My RMAF wrap-up for 2019 almost didn’t happen. Many people in the high-end audio industry were concerned with the new venue, the Gaylord Rockies Resort, and the increased expenses for exhibiting at a show held in such a luxurious complex. My own attendance was held up almost until the last minute, as we determined whether or not the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was going to implode under the pressure of this momentous change. It didn’t, fortunately, and the 2019 RMAF turned out to be one of the most memorable in the last few years. Congratulations go to Marjorie Baumert and her staff for keeping it all together and preserving the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest’s reputation for being one of the most enjoyable shows on the circuit.
As I assemble my notes for my RMAF wrap-up, I’m questioning the wisdom of choosing just five rooms for my Best Sound at Show honors. I’m not sure why I picked that number–it might be Brian Hunter’s request for the Part-Time Audiophile staff to produce their five favorite rooms for The Occasional Podcast at each show. At this RMAF, I’m confronted with the fact that there were far more than five rooms that captured my love and admiration. Also, I can’t decide between two specific rooms for the top honor since I loved them both. In past shows I’ve lamented the fact that there isn’t a big gap between the top five rooms and the next three or four–in many cases I’m seriously dissing Room #6 or #7.
But before we move on to my choices for Best Sound at Show, I have to pick my choices for the 2019 Fear Inoculum Award.
This all started just a couple of days before I left for RMAF 2019, and I was able to stream Tool’s new album Fear Inoculum on Qobuz for the first time. I loved it, and not just because I love Tool and it was their first album in 13 years, but also because it’s the best-sounding Tool album. It could be easily used as a demo disc at a high-end show. So I posted this on social media: “Heading out to Denver tomorrow for the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I hope each room is streaming Fear Inoculum.” The idea was simple–every time an exhibitor asked me if I wanted to hear something, I would request the title track from Fear Inoculum. I though it would be hilarious if each one of my show reports contained a deadpan mention of how that song sounded on a particular system, and my RMAF wrap-up would include the winners.
It didn’t work out that way, unfortunately. Some rooms couldn’t stream Qobuz at all, and some rooms were run by people who looked like they wouldn’t tolerate ten-plus minutes of the finest prog metal ever recorded and many, quite simply, didn’t even ask what I wanted to hear. But five brave exhibitors complied:
The Sound Organisation/Bryston–One of my first victims, the Bryston exhibitors happily complied with my request since they were Tool fans and hadn’t heard the new album yet. They loved “Fear Inoculum.”
Innuos–As I mentioned in my show report, I was able to listen to the sonic differences between all the Innuos servers via headphones, and of course I used “Fear Inoculum” as the test track.
Moon Audio–Drew Baird and his crew allowed me to compare several different pair of headphones to my heart’s content, using Qobuz. Hmmm, I wonder which song I picked.
Sony–I had an appointment for a private demo. I listened to their chosen music. Then, at the end, they asked me for requests. Not only did the Sony crew love “Fear Inoculum,” when I left the demo room and they allowed the next reviewer to enter I heard the song played again from the outside room. Extra Tool points for that.
Klipsch Heritage–These guys win the award because I didn’t even have to ask–they were already playing “Fear Inoculum” when I entered the room. Plus, they played “The Grudge” from Tool’s 2001 album Lateralus as well. Extra special bonus points were also added when I heard two other show attendees complain about “Fear Inoculum,” and the fact that so many of the RMAF rooms were playing it. My work here is done.
Okay, now it’s that part of my RMAF wrap-up to discuss my favorite sound at the show.
5. Sonus Faber. They probably would have placed higher, but they exhibited in one of those big conference rooms where several systems were hooked up and playing, so the set-up wasn’t optimized for one particular system. Still, I couldn’t believe the sound coming from the Olympica Nova V loudspeakers ($16,500/pair) and how balanced it sounded from top to bottom using mostly Audio Research components.
4. MoFi Distribution. This room, hosted by MoFi’s Jonathan Derda, featured so many compelling brands–Falcon Acoustics, BAT, Dr. Feickert Analogue, My Sonic Lab and much more. Jonathan kept playing MoFi Ultradisc One-Step LPs, and I was stuck to my chair for a very long time.
3. In Living Stereo. This system, which featured Mactone, Trenner & Friedl, Clearaudio and Hana, sounded incredibly alive in every way, obtaining the perfect sonic blend of vintage tube equipment and modern standards of fidelity. I’ve got the Mactone amplification scheduled for review, and I can’t wait.
These next two rooms are tied for first: Well-Pleased AV and Notable Audio Products. Both systems provided the kind of sound that I’ve been searching for on this audio journey of mine–warm, detailed and embraceable. The Well-Pleased AV system, which featured Vinnie Rossi’s new L2 integrated and the amazing QLN loudspeakers from Sweden, re-defined the idea of holographic imaging and realism. The Notable Audio room featured a much bigger and more elaborate system with Joseph Audio loudspeakers, J. Sikora analog, Doshi Audio amplification, Aurender digital playback and Cardas Audio cabling. Every track was supremely musical and rewarding, offering some of the best sound I’ve heard at an audio show.
The Well-Pleased AV room less expensive and obtained the same lofty sound quality, but it didn’t include analog playback. The Notable Audio room, as I mentioned, featured so many different pieces, but it would probably require a much bigger room. It’s a toss-up–I loved the sound of both.
My RMAF wrap-up must include other rooms that I also felt were exceptional, such as Innuos, Wavelength Audio and Vaughn, VTL/YG/Nordost, PranaFidelity, NOLA/VAC, Classic Album Sundays and Haniwa Audio. Special mentions must go to the Sony SA-Z1 nearfield system, which opens the door to a new world of desktop sound, and the Klipsch RP600-M, which sounds much better than any $549/pair speaker should.
That’s it for my RMAF wrap-up. I’ll see you all soon at the 2019 Capital Audiofest in November!