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Impressions:  My Audio Oasis! Awards for RMAF 2019, Part the First

10-14-2019 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 105

Ye Olde Editor at RMAF back in 2015 (photograph by Jeff Day)

Introduction:  RMAF at a major new site

After a hiatus of three years (2016-2018), during which my colleagues Dave and Carol Clark headed up show coverage for Positive Feedback at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, it was time for Lila Ritsema (PF's Business Manager) and I to return to the big Mile-High. I had attended every RMAF from 2004-2015, with the sole exception of 2008 when I was briefly in Virginia. Marjorie Baumert is a very dear audio friend of all of us at PF, and so we decided that the time had come to put all boots on the ground.

The Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, Denver, CO, 2019:  It's even bigger than it looks here….

Besides which, the shift to the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center had all of us quite curious:  how would the new venue shape up as the future of this show?

I had heard rumors that the Gaylord, freshly built, was a pretty remarkable facility. I wanted to gather my own impressions, though, and not have second- or third-hand reports, with the possible agendas thereof, be all that I knew.

Well, I can say that the Gaylord is big. As in, BIG.

In fact, it's on more like a Las Vegas scale than what I was used to seeing in Denver.

Bigger even than the Renaissance Schaumberg complex in Chicago that AXPONA uses as its current site. There's not much of a  comparison at all. According to Wikipedia, the Schaumberg is a "…500-room hotel…run by Marriott under their Renaissance brand. The property features a 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) exhibition hall, 48,000 sq ft (4,500 m2) of meeting room space, and a 28,000 sq ft (2,600 m2) ballroom, all of which can be divided to provide many configurations."

The Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center (image courtesy of Marriott International)

By comparison, Marriott International profiles the Gaylord Rockies as follows:

"Gaylord Rockies By the Numbers
- The resort's rustic, alpine charm features 1,501 rooms, including 114 well-appointed suites. Of the suites, there are 14 presidential suites ranging between 1,500- and 2,200-square-feet.
- The property boasts more than 486,000-square-feet of exhibition, meeting, pre-function and outdoor space.
- Dine formally or casually at eight food & beverage outlets, serving steak and American, Asian and Italian fares.
- The 100-foot Grand Lodges' centerpiece is a 75-foot-tall (eight stories high) atrium window offering spectacular views of the Denver skyline framed by the Rocky Mountains.
- The 17-room Relache Spa and Salon, plus state-of-the-art fitness center and ice fountain, offer countless ways for guests to relax and recharge.
- Indoor and outdoor pools complete with a lazy river and three waterslidesa total of 22,000-square-feet of aquatic experience—as well as an arcade, miniature golf, bike rentals, pickleball and more.
- A 75-foot viewing screen, the largest in the state, in the Mountain Pass Sports Barideal for game day celebrations."

Like I said. Really enormous.

The turnout? I don't have an actual count from RMAF 2019 yet (yes, I asked, but no response). Sometimes show management hold such information confidential, and other times, a number is only given as a general range. Cards are closely held in that game.

But there were certainly a lot of people that I saw.

As in:  a lot.

Big lines on opening day.

On and on!

That Marjorie and her team were able to take on a facility of such magnitude, after it had only been open since March, and do so well with the details, hassles, and inevitable PITA moments, is a major tribute to them. I'm extremely impressed with how well the show went, and with the extraordinary quality of the setting, which was both beautiful and state-of-the-art in its appointments and operations.

Even motorcycle audio got into the act at RMAF 2019!

There were very large exhibit rooms at one end of the Gaylord, where the big suites were. The registration desk was in this neck of the woods, which was probably a common complaint amongst show goers:  it was a goodly walk-and-a-half from registration to the tower with the multiple standard-sized rooms. On the other hand, it wasn't as bad as some of the walks that I did at CES back in the day, and the six elevators in the towers were fast, dependable, and kept the crowds moving effectively. I heard that the freight elevators, which were separate, worked very well for exhibitors. There weren't any passenger elevators packed with piles of gear squeezed in, as I've seen at other venues…a very good thing.

Another plus:  the exhibiting rooms in such a large facility were well spaced, so that the music in one room usually did not intrude into neighboring rooms. This improved the listening experience for me, and for others that I talked with.

Yes, I'm aware of the significant cost increases, and have heard complaints about that from a number of sources. I can't do anything about that, obviously, nor could Marjorie; she tells me that the costs were going to rise about the same at the Marriott Tech Center. That being true, in my opinion it was time to shift to a much better facility, with real promise for future growth. Apart from that, every potential exhibitor has to make his or her own choice about budgeting and which shows to frequent.

Overall, then, I would rate the Gaylord as an excellent and imposing setting for RMAF, and the administration of the event to be superior, even allowing for the inevitable problems of the first year of an event in such a huge venue. Well done, Marjorie and company!

My Audio Oasis! Awards for RMAF 2019

"Dropping In"...drawing by Dan Zimmerman

My AO! Awards are given to exhibitors' rooms at fine audio shows that draw me in, make me relax, sit back, and really get into the music. You know…aurally seductive rooms; spaces with sonic pheromones; realms of musical coolosity. I've been presenting these since 2006, and enjoy the opportunity to applaud the really good stuff, and done under show conditions, no less.

Note that the Audio Oasis! Awards are not any sort of "Best of Show!" recognition. Frankly, I find the notion of "best of show" to be highly dubious, since it's quite rare that any audio journalist can cover every room in anything other than the smaller audio events. And "best"? That's always highly debatable, given the array of tastes and preferences among commentators and show goers. Personally, I think that BoS is simply a marketing ploy, done to please audio manufacturers/distributors and their associated ad firms.

And thus, the noise floor rises.

So, my AO! Awards are not to be read or cited as any kind of "best of show" recognition.

Enough said.

Onwards. These are my Audio Oasis! Award winners, in no particular order:

KRONOS, CH Precision, Göbel High End, & Bending Wave USA

This room was one of the larger show spaces at RMAF 2019; Göbel and CH Precision were rolling mightily along.

The gear on parade:

  • Göbel Divin Noblesse loudspeakers, $220,000 per pair
  • CH Precision M 1.1 Power Amplifier, $54,000
  • CH Precision L1 Preamplifier, $34,500
  • CH Precision C1 DAC/USB option, $35,000
  • CH Precision P1 Phono, $31,000
  • Kronos Pro Turntable, $42,000
  • Kronos Black Beauty Tonearm, $9,500
  • Kronos SCPS Power Supply, $15,000
  • Göbel Lacorde Statement 10 ft. Speaker Cables, $23,000 per pair
  • Göbel Lacorde Statement XLR 1.2 meter interconnect, $7,000 per pair
  • Göbel Lacorde Statement Power Cable, 2 meters, $8,500
  • Göbel Lacorde Statement USB Cable, 1.2 meter, $5,100
  • Göbel Lacorde Statement XLR Cables, 10.2 meters, $41,000 per pair
  • Nordost QX-4 power purifier, $2,700
  • Nordost QCore 1 ground box, $2,500
  • Nordost QB-8 strip box, $1,600
  • Nordost QK1, $250
  • Nordost QV2, $350
  • Core Audio Rack, $3,500
  • Core Audio Amp Stand, $1,500

At the source end:  the KRONOS Pro LE with SCPS Power Supply, and CH Precision.

There was no arguing with the scale and beauty of the music in this room. Louis Desjardins of KRONOS was DJ'ing, with Oliver Göbel and Raphael Pasche of CH Precision in and out. Magnificent sound in this space, even better than I heard from this tandem at Munich 2018. And LPs on KRONOS…!

Kimber Kable, EMM Labs, DS Audio, Focal, HeadAmp, & HRS Rack

Here was a room with both the authority and horsepower of full-range audio reproduction, in tandem with some reference-level sources. Though the room was one of the standard-sized spaces, the quality of the sources and the potency of the EMM Labs electronics made the Focal speakers really stand up and take notice. 

So did I.

(True confessions:  I have really developed a love for Focal loudspeakers and headphones. Brilliant designs! More to come about that.)

Ed Meitner of EMM Labs and Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings

I was especially taken by the DS Audio cartridge imported by Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings, paired up with a new protype phono amp from EMM Labs that was sounding killer-sweet, and quite promisingly transparent. (I know; I have the DS Audio DS Master 1 here at PF Central. It's sounding very much like the best I've heard.) I hope that Ed Meitner is able to get this prototype phono amp into final production.

The equipment list for this room was impressive:

  • Focal Utopia Scala V2 Loudspeakers, $57,000 per pair
  • EMM Labs MTRX2 Amplifiers, $85,000 per pair
  • EMM Labs PRE Preamplifier, $25,000
  • EMM Labs Optical Equalizer, $TBA
  • EMM Labs MS1 Network Streamer, $4500
  • EMM Labs DV2 Integrated Converter, $30,000
  • Shunyata Denali 6000/S V2 Power Conditioner, $4500
  • SME Model 15 Turntable with 309 Tonearm, $12,900
  • DS Audio E-1 Cartridge, $1250
  • DS Audio W-2 Cartridge, $4500
  • HRS RXR-1921-4V-Black Audio Stand, $6925
  • HRS M3X2-1925 Isolation Base, $3995
  • HRS RS-1921-B Shelves (x3), $1470 each

Kimber Kables:

  • 1x 2 meter Carbon 18XL Speaker cable pair, $4100
  • 2x 1 meter Carbon XLR pair, $1152
  • 1x 3 meter Carbon XLR pair, $976
  • 1x 2 meter Select Rone Arm Cable (RCA-RCA), $4400
  • 1x 2 meter Select USB cable, $900
  • 6x Power Cables, $2,25-
  • 2x MTRx2 Power Cables, $1092

Powerful, authoritative music here, with a very good synergistic flow to things. It was quite interesting to hear Ed's new prototype phono amp/equalizer for the DS Audio cartridge...normally you have to purchase the DS Audio design as a dedicated unit. But what I was hearing indicates that Ed...a master of things audio-optical...has the range on a design that can deliver the goods for the DS Audio optical cartridges. And that's great news for vinyl lovers!

No doubt about my Audio Oasis! Award for this room…done!

Vinnie Rossi, Well Pleased AV, Innuos, QLN, SGR, GigaWatt, Swisscables, & Black Cat

Now here was a room that I was "well pleased" with! It was a standard-sized room, but with placement what was corner-based. Over the years, I've found that corner setups help to overcome space limitations and room nodes pretty effectively.

Mark Sossa of Well Pleased AV and Vinnie Rossi of…well…Vinnie Rossi!

That was certainly true here, where Vinnie Rossi and Mark Sossa had assembled a great collection of components that really synergized with each other.

  • Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Edition Integrated Amp (L2i-SE), $18,995
  • QLN Loudspeakers Prestige Three SE, $12,000 per pair
  • Innuos Statement Music Server with 1TB SSD, $13,750
  • SGR Model 5 Symphony Statement Equipment Rack, $3200 per shelf
  • GigaWatt PC-4 EVO+ with LC-3HC Power Condition
  • Swisscables Diamond Series:  $7,000 per pair speaker cables, $2250 power cable
  • Black Cat Cable TRON USB Cable, $1995 per meter

The Vinnie Rossi Integrated on the SGR Statement Rack

The overall sound was organic and harmonious, with great musical coolosity and a ton of pleasure. Though the system was compact, there was no sense of missing anything here, with the Innuos flawlessly serving music to the Vinnie Rossi electronics. I wasn't familiar with either Vinnie Rossi's designs or the QLN speakers, but I came away really impressed by their performance, which brought me back to this room several times.

Mark Sossa of Well Pleased AV:  a portrait

Friends, this is the real thing. And compact, too, for those of us who have to deal with smaller spaces. 

In fact, I'm going to see if I can get the Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Edition Integrated in for a spell here at PF River City. It's already tossed a seductive spell over me!

These are all signs of audio righteousness, and an indicator that one of my AO! Awards is merited.


Raidho Acoustics & Scansonic HD, Moon Audio, & Nordost

This room was a real knockout for me! I have the utmost respect for Benno Meldgaard's brilliant design and engineering when it comes to high-end loudspeakers, have appreciated his work at GamuT, and was very anxious to hear his new Raidho TD2.2, a more compact speaker that integrated his latest thinking in the audio arts.

Benno Meldgaard with his new driver's framework, including the powerful new magnetics

I can tell you that I was not disappointed! In conjunction with the Moon electronics, the always excellent Nordost cables, and the lovely analog coming from the VPI/van den Hul combo, the TD2.2's really rocked, rolled, and amazed me with their extraordinary full-range performance and dynamic slam. Benno has really knocked a grand-slam homer with the 2.2's, which really punch much higher than their compact form factor would suggest. Much higher.

The featured equipment:

  • Raidho Acoustics TD2.2 speakers, $46,000 per pair, in black finish
  • Moon 700i V2 amplifier, $14,000
  • Moon 780D v2 DAC with streaming, $15,000
  • Moon 610LP Phonostage, $7500
  • VPI HW-40 Signature turntable, $15,000
  • van den Hul The Black Crimson MC, $5300
  • Nordost Valhalla II cables, price varies

I spent quite a while in this room, loving everything that I was hearing. I really had a hard time believing that so much wonderful music was coming from such a compact form factor. Benno is definitely the man with the magic audio touch! Whatever loudspeaker he designs is "Bennofitted" by his deep understanding of same. I spent a long time with the reference-level GamuT Zodiac loudspeakers here at PF Central, a supreme achievement, and have the brilliant Bennofitted Raidho TD4.2's here right now…smashing in every way.

Great synergy with the Moon kit, and the VPI HW-40/vdH The Black Crimson was sounding absolutely delicious, and the Nordost Valhalla II's, in evidence in several rooms, piped the music sweetly to the 2.2's.

The result:  I visited a couple of times, and sat smiling throughout.

This is a definite sign of an Audio Oasis! Award room…so here it is!

Synergistic Research

No surprise here:  once again, Ted Denney and Scott Walker Audio put together a great system, one that demonstrated the quality of Ted's designs at SR. (Since we use many of his cables and devices here at PF River City, this was absolutely no shock a-tall.) But SR pulled this off in a larger room, without sounding strained in any way.

Ted Denney at RMAF 2019

The system assembled for the SR room consisted of the following (long list!):

Digital Front End

  • Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 w/ Alpha USB module: $23,995
  • Baetis Reference 2: $14,620

Analog Front End 

  • Acoustic Signature Thunder w/ SoundSrnith Hyperion cartridge: $20,500
  • United Home Audio Ultima4 OPS-DC Reel to Reel: $31,000


  • Gryphon Audio Design Pandora Preamplifier w/ Legato phono module: $41,300


  • Gryphon Audio Design Mephisto Stereo Amp: $61,000


  • Magico M2 Loudspeakers with MPods: $63,600

Power Conditioning 

  • Synergistic Research Galileo PowerCell SX: $20,000
  • Synergistic Research UEF Blue Duplex: $285
  • NEW Synergistic Research UEF Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover: $149

Acoustic Room Treatment

  • Synergistic Research Black Box: $1995
  • Synergistic Research Atmosphere XL4 w/ ATM: $3495
  • Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels: $595
  • Synergistic Research HFT: $299
  • Synergistic Research HFT 2.0: $299
  • Synergistic Research HFT X: $299
  • Synergistic Research HFT Wide Angle: $399
  • Synergistic Research Vibratron: $1500
  • Synergistic Research MiG 2.0: $249

Racks and Shelves 

  • Synergistic Research Tranquility Base XL UEF: $3250
  • PREVIEW Synergistic Research Tranquility Pod: $750 (estimate)
  • NEW Synergistic Research UEF Cable Elevators (Set of 4): $349


  • Synergistic Research Active Ground Block SE: $2995
  • Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable: $395


  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Interconnect: $7500
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Speaker Cable: $17,500
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Digital Interconnect: $2995
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX USB: $2995
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Ethernet: $2995
  • Synergistic Research SRX Power cable: $10,000
  • NEW Synergistic Research Foundation Interconnect: $599
  • NEW Synergistic Research Foundation Speaker Cable: $649
  • NEW Synergistic Research Foundation Phono Cable: $699

Andy Wiederspahn of Synergistic Research

Simply put, the combination of analog and digital sources, pumping signal through Gryphon electronics to Magico M2 speakers was both pleasant and convincing. So were Ted's usual A/B/A demonstrations of this system with, then without, and then again with various of the SR components. If you haven't heard it, take my word for it that you can really hear the difference that SR brings to the game. If you have, then you know what I mean. And if you've heard the demo, but couldn't hear a difference, then it's time to visit your audiologist, amigo!

No one has to convince me about SR. This was a great room, with terrific sound.

A definite AO! Award winner.

 Innuos/YG Acoustics/Boulder/Ayre/AudioQuest/SGR/GiK Acoustics

What a collection of companies in this room!

YG has been well known to me for many years now. Boulder I've reviewed for PF in the distant past; Ayre I know, and AudioQuest. SGR and GiK I've encountered at shows. Innuos was new, though. I had first encountered them in less than ideal circumstances at Munich 2018, but thought that their technology looked promising.

This time I got to hear them in a standard-sized room, playing music from their STATEMENT Music Server with its Phoenix USB Reclocker, feeding an Ayre QX5 preamp/DAC, and thence to a Boulder 1161 Stereo Power Amplifier. From there, it went to the YG Acoustics YG Vantage loudspeakers. All cabling was courtesy of AudioQuest.

The cast:

  • Innuos STATEMENT 1 TB Music Server, $13,750
  • Innuos Phoenix USB Reclocker, $3149
  • YG Acoustics Vantage Loudspeakers, $32,800/pair
  • Boulder 1161 Stereo Power Amplifier, $22,000
  • Ayre QX5 Pre/DAC, $8950
  • AudioQuest Niagara 7000, $7999
  • AudioQuest Tornado HC, 4 meters, $1799
  • AudioQuest Tornado HC, 2 meters, $1299
  • AudioQuest Dragon SO, 2 meters, $7499
  • AudioQuest NRG-Z3, 2 meters, $259
  • AudioQuest Diamond USB cable, 1.5 meter, $759
  • AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable, 3 meters, $649
  • AudioQuest Fire XLR interconnects, 2 meters, $5169
  • AudioQuest William Tell Zero BiWre Combo Loudspeaker cables, 3 meters, $5950
  • SGR Symphony HiFi Rack, $5900
  • GiK Acoustics 2" Impression Series Acoustic Panel Diffuser/Absorber (x2), $1248 per unit
  • GiK Impression Series Corner Bass Trap (x2), $800 per unit

The YG Acoustics Vantage Loudspeaker

The music in this room was transparent, clean, and quite detailed. While the room was standard size, I didn't get the impression of any lumpiness, and the music from the Innuos source/Ayre DAC sounded quite pleasing. Well balanced, with nice dynamics, and good tonal balance. The Vantage really impressed me with its ability to project in an extremely well-integrated way, with no sense of crossover notches or beaming.

The Innuos Team at RMAF 2019:  from left, Antony Bunn-Major, Nuno Vitorino, Amelia Santos, and Steven Gomes

Excellent results here. Great synergy, and a solid music selection easily pulled up via an iPad, that blessed device. The Innuos STATEMENT/Phoenix USB Reclocker sounds quite promising…perhaps I'll review them sometime.

Meanwhile, an Audio Oasis! Award for the companies here.


Xact Audio, CH Precision, & Nordost

Here was a very Audio Oasis!-like room for me. Steve Dobbins is a really brilliant turntable master, whose Koda Mag-Drive turntable with Schröder Linear-Tracking Tonearm was the subject of a very enthusiastic review from me in PF Issue 99, about a year ago. CH Precision has been impressing me for a few years now, of course, and Nordost is quite well known to me, but I have to say that I wasn't familiar with these Rockport Technologies Atria II Loudspeakers.

The local neighborhood:

  • Commonwealth Electronics idler wheel turntable, $19,500
  • Reed 3P tonearm, $5900
  • Lyra Etna cartridge, $8900
  • CH Precision I1 Integrated Amplifier with internal DAC and Phonostage, $38,000
  • Rockport Technologies Atria II Loudspeakers, $26,500 per pair
  • Nordost, price varies

A Commonwealth Electronics idler-drive turntable with Reed 3P tonearm and Lyra Aetna cartridge

Alas! Steve didn't bring along a Koda The Beat Mag-Drive TT with his latest-and-greatest linear-tracking tonearm…too bad, as that's one of my favorites turntables...but the Commonwealth Electronics TT/Reed/Lyra platform did well to make me smile while I was there.

Xact Audio's Steve Dobbins at the wheel

Overall, I found Steve's standard-sized room to be highly musical, relaxing, and void of any audio nastiness that happens too often at audio shows. The Lyra is always…well…lyrical, with a fine sense of harmonic integration and effortless. The CH Precision showed itself to be very clean and transparent, without sliding over into the realm of the analytical.

Nice work, Steve! An Audio Oasis! Award for this room, for sure!

Part the Second of my Audio Oasis! Awards will be published very shortly.

All photographs and image processing by David W. Robinson, unless otherwise noted. Drawing by Dan Zimmerman.