October 3, 2009 - The Good, the Bad, and the Amazing
by Doug Schneider

It's not easy to get good sound at shows. Oftentimes the rooms aren't conducive to getting good sound, whether it's due to their construction or the size, and the companies that display in them don't have much time to set up their systems and tweak them to get them to sound just right. As a result, it's a bit of a crapshoot with some systems sounding reasonably good, even excellent, while others are sounding really, really bad. RMAF 2009 is no exception.

tad_room.jpg (103060 bytes)
TAD, Bel Canto Design, Kimber Kable and WBT

The very first room we went in was a really big one featuring TAD Reference One loudspeakers, a suite of Bel Canto Design electronics, and Kimber Kable cables that tied all the components together. Whoever set up the system placed the listening seats fairly close to the speakers, which I believe was the right thing to do. The sound was full and rich, putting the components in a very good light. The sound was detailed enough so that the WBT reps who were there could put on an interesting demonstration where listeners could compare the same TAD speakers with WBT connectors versus off-the-shelf connectors and decide for themselves if they could hear a difference and determine which one they preferred. We heard the difference quite easily -- WBT won. Overall, this was a very good-sounding room.


Just down the hall was the GamuT room featuring their new $130,000-per-pair S9 loudspeakers along with the company's own electronics. The room was roughly the same size as the one we heard the TAD speakers in, but the company decided to set it up so the listeners sat far away from the speakers, and they played the sytem very loud in an obvious attempt to fill up the entire room. What a disaster. Unlike the TAD-based system, which was surprisingly refined-sounding for such a big, open space, this system sounded loud and fuzzy, and because the room was so large, you could hear echoes toward the back of the room. I don't point the finger at the products; instead, this seemed like careless setup in way too large of a room resulting in really bad sound. I can't imagine that anyone would think that this would show the products positively.


Just down the hall, there was another good-sounding room, albeit much smaller, belonging to Esoteric of Japan. The company used the appropriately sized speaker for the room, their own MG-20, and it sounded fantastic. In fact, so far it's the second-best sound I've heard at RMAF 2009, which is why we gave this room a Standout Demo award.

Audio Research, Shunyata Research and Vandersteen

The last room I'll mention I won't say much about -- for now. It featured Audio Research electronics, Shunyata Research cables, and Vandersteen Model Seven speakers, something that Richard Vandersteen says he's spent the last 10 years of his life developing. The results seem worth it. The best word to describe this system is amazing, doing certain things so well that I'm this close to calling it the best sound I've ever heard at any audio show. I sat in awe as I listened to three tracks from one of my favorite albums, Bruce Cockburn's Humans. Frankly, I'd never heard this disc sound so detailed, even at home. But for a full description of what this sounded like, you'll have to wait until tomorrow when we write about it in our Standout Demo section.

While getting good sound at a show can be difficult, the TAD- and Esoteric-based setups proved that getting good sound is possible if you're careful with your setup, and the Vandersteen-based system proved that incredibly good sound is possible, even at shows like this one.