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After having such a great time at RMAF 2009, there was no question that I would be back for RMAF 2010. The consensus seems to be that RMAF has become the most enjoyable audio show in the United States. This year was just as good if not better!

I want to again start with the caveat that I did not make it to every room. This is almost an impossibility now unless you are determined to leave each room after a predetermined amount of time. The siren song can keep you lingering in some rooms where the sound is just exceptional. I will highlight rooms that did this for me while also noting others which caught my interest for other reasons. If you want to find out retail prices and exact models of a lot of the equipment, check the Stereophile show report. My report has less of these details as I was concentrating more on making notes about the sound.

I traveled the show with two friends, Bill Demars of Albany, New York and Roger Swiatek, salesman at Music Direct. We were determined to make it to every room and darned near did. I forgot to bring any CDs this year so we latched onto a couple of excellent demo CDs put together by Philip O’Hanlon of distributorship On a Higher Note. We listened mainly to the following cuts: Cassandra Wilson, Red River Valley; Rickie Lee Jones, Old Enough and Kari Bremnes, Montreal.  Bill also brought along some records (notably Pete Townsend’s The Secret Policeman’s Ball) and a couple of CDs including John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman’s Lush Life.

Up the Summit elevator to the eleventh floor we started with Xact Audio, an Idaho-based distributor showcasing the gorgeous Kodo The Beat Mag Drive turntable with two Reed tone arms, Allnic Puritas cartridge, Allnic electronics and MBL 111F speakers. The sound was amiss with a grossly lightweight presentation but there still was an eerily quiet background from the vinyl playback that made me think things could be much better.

The next day we were walking by again and Steve Dobbins called me over to ask what I’d thought of the sound the day prior. I was honest and he said I needed to come back because their silver Onda cables were brand new and needed to break in overnight. The improvement was dramatic. Midbass had filled out and the special qualities of this vinyl rig were now apparent. Steve admitted that there was still a bit of hardness in the upper mids but was confident it would go away with additional break-in. I think this turntable rig will prove to be a contender with the big boys. It is certainly priced in the big leagues at $24,000 for the table alone.

High Emotion Audio, a manufacturer of loudspeakers, was demonstrating a tri-amped speaker system using an external active crossover. Each driver had its own separate enclosure. The amp in use was a Verastarr. The tweeter is a "proprietary patented LET (Leading Edge Transducer)" with "ratiometrically driven front and back tweeters (patent pending)."* The sound was smooth, rich and coherent with a very natural sounding treble. Playing Johnny Hartman showed the system to have a clear and wonderful tone if perhaps a bit on the dark side (which I much prefer over the opposite).

* It looks like an evolution of the Linaeum tweeter of yore - Ed.

In Jonathan Tinn’s Evolution Acoustics/Playback Design room, premium-level components including the darTZeel integrated amp and Playback Design CD player (fed by a music server) fronted the Evolution MM miniTwo speakers ($27,000/pr) in an ultra-high resolution system. I noticed that this room won another magazine’s 'Best Sound at Show'. I too was impressed in many ways by fantastic ultra clean and transparent vocals. However, playing Cassandra Wilson’s Red River Valley here showed the guitar to be a bit on the dry side for my taste. I sometimes have such feelings about ceramic drivers as are used in the Evolution speaker.

A repeat (last year too) standout room on the eleventh floor was the Acoustic Zen exhibit featuring their Crescendo speakers partnered with the new tube preamplifier and 845 tube amplifier from Japanese manufacturer Triode Corporation.

We played the Coltrane & Hartman CD and Johnny’s voice was not nearly as chesty/thick as in the High Emotion Audio room. It also did not bloom into the room in the same way. I think the truth may lie somewhere in-between. With the Cassandra Wilson cut, there was no brittleness to the guitar backing her. This guitar turned out to be a difficult test for many speakers since it has a lot of deliberate distortion breakup. The speakers just disappeared on this cut in a wide-open soundstage.