Best Speakers at RMAF 2011...?

What speakers impressed you at RMAF 2011 and why?
Anything underwhelming, despite the hype?

I found the following to be very intriguing and impressive.
- In no particular order:

1) Magico Q1
2) Totem Element (Fire)
3) Avalon Idea
4) Totem Hawk? (Hegel Room)
5) Evolution Acoustics MM Micro One
6) Joseph Speakers, Perspective

These speakers seemed to have a very good mix of macro and micro dynamics, bass response, articulation, musicality, sound stage and a seemingly limitless high frequency range.

At $2k, the Evolution Acoustics may be a bargain of the bunch.

Appreciate your thoughts...!
Don Keele's CBT Speaker really stood out as something very special.
Since you are going small, I will stay with that. I would put the Joseph Audio speakers up to second on your list. I would add the Zellaton speakers on top of your list and put the Salk SongTowers up in the middle of your list. I thought the Vandersteen Treo was nice too!

I forgot to list the Vandersteen Treo...! Agreed. I thought it sounded pretty good, as well. My only minor complaint is that the once affordable Vandersteen's are roughly $6k or so? I miss the plain old "sock" mesh Vandersteen, from a value standpoint. On the other hand, I think that's simply the going rate these days for good speakers...

The Joseph's are absolutely fatigue free, while being detailed and musical. I'm not sure which ones are the best bang for the buck though... That's a tough call.

Keep the votes coming.
The Fletcher-Haynes "Heirloom"
This is a rear horn loaded design using an 8 inch Fostex full range driver. The natural tone,transparency and dynamics were truly superb. This was the most impressive speaker at the show IMHO. At 4700 USD I thought it sounded much better than all of the ultra priced speakers I heard at the show, just wonderful.
Forgot to mention the Kaiser 'Kawero' speaker in the Concert Fidelity room.This was very good and natural in it`s presentation. FYI
(((My only minor complaint is that the once affordable Vandersteen's are roughly $6k or so? I miss the plain old "sock" mesh Vandersteen, from a value standpoint. On the other hand, I think that's simply the going rate these days for good speakers...))

You need not lement their demise
The Vandersteen 2CE sig 2 Sock version is available now features the same 1 inch tweeter 4 & 1/2 midrange that are in the Vandersteen 5 series speakers with an 8 inch
mid Woofer
and 10 inch
bass Woofer.all for $2395
You gotta hear it to belive it
Cheers KJohnnyR
In the Marriot, the ATC 50s sounded nice on Saturday (after some room tweaking), the high end Sony's sounded nice, the Josephs too. I noted Mr Joseph, who is a great guy, was wise to set up his speakers at an angle in the room.

In the Hyatt, the ATC 150s sounded quite good depending on source. Some of the 2 track master tapes we played back sounded awesome (Led Zep 2 and 4) .

(I am biased as can be, I work with ATC on the pro side!)

The biggest problem (in all rooms) was separating the sound of the room from the speaker. Most people I heard talking about how "bad" a speaker sounded made absolutely no mention of the bad room-quite unfair. Most of the rooms were untreated by its occupants and of course, speakers sounded awful in them (regardless of brand). This is quite odd as quite a small amount of treatment would fix a lot of it.

@audioconnection: I had heard that the midrange driver on the 2 is now the same as the 5 but this is the first I've heard that the tweeter is also the same. So, does this mean the 2,3, Treo, Quatro, and 5 all share the same tweeter and midrange?
Focal Utopia Stella, AudioPhysic Avanterra, DeVore Gibbon 88 and the small Egglestones sounded good to me in different price points. The Evolutions must be excellent transducers as they were part of a five figure system. I suspect their cables alone are several times the cost of the speakers. Did not care for the Avalons. The Sashas matched well with the Doshi tube electronics. Also several YG rooms were decent. Last but not least the Revel studio 2. Time was insufficient to go back for repeat sampling and select the "best".
I really enjoyed the Lindemann BL10 speakers. Tiny speakers with a big and very detailed sound, reaching down much further than the small size would have suggested. No need for subs, at least not for my taste. They did not seem to fight too much with the room acoustics, either, and the Lindemann electronics driving them seemed to be an excellent match.

Also worth mentioning: the YG Anat Reference II Signatures, as this was the very first time I had a chance to listen to properly set up YG speakers and was able to appreciate their sound. Very different from previous shows, where the YG's I had seen and listened to disappointed and sounded miserable due to apparently inadequate setup.
Transaudio (Brad),
I agree. One of the things that amazed me at RMAF 2011 was that several manufacturers still seemed quite oblivious to the importance of setup. One of the clear audiophile sins seemed to be placing very large speakers in very small rooms, without any form of room treatments. This was even quite common among experienced manufacturers, who've been to dozens of shows over the years.

I heard a few speakers, which normally sound great, but were hampered by very bad rooms or setups. I normally like the Thiel 3.7's. However, they sounded rather "whitish" or slightly harsh in the high frequency range at RMAF.

On the other hand, I'm thankful that finally more of the exhibitor rooms have realized that "louder" is not necessarily better. Perhaps that and the combination of high resolution audio kept my ears from bleeding by the end of the show...!


Just curious, what did you dislike in regards to the Avalon Ideas...? Perhaps too forward or...? I'm always curious about what people listen for, as tastes vary. I thought they sounded very dynamic. On the other hand, I'm not sure if they'd be forgiving of bad recordings.

Anybody hear any killer monitor sub-woofer combinations?
Did anyone hear the Horning speakers? What were your impressions?
((I had heard that the midrange driver on the 2 is now the same as the 5 but this is the first I've heard that the tweeter is also the same. So, does this mean the 2,3, Treo, Quatro, and 5 all share the same tweeter and midrange?))
Yes they are based on the same Midrange and tweeter
with appropriate mods for each model.
The best sounding speakers I heard at RMAF were the Acapella High Violoncello II speakers, which were $83k if I recall correctly. The best reasonably priced speakers were the Emerald Physics CS3 at $80k less. I ended up coming home with a pair of Minuet Supremes and an order for a pair of Clue monitors.
Besides stuff already mentioned, I liked the Vaughns a lot. Emerald Physics, Rethm and Coincidents.
Optimus, I found the sound dull when I was in theAvalon room. I did not play my music , so it could have been that it was the recording.
Apparently the best, or one of, by all who's ears I trust, was the Western Ekectrics in the Silbatone room, although not for sale... Vintage 1947...
Think about that..
Agree on the Western Electric.
Any votes for best speaker within $2 to $5k...?

Lower priced speakers were a rarity at the show, with the exception of Emotiva. Quite sadly, many feel that if the price is too low, something is wrong with it...

I noticed that for better or for worse, exhibitors were for the most part, very, very careful to play the stock audiophile tunes. I didn't hear too many exhibitors asking to play any of the visitor's tunes.

Perhaps they were (wisely?) fearful of bad recordings?

I can't tell you how many times I heard that track from Chris Jones. Musically, I like it, and it is a good enough recording. However, I doubt it would sound bad on any speaker. Does anyone know the name of that Chris Jones Album? Tks!
The fact that keith preferred the Chalice to the Tidal amplifiers is a very relavant point(though granted just one person`s opinion). Presumably who would know the speaker`a needs better than the builders themselves, so the Tidal amp would be designed to mate idealy with the stablemate speaker.
I heard this tidal system last week at RMAF it included the preos preamp, good but not outstanding(show/room conditions?).

I`ve also heard the Tidal-Ypsilon combo at CES 2010, it was impressive, very natural. The VAC 450 Statement compared to The Chalice Grail driving Tidal speakers would be very interesting to say the least. Those Grails weigh 150 pounds per side for a reason(lots of ultra heavy duty chokes and transformers.
In fact I`d go out of my way for that showdown.
Meant to post this on the Tidal thread.
the Kaisers were very good. a little bright sounding until I got used to the sound. very unassuming people.

Fritz loudspeakers always sound good and are a bargain.

The Salk songtowers do give thrill for just 2K and are tube friendly.

the eggshaped speakers in the Luxman room gave a very good account of themselves.

What really stole the show though ( no, I didn't hear all the rooms) was the Teresonics. Just breathtaking and musical, and I was NOT a Lowther or backloaded horn fan.
Priced reasonably for what they are. If I had 100k speakers
I would sell them for 50k and buy three sets of these/
Anybody make it to the Merlin room?
Also the Dodd room with the GR research open baffles
was very involving, dynamic, and low priced.

A good speaker is still hard to find these days.
Not that you will get any, but the Western Electrics
were outstanding too.
I was quite impressed with all of the YGs and the Sashas. AudioPhysic, both models I herd, were very impressive. But the real stars of the show were the speakers in the 3 to 5K range. I was starting to feel cursed with too much money. The performance of this price range was just outstanding. Many many flavors, the Emeralds a good example.

I agree on the AudioPhysic Speakers, such clean dynamic sound out of relatively slender speakers. Although price wise, I think both models were out of the ballpark for me. I like how they seem to disappear.

"...cursed with too much money."

Heh, heh. If you are being sarcastic, I'm right there with you. If you're being serious, then I'm quite envious!

Wilson Audio Speakers always sound terribly good, year after year. I'm surprised they feel they need to show their wares.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to hear the Emeralds. Too many people in the room, at the time.
Another vote for the vintage Western Electric speakers in the Silbatone room. A friend said they sounded much better at a recent show.

I was also very impressed by the DeVore Orangutan speakers
rebbie, look at the main page of the merlin site for links. sorry we did not meet up.
Rebbe, did you make it to the RMAF this year?

If so good for you!

Drop me an email and tell me about it some time.
How did JM Reynaud's Offrande Supremes sound this year?Anyone get to their room for a listen?
I heard the Merlin's. They consistently sound warm and musical at every show I go to. I especially like the quality and finish.

The only bummer is that I'm not too big a fan of the BAM Module (some type of bass alignment filter, that you put between the amp and preamp). It seems a little bit gimmicky. I prefer the more simple setups... Example (although this could be sacrilege): If an integrated has enough power for the speakers, I would prefer to use integrated amps.

Any thoughts on whether the BAM on the Merlins makes a huge difference, in real world settings?
I'd say my favorite was the Wilson Sasha's being driven by the Agostino monoblocks. Bass was a touch heavy in that small room, but it was so dynamic I didn't care! A lot of fun listening in there.

I also liked the Raidho/Nodost room and the Kaiser Kawero's.

I don't understand how anybody could enjoy those Western Electrics though. To me they sounded like listening to music over a telephone, no extension at either end.
having read about BAM but not actually heard, I suspect BAM can make a significant difference in extending the low end with the Merlins.

I say this because the OHM speakers I use take a similar approach. The difference is OHM uses an inexpensive passive circuit connected internally off the crossover called the "Sub Bass Activator" I believe to extend the low end of many or most of their models by default these days. They also offer it as an option to enhance the low end of older OHM speakers similar to Merlin. I purchased it for my old OHM Ls that I have had for 30+ years now and the bass is quite excellent. I believe my newer OHM 100 and OHM 5 series3 driver based OHM speakers also use this circuit by default. The cost of the "Sub Bass Activator" circuit as an enhancement for teh OHM Ls was less than $100 I recall.

I think of these types of devices as specialized equalizers that are integrated as an option to the base level speaker design. A vary practical approach I think to wean better bass performance out of a smaller box if done right I believe.

Bose 901s are speakers that many may be familiar with that use a similar approach (heresy!) but to a much broader extent I suspect in that the basic 901 design is considered flawed by many and requires the equalizer to sound good, whereas with OHM and MErlins it is used to enhance and extend an already solid design.

Emerald Physics is a line that does similar things like Bose but using modern digital signal processing technology, which I suspect could work quite well though I have not heard those either.
I was most impressed with the Vandersteen Sevens. I'd put them in the top 3 speakers I heard, the others being TAD Ref 1 and Avalon Ascent. I also quite liked the Thiel 3.7

In the underwhelming department, I was disappointed with the Revel Studio 2s after all the glowing reviews as well as an endorsement from someone with ears I trust. Perhaps I just don't care for Levinson electronics?

PS: Thanks for the reply, audioconnection
optimus, the bam module may not be what you think it is. the vsm was designed with a small volume in the woofer chamber to give the best possible mid range, to keep the efficiency up for ultra low powered tube amps, the damping up and the distortion down. we use the boost of 5.2 db at 35 hz to compensate for the loss of internal volume. the sensitivity would go down to 84 db to get the deepest bass in a large enclosure, the mids would be sounding like they came from a tunnel, the distortion would go way up and you would be on the verge of unloading the woofer constantly.
the two bandpass filters remove out of band ultra sonic information in the hf and subsonic energies below the fs of the woofer. any out of band energy beyond the res freqs cause a profound increase of im distortion in the bandwidth between. it is profoundly audible and imho, all speakers should offer this in some way.
everyone prefers it in the system. whether it is right or wrong was settled almost 20 years ago. it is designed to be used in line level signals prior to the preout stage in a tape loop or between the source and pre.
the speakers and bam are designed as a system.
thank you for your comments.
Any Walsh style speakers showing at RMAF this year?

Dale Harder's designs come to mind but there are others.

Just curious how any Walsh designs are holding up at these events these days if showing.
Mapman, none that I saw
German Physiks often shows at these events, don't they?

Not sure if anything really radically new there of late.

OHM relies on word of mouth from existing customers mostly for sales and has never done a show to the best of my knowledge.

Its the few upstart smaller companies that I know are out there that I am most interested in.

There is one company I heard of recently for the first time (name escapes me) that uses a Walsh style driver and digital signal processing together, which is a novel thing. They also let you custom decorate their synthetic cabinets using a wallpaper like approach as I recall which is also something a little different.

To my sadness, I never made it to RMAF this year. I was supposed to attend, but on my way to the airport to leave for Denver, my Prius was rear-ended at fairly high speed by a Ford F350 pickup truck. (The driver had either fallen asleep at the wheel or was very distracted by something.) My car was totaled, but thank God I was unhurt, save for a few minor scrapes on my arms. My wife came to the scene of the accident and offered to take me to the airport to try to catch my plane to Denver, but with pieces of my car literally scattered on the road and as shaken as I was at that point, I just wasn't up to making the trip.

Hopefully, I'll make it next year!
Hey, just glad to hear you were not hurt! Obviously, that's the important thing.

Not meant to be I suppose....maybe next year.

I hope to do it one of these years. I love the Rocky Mountains and the audio show is just enough extra reason to go.
The Western's were very dynamic for what they were but run a cool 100k. Apparently there were either only twenty pairs or twenty speakers made as they were from the mono era but there are about 100 on the market.

Favorite current model was the TAD compact refs.

You are probably thinking of

Holistic Audio Arts
yep, holistic audio arts. that's the one.
How did the Emerald Physics speakers sound and compare?
The new Totem Element line....any good?

Totems with bigger drivers than used historically sounds promising.
I really like the Element Fire Bookshelf Speaker at RMAF. It's new bass driver was absolutely amazing. The magnet in a sample, separate woofer felt like it weighed seven pounds.

The tweeter blended seamlessly with it. Totem claims no crossover, so both the treble and bass units are running full range. The speaker had a very dynamic, live quality (like an electrostat with weight). The only thing I didn't like was the price ($6k). Yeah, I know. I'm a cheapskate. It is a little easier paying that amount for a floor stander, but not much easier. I like the bookshelf speaker better than the floor stander in that Element series.
The Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers were one of the best sounding at the show.
I never understand how, when listening to a new system in a new room, one can determine that one component in the system sounded great. I do understand, though, that we all tend to do this more with speakers than other components.
I liked the Wilson Sasha that I heard. The nicest Wilson I've heard by far. Great dynamics and a very clear mid range presentation. Solid sound.

The Zellaton was quite a surprise. Very interesting drivers, and a pinpoint image. Great voicing with excellent transparency. Magico were very nice as well, but I'd have to give the edge to the Zellaton here.

Best bass by far was Danny Ritchie's OB servo subs. WOW.

Salk was incredibly dynamic, but the mids seemed just a tad recessed.

Totems sounded very good. I was pleasantly surprised.

The CBT array was amazing. Talk about a uniform, and crystalline presentation. I guess having that many drivers to share the load really offers the potential for very low distortion. They were integrated with a set of subs very well. Funky look, but the audio result was undeniable.

Lots of duds. Hated the huge Focals and Nola's. The Nolas are a simply dreadful mistake on every front, with the mini line of drivers aimed over the head of a seated listener . . . OOOOPS. Sounded promising as I walked into the room, but as soon as I sat down, all the life was gone from the music. For the Focals, it sounded bad even when walking in, and didn't improve when seated. To me, a wall of sound with poorly integrated but very capable drivers.

On a side note, I got to attend a listening session in the BPT room after hours. It was an A/B between the featured YG Acoustics Kipod II ($49,000) and the Vapor Cirrus ($5,500). For each of the 20 or so folks who were in the room over the next 45 minutes, the A/B was stark. How did the $5,500 system surpass the $49,000 system in every area but the deepest bass? When it came to transparency, imaging, sound stage size, the Cirrus dominated.

I want to hear those again!!