Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016 • TABlog

by Dennis Davis | October 11, 2016

ngoing renovations to the Denver Marriott Tech Center, leaving one wing of the hotel closed off until at least December, forced the move of the ever-expanding CamJam section of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest into a giant tent erected outside the hotel.

In the days leading up to the show’s opening on Friday, Jude Mansilla, head of Head-Fi and CamJam, overcame numerous logistical obstacles and installed the registered headphone exhibitors in two long columns of tables, filled to almost overflowing with all the well-known names in the headphone world and lots of relative newcomers. The number of new-product launches in the CamJam tent was overwhelming, requiring a winnowing of one’s attention, lest the entire three days be spent in a tent. Highlights included some very interesting new headphones and amplifiers.

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Sonoma Acoustics is composed of a group of engineers who developed the Sonoma DSD recording and editing system to record high-resolution material for SACD. They maintained the Sonoma name for their new project: the Model One headphone system ($4995), consisting of electrostatic headphones and a class-A amplifier, sold as a unit. Sonoma was showing a final production version of the system, slated to launch in November. The headphones use what Sonoma has patented as High-Precision Electronic Laminate (HPEL), magnesium ear cups and Cabretta sheep's leather. The amplifier is based on a 32-bit ESS Sabre Reference DAC. Under noisy show conditions, the feather-light headphones were as comfortable as anything on the market and sounded superb.

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Ultrasone was showing several new headphone models, all handmade in Germany, including the $2199 Edition 8 Carbon, the $2999 limited-edition (above, 777 units) Tribute 7 and . . .

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. . . two versions of its more affordable line, Edition M. The on-ear version (left) is priced at $899 and the over-ear version at $1149, with the black-pearl finish shown here.

Cavalli Audio was featuring its latest product, the Liquid Spark ($499), a fully discrete portable amplifier. With loads of power and a long-lasting battery, the Liquid Spark promises to drive any load and hold its charge throughout the day. Its unique space-age look is a little unCavalli-like, but it should “spark” plenty of attention.

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Speaking of attention, nothing in the headphone tent could outdo the HiFiMAN Shangri-La electrostatic headphones and amplifier. Shown at CES in an earlier version, the system on display in Denver was claimed to be a final production model. The headphones look much like HE-1000s, except for the grid opening onto the electrostatic diaphragms, with claimed frequency response of 7Hz to 50kHz and weighing in at a very light 13.2 ounces. The imposing amplifier will demand a lot of space, with its aircraft-carrier-like design.

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Shown here dwarfed by ten-time NBA all-star David Robinson, who was discussing the finer points of the amplifier with HiFiMAN's Dr. Fang Bian, the system sounded as good as any headphone-amplifier pairing has a right to sound. Although the Shangri-La system to slated to be released soon, the price has not been decided. Let’s assume you may need an NBA salary to afford this beauty.

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