Setting up the day before the opening.
By Darryl Lindberg
Another year, another Rocky Mountain Audio Festival. I’ve been to every RMAF and always found its friendly, low-key atmosphere makes for a pleasant experience. And this year was no different. However, while there was the usual bonhomie in full measure, the Marriott Tech Center Hotel was in a fair degree of disarray due to a delay in completing the refurbishing of the atrium section, where about half (or more) of the exhibitors had their setups in the past. That meant some annual attendees didn’t get their usual allotted space—and some, sadly, opted out—while events that had been in the atrium in past years were relegated to tents and industrial mini-buildings. It’s a tribute to Marjorie Baumert and all the folks who work so hard to make each year’s RMAF a success that this year’s show managed to come off without any hitches—at least any hitches that were noticeable to this old campaigner. And, luckily, the construction didn’t appear to affect the attendance, which seemed to be about the same as previous shows.
This RMAF also turned out to be a bit challenging for me because I’d just returned from a month of hiking and generally annoying the locals in Europe, only to make the five hour drive from Santa Fe up to Denver the very next day. So I was still a bit ragged when I arrived on Thursday. But my undying commitment to PTA knows no bounds: I’d told Scot I’d do my best to make it and I figured that any contributions I could make, however pathetic, would be welcomed—or at least tolerated.
As usual, a well-managed Day One.
RMAF 2016 coverage courtesy of Noble Audio
Music-wise, I noticed fewer mega-decibel demos (thankfully!) this year and more of what I’ll call easy listening audio fluff: very well-recorded and generally vapid fare that certainly highlights a system’s capabilities, but sure wouldn’t be my choice for personal listening. However, as always, I brought along a few of my own LPs so I could hear what a system could do with stuff I actually know and listen to (what a concept!).
The Voice That Is
I’ll start out with a room occupied by The Voice That Is and presided over by the ever-gracious Doug White. And it was a honey: really excellent sound from a “room appropriate” set up. The system I heard consisted of the Kuzma Stabi M turntable ($19.2K), 4Point tonearm ($6.7K), and Car-40 cartridge ($2.9K), connected to a Zanden 120 phono equalizer ($7.5K) and Zanden 6000 integrated amp ($23K); the sound emerged from an absolutely beautiful pair of Tidal Piano Diacera G2 speakers ($42.9K). The sound was natural and, for lack of a better term, organic. It was also dynamic, yet relaxed, with outstanding sound staging and tonal accuracy. It sounded as good on unfamiliar material as it did on my own LPs.
And speaking of my LPs, certainly the most ear-opening demonstration I had at this year’s RMAF came courtesy of Zanden’s U.S. Eric Pheils when he demonstrated the difference between the Zanden 120’s various equalization curves on my LPs. First, we played a cut (Scheidt-Psalm 103) from “Voices and Brass” (Argo ZRG 576; oval label), which features a full instrumental complement along with the magnificent Purcell Chorus of Voices. We listened a bit with standard RIAA equalization—the EQ I would have assumed to be the used for this 1969 recording—then changed to the Decca curve. The improvement in the sound was amazing. Just as spectacular—and even more curious—was the change wrought on the Spring movement of Respighi’s Three Botticelli Pictures on EMI (ASD 3327).
I used to be skeptical of folks who claimed the RIAA curve wasn’t uniformly adopted by record companies, but not anymore! There’s one word in my notes that is the most accurate and appropriate summation of my reaction to this demonstration: “wow.” You can bet that I’ll be keeping Zanden on my radar.