RMAF 2018: Islands in the AudioStream

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest has been a glorious non-linear, stream-of-consciousness tilt-a-whirl of audiophile OCD immersion. And this is only my first post on it, I bet you can’t wait for everything in-between this and my show wrap. But I digress.

You’d think having hit AXPONA in April I’d not be caught off guard at how strange our hobby can come across as to the objective observer. I mean, I never push gear speak on friends or relatives – strangers on the Internet are another story. But, once again attending RMAF – which is one of my favourite and most well-run shows in the business courtesy of Marjorie Baumert and her tireless crew of staff – I often found myself getting a familiar, underlying copper-tinged whiff of fear. Usually wafting about among attendees who know they may soon have buyers remorse for whatever cables/isolation pucks/speaker risers/power conditioner that they purchased after either months of Internet research and anxiety or as an impulse buy after two lagers at the Pint Brothers pub in the hotel lobby. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand why so many of the great people who attend hi-fi trade shows seem to suffer from Audiophile Nervosa, but it always seems present.

OK, so the sheer number of meetings with hi-fi/headphone manufacturers, engineers, designers and fellow journalists had, by Sunday morning, reprogrammed my brain enough that I had fabricated a mental mash-up of “You’re A Superstar” by Love Inc. and “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers that I was alternately humming and singing out loud to myself while I downed a venti-sized coffee and convinced myself that yogurt and granola was a good idea for breakfast.

Those seated close to me in the hotel lobby while I write this don’t seem so certain, less so about the yogurt and more about my muttering and humming.

If you’ve never been to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest that’s a shame because it’s moving after this year from The Denver Marriott Tech Centre which it has called home for the as long as I can remember and moving closer to Denver International Airport. The new digs will be the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Centre in 2019 for RMAF’s 16th showing. The new venue promises to have a ton more amenities and bigger rooms for manufacturers to show their wares. Call me nostalgic, but there’s something about memories of that big bronze buck in the old pub at the Marriott before last year’s remodelling that makes me all warm and fuzzy.

Plus, ask anyone who’s been to RMAF enough and they all say the same thing; that it’s a show that is close to their heart and feels like home. ’nuff said: change is inevitable, you gotta roll with it.

So, what’s new at RMAF this year when it comes to streaming, digital/computer audio and DACs? Well, I can’t give everything away at once, so I’ll be rolling out posts on specific manufacturers wares and some setups that just plain moved me over the next week, but I wanted to pound something out from the event so I’m going to start with PS Audio’s room at the show, as it only seems fair since the Boulder company are practically a homegrown brand being only 45 minutes from Denver.

All the usual high-end PS Audio suspects were present in the room (listed below) and once again PS Audio top-drawer man Paul McGowan had made an esoteric (but beautiful looking and sounding) loudspeaker choice with a pair of hot-rodded and multi-driver jobbies that were final prototypes by recently deceased speaker designer, legendary Infinity founder and long-time friend of McGowan’s: Arnie Nudell. Who, some of you may be aware, has had a hand in bringing life to PS Audio’s own line of upcoming transducers with McGowan now fully helming the project. Time, look, and price of the new loudspeakers TBD as far as I know at this point.

With those big Bascom H. King power amps being fed the ones and zeroes courtesy of the ultra-linear DS Memory Player and DS DAC through the BHK Signature pre via Qobuz and Audirvana, the sound covered the sonic spectrum from deep, resonant and highly-controlled bass between the lowest octaves to flute and trumpet bubble-floating the upper registers with air, resolution and an almost spectral decay of hammer-on-felt piano notes fading off into the distance on some tracks.

PS Audio always puts together a system with a tremendously cohesive and holistic sound because all the components are designed, engineered and built to work together hand-in-hand. It’s this synergy and tremendous drive from the huge headroom reserves courtesy of their amp designs and their research and development into a completely DSD-based D to A Converter which can upsample PCM and DSD to 20x the DSD rate and has DXD support to boot, along with the preamp’s hybrid tube/solid state design that allows PS to so deeply impress at every show regardless of musical content.

Gear list:

  • DirectStream Memory Player, $5,999 USD
  • DirectStream DAC, $5,999 USD
  • BHK Signature Preamplifier, $5,999 USD
  • BHK Signature 300 Mono Amplifiers, $14,999 USD/pair
  • P20 Power Plant, $9,999 USD
  • Arnie Nudell unnamed prototype loudspeakers, not for sale

I’ll be posting all week on the sights and sounds from RMAF, so please do check back.

PS Audio
4865 Sterling Drive • Boulder, Colorado • 80301

Sue's picture

Thanks for posting prices. I was curios about Arnie Nudell's prototype speakers (not that I could ever afford a pair even if they were for sale.) I'm hoping to pick up one of the more affordable PS Audio DACs when Qobuz finally rolls in to town.

BillK's picture

Note that PS Audio also sells direct, so prices can be found on their website, and they also offer some discounts, like if you purchase a Memory Player and DirectStream DAC together.

Bill Leebens's picture