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This was my 4th consecutive RMAF attendance and I plan on coming back every year. What sets this show apart is not just the quantity and quality of the systems on demo. It's the camaraderie that has developed amongst attendees. There is a more personal and friendlier atmosphere. Everyone seems to be having a good time and people mingle with an informality that often lacks at other shows. After bumping into Art Dudley at the airport and having a fun exchange about vintage audio gear, I was off to the races. Covering this show with any semblance of completeness requires discipline. You have to watch that you don’t get caught in long conversations in the wrong rooms.

I traveled the show accompanied mainly by my fellow Connecticut Audio Society member Dean Beckwith as well as Roger Swiatek of Music Direct. Dean knows a lot about rock music and always brings some CDs that are interesting and revealing of a system’s strengths and weaknesses. Roger gets my vote as the ambassador of retail audio glad-handing people right and left. He’s introduced me to a lot of great people. Bill Demars of Beauty of Sound also accompanied us at times. There is not enough time for one person covering this show to record all of the models of every piece of equipment in every room. Please refer to Stereophile's coverage for that. Excellent photos of all of the rooms are on the Audio Aficionado website. 'My' rooms are listed in the chronological order I visited them. Many rooms are not listed either because I did not have time to visit or because I was not interested in the products represented.

Having been tipped off to a new and mighty planar speaker being debuted by the distributor/dealer Laufer Teknik in one of the spacious mezzanine rooms, I made my way up there before the show officially opened. This room had a glorious visual presentation with the otherworldly Audio Power Labs tube amps and Laufer Teknik (Mark Porzilli-designed) Memory Player fronting the push-pull planar Italian Leonardo speakers. The soundstage was enormous and the speakers produced bass with a power and extension heretofore unheard from a planarmagnetic speaker. I had a couple of quibbles with the sound but these speakers were not even broken in and the exhibitors were still working on the setup. Some of the rooms on the tenth floor were open already so we started there. 

Fal Co. Ltd., S.I.T. In the FAL speakers room, the designer Mr. Iwao Furuyama was holding court in a white lab coat with his name emblazoned on it. Despite his very limited English he was very enthusiastic and happily gestured to aspects of the sound like the depth of the soundstage. It was indeed very good and the speed of the finely crafted flat FAL drivers in his unassuming cabinets was impressive.  The S.I.T. DA-5000 DAC and S.I.T.-7000 Proxima amplifier driving them were both elegantly finished and obviously of high build and sonic quality.

Acoustic Zen, Triode Corporation, Twin Audio Video, Nittobo Acoustic
. Acoustic Zen had a slightly different setup this year with their Crescendo speakers powered by Triode Corporation's digital front end, tube preamp and the heavyweight TRX-M845SSE monoblock tube amps. I played my Cassandra Wilson demo cut "Red River Valley" and it did an excellent job on her vocal as well as realistically rendering the backup guitar distortion.

Musical Surroundings: Focal, Aesthetix, AMG, Benz Micro, Clearaudio, Critical Mass Systems, Graham Engineering, Running Springs Audio, TARA Labs. When the show officially opened, we jumped over to the Crestone Peak room, another large room on the mezzanine.  Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings was manning the German AMG turntable with a Benz LP-S cartridge and pleasantly greeted me as a Benz LP-S owner. I forgot to take a photo but the speakers were the Focal Maestro Utopia speakers, Aesthetix electronics, Critical Mass racks and a second Clearaudio turntable with Goldfinger cartridge. I must confess that I am not the biggest fan of Focal speakers as their treble sometimes highlights itself more than I care for and I heard this again on the LP playing. However when I played the Cassandra Wilson cut it was finely nuanced and the overtones on the guitar were splendid and more apparent than in the Acoustic Zen room.

Bud Fried. It looks like the Fried speaker legacy has made yet another ownership change and the result of this redesign is very impressive. Backed by some serious electronics (Tube Research Labs Dude preamp and Sampson solid-state monoblock amps, Wavelength Cosecant DAC, Salk Streamplayer server, Pi Audio AC conditioner etc.), the Fried Model 1 speakers sounded very open, coherent and smooth. Jim Salk designed the speaker and Dennis Murphy reworked the crossover, keeping to the trademark Fried series topology. They use the well-liked Hiquphon tweeter and two Peerless midbass drivers. With Chris Jones’ "No Sanctuary Here" playing, the vocals were sublime. Little did I know that this cut would turn out to be the most overplayed piece of music at the show this year.  The speakers retail at $2.995/pr and got my vote as one of the best sonic values of the show.

Living Sounds Audio. Getting more methodical, our crew went to the 11th floor and entered the Living Sound Audio room. The LSA Statement two-way monitors were set up as last year but now with John Tucker’s own amplifier design. Vocals were great and exhibited a coherence and musicality that far exceeded what one might expect from such a relatively modest system. As I did last year, I am voting this as among the best value systems at the show. John said that he had a DAC in development too.

Salk Sound, Audio by Van Alstine. Salk Sound and Van Alstine have a good thing going with their high-value speaker and electronics pairing. I did not get a lot of time to listen in this room but what I heard on the SoundScape 8 speakers powered by Van Alstine’s 300wpc FetValve 600R amp was very clean and delicate. The cabinetry and veneer on the speakers was quite eye-catching.  The speakers range in price from $8.000 to $12.000/pr depending on options.

Eventus Audio S.r.l. – Triangle Art Turntable, NAT Audio. The Triangle Art turntables are new to me and made quite the visual statement with their gleaming pillars of highly-polished metal. The Kuzma 4Point tonearm graced the turntable. Despite the imposing vertical height of the turntable, the footprint is only 19 x 17 inches. My friend Bill put on his newly purchased Dada Surrealism [Mercury SR 90435] and the sound was super clean whereas I prefer a bit more warmth.

I was told that the 4Point tonearm—an incredible performer—does leave some folks with this impression. Of course many other factors enter. The NAT Audio tube amplifiers were truly stunning works of audio art and used some unusual power tubes like the Eimac 450TH transmitter.

Zesto Audio – WyWires LLC, Tri-Planar, TAD. TAD’s CR1 speakers were fronted by Zesto Audio’s popular Andros phono stage and their new Leto linestage, GamuT D200 power amp and Merrill-Williams REAL 101 turntable with Triplanar arm and Dynavector XX2 MkII cartridge. While I was very impressed with the TAD CR1 speakers at other shows, I agree with a recent review that their treble can be too prominent. I heard this when I walked in and Dire Straits played. The sound was definitely of a high order though and there was lots of meat on the bones. No thin sound here.

Audio Feast – Feastrex, McAudio, Mike Tang Audio, Stillpoints LLC, Zilplex. Kenji of Audio Feast listed the components in this room on the DIYAudio website as Feastrex NF9ex in F90 cabinet; Feastrex NF5ex in F60 cabinet; Feastrex FE3DQ field coil power supply; Maekawa TA-300B SET all finemet iron; Maekawa CV4055pp all finemet iron; McAudio class D amplifier, DSD transport, DSD DAC, AC conditioner and TVC finemet transformer volume control prototype; Stillpoints Ultra SS; Stillpoints ESS rack; Zilplex room treatment. I knew how these are expensive drivers which many people swear by. For this reason I sat here for quite a while. From my front-row center seat I found the sound to be somewhat closed in and lacking in bass and dynamics. Moving back one row allowed the soundstage to open up but I was still left wanting. However this room also introduced a capacitor brand called Urushi caps. John Tucker who was in the room at the time said that he uses them in his electronics and thinks they are amongst the best sounding on the market. My friend Bill bought some and has already installed them in his speaker crossovers to great effect, surpassing the VCaps he used before.