RMAF 2018: Lee’s Parting Thoughts and Best Of Show

I’ve been coming to RMAF almost from the beginning.  Some 14 years later, the show news is that they are moving to the giant Gaylord resort near the Denver airport.  This should be exciting but in many ways I will miss the Denver Tech Center.  It feels a bit like the end of an era in high end audio.  I am sure the new location will take the show to a new level for the hard-working Marjorie Baumert and her team from the Colorado Audio Society.  But oh what memories of this Marriott!  I made a lot of friends here as a consumer and more over time as I transitioned into covering the audio industry part-time with Scot’s help.  I learned a lot about what makes a system sound good and not so good here.  I think the best for Rocky Mountain is truly yet to come.

So with a heavy heart, we say goodbye to the Denver Tech Center and look forward to bigger venues (and more hotel food choices).  However, I want to mention a few highlights of the show that caught my eye and, more importantly, my ear.  But first, an important caveat: one man cannot cover all the great rooms at RMAF so any “Best of” is likely to miss some pretty amazing rooms.  So please keep that in mind if you are a consumer or even a quality manufacturer that I somehow missed.

Having said that, here are my top rooms from RMAF:

  1. Göbel and CH Precision.  I’m glad to see Elliot Goldman working his magic in high end audio and his Gobel rooms both here and at Axpona were fantastic.  We threw vocals, rock, jazz and classical at this tall speakers and multi-kilobuck Swiss electronic boxes.  It all sounded excellent.
  2. Joseph Audio, Doshi Audio, Cardas.  This system was so liquid and clear (no pun intended…as far as you know).  I have noticed that when I see Jeff Joseph, there is a great sound nearby.  When I see Nick Doshi, there is great sound nearby.  But both in the same room?  Dayum.  This Perspective-based system was one of the best I have heard anywhere, any year.  These are not big speakers but driven by Doshi’s superb electronics, they sounded huge.  Wonderful analog sound from tape.  A real achievement.
  3. DeVore Fidelity O/Reference.  I’m always discovering great sound in John’s rooms and some electronics brand I am not real familiar with.  Well I know AirTight and it was almost as beautiful sounding as John’s new Reference speakers.  Teaming with Fern & Roby, they also crafted (and believe me, “crafted” is the right word) one of the most gorgeous 4-box speaker systems I have seen.  The sound was pure.  Just great warmth in all best aspects of that work.  Remarkable.
  4. Borreson Audio.  This new line from Michael Borreson and Lars Kristensen knocked the socks off of me and my pal Jimmy.  Coupled with Aavik electronics and Ansuz cables, the sound was super-natural sounding.  Dynamics and transients like you rarely hear.  And wonderful, artisan grade cabinets add to pride of ownership.
  5. Von Schweikert and VAC.  I saved one of the best for last.  I admire these guys who team up with a local audio firm, The Audio Company, to do shows across the U.S.  The sound is big with a deep and wide soundstage and a sublime clarity.  Dynamics are faithfully created and there is just a magical quality to vocals.  On display this year was the more compact Ultra 9 loudspeaker with Kevin Hayes’ amazing tower-based integrated VAC amplifier.  Sources were a Kronos table and reference Esoteric digital gear.  Wow.  Just wow.

I wanted to so a few shout-outs to other innovations I heard:

  1. Jade II electrostatic system.  A new price for reference electrostatics at $2,500.
  2. Wavelength Audio’s new DACs.  Gordon Rankin continues to be the unassuming genius quietly creating sublime digital.
  3. Gryphon Audio.  These guys did something very smart: they brought in two of the best in the business, Philip O’Hanlon and Rune Skove.  Philip’s room sounded wonderful.  A Sonorus tape deck truly showed what this Gryphon system could do.
  4. Primare and Manger Audio in the Mobile Fidelity room.  Another sonic standout for coherence, midrange excellence, and overall great product design.  A very nice rig assembled by Jonathan Derda and Norbert Schmied.  Excellent!
  5. Pro-Ject.  Another fine showing on both the headphone front with Jeff Coates and on the full system side with Buzz Goddard.  Excellent sound all around.

Finally I want to say how much I enjoyed having Marc Phillips be part of the team this year.  Marc simply has a knack for finding high quality, emerging audio craftsmanship and then telling its story like no one else.  I look forward to reading The Occasional!

About Lee Scoggins 118 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.