Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RMAF 2014 - second instalment

I had a lot of fun checking out gear that is very different than my usual set-up, and why not? RMAF has it's own lunatic fringe that is not about price alone, it's about the passion and personal efforts some designers make to create something different.

Raven Audio, a Texas company, caught my eye last year with their beautiful looking tube amps so this year I made a real effort to hear them. Their room contained some of the most intriguing speakers at the show, the Burwell and Sons 'Mother of Burl' horns which look like finished furniture. As if this was not enough, Raven decided to show their new 'Goldfinch' stacked all tube mini system containing and 8w 5AQ4 amp/preamp/DAC/power amp combo, as well as their Spirit 300B monos which sounded very sweet. You have to love people who commit their lives to creating special audio gear - this is a precarious way to make a living and the Raven and Burwell guys deserve to succeed. I had a couple of listening sessions, helped along in the first instance by  particularly welcoming hosts who seemed to throw themselves fully into the party spirit of the show. Really, an 8w tube stack powering an $80k pair of 'work-of-art' horns blasting out Stevie's "Tin Pan Alley" like you would not believe-- it just made for a crazy good experience.  Now that is what RMAF should be about - these guys know how to treat attendees.

Speaking of gracious and helpful hosts, Audio Kinesis' set up made music and chief designer Duke LeJeune was as gracious as could be in answering my rather naive questions about his up-firing woofers. Totally different look that gives not a hint of how smooth the speaker sounds. Driven by Atmasphere amps, the music from these $4900 speakers was really up there with some far more expensive products.

Sticking with the $5k price range, new boys on the block (to me at least) Ryan Speakers had a great pair of their floorstanders pushing out pleasing sounds in their room. The brothers Ryan told me they had started designing speakers in the 1980s but gave up as life took over but are back, and determined to do it well. Fit and finish was great, these really are products that would find a place in most homes, and the sonics were really impressive too. See, there is value to be found at this price point. Watch out for Ryan Speakers - these guys mean business.

Keeping it real, price wise and sonically, I lucked into the Prana Fidelity room on Sunday morning where the main host was demo-ing a tape deck through what looked like fairly modest monitors, their Fifty90s. So good did they sound that I asked if this was a function of the expensive looking tape source. Quick as a flash, the host (Steve?) said 'watch this' and proceeded to fill the room with glorious vinyl sounds courtesy of his Kuzma Ref turntable, playing a Charlie Byrd DTD record. Imagine my surprise when he added that this great sound was coming out of a budget Denon 103R cartridge on the arm. Fabulous stuff -- and an amazingly full, balanced, musical presentation from the Fifty90s. At $3400, these have to be the best bang for the buck at RMAF. I would give these room in my rig anytime. I knew the name but had never heard the products. Prana, I am on the prowl to hear more.

Also sounding good, and one room that most folks reporting would say the same about, was the set up from Vapor. They had a beautiful looking, curvy Joule Black (approx $18k) filling a large room with musical, pleasing sonics. At the suggestion of Ryan, the main man, I sat in the middle of the front row while he proceeded to play demo recordings that had sounds practically wrapping around me and a colleague who tried the same seat. And in case you're worried, the music was good in all parts of the room, not just the sweet spot. When you hear what some committed folks can produce under $20k, you have to wonder how anyone sees value in the higher end market. And did I mention that these looked good?

No, I don't have photos, my iPhone capture is not worth adding in here. I also have lots more notes and when I get the chance, will try to list all rooms I visited and think worthy of comment in an alphabetical list. I know how hard it can be to glean info on what you want to know about from a brain-dump like this. I've not mentioned the interesting sounds of the King Sound Labs (another contender at $10k), the kick-ass sonics in Acoustic Zen's room (another sub-$20k that asks really hard questions of the more expensive loudspeaker products) and the new lifestyle Muso soundbar from Naim.....who'd have thought they would be taking on Bose (all eyes were on their Statement display, the $200k+ amp system which I was told has sold out its first year's supply). Am hoping to get the Muso in for review. And then there was the vinyl, the great joys of the Zesto/Wywires/TAD room, the demo of stereo and mono cartridge sounds from a twin-armed VPI, a five channel Maggie 1.7 demo and more. Phew. Stay tuned.

No comments: