RMAF 2016 to showcase fifteen affordable audio systems

Snow. Eskimos have it in abundance. No need for them to pay a hefty premium for a better quality product when their existing supply of the cold stuff arrives for (next to) nothing. The money conscious eskimo requires exposure to incremental improvements if s/he is to be convinced that making the giant step from standard to state-of-the-art is worthwhile.

Ditto audio gear. Why point the mass market at $20K hifi systems when they can acquire cheap-as-chips portable Bluetooth speakers and headphones for (next to) nothing? What do the in-between steps sound like?

For the audio show promoter this also presents a conundrum: how to attract the right kind of newcomer? Spending big on radio and billboard campaigns is a waste of cash if the show floor itself remains bereft of properly affordable systems. In the absence of entry-level gear, the high-end audio show will deter newcomers more than it will have ’em hang out.

Denver’s Rocky Mountain Audio Festival (RMAF) takes place at the Denver Tech Center next weekend (7th – 9th October). Despite the challenges of the host hotel’s ongoing renovations, hats off to show organiser Marjorie Baumert for not only continuing with the ‘exhibitor neutral’ affordable audio programme introduced in 2015 but expanding them.

This year we get two more spaces. A total of five rooms have been set aside to display complete hifi systems that range from US$500 to US$5000. Digital, analogue (turntables) and headphone listening are all covered. The rooms break down as follows with all pricing in US dollars:

$500 Analogue
Speakers: Peachtree Audio M24
Turntable: U-Turn Audio Orbit Basic Turntable
Total: $548

$500 Digital
Loudspeakers: Peachtree Audio M24
Device: User (Bluetooth)
Total: $369

$500 Headphones
Headphones: HiFiMAN HE400s
DAC: AudioQuest Dragonfly Red
Total: $498

uturn-orbit

$1000 Analogue
Loudspeakers: Law HiFi Sentinel Towers ($800)
Integrated amplifier: Lepai LP7498E ($199)
Turntable: Audio-Technica AT-LP60 ($119)
Total: $1118

$1000 Digital
Loudspeakers: Law HiFi Sentinel Towers ($800)
Integrated amplifier: Lepai LP7498E ($199)
Device: User (Bluetooth)
Total: $999

$1000 Headphones
Headphones: Fostex TH-610
Amp/DAC: Fostex HP-A4BL
Total: $998

at-lp60

$1500 Analogue
Loudspeakers: Audioengine HD6
Powered subwoofer: S8
Turntable: Sony PS-HX500
Total: $1697

$1500 Digital
Speakers: Audioengine HD6
Powered subwoofer: S8
Wireless DAC: Audioengine D2
Total: $1497

$1500 Headphones
Headphones: Focal Elear
Amp/DAC: Schiit Audio Jotunheim w/ DAC module
Total: $1498

jounheim-schiit

$2500 Analogue
Speakers: Elac Uni-fi UF5 ($998)
Integrated amplifier: Peachtree decco125 ($999)
Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB ($599)
Total: $2596

$2500 Digital
Loudspeakers: Elac Uni-fi UF5 ($998)
Integrated amplifier, DAC: Peachtree decco125 w/  wifi streaming module ($1199)
Total: $2197

$2500 Headphones
Headphones: MrSpeakers ETHER C Flow ($1799)
Amp/DAC: Chord Electronics Mojo ($599)
Total: $2398

elac-unifi

$5000 Analogue
Loudspeakers: Ono Lava ($2995)
Integrated Amplifier: Wyred4Sound mINT ($1499)
Turntable: VPI Player ($1199)
Total: $5693

$5000 Digital
Loudspeakers: Ono Lava ($2,995)
Integrated Amplifier, DAC: Wyred4Sound mINT ($1,499)
Device: Apple Macbook Pro ($1299)
Total: $5,793

$5000 Headphones
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800S ($1600)
Amplifier: Moon Audio Dragon Inspire IHA-1 with tube upgrade ($1249)
DAC: Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit ($1249)
Total: $4098

w4s-mint

It’s great to see this entry-level audio initiative gain traction at one of my favourite Stateside audio shows. Mind you, I would say that – the Audiophilliac Steve Guttenberg and I had a hand in its inception.

This year I’ll once again be chairing a panel entitled “Affordability – how low can you go?” Joining me will be some serious industry muscle. Apologies in advance for it being such a dude-fest: Michael Lavorgna of Stereophile/Audiostream; Steve Silberman of AudioQuest; Enno Vandermeer of Roon Labs; David Solomon of Peachtree Audio. (Steve Guttenberg sends his apologies).

We’ll be covering a range of issues as laid out in the seminar’s introductory blurb: “Where to start with entry-level hardware? Is getting into vinyl financially prudent? Does Spotify really sound that bad? Can we make Bluetooth sound any good? Does good sound only arrive via a fat wallet or deep pockets?”

Hope to see you there. If not, RMAF show coverage of entry-level rooms and much more will start to spill soon after doors close.

Further information: Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

dar-750-x-290-katana-1

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Berlin, Germany. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also a very occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

23 Comments

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  1. ”DAC: Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit ($1799)” It’s priced $1249 on Schiit’s website.

    ”Integrated amplifier: Lepai LP7498E ($199)” It’s knocked down to $99 on Parts Express

    OK, I’m done nitpicking for now.

    Ono Lava – cool name. Piqued my curiosity.

  2. Am really interested in your proposed discussion of “Is getting into vinyl financially prudent?” As with your earlier post questioning the sound quality of vinyl on entry-level systems, the question really is whether it is worthwhile to splash the cash on a basic system if there isn’t a discernable improvement on CD quality sound – and of course if the outlay may be better served by investment in digital sound performance. I do look forward to your sharing of the panel’s discussion on this topic –

    Would you be able to share with fans of DAR whether a deck such as Sony’s PS-HX500 (Vinyl to DSD capability) might be able straddle the worlds of analogue and digital, and provide an indication as to the level of financial commitment necessary to enjoy an improvement of Redbook CD? Vinyl does hold its appeal (physical media, etc), but if it would be a shame if more and more music lovers are like the gentleman in this news report. (Silent vinyl: Buying records without a record player
    14 April 2016) http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-36040746

    • Hi Pang – indeed, I think it’s an interesting question if the aim is solely to lift the audible experience. Not sure how the Sony deck fares as I’ve not used it but if it’s anything like many of the other sub-$1K tables I’ve played with, the buyer looking for a marked improvement on what a similarly priced DAC can do might question the value of the spend.

  3. Looking forward to hearing about the Peachtree Decco 125. Any word on if the wifi module will have Roon support? $200 premium seems pretty reasonable if it does.

  4. If you live in a town with lots of used record stores (like Phoenix) getting into vinyl is very financially prudent.

    If you’re buying new albums over the web or used lp’s from Ebay…. not so much.

  5. My 1000$ -1250$ digital rig would be:
    – NAD C338 50W Digital Hybrid Amplifier (649$) | or the C368 80W (899$) for more power (and price)
    – Elac B5 Speakers (230$)
    – Raspberry Pi3 with HiFiBerry Digi+ Card & MoodeAudio as Streaming Source (120$)

  6. John-

    Great that you and the others are doing this. Every big show should have some of these affordable systems, especially the headphone based ones. Long term, it’s the only way to get youngish people into the hobby.

  7. Great and important idea to demo various entry level priced systems. Hats off to the organisers for this. One WTF: the $5800 digital system with a Macbook Pro and *no* DAC?! Is this an typo error or are they really trying to recommend a $5000+ system with the analogue outs of a laptop? Even an AQ Dragnonfly Red woould be better than that, I would think.

  8. Whether buying vinyl makes any sense for those specifically looking for a sound quality improvement depends on the vinyl you’re buying. Do your musical tastes tend towards stuff recorded prior to roughly 1990? If so, then yes, absolutely you should get into vinyl, even if you don’t have a good local record store, Discogs is a global record store.

    If, on the other hand, you’re wondering whether you should spend the $23 for a copy of Adele’s “25” on vinyl, instead of $12 for the CD, (and the money for a solid deck and cart to play it on, and a decent phono preamp, and at least a couple of hundred bucks for a record vacuum cleaner so it doesn’t sound like a bowl of Rice Crispies when you play it), the answer is no, you shouldn’t. If you like the experience of playing vinyl, sure have at it, but if you’re looking for sound quality, the vinyl is no better than the CD, even if you play it on a mega buck Spiral Groove or Amazon with a Lyra Atlas.

    The sad truth is that most modern vinyl is just a worse sounding version of the CD – the same thing but with added groove distortion, possibly shelved down highs if the cutting engineer runs into side time limitations, and surface noise depending on the quality of the pressing. If the CD is slammed to DR4, the vinyl probably is too. If the CD sounds like garbage, the vinyl probably does too.

    I made a considerable investment in analog for those 1 in 20 records that have specific vinyl mastering, but if you’re trying to put together a system for $1500 or $2000 total, if you compare the value of Sonore’s $640 Micro Rendu vs. what Pro-Ject can sell you for $640, it’s not even a contest. Buy the Micro Rendu, and spend your remaining cash on an integrated amp/DAC and a pair of speakers, and enjoy.

    The only way I think vinyl makes sense on a limited budget is if you’re willing to buy everything used. The plastic fantastic or MDF plinth/platter tables that you can buy new for <$700 just aren't worth it, at least from a sound quality standpoint. If you're more interested in shopping for and playing records than having them sound perfect, go for it.

  9. I for one would like to see even more “diversity” of systems. For example, I would like to not one but 3 or more systems/combinations at each price point. Of course, this might be moving away from the “audio show” paradigm (looking too much like a dealer perhaps). Also, as a typical “modern” or “computer” audiophile who will never return to vinyl (no more likely than replacing my car with a horse and buggy) I would like to see an emphasis where I will actually spend my $cash$. Perhaps in the future there will be a real digital audio show and the vinyl guys can have everything else (like they do now).

    In any case, I have to admit that looking at these systems my enthusiasm is a bit damped – and this aspect of the show (besides can-jam) was what I was looking forward to the most. Perhaps one of these systems will pleasantly surprise me. I assume the vinyl systems are in the same room as the digital and (as seems usual) they will be getting the majority of the play…

  10. After seeing a $50 MUSE Mini NOS DAC mentioned on here for cheap with obsolete technology according to the guys in Newhall (j/k), I picked one up off EBay. Fed from my USB to SPDIF interface, this thing compares well to my Metrum Octave Mk2. For budget DACs doing redbook I am nor sure it can be beat. I may even prefer it, go figure.

  11. Here’s my budget system:

    $300 – PSB PS1 powered speakers
    $700 SVS sealed subwoofer
    $200 Audioquest Dragonfly Red DAC

    That’s just $1,200 and the system sounds fantastic. I also bought Audioquest cables and inexpensive stands.

    It would also be helpful for those looking to build a system to suggest music player software. I am using Pono’s free JRiver, which makes a night and day difference in sound quality compared to iTunes on my iMac. Music sounds full with everything from Apple 256 files to 24/96 high resolution.

    When is Pono returning?

    • Pono? No idea. Although I *am* dropping into Ayre Acoustics prior to RMAF so maybe Señor Hansen can shed some light on the matter.

  12. This is awesome! Thanks for previewing (and thanks to Marjorie for orchestrating). I actually have the exact “$500 Headphones” combo, so feel even better about my choices. Now I look forward to trying things further up the food chain (hello Elear, my dear) that I’d otherwise have no way of trying. This will be my first ever audio show, and the endcap to a Colorado rendezvous I’m making, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be at the show Friday when it opens to the public!

  13. I love this topic! I bet you can get a deal for these (really rockin’) combinations so that they fit in somewhere between 1.500 and 2.500$. In Germany, the Wyred4Sound as well as the Peachtree are not available (for different reasons like e.g. CE labels…):
    – digital (ca. 1.800 US$): Dynaudio Xeo 2 with Yamaha CD-NT670D
    – digital (ca. 2.600 US$): audiolab m-one with KEF LS50
    – analog (ca. 2.100 US$): NuPrime IDA-8 with Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit & Phono Box S and Dynaudio Emit M10.

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