Rocky Mountain Audio Fest - Part Two

Our last look at Denver from the traditional audio side

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Zesto Audio’s new $12,000 all-tube Téssera phono stage looked fabulous in the flesh; and not too shabby on screen, too. With the exception of sharing the same case and power cord, the Téssera is completely dual-mono (even down to doubling up the controls on the front panel) and made a great sound via a Merrill Williams REAL 101.2 turntable, Zesto’s Andros amplification, and Marten Django loudspeakers.

While most of our round-up of new products discusses those devices that were ‘in play’ rather than ‘on show’, we were rather taken with the $9,900 VAC linestage preamp. Matching the Phi range of continuous auto bias power amps, this new preamp (with optional phono stage) uses circuitry and components from VAC’s high-end and super-high-end ranges.

Like many of the best US products, brands like Vinni Rossi often miss the credit they deserve outside of the country. In fairness, the exposed tubes of the company’s LIO integrated amplifier might prove difficult to get past the CE-marking police in mainland Europe, but this $11,000 modular amplifier and optional power supply, driven by a pair of Harbeth Super HL5 Plus speakers, was one of the most effortless sounding systems of the event.

VPI’s $21,000 Avenger Reference turntable has been shown at a number of shows, but never quite like this! Possessed of multiple arms sitting on multiple outriggers for stereo and mono performance, the Avenger aced it all. In single arm-guise, VPI’s Prime and Avenger turntables were some of the most popular choices at the show, and Mat Weisfeld was one of the most exhausted men at the show, having to deliver decks to almost every floor!

Finally, there were three rooms that deserve to be singled out for making an exceptional sound. The first was the Luxman/Eclipse room, because once a day Philip O’Hanlon of distributor On a Higher Note played an hour’s worth of classic mono recordings on a giant Luxman reference turntable from the 1970s. The newest LP played was 50 years old, and many were well into their mid-60s. Say what you want about stereo, but one channel of effortless, dynamic, and vivid sound is hard to beat.

Next up, Sanders Sound Systems. This $26,000 preamplifier, ESL stereo power amplification, and Model 10e electrostatic loudspeaker package from the brand might not have been exactly new, and firing-across-the-room, three chairs in a row layout was not particularly interior-design friendly, but the even-handedness and sheer ability for music to breathe made this one of the true stars of the show. Sanders consistently wins ‘best in show’ plaudits for good reason.

Finally, one of the more satisfying and uniformly best loved systems at RMAF featured a Kronos turntable, arm, and EMT cartridge, Nagra Classic amplification and Avalon Acoustics Indra Diamond loudspeakers, with al the equipment resting on Modulum racks and using top Kubala Sosna cables and power conditioning. This was one of those high-end systems that looks great and sounds even better. A true star system worthy of wrapping up any show report!

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