2013 ROCKY MOUNTAIN AUDIOFEST
BEST OF SHOW AWARDS
If you know anything about Stereomojo, you know that VALUE plays a large part in our opinions.,
so our Best of Show report reflects that. We also tried to mainly focus on NEW products, not those
we've heard and reported on at other shows.
Value, of course, is a very relative term, but when we heard speakers with prices above $200,000/pr.,
a 20 or 30 thousand dollar speaker that imparts a large percentage of the musical performance
of the mega luxo speakers do present a real value. In addition, most very expensive speakers are also very large and would simply not sound good in an average room. There are exceptions, but the laws of physics apply and such large movers of air would simply overload the room and/or you would not be able to sit far enough away from them for their multi-drivers to be time aligned correctly.
So, we have tried to focus our awards on products that are new and present a high value to performance ratio throughout several price ranges. In other words, products that our readers might actually want to purchase at some point.
So, in no particular order, here are our 2013 RMAF Best of Show Awards.
It's hard to overlook a speaker that has style, great construction, and with specs that go down to 24 Hz (and sound like it) is firmly in the true "full range" category.
The Nimbus looks and sounds much more expensive than its $8,995/pr belies.
It's high 93 db sensitivity means it is very amp (especially tube amp) friendly. They also were one of the most mentioned speakers by attendees as "must hear". Sometimes they get it right!
NOLA Metro Grand Reference Gold
In the report we said, " It was hard to leave this room. We just wanted to stay and stay."
The moment we sat down my mind and ears just said "Ahhhh YESSS!"
NOLA (Carl Marchisotto) is THE master of open baffle speakers. So, if you value open, precise sound without the medicinal, academic, analytical sound you so often get with even ultra-buck speakers, these are the tonic for what ails you. Unbounded soundstage with layer upon layer of depth, width and height is the hallmark of the NOLA brand. They simply sound about as close to a real, live musical performance as you can get. They go low, they go high with no artificial bumps, lumps or dips in the response.
These are the antithesis to fatiguing sound - they just invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy for hours.
That is why, at $33,000/pr we consider them an outstanding value and certainly one of, if not the best, sounds at the show.
Speaking of live performances, we caught electric bassist Dean Peer playing his complex, extremely dynamic songs through these otherwise nondescript Endeavor E3 speakers.
It was unbelievable and we just waited for one of the speakers to explode as Dean played exactly like the two other times we've heard him in concert. I also own most every CD he's released as well as hi-rez versions. Have signed LP, too. So we know what his playing sounds like. Thumps, plucks and Dean's famous harmonics as he plays not only the bass part, but the melody and rhythm of his intricate tunes simultaneously.
The sound was not crushed, limited or otherwise dumbed down - and it was LOUD.
According to Lief Swanson, the designer pictured above, the E3's were "Voiced to sound musical rather than analytical, the E-3 can be compared to the finest European systems selling for 5 times our price!" That price being $5,995 pair. Hand Built in the USA.
Coincident new Super Victory II, Natural Ash finish at $9,999 pair.
Again, very natural sounding and musical presentation, easily beating out others at much higher prices.
But what really seals the super value deal here is that they were being driven to live music levels by the new Dynamo 34SE Stereo integrated with 8 watts per channel for $999. There's even a headphone jack. The small amp on the top shelf, right is the 'lil Dynamo.
We like amp friendly speakers. Why buy a speaker at any price that presents such a difficult load for an amp causing most people to mistakenly match it with an amp that simply can't handle it causing bad sound, especially when there are so many like this that makes amp matching a breeze? 8 watts driving these big speakers1
For about $11,000 you can have a matched amp/floorstanding, full range speaker system that will fill a medium to large room with musical splendor. Just add a source component and some cables and you're done. Outstanding value.
We don't know of another speaker which has caused so much discussion and questions
online and at various shows than this. While it has been around at shows for a couple of years,
it has just recently started shipping.
We include it here because:
A. How it sounded at the show
B. I have a pair at home now. Stereomojo is doing the first official worldwide review.
While I only have about 300 hours on them (they take 600 to mostly optimize and will keep improving to 1,000 I am told by maker Jonathan Tinn), I know how they really sound in a known environment.
Let me just say, I didn't hear any other bookshelf-sized speaker at the show that can compete with them at any price.
In fact, they sound better than many floorstanding speakers at the show. No, they will not satisfy those who listen primarily to pipe organ music that goes down to 16Hz. Or if you have a very large room and want to blast your tunes at 110 db all day.
The price is $4,000 per pair WITH stands. The stands are custom made for the MMMicroOne and lock them down with anti-resonate material sandwiched in. In other words, the speakers don't just rest on top of the stands per usual. The speakers and stands become one unit and contribute significantly to the sound.
On various blogs, there are testimonials of people who had sold much larger and more expensive speakers after acquiring these. Who knows if that's true or not. I, for example, would not sell my $18,000 (and a steal at that price) Legacy Aeris in exchange for the MMMicroOne. Let's get real. A small speaker, however good, can only move so much air.
However, for their price and what else we heard in Denver, it's easy to name the Evolution MMMicroOne as the Best Bookshelf speaker at the show.
KRONOS SPARTAN TURNTABLE
At $16,000 without armor cart, it's not cheap, but it is full of innovations. And oh yeah, it sounds wonderful.
This is a very unique design with TWO identical platters rotating in opposite directions to smooth out and cancel noise and resonance. Another innovation is his arm mount system. His design allows you to quickly take off one arm and replace it with another in a preset spot. Designer Louis Desjardins showed us. Takes just a few seconds.
But here's the clincher; hill come to your home and set it up! I don't know how much knowing your turntable is set up as perfectly as possible is worth in peace of mind instead of always wondering if you got everything set up just right, but it's something.
Audio by Van Alstine
Frank Van Alstine has be making value priced components for decades.
We like tubes in preamps. He insisted we hear his new FET Valve Tube Preamplifierand we're glad he did.
Retail $1899 and for silver finish add $200. SIX inputs! Has a phono input option for $249.
Sounded clean, crisp and very musical through his amps and Salk speakers.
Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblock Amps
These amps are based on the Hypex Ncore NC 1200
tech with 400 watts each.
Each is encased in a 66 pound solid billet aircraft grade aluminum chassis design for isolation of components and to minimize microphonic vibrations.
Cardas wiring and posts are used and are truly fully balanced. Even the power chords are cryo treated 10 AWG.
Stillpoints Ulramini risers are used underneath.
These amps are currently in house and almost finished with their review listening period.
Probably the hottest and most highly contested area of hi-end audio is the music server/streamer. This Sony, contrary to other reports, is not a "streamer" if you're looking for Pandora, Spotify, etc. The other is the latest, greatest, highest resolution music files - DSD or even double DSD. Being Sony, it does DSD upside down and backwards. (Sony "invented" DSD for their SACD format)
Here's another "big thing": The internal DSD Re-mastering Engine converts all your music files to DSD audio for" better than CD quality sound." Hmmmm......
Here's the formats it plays:
DSDIFF (DSD), DSF, MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC (Non DRM), AIFF
DSD（2.8/5.6MHz ）, PCM（44.1k/48k/88.2k/96k/176.4k/192kHz, 16 / 24-bit ）
It has a 1 Terra Byte internal hard disk (expandable via USB external hard drives)
that can be sync'd with your music collection under either windows or on the MAC.
When we say "can be synced", we mean MUST be synced but it will go out and search your net work for music and import it
or hook up a hard drive.
There are apps for it, of course, but they are designed by Sony and are gorgeous and easy to use - much better than, say, J-river or Itunes.
It does come with a selection of native DSD tunes from the usual classics from Sony such as Miles Davis and Bob Dylan.
Sony is supposed to release (or re-release for the umpteenth time) much of their catalogue of native DSD catalogue we expect to look much like their previous SACD releases.
We want to get one for review. And, we just want to GET one.
Oh yes. Price? Only, $2,000.
We said we love to find new, value oriented products. How about a brand new value oriented COMPANY that makes nothing but tube amps? And they are not made in China - nope ya'll - made it Texas!
They kind of get this award - BEST NEW TUBE AMP COMPANY" by default. We didn't see any others, but that doesn't lessen our enthusiasm.
What you see playing above is their
Silhouette Reference Monoblock Amplifiers
Silhouette Reference Preamp (w/all-tube phono stage)
$7000 Reflection integrated
We look forward to reviewing their products.