RMAF 2015: Rafe’s Best

The Stasi had nothing on Charles King
The Stasi had nothing on Charles King

Best Room

BestInShow2015v1Picking Tone Imports as my top choice for Best Room in Denver for me was easy because it was run by two people whose ears I implicitly trust, whose taste runs parallel to my own through many veins of jazz, electronic, and acoustic music, and it was where I spent most of my time while at RMAF just listening for pure enjoyment. This room, put together by Jonathan Halpern and John DeVore, featured DeVore’s brand-spanking new production Gibbon X loudspeakers and a suit of SPEC Corporation amplifiers, and pre-amplifiers crowned with SPEC’s stunning new GMP-8000 turntable. Wiring and step-up transformer was provided by Auditorium 23 and MC cartridges by ElektroMess-Technik (EMT). Many laughs, earnest discussion of hi-fi, music and artists occurred in this room over the three days I spent (any spare time I had) lounging in the sweet spot.


860x300 PTA NOBLE RMAF-01
RMAF 2015 coverage brought to you by Noble Audio! Click for more ….

Second pick for Best Room goes to Jonathan Derda and Norbert Schmied from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs whose warmth and humor was matched with their hospitality and ability to synergistically match components like Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) amplifiers and pre-amplifiers, TAD (Technical Audio Devices out of Japan) speakers and the Avid Sequel turntable with AMG tonearm and Koetsu Rosewood MC cartridge to create a lush, cohesive sound that enthralled me every time I came and relaxed with the boys there. Which was often.

Third pick for Best Room goes to David Cope and his Audio Note UK suite that featured the always musical P3 Silver stereo power amplifier, CDT Three/II DAC 3.1x/II, and the company’s new AZ-2 D speakers. Of special note was the listening session featuring Charles King’s modified Stellavox reel-to-reel and several master tape dupes. But I discuss this particular aspect further in the Best Sound category.


Best new Product

The SPEC GMP-8000 turntable was the standout new product at RMAF 2015 for me. Its fantastic mid-range, mid-bass and bass depth and authority as well the sweet extended highs and rock-solid footing it allowed music to play from left me deeply impressed. It took the EMT TSD-15 cartridge and EMT 929 tonearm to new heights not only sonically, but emotionally as well IMHO.

SPEC GMP-8000EX turntable with EMT 997 tonearm and TSD-15 MC Stereo cartridge
SPEC GMP-8000EX turntable with EMT 997 tonearm and TSD-15 MC Stereo cartridge

The Döhmann Helix 1 turntable was a close second to the SPEC ‘table. Again, the presence and authority of this ‘table were palpable with few peers for bass control and absolutely black backgrounds. Microdynamics were particularly noticeable thanks to the Döhmann’s outstanding damping and isolation capabilities.

Dohmann Helix 1
Avert your eyes lest ye be blinded by ‘er beauty.


3) The DeVore Gibbon X loudspeaker. John DeVore has a massive hit on his hands with this new design that combines the best of the previous Silverback series with the best of his Orangutan series. An easy-to-drive and incredibly dynamic speaker that handled every genre of music played through it with aplomb.


Best Sound

For Best Sound I’m going with the Audio Note UK room paired with Charles King’s modified Stellavox reel-to-reel and his mind-blowing master dupes.

This will be the second time I’ve awarded Best Sound to a system fronting King’s wares, and it might not be the last. In my humble opinion, a front end featuring a properly outfitted reel-to-reel like the Stellavox wound with quality tapes like the ones King totes around betters any turntable I’ve heard, and when mated with a truly musical amplifier and transparent loudspeaker combination, the effect is deadly.

A close second for Best Sound goes to the DeVore Gibbon X and SPEC/Auditorium 23 combo in the Tone Imports room. As mentioned previously, this was a supremely musical, lifelike and organic sound that absolutely thrilled me.

Third place for Best Sound goes to the Devialet room and the new(ish) Devialet Phantom. I know a lot of people may shake their heads at this pick, but I’m consistently blown away at the level of musical impact a pair of these self-powered French wonders are able to produce from both 16/44 and 24/96 files… I mean really, and I’m no fan of digital, but a pair of these would be perfect for a second system with my 60″ LED TV, or just on their own being served high-res files from a NAS.

Devialet Phantom Silver. 3000 Watts.
Devialet Phantom Silver. 3000 Watts.

Favorite moment at RMAF 2015

During dinner out on Saturday night with various members of my RMAF peeps I’d call ‘the crew’  when I was jokingly intimating that if all the Japanese SPEC boys showed up at my place for a visit one of them would have to crash with me, for lack of that many beds, and I’d get to be Big Spoon. When this was translated to a certain SPEC boy he straightened up like a ramrod and in sudden, and perfect English declared: “NO THANK YOU.”


About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream

1 Comment

  1. All right already…you have convinced me!! I want a Stellavox tape player for Christmas…now we will see if there really is a Santa Claus!!

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