Steven Stone's Best of RMAF 2009

Steven Stone's Best of RMAF 2009

Best Sound – I heard many show-goers complaining about the awful sound in the Primrose room hosted by Audio Limits. They had YG Acoustics Anat II Reference speakers ($107,000), Weiss Jason transport ($19,600) Weiss Medea DAC ($16,200), Blacknote DSS-30 ($4500) Aural Acoustics Cables and a HRS SXR rack ($10,000), and FM Acoustics 811 MK2 amplifier ($128,800) with the FM Acoustics 245 preamp ($23,200). According to my math the entire system cost over $320,000. I scheduled 20 minutes before the show opened to hear it for myself. I was amazed how superb it sounded as long as it wasn’t turned up to the point where the room become involved. Once the room started to sing along the sound went straight into the crapper. But at lower SPLs it was the best I heard in terms of resolution and transparency. Too bad most RMAF visitors never got a chance to hear what this system could do since once the show opened the volume was immediately too loud. At show levels the system’s considerable sonic virtues were buried under maelstrom of reverb and unsympathetic room resonances.

Greatest Bargain – The GR research room, which featured their new Super-V speakers ($2495.00 for the component kit plus $995 for the flat-pack cabinet kit) dB Audio Labs Tranquility DAC ($995), Dodd Audio battery powered buffer ($995) with Dodd Audio battery-powered EL 84 15 watt amplifier ($995) Dodd Audio balanced power supply ($1195) and Mac Mini music server ($599) and Pi Audio Group Uber Buss AC device ($995) kept up with all the hyper-priced systems I heard at the show in terms of transparency, clean bass with full extension and dimensional soundstaging. This system, with a total price of approximately $9500 less cables, brings great sound to anyone with a middle income.

Most Significant Product Introduction – Open baffle speakers from Lowther, GR Research, Nola, Battery Powered Technology, and Genesis demonstrated that even, no, especially in boxy badly-proportioned hotel rooms open-baffle speakers can produce satisfying SPLs without engaging and energizing the room’s pernicious nodes and resonances. The room is STILL the most expensive and difficult to optimize component in any audio system. Open baffle speakers offer an elegant sonic solution for audiophiles saddled with even the worst constructed rooms.

Greatest Technological Breakthrough – Harman High Performance Groups’ double extension semi with its superb three-seat home theater listening room. It proves that even a tin-bodied mobile home (that’s in essence what the Harmon vehicle is) can be made to sound superb if properly configured. I’ve never heard “The Fifth Element” sound as good as in the Harman demo, and I’ve heard this movie on more systems over the years than I care to remember.

Best Demo Music – That’s easy – whatever I brought with me. Every showgoer should have the same answer. If you come to an audio show without your own music to demo you might as well have arrived without your pants.

Most Important Trend – Three words – computer music sources. What was writing on the wall at last year’s RMAF has morphed into a Texas stadium-sized Jumbotron display – in the near future all digital music files will be on a computer. Silver discs are deader than Federico Franco.

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