Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – The Big Systems that Impressed, Part 1

Valve Amplification Company

When I visited VAC’s (Valve Amplification Company’s) in the Maroon Peak room on the Marriott Tower’s Peak Level, I went in expecting the system they had been showing since Munich with the Von Schweikert state-of-the-art speakers. So, I was surprised to see products from Transrotor, Air Tight, Esoteric, Tannoy, and Shunyata. And by Saturday afternoon, this room sounded simply stunning. To be honest, this room was actually more to my personal taste than the Vac/Von Schweikert system I heard in LA and Oakland.

The Tannoy Kingdom Royal Mk II speakers are $96,000, the VAC Renaissance phono stage at $9,900, VAC Renaissance Mk V line stage at $9,990 with optional internal phono stage at $3,000, and Signature 200 iQ power amplifiers at $14,000/each; Transrotor Rondino Nero turntable at $14,000 with 5012 tonearm at $5,500; AirTight PC-1 Supreme at $11,000;  TAOC ASR-4 Silver rack at $4,000; and Shunyata power distribution and their Anaconda cabling.

Musical Surroundings/The Audio Alternative

The Musical Surroundings/The Audio Alternative room was the other room on the Peak Level that impressed me. It featured a pair of MartinLogan Neolith speakers at $80,000 being driven by Audio Research’s Reference 750 SE monoblock amps at $66,000. The preamp was an Audio Research Reference Phono 3 phono stage at $14,000 and a Reference 6 line stage, also $14,000.

The sources were equally great, consisting of the Audio Research Reference CD9 CD player/DAC for $13,000; the Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable at $29,400 with a TT1-M1 tangential tonearm at $32,350.  The Olympus turntable stand adds another $13,400, and it was mounted with a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge costing $15,000. There was also an AMG Giro turntable and a 9W2 tonearm mounted with a DS Audio DS002 at  $5,000 with its own equalizer/phono unit. MIT cabling and power conditioning and HRS SXR Audio Stands with M3X Isolation Bases, and ASC Tube Traps completed the system.

With either of these LP systems, this was without a doubt the best I had ever heard these speakers sound. The bass and the panels blended nicely, and the power of the system was amazing. This power and the openness of the electrostatic panels came together for a very magical listening experience.

High Fidelity Services

On the first floor, the most impressive system to me was from High Fidelity Services, a distributor from Massachusetts. They were using a pair of Verity Audio’s Lohengrin IIS speakers at $133,000 being driven by the North American premiere of the Verity Audio Monsalvat Amp 60 at $58,000 and the Verity Audio Monsalvat Pre-2 preamplifier at $35,000. They were using Signal Projects Andromeda interconnect and speaker cables.

The source was a TW Acustic phono preamplifier at $18,000 and a TW Acustic AC Anniversary turntable with Black Night upgrades and two TW 10.5 arms for $47,000 mounted with an Ortofon A95 cartridge at $6,500 and an Ortofon Cadenza Mono cartridge at $1,280.

The system had big and beautiful tonal colors with just the right sense of richness. The system had a great sense of transparency and spaciousness with plenty of air around the instruments. Both male and female vocals sounded very alive and seemed to occupy a solid space.

The Verity Audio Monsalvat Pre-2 preamplifier is very interesting. Not only is it a DAC/preamp that can decode PCM up to 32/384 and DSD up to 256; it also takes the phono source in as an analog source and converts it to digital and then converts it back to analog before it goes into the line stage portion of the preamp. I would have never believed this could work, but it worked magnificently. Their Amp 60 is a 60Wpc class-AB amp.

Constellation Audio/Wilson Audio

The Constellation Audio/ Wilson Audio room was another room on the first floor that was extremely impressive, especially by Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The room was big enough for the new Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 loudspeakers that cost $58,000 for a pair to really come to life. They were driven by a pair of Constellation Audio Centaur II monoblocks at $80,000 with a Constellation Audio Virgo III preamp at $32,000. This phono source was connected to a Constellation Audio Perseus phono preamp for $32,000. The digital source was brand new  Constellation Audio Cygnus Media Player/DAC for $38,000.

PS Audio

The PS Audio room really surprised me. Why? Focal speakers aren’t my favorite, and over the years I have found PS Audio products great for the money but not quite my cup of tea. Well, let me tell you this system was very good indeed. The speakers were a pair of  Focal Sopra No.3 speakers at $19,999 and a pair of  REL Acoustics 212/SE subwoofers a $3,999 each.

PS Audio was using their forthcoming PS Audio P20 PureStream Power Plant (price still to be determined), which is expected to be released by January 2018. PS Audio sees it as an important part of a system that included PS Audio’s DirectStream Memory Player at $5,999, their DirectStream DAC at $5,999, a BHK Signature preamplifier at $5,999. The amp driving the Focals was a pair of PS Audio’s BHK Signature 300 mono block amplifiers for $7,999, a P10 Power Plant for $4,999, and their AC12 power cords.

As I said, the sound was better than I expected with good detail, good tone, a great soundstage and very transparent. The only complaint I had was that it was not quite as emotionally involving as I would have liked.

Classic Audio Loudspeakers

Another room that outperformed my expectations was the Classic Audio Leadspeakers room. This was the best I remember hearing the Classic Audio T-1.5 at $72,950/pair. They use a field-coil-powered system. They were driven by a limited-edition pair of Atma-Sphere’s Novacron Mk3.3 monoblocks at $22,200, the MP-1 Mark 3.3 preamp at $18,900 with installed options, and a Kuzma Reference turntable at $8,900 with a Tri-Planar Ultimate 12 tonearm for $9,800.

This system had a midrange that was beautifully musical sounding. There was a great richness of tone and enough bass to be very satisfying. I really liked this system.

PREVIOUS: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – Little Systems that Could!
NEXT: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – The Big Systems that Impressed, Part 2


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