Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – Little Systems That Could!

Show organizer Marjorie Baumert asked people to sponsor a series of RMAF 2017 rooms with complete systems at certain price points; $500, $1,000, $1,500, $2,500, and $5,000.  I thought this was a great concept, especially since at most shows it seems that our hobby is skewing to higher and higher price points. This article is a review of these systems with “little” price tags that, in many cases, could compete with systems that cost much more.

The $500 System

The first of these rooms that I visited was the $500 system. This room used the powered Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers at $359 a pair. I reviewed, loved and purchased these speakers, and we are giving away a pair on our site this month. They are a great choice for any beginning system, and they were paired with the $120 Pioneer PL-990 turntable with built-in phono stage and a $110 Polk PSW10 subwoofer. If you add the subwoofer, you are nearly at $600, but what a system for $600.

I encourage you to read my review of these speakers to learn more about how they sound. The system put together for this room had a surprisingly open soundstage, which helped it sound more like an audiophile system. What I loved most about this system was the big, smooth and vibrant tones it could produce, even from the digital source of the speaker’s built-in DAC. By the way, the digital-only system comes in under the $500 price point.

The $1,000 System

Moving up from $500 to $1,000 provided a sound that was more sophisticated than the $500 system.  The analog rig was $1,278. It was built around the Audioengine HD6 powered loudspeaker at $749 per pair. This speaker has both a phono stage and a built-in DAC. The speakers were connected to a U-Turn Orbit Special turntable that cost $529 with a cartridge. If you choose to just go digital, this system costs only $749 for the Audioengine HD6 and your own smartphone, tablet or computer. For all of its sophistication, I personally prefer the big tone of the Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers.

Note: If you are wondering about the $1,500 system, I omitted it from this article because it just wasn’t sounding good at all on Friday when I stopped by the room. I’m sure whatever was wrong with the sound was corrected as systems frequently aren’t their best on Day 1, but I didn’t get back by later to check.

The $2,500 System

The $2,500 room was where I encountered what I would call a real hi-fi system; in fact, it was shockingly good. The $2,500 system was built around the really unbelievable  Elac Debut B6 loudspeakers at a mere $269 a pair! At this price, they could be driven by Peachtree Audio’s Decco125 SKY integrated amp that cost $1,199, and yes,the Elacs are good enough for this pairing. The source was a VPI Cliffwood turntable with included a VPI cartridge for $895.

This system was true hi-fi to my ears. It was rich, with great micro-dynamics. It also had enough detail and transparency to sound like a high-end system.

The Roksan/Monitor System

The next “little” system that I heard that was better than the system at the $2,500 price point was in the Roksan/Monitor room. This system cost $6,300 as a digital-only system or $7,000 for a vinyl-only system. Monitor now owns Roksan, and there did seem to be a real synergy in this system. It had a British sound in the best sense of the word. Yes, it was slightly warm, but not much. It had great musical flow and produced a very nice, coherent soundstage. This was a room that took the sound of the $2,500 system above and refined it and gave you more of everything.

The speakers were from Monitor Audio’s 300 Silver speakers from their 6G line. The integrated amp was a Roksan K3 at $2,000, and the source was either a Roksan K3 CD DI Player at $2,300 or a Roksan Radius 7 turntable at $3,000.

An Under $10,000 System

The last of my “Little Systems That Could” is an under $10,000 system from Salk and Schiit. Let’s start with the fact that you get a pair of Salk Song 3-A speakers with cabinets so beautiful that you would think the speakers would cost more than this entire system. The electronics were Schiit Audio’s high-value priced audiophile separates. They were not designed for headphones, but are an attempt at real high-end products at a reasonable price.

The Salk/Schiit system started with a Salk Streamplayer Gen III-SE prototype for $2,495. It was the source feeding a Schiit Gungnir Multi-Bit DAC at $1,249. The preamp was the new Schiit Freya at $699 connected to a pair of  Schiit Vidar monoblock amplifiers at $1,398. So, the total for this system is $9,536.

I’ll be honest I didn’t expect the quality of sound that I heard from this system. I could not believe that such a relaxed and listenable sound came from an all digital and all transistor system. This was very simply a system that made listening to recorded music fun.

PREVIOUS: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017, Turntable Eye Candy – Part 3
NEXT: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – The Big Systems that Impressed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting this form, you are granting: The Audio Beatnik, 5364 Myrtle Drive, Concord, CA, 94521, permission to email you. You may unsubscribe via the link found at the bottom of every email. (See our Email Privacy Policy ( for details.) Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.