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RMAF 2014: Goodnight and Good Luck

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Kirsten’s Final Thoughts and Gold Stars

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For the past few years, I’ve attended two big audio shows: T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Whichever one I’m attending at the time tends to be the one I think of as “the best”: sitting by the pool in L.A., I will expansively declare that T.H.E. Show is the “most fun ever.” Over dinner in Denver, I will equally expansively say, “Man, I LOVE this show. This is the BEST.”

There’s something pretty special about RMAF, though, a certain sense of a family reunion. You walk in and realize that not only do you know a lot of these people, but that most of the hotel staff remains the same, and you practically start humming the Cheers theme. Part of the reason I’m as deep into this hobby as I am can be attributed to (blamed on?) a most welcoming conversation I got dragged into at the bar during the first RMAF I attended a couple of years ago.

You end up in these conversations with people who you keep seeing year after year, at the bar and in the elevator and at dinner, and the question everyone always asks is “What’ve you heard that’s good? What’s the best thing that you’ve heard? What are you excited about?”

These questions tend to make me stumble a little, because even after three days I know I’ve only heard a fraction of what’s there, so it feels strange to say what’s “best.” I can, however, usually speak pretty well to what I’ve personally heard so far that’s exciting, and in reality, that’s all that anyone’s interested in, anyway. They want to know what they should be checking out, or they want to tease you that you’re full of shit, or say, “Oh, I KNEW you would love that room as soon as I heard it.” They want, in short, to have a conversation. I can do THAT. Most of the time.

So, keep in mind, dear reader, that this is what I’m doing with you. I can’t say what was best, but we can stop in the elevator and I can tell you what’s floating my boat. Here’s some things that I found exciting, and that I’m still thinking about a month out.:

Most Surprising Room: AllSonics

This was one of the rooms that I kept talking about all weekend, just because it surprised the heck out of me. I’d never heard of the company before, so I had no idea what to expect when I visited the room. What I found were the Allure loudspeakers ($4,950), which uses Great Plains Audio Altec 416s for the low-end, with two Great Plains Audio compression drivers in a dipole configuration for the upper range. These were paired with the Momentum subwoofers, also fitted with 416s ($3,500). The Momentums melted into invisibility, and the whole system was fabulously detailed and musical. You can read Mal’s whole write-up here — we were definitely of an accord on this one. I don’t know who these guys are, really, but I hope to hear from them again.

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Favorite Speakers Under $5,000: PranaFidelity

This category actually had some pretty good competition this year, with excellent performances from the aforementioned AllSonics and from Chapman’s T-5s. But the speakers that my thoughts keep returning to with admiration are PranaFidelity’s Fifty90 ($3,950). While I’m sure these speakers were helped along by Steve Norber’s excellent electronics, I was enormously impressed with their dynamics, punch, and natural sound.

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Best Real World Sensibility: PS Audio Sprout

It’s hard to express what I mean by “real world sensibility” without feeling like I might inadvertently insult someone, but essentially what I mean by this is, “What would I have a decent chance of selling a non-audiophile, music-loving friend on?” And the winner here is PS Audio’s Sprout, hands down. It’s good-looking, it’s under $1,000, and it’s versatile. It solves a problem a lot of people have. It’s a fabulous little gadget. The only thing that would make it an easier sell is if I could plug my Apple TV into it and have sound for my movies, too.

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Favorite Reference System: Endeavor Audio

This should maybe be the award for “most chutzpa.” Endeavor Audio launched their $7,000 E-3 last year, and it’s fabulous. Now, just over a year after I first heard the E-3’s, Leif Swanson & Co. have launched the E-5’s: six and a half feet and $30,000 worth of awesome. The combination of these speakers with Constellation amplification started off my weekend right with The Clash’s “Sound of Sinners” and propelled me through the weekend.

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#1 Lottery Wish List System: Audio Note UK

This is the closest you’ll see me give to a Best in Show. If I had to pick an entire system (not just one or two components) I heard over the weekend to take home, what would it be? The AudioNote UK system this weekend absolutely fit the bill — with the addition of Charles King’s modded Stellavox reel-to-reel (with built-in KingSound tape preamp), natch. This system had me hearing Dire Straits and Leonard Cohen like I’ve never heard them before. It was the kind of sound that makes you think, “You know, if I ever decide to just settle down with one system forever and ever until death do us part…” Yeah. This system was the marrying kind. Hats off to David Cope, Charles King, and AudioNote UK. That was something special.

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All right, folks. Those are my favorites, the stuff that got me excited, the stuff that put me in my happy place. Gold stars all around!

Now it’s your turn. What did you like?

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