Around 20 years ago, I met my friend Howard at the local Atlanta audio club. Over time Howard and I became pals in part because we both loved Magnepan speakers. But we also loved exploring various audio tweaks and had a lot of lively discussions around how to get the best sound for our, at the time, limited audio dollars. Sometime around six years ago, Howard and I started to attend the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. We both loved the show and the hospitality of the great Colorado Audio Society. However, Howard also had something else in mind as the annual trek to RMAF became a standard part of his Fall. Howard and his wife Kristen started to think about living in Colorado.
After a few visits out here, they soon found a gorgeous piece of property on top of a ridge in Castle Rock, roughly 25 minutes away from Denver. The view is spectacular, overlooking a horse farm below the ridge and federally protected craggy rocks extending off their backyard. Howard had invited me over a couple of years ago while they were building and I saw their dream house around 75% complete. Around a year ago, Howard had finished the house but work schedules prevented me from sneaking out to Castle Rock for the nickel tour.
But this year, Howard and I were determined to make a visit to Howard’s magnificent new listening room happen. Of course, a focal point for any audiophile’s dream home is a good listening room and Howard and Kristen’s plans kept that a priority. After flying into Denver, Howard met me at the Denver airport yesterday and off we went to Castle Rock for a listen.
I did not know what to expect but I had high expectations. Howard had a sublime room in his house in McDonough on the south side of Atlanta and I knew what a great combination his Carver Black Beauty mono amps and his Magnepan 20.7s were. This room had a system of great musicality. And it helps of course that Howard has similar taste in music as I do. Several of us from the local audio club would drive to McDonough and have a listen once or twice a year.
As it turns out, Howard has kicked things up a notch. Since moving to Castle Rock, Howard has been able to buy two superstar turntables, a Kronos and a TW Acustic. He has mounted a Grado Statement 1 on the Kronos and a Soundsmith Sussuro Mk. II and Miyajima Zero mono on the TW Acustic. These both feed into an Audio Research Ref Phono 2SE which in turn head into a Hovland preamp. Triode Wire Labs (review here) is Howard’s ac cable of choice. For bass, Howard has two giant REL G2 subs which Howard said work best firing into the back corners of the room after much experimentation. Electronics are mounted on a Mapleshade wide equipment rack and the natural wood compliments the wood floors nicely. The room itself is 20’8” wide by 30’ long with 11 foot high ceiling and a one foot tray.
Howard also has righteous digital sources with an ethernet-card updated Analog DAC (with power source) from MSB being fed digits from a Roon Nucleus server over Tidal and other hirez sources. We kicked off the listening session with old favorite “Dialectical Kid” from Yello’s Toy album. The bass on this track is deep and present and it was presented that way with the 20.7s. As good as the bass was, the clarity of the vocals was outstanding with very distinct vocals and a beautiful midrange. All this from 16/44! The MSB products do seem to offer up a high level of resolution but in a musical fashion.
Next Howard pulled up the Handsome Family’s True Detective title track “Far From Any Road”. There is a lot going on in this track and the instruments were distinctly conveyed by the Maggies with clarity. Next, we did an analog shootout of the Kronos table versus the TW Acustic. We used the superb Dream with Dean album from Analogue Productions on 45 rpm slabs. The Kronos sounded terrific with lots of detail but I have to say the TW Acustic was even more musical and full in the vocals. It created more of a presence on Dean’s voice. How much was attributable to the tables and how much to the cartridges is hard to say but both sounded excellent. I could not help but think how lucky Howard was to have two such star tables. We finished with a new test track of mine, Jersey Girl by Holly Cole from her Temptations albums. The backing vocals have a magical shaa-lala-sha-lala emphasis and the bass is recorded very well. Oh man, what terrific sound on this 16/44 Tidal file. Holly was in the room, the bass was real, and I kept thinking I could fall in love with this Jersey Girl even if the reality is that Holly is from Canada.
After we had finished listening, Howard showed me the upper floor deck which overlooks the horse farm in the distance. It is simply breathtaking. Colorado is truly God’s country. The trees, terrain, and climate are really something. It’s just a great place to live. I’ve been coming out here for 14 years, often staying at my brother’s house in Monument which is about 35 minutes from the Denver Tech Center. I have also fallen in love with the area. Howard and Kristen have created a beautiful home and an inviting, comfortable listening room. Like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the hospitality and sound are wonderful. Howard and Kristin actually decamp from home and take up residence in the Marriott for a staycation every year to take in the new products and sounds at RMAF. They remain as curious and enthusiastic about audio as I am. It’s going to be a great show!