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.
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.

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.