Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CCI at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2013

I'm back from the 2013 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver. This year's meet--the tenth annual, by the way--seemed a little quiet compared to past years, but perhaps that's because we were on the second floor of the tower, which seemed like an orphan since it was so isolated from the action on the seventh through the eleventh floors. Still, CCI had a productive show...we added a dealer or two as well as a new product line. I'll elaborate on that in a couple of days on the CCI website.

Once again we shared our room with Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio Gallery and Bob Clarke of Profundo, so we set up two systems side by side and switched them every hour on the hour. It never failed that as soon as we switched over, someone would come into the room and request a tune or two on the other system. In addition, I was without Colleen's help for the first two days of the show--it's getting busy at CCI these days--so I had to rely on Dan and Bob's help more than usual.

With every trade show that we do--and this was our sixth of 2013--there's always one particular component that emerges as the star. This year it was the Opera Callas loudspeaker, which seemed to defy physics in terms of low bass output. Last year we used the floorstanding Opera Grand Mezza loudspeakers and were vexed by the lack of deep bass in the room--it was almost as if someone disconnected the woofers. It took plenty of tweaking late into the night before the show to coax the lowest frequencies from those five-inch woofers. With the Callas speakers, however, the bass was deep and impressive as soon as they were plugged in. Since we were once again sharing with Blackbird Audio Gallery and Profundo, we had to place the Operas in front of the big floorstanding Trenner & Friedl Pharaohs--and everyone was convinced that they were subwoofers. No, all that bass (the Callas is rated down to 32 Hz, amazingly enough) was coming from the little Operas.

Quite a few show attendees were curious and initially critical of the five--count 'em, five--tweeters on the small but beautifully finished Callas. Most visitors were very aware of the Callas review a couple of months ago in Stereophile, and John Atkinson's follow-up in this month's issue as well. JA was very skeptical of the use of two tweeters above and below the SEAS woofer, and of the "triplet" array of tweeters on the back panel--I think his exact words were "It shouldn't work!"--but his measurements supported reviewer John marks' enthusiastic review. As a result, almost every "serious" visitor to the room walked behind the Callas to see those extra drivers.

Here's the crazy thing--the Callas has been around since the '90s. It was reviewed in Stereophile by Sam Tellig many years ago. It hasn't changed that much since then...perhaps new drivers and a few improvements here and there, but it's been the same basic design for close to two decades. Yet everyone thinks the Callas (and its big brother, the Grand Callas) is sporting some revolutionary new design.

Finding an amp for the Callas proved to be the real challenge. We planned on debuting the new Unison Research Triode 25 integrated amplifier at RMAF, but it didn't quite make it to CCI headquarters on time. We plan on showing it at CES in January, complete with its optional USB DAC feature. So we decided to bring in the gorgeous push-pull P40 integrated amplifier instead. This is the first one we've brought into the US, although it's been selling well in Europe for several years. It features a stunning Murano glass faceplate that really captures and reflects the light when placed properly in the room. Since the glass is hand-blown, each faceplate is slightly different from the next one. Unfortunately, a bad EL34 tube flared up and we didn't have a replacement tube until our Denver dealer, Blu Note Audio, helped out. By the time we got the new tube in, the P40's replacement was already impressing the crowds--so we left everything as is and showed the P40 in a static display right at the entrance of the room.

The P40's replacement was a seemingly modest Unison Research Unico Nuovo, part of the hybrid amplifier line. I brought it as a back-up amp, yet it shined in the RMAF spotlight. The Nuovo was just reviewed by Marvin Bolden of StereoMojo (review to appear very soon); he was so impressed he bought the unit. Here you see the Nuovo paired with my trusty Unico CDE CD player--the same one I've been using in my system for over two years, and the same one we've used at probably a dozen shows. I know CDs are fading away, but this is still one of my favorite players out there.

One of the highlights of the show occured when Dean Peer popped into our room, plugged in his bass and started playing for the attendees. Too bad he was only there for about twenty minutes.

The other system in the room was also very impressive. Bob Clarke brought in his usual battery of pint-sized Heed Audio components from Hungary--preamp, power supplies, phono stage, monoblock amps, DAC and transport, all small enough to take up a single shelf. But if you know Heed, you know that it's small but mighty. The turntable is the awesome Basis 2500 Signature, mated with the Basis unipivot arm and the new flagship Transfiguration Proteus cartridge. The speakers, like last year, are the Trenner & Friedl Pharaohs, but this time they're in a striking pure white finish.

Before we left Denver, Colleen and I headed over to Blu Note Audio for a visit with Brandon Howell, the owner. Blu Note is our Unison Research dealer in Denver, and they've spent the last year building a state-of-the-art home entertainment and automation store that's truly impressive. I immediately saw two of our Unison amps--the S6 and the Simply Italy--sitting in a place of honor along the main wall of the showroom. I've never seen the Simply Italy with the cherry faceplate before...this was the first one we brought into the US. The S6, also in cherry, looked great right next to it. I told Brandon about the new Triode 25, and he's getting one of the first units. I told him to place it right between the two other amps.

The nicest thing about RMAF 2013 is that we only had to drive five hours back to Western Colorado, as opposed to 20 hours back to Texas. It snowed while we headed over Vail Pass, but it wasn't dangerous--just breathtakingly beautiful. Now that we're back home, Colleen and I are already planning CES as well as a PureAudio dealer event next month at Blackbird Audio Gallery. In addition, we have a new product line to promote. But I do want to thank Dan and Bob for making this year's RMAF run so smoothly, and I can't wait until next year!

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