Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – Standout Systems that Turned Hotel Rooms into Listening Rooms, Part 1

Before jumping into this review, I want to remind everyone that hotel rooms for the most part are not ideal listening rooms. While all of the normal hotel furniture is moved out to make way for the audio equipment, there’s only so much that can be done with rooms that may be an odd shape, next to the elevators or way to close to air conditioning units, etc. Still, at every show I am amazed at how good some rooms sound, and I applaud the exhibitors for their skill at dealing with what is often far less than ideal circumstances.

DeVore Fidelity 

In the DeVore Fidelity room (pictured above), they were debuting their Gibbon Super Nine speakers at the price of $10,800 a pair. Two years ago at this same show, they debuted the Gibbon X which cost $15,890. So now we have the Super Nines at $5,090 less. They were driven by a Sugden Masterclass LA-4 line preamplifier at $3,750 and a 40Wpc class-A Sugden Sapphire FBA800 amplifier at $7,500. The source was the SPEC turntable at $25,000 USD paired with an EMT 997 tonearm at $5,000. When I was listening, it was using an EMT JSD6 cartridge.

The sound of this system was the best that I have ever heard a pair of non-Orangutan, DeVore speakers sound. The new Super Nines played music in an emotionally involving way that reminded me more of the Orangutan O/96s than the DeVore X speakers. This may not be a fair assessment since I have never heard the electronics or turntable before. Still, it shows the kind of sound these small, beautiful DeVore speakers are capable of. It was a system I would describe as steady and dynamic; fast, full with beautiful colorful musical tones and startling life-like sound.

Well Pleased Audio Vida

Another room that had really great sound from a speaker that would work in a normal listening room was Mark Sossa’s of Well Pleased Audio Vida. He was presenting the, new to the US, QLN Signature 3 loudspeakers that sells for $7,500. The amp he was using, which is the big brother to the  Qualiton A20i amp that I recently reviewed, the new pure Class A tube A50i integrated amplifier for $7,500. The source was an Aqua Formula DAC for $14,700 and an Innuos Zenith SE music server for $7,000. All of the wire was by Anticables.

Mark is a great guy to just sit around with and listen to tunes, but every time but once when I went by, the room was completely full. We did listen for a while, however, on two occasions, and one of the songs that impressed me was Alison Krauss’ “Down to the River to Pray.” The sound was so open and spacious; it did everything we have come to expect from world-class mini-monitors without sounding small or overly detailed. The sound was bold, solid and very emotionally involving.

I really enjoyed getting to know Mark better, and now this is two shows in a row where he has produced a great-sounding room from the products he imports!

JWM Acoustics

JWM Acoustics of Austin, TX was chosen by the Colorado Audio Society as this year’s winner of the Al Stiefel Legacy Room award.  Joshua Miles, owner, is the engineer and designer of JWM Products. His Alyson Monitor speakers sell for $8,500,which seems surprisingly low considering the cabinets are handmade. The speakers were driven by the Aries Cerat Diana Forte single-ended 60Wpc Stereo Amplifier that sells for $28,500 and the Impera II Signature preamplifier that goes for a whopping $82,500.  The Aries Cerat Kassandra Reference DAC MKII for $35,000 provided the source.

The sound of this system was one of my favorites at the show. It had satisfying rich tones with more and better bass than I would have expected. While detailed and transparent, this was a system that drew attention to the music and not itself. I found myself very impressed!

ELAC

I didn’t include the ELAC room in the “Little Systems That Could” review because there is nothing little about this system. The truth is that without a doubt this system had to rank in the top ten system I heard at any price. To make this point let me share with you a moment from the show. Becky and I had been listening to a system with speakers that cost six-figures earlier. Then we went our different ways as she had some appointments to keep. Later in the day, I came down the hall and saw her coming towards me. The first thing she said was, “You’ve got to come hear these $5,000 speakers that I think they sound better than those six-figure speakers, and I want your opinion.”

ELAC‘s Andrew Jones welcomed us back into the room and we got some very gracious time for just the two of us to listen to this system. By coincidence, he played one of the songs that we had listed to together on the more expensive system. Well, my opinion was that she was correct. The ELAC system did sound better. I told Becky to trust her ears and not the price tag.

The ELAC system consisted of the Adante AF61 is $4,998.99 per pair. What you can see in the picture above are three 8-inch passive radiators sitting in a machined aluminum fascia. The “active” woofers are mounted behind the radiators. The bass was deep and controlled and the midrange was very transparent with excellent imaging and wonderful musical flow. They were powered by the excellent electronics from what is now called the Alchemy Series by ELAC. The price of the monoblocks and digital gear comes to a little over $5,000, but this was an incredible system at any price. We were very impressed and both agreed that it was one of the best sounds we had heard at the show.

Joseph Audio

I was so happy to walk in the room and discover that Joseph Audio was showing their Pearl 3 speakers. The Pearl has been one of my favorite speakers for many years. The Joseph Audio’s Pearl 3s cost $31,500, which is in no way cheap, but when you compare the sound to speakers that cost over five times as much, they seem like a bargain.  So I was very excited to hear the latest Joseph Audio Pearl 3 speakers. They were paired with Doshi Audio’s V3 monoblock amplifiers at $34,999 per pair, a V3 line stage at $16,995, a V3 phono stage at $16,995, and a Studio Series tape playback preamplifier at $16,999.

They had a perfect balance of vintage and contemporary sound. It was rich and full of the colorful tones of music. Yet, the system also had great detail and the ability to sound very elegant when the music called for it. I’ll be honest, I had forgotten how much I like these speakers.

Previous: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – The Big Systems that Impressed, Part 2
Next: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – Standout Systems that Turned Hotel Rooms into Listening Rooms, Part 2

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