There were a lot of impressive-looking rooms at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest – special mood lighting, huge product posters, rented greenery. There also were loud after-hours listening sessions, cocktail parties and even some swag.
While this promotional frenzy was going on during the three days of the event, the owner of one small high-end company was sitting patiently in a corner room on the somewhat isolated fifth-floor atrium. There weren’t any attractive greeters outside his door or banners and LED spotlights inside. There was just a simple window curtain — the same one he’s been bringing to Denver for years – along with his speakers, a preamp/processor, two amplifiers and a stack of one-page brochures. That’s it.
Yet, this was the location for some of the best sound of the show. What made it even more remarkable was that the entire system being demoed by Roger Sanders of Colorado-based Sanders Sound Systems cost $22,500 (all prices in USD). That’s not inexpensive, but when you consider it was besting many mega-rigs playing in considerably more blinged-out rooms, priced at 10 times that much, Sanders’ humble exhibit seemed even more impressive.
Sanders for some time now has been marketing flat-panel, hybrid electrostatic speakers. The engineer designed them himself, and he also developed the innovative preamp/DSD EQ/room correction/digital crossover and powerful Magtech stereo amplifier.
Electrostatics long have been known for their midrange magic. Vocals on a panel speaker have a realism that many other speakers can’t match. But ‘stats have their challenges too, including bass response, solidity and high-frequency extension. Leonard Cohen on electrostats? Bliss. But Stevie Ray Vaughan? Often, we’re in trouble – and not Double Trouble, either.
Sanders, however, kept honing his designs. He believed electrostats could be made to be equally as effective on pounding rock and full-bore orchestral pieces as acoustic pop and small jazz combos. He finally hit on the combination of a large panel and a fast 10-inch aluminum woofer. Other keys were tying the two together with an electronic crossover, adding room correction and bi-amping with two of his 1,000 watt-per-channel, solid-state Magtech amps.
You can order the Model 10e system with only one Magtech for $17,000 and add your own second amp, but Sanders recommends plenty of watts. “With the impedance of electrostatics, you need a lot of power to prevent clipping,” he told me. “With 1,000 watts per channel, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s just basic physics.”
Sanders frequently uses engineering terms and cites electrical theory when discussing his creations. He also has a number of white papers on his web site that explain his thinking in much more detail.
I’ve met plenty of designers who talk a good game, but the proof, of course, is in the music. In Denver, Sanders was playing a wide variety of tracks, including a Patricia Barber recording that included a lengthy drum solo, a tune from Willie Nelson’s classic “Stardust” and the 747-channeling roar of the late Mr. Vaughan.
The drum kit on the Barber selection displayed remarkable impact and weight, while Nelson’s voice sounded both sweeter and more weathered than I am accustomed to. The Model 10e, meanwhile, captured Vaughan’s syrupy Texas twang and reproduced his lighting-fast runs with no smearing.
Overall, it was quite an impressive performance from a system that – based on what I heard – Sanders easily could be charging two to three times as much for. It turns out that he didn’t need any glitz at RMAF. His display might have been simple, but the sound had a rare sophistication.
Sanders sells direct, with a 30-day return policy. I doubt he gets many of these back.