RMAF 2011 – Wrap Up

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

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

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…?’