This year’s RMAF was an overwhelming success by my measure. Many very interesting and delightful audiophiles converged with a singular sonic mindset for three music-soaked days. Deep in the bowels of Tech Center of Denver Diana Krall rang out her siren song, beckoning all to the gentle bosom of $100k amplifiers and loudspeakers.
It was immeasurably pleasurable to share time with these individuals. Perhaps it can be accredited to my second time around for RMAF, or perhaps it was just a friendly crowd, but a warm vibe was very easy to tap into by vendor, press and consumer alike. Foot traffic appeared substantial on Friday, with a slight dip on Saturday. That being said, with all the space the Marriott provides it is a bit hard to gauge population density properly. A few surprises emerged from the fray, and some long-awaited reveals finally saw the light of day. One of the first surprises come from unexpected company. While I didn’t have the opportunity to audition the loudspeaker amplifier section of this piece, the Sony HAP-S1 caught my eye as a high value proposition based on its features alone. Taking “all-in-one” to the next level, this little box complied a DAC, media server (complete with an internal hard drive) headphone amplifier and integrated for a single grand. As with many many products on display throughout the show and especially the headphone section called CANJAM, DSD capabilities were also included in the mix (double DSD as well for the HAP-51). The only thing that was missing was a cup holder.
The Wyred 4 Sound room sounded balanced as well as dynamic. The setup included a wide range of their products including the mAMP monoblocks we reviewed [here] and the buzz-worthy W4S DAC-2 DSDse ($2.5k). The loudspeakers featured are the CS2.3 MkII by Emerald Physics($6k).
Clint from Wyred 4 Sound was also introducing a new product at the show called the ST 500/1000 mkII. These power amplifiers come in either 250wpc (500nkII -$1.5k) or 450wpc (1000mkII – $2k) variations and are a combination of two of their mAMP monoblocks under the same roof. Both ST amps feature the same 3rd generation discrete FET inputs and class “D” amplification.
Benchmark had their usual minimalist setup with the classic DAC2 HGC acting beautifully as both preamp and digital translator. The bookshelves that filled the room are the Studio Electric Monitors. While at first glance it may seem that little had changed over last years room, the big surprise here was the power amplifier. The new Benchmark AHB2 amplifier features the same stylings of the DAC line so your setup can now be fully owned by Benchmark from source and speaker in one concise look with a relatively small footprint.
The straightforward and compact AHB2 even felt compact and versatile enough to fit even desktop applications. The amplifier does 100 wpc with 2 channels & 340 w bridged mono @ 8 ohms and features sensitivity adjustment as well as both SE and balanced inputs. Here is a bit about the amp class from their website: “Class AB amplifiers generate crossover distortion every time the output stage crosses 0 volts. This crossover distortion can be especially problematic at low playback levels. Class A output stages eliminate this crossover distortion at the expense of high power consumption, poor damping, and a limited dynamic range. THX recently patented two new technologies that address crossover distortion, and Benchmark incorporated these innovations into the AHB2 design. These new innovations virtually eliminate crossover distortion while offering opportunities to improve efficiency, damping, and dynamic range. The licensed technology solves the crossover problem by combining a plurality of output stages such that one stage drives the output while another stage enters a crossover region. Distortion performance exceeds that of class A amplifiers, while the efficiency exceeds that of traditional class AB amplifiers.”
The new flagship of the planar magnetic headphone world is the pricey Abyss ($5.5k). Pricey, but undoubtably a high performance piece, their room at RMAF featured multiple arrangements of extremely high-end components. The first pictured below utilizes the Cavalli Liquid Gold ($6.5k) and a big red beast from Light Harmonic called the Da Vinci DAC ($12k).
The second featured the solid Auralic VEGA DAC we reviewed [here] and one of Jack Woos top-of-the-line tube headphone amplifiers the WA5 ($3.5k). The size restrictions associated with these setups are not for the faint of heart (and neither are the price tags) but those who have the spare scratch can tap into some of the best sound personal audio has to offer.
A trip to RMAF would not be complete without a stop by the Zu room. Sean Casey’s sonic creations were paired with Peachtree this year in a the large room on the far end of the show. The Druid MkV ($5.2) were driven by the Peachtree grand integrated ($4.5k) and produced a sound that drove the space with authority. Filling in the bottom end was Casey’s large powered sub the Submission ($4k). The setup had an extremely smooth transition between the two that was perfectly blended from low to high. The simple 4 piece setup showing again that audio rigs do not need to be inherently complex in order to sound good. Some after hours listening provided the opportunity to even hear the setup at concert level volumes, or as the Zu guys call it “Normal”.
Part two of our RMAF 2013 room coverage can be found here: