RMAF 2011: Estelon, Bricasti, Zesto, Concert Fidelity

I was immediately star struck. Look at those beautiful shapes! Gorgeous, flowing, white!

Then I looked into the high-mounted Accutons and saw … what are those? Eyes? Are these speakers? Or … Schmoos?

Har? Okay, that’s not right. Lord, I apologize!

But still, even if they don’t immediately evoke that particular visceral response, I did wonder at their WAF. Of course, my wife’s idea of “attractive loudspeaker” is something along the lines of “invisible”, so perhaps that might not be a fair measure … I must have said something along these lines aloud (it happens), because I was immediately assured by the lovely young lady from Estelon that the speaker design is “very Euro”, and that she and her friends, at least, considered them quite attractive. I must have frowned suspiciously at her because she then repeated herself, a couple of times, adding “no, really!” I heard later that she might have been the daughter of the designer. Suspicious ….

Anyway, the soft white finish of the new $64k Estelon Diamond speakers really adds dramatic punch to the visual presentation. The speakers look very clean and elegant. Touchable. But since it’s unlikely that the four-year-olds are supposed to be wiping their hands, wet with the colored chalk they’ve been using to “paint” the driveway, anywhere near the audio rig in the first place, I think you’re probably okay.

The Japanese-made $28k Concert Fidelity ZL-120 V2 monoblock amps are good for 120wpc into 8ohms and 200wpc into 4, and are, interestingly, RCA-only.

The $6200 Hanss T-60, here mounted with an $8.5k Durand Talea II tonearm on the side. Fit and finish on the turntable are excellent and the price is surprisingly low given what is on offer.

With two tonearms, I suppose it wasn’t too surprising to find that there were two phono stages. The first was a $3900 Zesto Audio Andros PS1 (top) and other a $14k Concert Fidelity SPA 4C. The linestage preamplifier was a $20k Concert Fidelity CF-080LSX.

CDs were played back using a $13k Neodio NR22T transport through an $8k Briscasti M1 dual mono DAC.

Stillpoints rack & isolation used throughout.

The sound in this room was, quite simply, among the best at the show. To all of those audio reviewers who scoff at comments of sound quality at shows, I have this to say — well, you’re probably right. That is, it’s really not fair to write off speakers at shows for any particularly poor showing. That said, the converse isn’t true — just because its a show, doesn’t mean every demo will sound bad. If this is your mindset going in, you’ll miss a lot — and this Estelon room was a beautiful case in point. I visited the room quite early in the show and kept coming back to reassure myself that I wasn’t misremembering. I wasn’t. If anything, the room sounded even better on each visit. Quite an accomplishment, at least in my book. Happy to call this one a “Best in Show” and I look forward to hearing more of (and about) these wonderful Estelon speakers.

About Scot Hull 1062 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.


  1. Best in show? I can believe it and because of only the speakers, but the awesome Concert Fidelity gear.

  2. I have been reading through all these posts today and a few posts earlier, I was beginning to think there wasn’t a room you went to you didn’t like. How could that be, I asked myself. Doesn’t this guy know you rarely get good sound at these shows? How is it that after some 45 reviews of rooms (by this point), you liked almost every room? I had read elsewhere this particular RMAF show had some of the best sounding rooms ever. But still. Forty-five rooms (give or take), and almost everyone had something glowingly positive written about them?

    Then I got to this post and you put some of my growing doubts to rest. Here you put what you’ve written into some context, maybe even guessing by this point that someone might wonder if you had done any real listening.

    I don’t mean to carp. Really, I don’t. As a matter of fact, you are to be congratulated for writing one of the most comprehensive blogs I have ever read about ANY show. Some of the online Zines should take note Enjoy the Music, for example: Their coverage of RMAF this year is laughably lame.

    I plan to go to RMAF this year but I am afraid I am years too late. Reading through this blog tonight, I realize how the show has evolved becoming a showcase of very high-end (read unaffordable, for me ) gear. Where once is was a show that contained any number of rooms with gear that one might afford, even if it took a little saving over an intermediate term, it seems, too many of these room are offering products at utterly unreasonable prices. Surely there is a point of diminishing returns in these rooms, and I guess, that is the point I failed to make earlier, in that I did not detect that this was the case at all. I am mindful that I need to go and hear for myself,

    Again, terrific job. It’s a wonder you weren’t dead on your feet by this point.

    • I still have about 12 rooms that I never quite finished writing up, and now, I just don’t remember them all that well. Too late, I guess. Is that sad? Oh well.

      But no, I didn’t love everything. I liked quite a bit, though, which was fun. But there were quite a few complete misses and even more near-misses. Generally, I tend not to bother to write up the bad rooms. It just feels like kicking someone already down. Remember, you shouldn’t judge a component by it’s performance at a show! Unless it’s awesome. But if it blows, it’s probably not the component (some say), it’s the show conditions. Whatever. Maybe.

      But the (IMO, trite) truism that everything sounds bad at a show feels like an excuse for bad reporting behavior, and I think this leads “reviewer types” to not actually bother to listen to what’s right in front of them. I mean, it all sucks, so why bother? They have this built-in rationalization to not do anything except eat, swap gossip, and trade smack-talk about each other. I can’t even tell you how many “audio luminaries” I overheard sounding very much like teenage girls with inferiority complexes. It was outright embarrassing. I guess a little ennui will do that to you.

      I guess that for me, it’s all still new and exciting. I really, honestly, think that the shows are fun. Sure, they’re tough. Sure, it’s a lot to see and hear and say and do. Whatever. I love it. But then, this is just a hobby for me — so each of the shows I go to is something of a vacation from my “real life”. A working vacation, but still, it’s a complete divergence from what I normally fill my days with to be sure.

      Commenting generally on “show coverage” — I think the ennui I mentioned is part of the reason why some of the rags don’t bother to even label the pictures they bother to post. But here’s another weird thing — editorial parceling. If you have 5 reviewers/reporters “working” a show, then you can avoid overlap by assigning each a thing to look for. Like speakers under $10k. Or speakers over $20k. And amps/pre’s exactly at $15k. Or analog, but not speakers or amps. Honestly, its bizarre. I remember chatting with a manufacturer who actually had to talk a reporter into staying and at least taking a pic because his products weren’t cleanly defined according to editorial requirements. It’s just dumb.

      I think that Stereophile actually does the best job. Each room and/or product gets its own post. There’s a pic or two and at least several sentences talking about what’s in each pic. They just don’t cover even close to the full show. TAS/AVGuide tends to be more comprehensive — they send more folks to the bigger shows — but the show coverage itself is embarrassingly thin. It’s like the editor has said “I need 1,000 words — and no more” (except for Valin, who gets 5,000). So, all you get are a series of highlights. If you’re lucky, those highlights are interesting. Enjoy the Music just posts pics and doesn’t even bother to label them. Yikes.

      Anyway, since it’s just me, I get to go wherever I want. I tend to gravitate toward stuff I think is affordable-ish and eschew both the uber-high-end and the general commercial stuff. Basically, I treat a show like it’s a (window) shopping trip.

      If you’re going to go to an audio show, I recommend a local one that you don’t need a hotel room for. If you like it, go to another. If you are going to travel for a show, the show to travel for is RMAF. Yes, it’s stuffed full of high-end manufacturers peddling to the extremely well-heeled. BUT — that’s not all that’s there (unlike CES). This is the show that the Mom-and-Pop manufacturers show at, too. That stuff isn’t necessarily cheap either, but it’s generally more reasonable. There’s just so much cool stuff to see and hear along the entire price spectrum. It’s also the largest show by far, so the variety of stuff on display is pretty amazing. I’ll be making a pilgrimage there again this year, too, God willing and the creak don’t rise.

      I’m also planning to hit some of the more local/regional shows. There’s one in New York (train), another in Washington, DC (local for me), and one in Jacksonville (day trip!). The “other big show”, the one at Newport Beach, is a bit of a haul for me, so while I want to make it this year, I’ll have to see how my finances are holding up. CES is another huge show and something of an investment trip that I couldn’t pull off this year (hard to do a day trip from the East Coast into Vegas), but I’ll try and do it next year.

      Anyway, thanks for the kind words about the site. Appreciate your time and attention digging in!

      • I can well imagine the priorties one must make when traveling to RMAF. I was remiss in not pointing out that your photographs were very good. Again, great job!

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