Some impressions from the 2007 RMAF:


1) Extremely difficult (if not impossible) to compare and contrast individual components in any meaningful way. Far too many variables in terms of equipment, cabling, volume level, and selection of music played. This was obvious to my non-audiophile wife as well. It was even difficult if not impossible to compare whole rooms for the same reasons. Plus, I didn’t get to every room, and even in the ones I did get to, time was limited.

2) Something screwy happened with the power in the Marriott during at least one of the days. I was in one room where the image of the main vocalist strayed far to one side. The exhibitor did something and then it moved closer to the center, but the exhibitor commented on the problems with the power that day.

3) Although there was quite a bit of variability in the quality of the sound, I didn’t find any of the rooms to have really BAD sound. Some of it was outstanding, much of it very good to excellent, and some of it was just okay. Nothing was terrible, unless the huge price tag were to be factored in. I was a bit dismayed--at LEAST twice--by speakers that sounded excellent, like they should sell for around 5-10K, maybe 15-20K tops, only to be told by the exhibitor that they were 50K or even 70K. I’m no Albert Porter, but I thought some of the prices were about 10-fold too high, literally. Maybe that’s way off base. Maybe it’s not.

4) It was cool to meet Albert Porter (photographer for Audiogon and audiophile legend), Bobby Palkovic (designer and manufacturer of the legendary Merlin speakers), Klaus Bunge (Odyssey Audio), Dale Pitcher (Intuitive Design and Mosaic Cables), Mike Lavigne (Audiogon member with “Siriusly, the Room’s the Thing” virtual system), Dan Rubin (Audiogon member who I think is cool), and Ted Brady (Audiogon member who I also think is cool). Bummed that I didn’t get to meet Marco (Jax) or Saygrr, two other Audiogon members I think are cool.

5) I got out a pad and pen and took some notes in some of the best sounding rooms, because all the rooms were starting to run together. Holy cow, didn’t THAT grab some of the exhibitors’ attention! They must have thought I was a real "professional" reviewer. Hah! I was quick to explain that I’m just a consumer clod* taking notes so as to be able to attempt to post something halfway coherent should I choose to post at all. Then they’d settle down: “Oh, well OK then…” or words to that effect.

With the caveats mentioned in items 1 and 2 in mind, here are some of my impressions of rooms I thought were excellent {REMEMBER that this is just my personal opinion, and may or may not match that of other audiophile attendees, AND I thought that it was difficult if not impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions in that setting anyway!! Also, no guarantees that I got the prices correct, but I did my best (well duh)}:

1. The Kubala-Sosna (cable manufacturer) room:
Kharma Mini-Grand Ceramique speakers (~$34 K?)
Tenor Audio 350 M Ultimate Reference hybrid monoblock amps ($70K)
An exotic and expensive looking turntable
Kubala-Sosna’s most expensive cables.
Don’t remember the preamp, but I’ll bet it was expensive….

VERY holographic and spatially correct soundstage, smooth (not harsh), yet with detail. A stunningly excellent room. Close to perfection, it seemed.

2. Rao Audio launched their company on the first day of the 2007 RMAF. I thought the sound from their room was just OUTSTANDING, and went back for more. They designed their entire system, except perhaps for the CD player or turntable (I don’t remember which they were using; I think it was a CD player but am not sure, and either way their room sounded fantastic.)

Premp: Rao Alpha 2000P bipolar solid state preamp, all class A
Amp: Rao Alpha 2000, three years in the making, 20 watt solid state class A monoblocks, selling for $9K.
Speakers: Rao Towers. Four way towers using first order (6 dB slope) crossovers. A HORN is used as one of the drivers in an unconventional (and perhaps unique?) manner: The horn is used as a “frequency generator” to augment only selected frequencies, with very low power sent to the horn, and this is done to add “spaciousness” to the sound. It WORKED, in my opinion. (It reminds me of the Rel philosophy of using subsonic frequency augmentation to do essentially the same thing. That works too, in my opinion.)

A VERY SPECIAL ROOM. Tonality was outstanding, VERY holographic and precise, stable imaging with depth front to back and width side to side. The designer is BOTH a musician AND an engineer and it SHOWS. I still don’t really understand how they’re able to get those dynamics from a 20 watt solid state amp with only 86 dB efficient speakers, but the proof was in the listening for me. Rao Audio. Maybe they should call it Wow Audio.

3. LSA Group (Room 505) (said to be a sister company to Exemplar):

Preamp: Model XP-2. $12K
Amp: LSA Statement integrated amp was being used as an amplifier only. $9K
Player: Model XCD-1. $6500
Speakers: LSA 1 Statement 2 way loudspeakers. $2500 per pair (don't remember if that was a show special or not).

Very nice imaging, bass and tonality. The price tag on the monitors is within the realm of sanity, too. They probably deserve an audition if someone's in the market for great sounding 2 way monitors at a reasonable price. Bravo!

4. Quad/Moscode/Esoteric/Placette room:

Preamp: Placette passive attenuator.
Amp: Moscode 402 hybrid. $6495
Player: Esoteric DV50
Speakers: Quad 988 electrostatics

Smooth and yet detailed sound with good bass. Now I have an idea why so many people like Quads. They sound very good!

5. Talon/Wadia/Vac room:

Preamp/amp: Vac integrated amp. About 100 WPC. $12,500
Player: Wadia 581 SE. $9950
Speakers: Talon Hawks. $10K
Subwoofer: Talon (it was really big). $10K

Now it's clear why so many people like Talon so much. Good tonality, fairly smooth, and the speakers just disappeared. Impressive room.

6. Intuitive Design/Amber Wave Audio:

Preamp: An Intuitive Design Prototype, as far as I could discern.
Player: Not sure, but something good.
Amp: Amber Wave Audio tube monoblocks. $44K
Speakers: Intuitive Design Delta Summits (Delta Ones perhaps? I think there’s a Delta Two as well…Anyway, the latest version is something like $7500).

Well, as expected I loved this room, but I also own the next step down “original” Summits, so I may be biased. The sound coming from those speakers, even considering the huge, gonzo, spectacular 44,000 dollar preamps driving them, was phenomenal. I WOULD have said it was amazing but I already knew how great even the “regular” Summits sounded, so I wasn’t at all surprised. High end smoothness and detail, phenomenally holographic imaging, great midrange, and the superb bass. Although I’ve already stated that the Summits’ bass is outstanding, in that room it seemed to be deeper still, to the point that adding a subwoofer would be debatable. The Amber Wave amps’ push-pull design and power, plus the upgrades in the Delta Summits compared to the "regular" Summits are probably the reasons for the even better bass.

As ridiculous as this may sound, I heard nothing at the show that I preferred to the Delta Summits, EVEN if price were no object. I DID hear some rooms that were very similar (in my opinion) in terms of sonic excellence, and I do NOT feel comfortable trying to “rank” them (including the Intuitive Design/Amber Wave room) for the reasons listed above; also, I am not going to say what the “best” sound of the show was, because I don’t think that’s realistically possible. I will say that given their performance, the Delta Summits would seem to be an incredible bargain, but again, I may be just a teensy weensy bit biased. There was a lot of great sound at that show, and I didn't get to hear all of it, and I haven't mentioned all the rooms I thought were great, just some of the ones I managed to take notes on.

*FOOTNOTE: The "clod" comment is meant to refer to and poke a little fun at me and me alone, not any other consumers or attendees. Honest. Really.
mdhoover
Your first room mentioned was room 535 and I also thought it was the very best that I heard at the show. 33k for the speaker.
After the first tune with the Vyger TT, Airtight cart, I told mister Kubala not to turn a cd on as it was the very best sound in the building. David Robinson from Positive Feedback turned around and told mister K that he was giving them best sound. He took pics of them all and the gear. A no brainer.

I do not think that room had a CDP in it. What a smart group of Gents they were.
Did not attend show-but did receive an e-mail from an attendee who has been involved in high-end audio cable design and sales for 30 years. His words " The Delta Summits in the intuitive design room were the best speakers he has ever heard--period! I kept the e-mail if you'd like to read it.
Powder,
I'd love to read the email if the person who sent it doesn't mind. Let me know.
If you are talking about room 509, my notes describe the sound as bright, edgy, no warmth, and a lack of bass, but the biggest tube amps I've ever seen. I guess that's why there are so many different speakers.
Did anyone hear the new Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeaker at the RMAF? What was your impression? When I was there Sat afternoon, the sound was incredible. It is a 3-way full range, 20-30 kHz, uses underhung drivers for very low distortion (rare), and has both amazing speed and delicacy also. I think it will turn out to be one of the world's truly great speakers.
I believe the CDP in the Intuitive Design room was the AMR.
Hi Bill. Thanks for the complement. I wish we had met also. I agree Dales room was one of the finer rooms. A room that got my attention and my wifes as we walked by was Usher. We walked by it about 10 feet, we both stopped looked at each other like, is that a real singer in their? Went inside and it was the little Usher Be-718. About $2,800. That speaker made the biggest impression on me at the show from the mid bass up.My wife is not into audio but she was impressed with Ushers room also. That is really saying something.

Met Steve Mccormack will be interested in his line stage down the road,Duke,Dale Pitcher and Bruce Jacobs. Got some questions answered. I am really glad we went this being our first time at the show. I had a very good time and to get to hear so much in 2 days I learned a lot.
Reading the reports over the last few days has been very interesting/enlightening. One of the rooms I had been told was a must listen was the Karma room (535 I believe) with their larger speakers. As I walked in they were playing vinyl and it sounded very nice. He obliged me by putting in a very well recorded test CD that I know well. The sound was awful. Bass notes that were painful to listen to. I began to be a bit embarrased for him and gestured for him to give me the disc back as I didn't want to have him lose any customers because my CD screwed up his demo. He didn't notice, and let it play. The second song was as bad as the first. (Ray Charles, and Patricia Barber) I assumed the room was suboptimal for low frequency, but it is really surprising to hear so many consider it the best sound at the show. It just shows how tastes vary, and impressions can be so different based on source, source material, etc. They may be excellent speakers, but they sounded dreadful in this limited listening session.
Bflowers,

I heard a particular brand of speakers sound bad at the show, and that was the first time I had heard them. People I trust very much have said that they are great speakers. They are known to require a large room and this one was small. I believe that the set-up must have been screwy and I basically discounted that listening session. Normally I wouldn't discount what my own ears heard, but these speakers are just too well regarded by people who are critical listeners. It's almost certain that the set-up was incorrect. Maybe that's the case with the room you were listening in with respect to the bass.

I feel pretty strongly that although the show was really great, any conclusions drawn, at least negative ones, would have to be tentative, at least for me. Why not make positive ones tentative too? Well, they are, but less so I think because for most systems, it's hard to get things to sound GOOD by accident, i.e., because the voltage got screwed up, or the speaker placement was bad, etc. But relatively small flaws in the setup easily compromise the sound, and can make things get BAD sounding very quickly.
I believe the Kharma Vyger Kubala room was Bill Parrish (GTT Audio) and of course, Joe Kubala. I am sorry I did not attend, these shows sound like far more fun than the old CES.
I would have enjoyed meeting some of you in person.
Bflowers, I read your impression of the Kharma/mbl room playing a "...very well recorded test CD that I know well. The sound was awful. Bass notes that were painful to listen to..."

I am not that surprised by your reaction and I suspect it was not becoause of a bad set up or "show conditions." I noticed that you own a very nice system with Wilson Maxx II's which I must assume you enjoy a great deal. I find that Wilson and Kharma speakers have VERY different sonic signatures. I base this impression on having auditioned Wilson Alexandria X-2's at a local dealer's well set up dedicated room on several occasions and owning a Kharma/mbl system similar to what you heard at RMAF. Depending on the kind of music you prefer and what you are looking for in reproduced music, I believe one could find one system to be terrific and the other unlistenable. It is all a matter on one's taste.
Whart
I attended many CES shows when they were in Chicago years ago. Back then the good stuff was in the hotel rooms separate from the mass produced stuff. The show was intended for dealers but it was still a good time for the hobbiest like us. The RMAF is deffinently more fun though. I will not be going next year but possibly the following year. Would like to meet more folks like yourself.
Anyone visited the Odyssey suite? I was tremendously impressed with what Klaus did for $5K consisting of a 12AX7 pre, a solid state amp and speakers equipped with ScanSpeak drivers. With my test CD the system sounded fast, musical, harmonically textured, spatial and very involving.

I visited the Soundings suite several times. Like last year the 'big' system consisted of a Primare CDp, Rowland Concerto Pre, Rowland 312 amp, and Vienna Mahler speakers. Like last year, the sound was sweet, spacious, refined and powerful. . . the system had impressed me so much that I did order a pair of Mahlers over the summer; but I must admit that the suite did not sound as magnificent as last year, where the same system played in much more favorable conditions. . . this year the twin 10 inch Scanspeak drivers of the Mahlers were generating a slight amount of bass overpressure, which was ameliorated but not eliminated when the external Rel sub was finally turned off. I did attempt to walk out of the suite with the 312 discretely tucked under my arm, but Jeff Rowland -- who was standing at the door -- pointed out from his almost 7 ft of height that I looked a bit funny that way. . . oh well, perhaps next year I might be able to afford one if SWMBO permits. One last thing about the Soundings suite: has anyone listened to the Primare CDp made in Sweeden? This seems a very remarkable device for its moderate price tag of $2500.

For the first time I enjoyed Wilson Audio speakers without Reservations. I thought the WP8s and the Maxes were achieving magnificent musicality in addition to the well renouned Wilson spectacular sonics and staging. . . . but, why only shiny car laquers? What's wrong with subdued and satiny woodgrain finishes?

By sheer serendipity I landed into the Nordost room. . . and did not move from there for one hour. I have never been a particular fan of Valhalla, but the new Oden wires sounded stunning and Anne-Sophie Mutter moved me to tears!

Heard the Spectron Musician 3 Signature amp at Steve Chang's (Schang) place. As I already wrote elsewhere on Audiogon, in spite of it being almost fresh out of the factory, the amp was incredibly enjoyable and is definitely worth a very careful and long listen with an open mind. Close your eyes and ignore for a spell whether its underlying technology is switching, MOS-FET, tubed or otherwise. . . just ask yourselves it it makes music. . . it did for me and I am looking forward to listening in the future to a fully broken-in Spectron.

I spent an inordinate amount of time at Emotive. . . and. . . emotive is certainly the operative word that applied to the wonderful system in room 550.

Visited the Avotar room and held a bronze Acoustic Resonator in my hand. The room had been entirely treated with Resonators. Not sure if Resonators were the cause, but the cappuccino I was offered tasted truly great!

And then there were all the old and new friends I met. . . Steve Chang (Schang), Albert Porter, Tri of TriPlanar, Eric Chinta, Brent Rainwater, Bruce, Norm (TBG), Angie from American Sound, Jim Rebman and Lynda, Mike Lavigne, Neely and Mike of Audio Federation, the entire TAS gang, my partner in crime Peter Scialli (Scialli, Jim Aud, Jeff Rowland, Slipknot1, Bruce Strass of May Audio, Klaus Bunge of Odyssey, Tim crable from TEAC, Larry Borden, Fred Volz of Emotive, and so many more. . . you are the reason being an audiophile is such a great human experience!

Guido
I am planning to be back next year lest something drastic happens. . . 'tis time again to rack up another load of those AA Advantage miles and Marriott 'frequent sleeper miles'!
Correction to item #2 in the original post above:

It's Rau Audio, NOT Rao Audio. My mistake. Apologies.

Here's the website url:

www.rau-audio.com

Here's a link:

http://www.rau-audio.com
OK gang, after falling in love with them at RMAF 2006 and 2007, my new Mahlers have finally arrived. I have just started a thread to discuss their break in process and other Mahler-related matters. See you all at:
http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?cspkr&1195845334&openmine&zzGuidocorona&4&5#Guidocorona
Here's how the original post regarding Rau Audio (NOT Rao Audio) SHOULD have read:

2. Rau Audio launched their company on the first day of the 2007 RMAF. I thought the sound from their room was just OUTSTANDING, and went back for more. They designed their entire system, except perhaps for the CD player or turntable (I don’t remember which they were using; I think it was a CD player but am not sure, and either way their room sounded fantastic.)

Premp: Rau Alpha 2000P bipolar solid state preamp, all class A
Amp: Rau Alpha 2000, three years in the making, 20 watt solid state class A monoblocks, selling for $9K.
Speakers: Rau Towers. Four way towers using first order (6 dB slope) crossovers. A HORN is used as one of the drivers in an unconventional (and perhaps unique?) manner: The horn is used as a “frequency generator” to augment only selected frequencies, with very low power sent to the horn, and this is done to add “spaciousness” to the sound. It WORKED, in my opinion. (It reminds me of the Rel philosophy of using subsonic frequency augmentation to do essentially the same thing. That works too, in my opinion.)

A VERY SPECIAL ROOM. Tonality was outstanding, VERY holographic and precise, stable imaging with depth front to back and width side to side. The designer is BOTH a musician AND an engineer and it SHOWS. I still don’t really understand how they’re able to get those dynamics from a 20 watt solid state amp with only 86 dB efficient speakers, but the proof was in the listening for me. Rau Audio. Maybe they should call it Wow Audio.

ADDENDUM: It took the designer something like TEN YEARS to come up with this system. It SHOWED--in terms of sonic excellence--to my ears at least.
Bflowers

I dont think Tenor Kharma buyers would have much to say about a Patricia Barber cd played on MAXXII. Diametrically opposed.

AI