Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

This Sunday I attended the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, an exhibition for audio or hi-fi geeks in Denver CO.

I'm not a hi-fi geek by any means. First of all, I'm slightly deaf in my right ear since childhood. And the last time I bought speakers was when I was 17 years old. That's well over a quarter-century ago.

I still own my teenage years speakers (Celestion SL6s). They work fine, but I thought I should think about getting a new pair.

Plus, I'd just gotten a pair of Etymotics earphones with custom molds for my ears (see earlier post here).

At the end of that post, I said: "Anyway, this is my introduction to the world of custom-fit earphones. One can spend $1000+ on higher quality ear canal phones."

Well, on that note I ventured over to the JH Audio booth. Jerry Harvey introduced himself. So I listened to their top-of-the-line earphones. I A-B'ed the (universal fit) JH16 Pro earphones back-to-back against my custom-fit Etymotics that I had with me. I used the iPod section of my iPhone for source.

And damn... the JH16 Pros were obviously way better right from the start. In particular, they have real bass. They were offering $100 off as a show special and custom molding done right there for free.

These guys make it all way too easy. I was sold.

So I'm looking forward to my custom-molded JH16 Pros (right ear in transparent red, and left in transparent black); they should arrive in about a week.

Note that they take open mouth ear molds: hence, the picture of me biting on a polystyrene peanut. I understand they fit tighter that way because of the way the jaw moves. Hmm, I'd just spent $100 getting custom ear molds for my Etymotics, and the audiologist there didn't make open-mouth ear impressions for me.

I borrowed the JH16 Pros I was trying out and went over to the Ray Samuels Audio booth to listen to their battery-powered portable headphone amp, called the The Shadow. It would fit between the iPhone line-out and the earphones. Hmm, I'm afraid I'm going to be needing that as well. (Good job there was no show special, otherwise I might have ordered one on the spot.)

I also listened to Stax SR-009 full size headphones driven by Woo Audio amplification. Electrostatics. It sounded fantastic. The total price was about $10,000. Man, for a headphone system? Arrgh.

I wandered around the other exhibits in a bit of a daze for the rest of the day until the 4pm closing time: remember, I'm actually looking for something to replace my current speakers.

There was way too much to see (actually, listen to) in one day. Plus my ears get fatigued after a while. Unfortunately, the only two I really liked were the Wilson Sashas (at $30,000) and the Sonus Faber Amati (at $36,500). The Vandersteen 7s were $50,000. I heard them in two different rooms but found them a bit too forward, maybe it was the music being played in each case. Still John Lee Hooker sounded great. The Sony SS-AR1 ($27,000) were great with Joni Mitchell, and I'm not a fan of hers. I guess I could live with the Orion 4.0s; $14,000 but less if you build them from a kit yourself.

If you thought $1100 (JH16 Pro) was expensive for iPod earbud replacements, well it appears great speakers are totally unaffordable. Oh well.

Of course, then you need honking big amplifiers as well. The whole nine yards. And it starts to look like this:

Totally ridiculous. Who buys this stuff? I give up on the idea of replacing my speakers with something way better.

Hopping back in the Hyundai Elantra from Enterprise, costing only $18.21 for one day's rental, my thoughts returned to normality. Also, having turned down the optional GPS, I navigated back to Denver International Airport (DIA) using my iPhone wedged next to the speedometer:

Arriving back at the airport, I happened by the New Belgium Hub in Terminal 2.

I immediately recognized it of course, having passed through Denver during my trip to Mons, Belgium earlier this year.
(See my post here).

This time though, time was on my side, so I had a few sips of beer while watching the sunset over DIA.

Not bad, not bad at all.

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