The Affordable Audio of RMAF – RMAF 2015

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In an effort to bring in new blood to the hobby, at RMAF this year there was a focused attention on showcasing flushed out, full rigs that could be attained by nearly anyone as well as the eye popping, wallet busting setups that make up the majority of the listening rooms at the show. In a clever execution, three rooms where situated in progression down a hallway of increasing price. Show organizers did a great job of curating some of the best and most popular combinations for each price range.

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Immediately following three rooms priced at collective costs of $500, $1000, and $1,500 was one of the most talked about budget speaker rooms of the show by Elac and designer Andrew Jones, so it was quite section of hotel hallway to behold for the budget audiophile. Each room was broken out along the three majestic pillars of audiophillia. Every price scenario sported an analog loudspeaker, digital loudspeaker and a personal audio setup in the same room.

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Notable components at this level have a tendency to shimmy down to smaller collective pool but a few good contenders where still highlighted. A no brainer for loudspeakers was both the Emotiva Airmotiv3B at $200 and the Audioengine A5+ at $400. Active amplification helps bring down the cost before you hit a threshold where separates become a viable option.

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Those familiar with the personal audio space know that much more can be achieve dollar for dollar against fidelity, so even at $500 total cost separates can be achieved, however modest. The benefit to this approach is of course the option to upgrade each stage in the chain as your budget grows over time. Swapping out components for comparison is perhaps the one of the core sources of entertainment for many a audiophile junkie, along with actually listening to music. The NAD HP50 ($250) pictured above performs very well against the stiff competition in its category and was part of a $500 setup including the Schiit Magni 2 ($99) and the Audioengine D1 ($169).

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A relative newcomer to the scene made an appearance in the $1k room and went by the name U Turn. The Orbit Plus turntable ($329) from the brand is pictured above and was connected to the company’s Pluto phono stage ($89).

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The entire procession was rounded out with a the previously mentioned Audioengine A5+ for a very pretty starter kit in analog.

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The $1,500 room opened up even more options, branching out into a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC USB turntable ($549) into the Vanatoo Transparent One ($500). There was even a MartinLogan Dynamo 300 sub ($299) to help fill in the low end.

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At $1,500 the options in personal audio open up fairly wide. One of many possible combinations, the Audeze EL-8 open ($699) was paired with their new Amp/DAC combo called the Deckard ($699) and offered a fairly simple two-part solution for high resolution listening.

It was really great to see (and hear) this budget progression unfurl in real-time as you make your way down the 2nd floor hallway at the show. In an environment saturated with “the very best” it was equally refreshing to see efforts to bring new enthusiasts into the fold. Audio-Head as a site seeks to drag more of these opportunities into the limelight, as many good options already exist. While it isn’t often a fair comparison to set them against the R&D budgets near the true high end of the hobby, higher fidelity can be achieved and enjoyed in far greater numbers with opportunities like the ones presented in these rooms.

Further emphasis on a budget approach to the hobby was made by a collection of experts on the subject at a Friday seminar hosted by John Darko.


The seminar titled Affordability: How Low Can You Go? consisted of a panel made up of Pal Bratelund of Tidal, David Soloman of Audioengine, Kathleen Thomas of Audioquest and Steve Guttenberg of CNET. Several good budget suggestions were made and if its any indicator of demand, the gentleman who sat next to me during the event was furiously taking detailed notes of any and all recommendations. While some mentions included ground we have already covered in this post, John brought up an interesting product from Google that takes advantage of their chromecast broadcasting service for only $35. The available “chromecast audio” dongle will stream audio to RCA, 3.5mm and even optical outputs through wifi from any device, including Apple products. Cool stuff for $35: []


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