOT more low-level detail in our playback than JV, which in some large sense is related to micro-dynamics and inner-detail etc. This is where the emotion and skill of the musicians and type of violin etc. are found. I can now see that he might not actually HATE the Soulution, not looking for all that much low-level detail in his music these days.

2) Brightness in the midrange…? [uh oh, deja vu] This system was not bright. We were chatting in the middle of the room, and one of their guys cranked up the sound on us to try and tell us to shut up [didn’t work :-) But I was talking to Darrin, the owner of the room, so there :-)]. I am sensitive to brightness [don’t need anything to make me MORE irritable than I already am dammit :-)] . It wasn’t bright and hung together fine at the higher volume.

=== Big TAD / Walker, Technical Brain ===

All I can say is that isn’t capitalism grand? And bosses suck.

=== Our room: Marten / Audio Note / Emm Labs ===

“little bright and lacking in body (those farchachdat hotel rooms, again), the Coltranes were nonetheless extremely lovely to listen toβ€”a sound very reminiscent of the better Kharma loudspeakers”

JV was in our room and I think it was the first hour of the show. [I’m ignoring the ceramic driver praise and slap – he is just setting us up for his real opinion]. They were indeed a little bright. They were also a little thin as well [I would say ‘reticent’ more than thin, due to the drivers not moving as freely as they should because they are not broken in, but let’s not quibble. Of course, they were also very clean with incredible micro-dynamics and musical content – unlike anything anything else people have heard before, and that is a fact that would be news in other hobbies not so dominated by adv. $ … What hobby would that be, you might ask? I’ll let you know…]. This of course got quite a bit better as we broke them in – and JV no doubt understands that the sound would be better in a day or two, but was presumably unable to get back to us later in the show. [Funny, he says to me something like “I’ll try and come back later”… which is just what I say to people when I know I SHOULD come back, but all the while knowing that there is like ONE percent chance of it happening at a large show like this with so much to do. :-( Seriously, our lines do not command large advertising budgets, and our rooms do not draw reviewers because they are looking to help their magazines keep in business etc. So it was nice of JV to stop by in spite of all the reasons he had not to]

Oh! I almost forgot. Now, about that Kharma comment… :-) these speakers are as different as Wilson and Sonus Faber, but because they both use ceramic drivers [Kharma only for mids and tweets] people think they are the same. We carry both speakers, and they are both excellent speakers, but to compare them like that … I understand it is probably a compliment, but … first, it is likely to cause an international incident, and second, Kharma could NEVER sound like that. Kharma is exuberant sounding, incredibly involving and with very high midrange resolution [and rarely thin sounding]. Marten is incredibly transparent to the upstream components – it can be whatever you want [after it is broken in]. See? Different.


Anther year, another RMAF. CES and T.H.E. Show(!) is just around the corner. Can’t wait!

RMAF 2010: Wrapup

We came, we saw, we listened, we reported, we come away a little smarter.

We are now dividing systems into categories based on their purpose:

* Boy Toys: systems that are designed to make loud noises

* Gee Whiz: systems that amaze through their use of new technology

* Practical: systems that make music, no fuss no muss

* Drugs: systems that expand the soul and take us to wonderful new worlds

[have to work on the mixed plural and singular cases here]

Previously we have categorized personal basic preferences as points on a linear scale:

* Heart < -----> Mind

And previously we have also categorized system sound as a combination of [more or less linearly independent] flavors:

* Impressive, Natural, Real/Accurate, Emotional, Sweet, Sophisticated and Magical.

We talked about Soul and how many of the ‘touted’ systems at the show were soulless [100% Mind] or Boy Toys.


Next we will talk about:

* Why the industry pushes Boy Toys to the almost complete exclusion of the other 3 types of systems.

* The relationships between the Soulful/Emotional aspect of a system, Heart/Mind preferences and Drug-like systems

(interestingly, there may be no relationship. Emotionally communicative systems tuned to our Heart-Mind preferences may just be there to keep us happy with our system between Drug-like Magical experiences that reveal the deep beauty and mystery of life [kind of like spouses and friends :-)]. In this characterization, good systems are like glasses of wine that are periodically, but infrequently, spiked with something a lot more powerful. For me, this is much more manageable a characterization than systems that are always powerfully Drug-like. Opinions?)

* Methodologies we can use to create Drug-like systems

[and can they be made affordable?

Are they addictive (yes. Doesn’t everybody get the shakes when looking for that new album that will really thrill us, and failing to find it time after time, as the months go by… making us more and more desperate and frustrated? Maybe it is just me…)

Do we need more and more powerful (likely expensive) Drug-like equipment over time? (I think no, thankfully(!) because we can change the music we listen to, perhaps radically, to shock us out of our familiarity. But we need more tests and more test subjects :-))]

* The categorization of small tube amps into various lists based on their performance characteristics (one of which is how well they drive typical speaker loads)

* The categorization of equipment and cables in terms of their usefulness in making Drug-like systems

* The categorization of Drug-like systems

(into beer, wine, whiskey, and other drugs none of us is supposed to be familiar with. Well, we will just all have to pretend we are familiar with these drugs, OK? πŸ˜‰ In some sense our system at RMAF was like a marathon runners high(?). I have never run a marathon, so I am pretending, extrapolating from the feeling I get after lots of exercise. Similarly we shall invite all of you to help us describe the kind of experiences that you want, and those that you have experienced in the past, while listening to music)

Well, ambitious but really fun topics, I think…

Next show: CES 2011!