Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Report Part 3: Affordable Hi Fi Roundup, Including A Sneak Peek At The New Elac Debut Reference!

Hifitrends.com is all about low-cost, high-performance audio gear, so it was great to see so much affordable hi-fi at the show!

First of all, RMAF 2019 had three rooms dedicated to “entry-level” gear, and while that designation irks me (maybe I’ll write a post on that someday), I love the idea behind it.  Rooms were divided between “Under $1000”, “Under $2500”, and “Under $5000” systems, with two centered around active bookshelf speakers.

The “Under $1000” room was quite the coup from Joe Mariano, who hosts a YouTube channel called Joe N Tell. In that space, he demonstrated the DINAS, (“Do I Need A Subwoofer?”), a DIY speaker born out of a collaboration between Joe and 123Toid, a DIY speaker designer. The speaker is based on a compact subwoofer design, to which they added a midrange and external top-mounted tweeter unit.

Joe with the DINAS in the Under $1000 room

They also added a plate amp to each enclosure with extensive control over bass levels and crossover, allowing end-users the ability to customize the sound somewhat. The result was impressive. The DINAS were very engaging despite less than perfect room conditions (which Joe was quick to point out) and a very simple source in the form of a smartphone with a $55 tube buffer from Amazon.

The whole project cost about $350-$400 to build. The plans and flat-pack of pre-cut wood for the enclosure are available from https://toidsdiyaudio.com. The speaker drivers and electronics are available from Parts Express.

I saw many people walk in skeptical of this DIY speaker but after Joe’s presentation, and some time in the listening chair, they walked out believers!

Under $2500 Room with Kanto Audio and Audio-Technica

The “Under $2500” room featured the new TUK active bookshelf from Kanto Audio, a Canadian outfit that specializes in low-cost powered speakers with hi-fi sound. The $800 TUK is their most ambitious and most expensive model to date. The Kanto speaker was matched up with an Audio-Technica AT-LP7 Turntable which also retails for $800, giving the bookshelf a chance to showcase its built-in phono input.

Kanto’s Dedicated Room

In this space, I wasn’t all that impressed with the sound, but Kanto also demonstrated the TUK in their dedicated room, and I liked the way it sounded there. I’m not sure what the difference was! BTW, the YU4 and YU6 sounded good as well.

Under $5000 room with Klipsch, Cambridge Audio, and Pro-Ject

In the “Under $5000” room, there was a system built around the $649 Klipsch RP-600M Reference Premiere bookshelf speaker. The Klipsch looked pretty snazzy in its piano black finish, and it was matched up with some equally attractive gear from Cambridge Audio. The Cambridge electronics were from the CX Series 1 range, composed of the CXA60 Integrated ($749), CXC CD Transport ($449), and CXN v2 streamer ($899).  They topped that off with the Pro-Ject Essential III Turntable ($349) and the Klipsch C-310ASWI subwoofer ($1599). I don’t think the room did them any favors when it came to sound, however.

ELAC CARINA BS243.4 w/ ELAC Alchemy Electronics

Outside of the designated entry-level rooms, there were quite a bit of affordable audio options to be found. ELAC is always an excellent place to start when looking for low-cost, high-value gear, and their room didn’t disappoint. When I was in there, ELAC’s chief engineer Andrew Jones did a cool demo of the $1199 CARINA BS243.4 standmount speaker with the $2500 ELAC Alchemy DDP-2 Pre-Amp/DAC/Streamer and $1500 DPA-2 Amplifier.

In that setup, the CARINA sounded pretty good. They were big, clear, and dynamic, and sounded good with the music selection. I would love to hear them at my house with some of my test tracks.

ELAC Debut Reference DBR62 Standmount Speakers

While in that room I was also able to get a look at the new $499 Debut Reference DBR62 speakers, which are said to have several technical and cosmetic improvements over the popular Debut 1 and 2 speakers. I wish I could’ve heard the demo, but you can’t win em’ all! Ron from New Record Day posted a great clip on his channel with designer Andrew Jones discussing the upgrades on the DBR62, and I’m posting it below. (You should subscribe to New Record Day, by the way, Ron knows stuff!)

Mofi Distribution had the Wharfedale Heritage Series speakers (Linton, Denton 80, and Denton 85)  on display, and I was happy to finally hear the Linton ($1499 w/ stands) since I missed them at Axpona. They were running with Primare Electronics, and while I loved the mids, the low end seemed a little thin to me. Probably because they were so far out into the room. Again I really want to get these in my listening space!

LINTON Heritage (in the center), next to the Denton 85 on the left.

While I thought the LINTON suffered from placement issues, I didn’t hear any such issues in the next room where they had the relatively new Wharfedale EVO 4.4 also teamed up with Primare. The EVO sounded pretty good to me, so much that I actually stopped and listened to a few songs. The sound was nice and balanced from what I heard, and I would love to spend some more time with them. They also looked good in their wood veneer.

Wharfedale Evo 4.4

As I wrote last week, KLH is back! The company has a new owner, and they are jumping back into hi-fi in a big way. They had the $479/pr Albany Standmount speaker and $649/ea Kendall Floorstander hooked up to Parasound gear, and I loved how tonally balanced they were.  I could see why they have gotten so many great reviews!

KLH Albany Standmount and Kendall Floorstander

I was also happy to hear that FYNE Audio finally signed a deal to distribute their speakers in the U.S.! This Scottish Brand started by former Tannoy employees has made a lot of fans across the pond, and now we will finally get them here. They will be distributed by The Sound Organisation, who is working on building out the dealer network.

A lineup of FYNE AUDIO bookshelf speakers

They have bookshelf speakers that start around $300 a pair, so I think they will be another excellent budget option when they hit our shores! Can’t wait to get them in for review!

Martin Logan Motion 35XTi with Benchmark Electronics

The Benchmark/Martin Logan room sounded really good to me…In there, they had the new $649/ea Martin Logan Motion 35XTi and the $799 Martin Logan Dynamo 800X sub matched up with about 7k of Benchmark electronics, and the 8k N10 Aurender Music Server…pretty sweet! The 35XTi is part of the new Motion lineup, it has some cosmetic upgrades and tweaks (crossover, driver) that are said to improve the sound over the previous generation.

So as it was my first time at RMAF, it was my first time experiencing the huge budget audio room presented by YouTube reviewers Zeos and DMS. It was dubbed the Hifiguides.com room, and the sheer amount of low-cost gear in there was incredible. They had a ton of speakers on display, including the Ohm Walsh (that you can barely see in my pic over in the far left corner), which was running when I was in there. Zeos has professed his love for that speaker in the past, and I must say it sounded good that way.

The Hifiguides.com Room

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the headphone table, but they must’ve had just about every headphone on the market out there to test, along with a ton of headphone amps and DACs. They probably had more headphones than the headphone room on the 3rd floor! I was trying to make through all the rooms, so I didn’t have a lot of time to hang out. But it was pretty cool, more like a Head-Fi meetup than a standard room at an audio show, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

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