Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010 Show Report

Part 7

Okay, let's talk about one of the most exciting demos and products at the show.


We've showcased many wonderful components here; amps, speakers, cables, music servers and WiFi devices.

But what if you could get rid of all of those and have a one product solution that you could play from any computer, Ipad or even your frickin' iPhone? I don't mean controlled by your device, I mean actually play the music on the device. At bit rates up to 24/192?! And do away with all matching problems including expensive cables. No messy adapters, docking stations, connecting wires or dangling USB port connections and the grunge they induce. Works with your existing computer and network.

Enter Blackfire Research and Ravi Rajapakse. What this system does is build everything into one small pair of speakers. Talk about your Wife Acceptance Factor! That's right, a whole audio system built into a pair of speakers; monoblock class AB amps (not Class D), ultra hi-res DAC and wireless receivers. I took copious notes, but here's what their website says:

SMART SPEAKERS (right) play wirelessly from your computer or cell phone. These are not a set of speakers but a whole audio system hidden within a set of speakers. Our Smart Speaker system has all the high end rack components (such as high performance amps, DACs, network processors, audio engines as well as proprietary technology for reliable WiFi streaming) built in. This design allows the Blackfire Smart Speaker System to be added to your existing audio system or to work with your computer and cell phone as a simplified but complete high performance audio system.

If you want to keep your favorite speakers though, no problem.

MONOBLOCK SMART AMPLIFIERS (left) sit on or beneath your existing bookshelf or floor-standing speakers to convert them to Smart Speakers. Our Monoblock Smart Amplifiers are ideal for people who are happy with their existing speakers but would like to add the ability to play music wirelessly from their computer or cell phone. Besides adding this functionality, our Monoblock Smart Amps will dramatically improve the sound quality of the music coming through your speakers. With our Monoblock Smart Amps on your speakers, you can use them with your current stereo system or eliminate your central rack components entirely.


Convenience Is Too Small A Word For It

Blackfire Research Smart Speakers extend the power and convenience of your computer or portable music player to create a complete high performance audio system.

A Difference You Can Hear

Architected with audio perfection in mind, every aspect of the system, from the 24bit all digital signal paths, to the ultra precision DACs, to the extremely linear amplifiers has been crafted for maximum audio performance. Furthermore, by building the DAC into the speaker, signal degradations that otherwise occur while passing through centralized components are eliminated. This architecture ensures an ideal signal path.


Simple To Use

Install the software and simply play CDs or downloaded/ripped digital music with your preferred music player such as iTunes, Quicktime, Windows Media Player or MediaMonkey. Also works with Rhapsody, Pandora, Internet Radio and with all media formats including lossless high definition formats such as FLAC and AIFF from HDTracks.

Each Blackfire Research Smart Speaker has a rack full of audio components built in:

Highly linear (<0.01%THD), wide dynamic range,
100 Watt rms, 20-22kHz, Class AB amplifier

Precision 192KHz, 24bit, 120db dynamic range,
ultra low jitter DAC

Audio Engine with continuous upsampling to 192KHz

512MHz Streaming Protocol Processor for reliable
24bit audio streaming over IP networks.

WiFi (802.11g) and Ethernet adapters for networking


How did it sound? With the small "speaker systems", the sound was robust, detailed, clean and musical with a big, deep soundstage. Not full-range bass of course, but there was no real lack of usable bass either.

I'd love to hear what these sound like with the "smart amps" driving my reference speakers. We definitely are going to review this system!


Hegel was showing their DAC/Integrated/CD player in an all-white room.

I didn't stay long to listen since I'm wrapping up my review of their integrated/CD combo and we have already reviewed their DAC.




Here's a brand we don't often see at Hi-End audio shows, but Pioneer, they tell us, is getting serious now about the stereo market rather than their extensive line of Home Theater receivers we see constantly at Best Buy. The guy running the demo said that the Pioneers compared well with the much more expensive Cary tube system sitting next to them.

Could it be? We're going to pursue reviewing the new Pioneer stereo only gear to see. Amp & disk player $1,500 each.






While everyone else was ogling the big buck Wadia/DynAudio system with the Confidence C4 speakers, I spied this little display tucked in a corner, serving as storage area for someone's briefcase.

The system consists of the Wadia i171 transport that now supports the new Apple iPad and the new Wadia 151PowerDAC mini. They were offering the whole system WITH a pair of dynAudio DM 3/7 for $3,700. Just add your iPhone or Ipad.



High Emotion Audio, brought to you by the folks who designed the Pipedreams speakers. Remember those?

Just a few years ago they were the best speakers ever made. TAS and Stereophile drooled and practically wet themselves

calling them "the Speakers of the Gods". Well... heard anything about them since? Any TAS or Stereophile still using the best speakers ever?

No. The point is, the industry is driven by new product, and thus new product advertising. Speaker, amp, wire, etc. of the the month.

Sad. We don't want our readers to get caught up in that.

Mike Powell has his hand on the Pyra Bella 7 speaker - the top module. $5950.00/pair. The two bottom mods are stacked Bella Basso 28

 subs at 3950/pair times 2 or about 8 grand. So we're up to about $14,000. But wait, you need the Passare crossover at about $3,000.

Now looked closely. What's WRONG with that picture?

Got it yet? The top module is turned drastically to the left. Mike did that while the music was playing. The was a sort discontinuity to the image, but then it locked right back in to an almost perfect soundstage. Weird.

Mike was also exhibiting the Verastarr SSA-644 amp.

The Verastarr SSA-644 Amplifier is is designed to have incredible transient response and dynamics while retaining a completely transparent character. It is 440W x 6-channel at 8 ohms with all channels driven simultaneously at full power (.01%THD). The SSA-644 may be operated as a 2,3,4,5,or 6 channel amplifier, this facilitates the ability to bi or tri-amplify your speakers. it doesn't have any home theater Dolby type processing for surround, so it's not not designed for that. Handbuilt in the USA.

It does sport some impressive specs:

Teflon-impregnated, extra-thick PC boards.
WBT Signature Platinum Binding Posts
Nemesis X Silver/Teflon Internal Wiring
Low-noise, audio-grade electrolytic capacitors throughout
100% audio-grade 1% metal film resistors throughout
Rel-Cap/Multi-Cap premium RTX polystyrene film and foil signal capacitors
Wima film capacitors
Additional Multi-Cap film and foil capacitors for power supply filter
3 oz silver plated traces on PC board
Cardas Audio silver plated RCA inputs
When bridged, amplifier circuit becomes fully differential for balanced operation from input to output
3-speed, silent fans which only operate when hot (normally off)
Power switch also doubles as a circuit breaker for protection
12v trigger
Ground lift switch
XLR and RCA inputs
Custom faceplate color options, including LEDs
Massive 114,000 uf filter capacitor bank in power supply
Massive 2500VA Torroidal transformer.
5-year Warranty

Quite a bit for only $6,000. They do make a 2-channel only version for $4,500.


Tannoy is the biggest proponent of dual-concentric drivers; the tweeter is in the center of the woofer.

The DCT-10 is 92db sensitive (good) and goes from 30Hz to 35kHz, very good. Rear ported. $3,800 EACH.


This integrated amp looks to cool to be made in Germany, but it is.

The AudioValve Assitent 50 integrated amp, presented by Ray of Sound, is all-tube 50 wpc. Power tubes are type QQE are employed, 8 tubes – four per channel. Total tubes are: 2pcs. ECC83, 2pcs. ECC82, 8pcs. QQE 03/12, RS 1029 or CV 2798

The amplifying circuit uses 12 tubes, but the push-pull output stages are coupled to the ABR circuit for each power tube. This exclusive AudioValve feature, allows a comparison of the reference voltage value with that made by the current which appears at the terminals of a small value resistance in the return cathode circuit. Each tube, monitored by its own circuit, is made to operate at optimal value as long as it lives. A red LED diode at the base of Each tube lets you know when the tube needs to be replaced. For each channel the input stage and driver stage are served by an almost unknown tube, the double triode ECC 82. There are 5 inputs, no phono however. All functions are included in the metal remote control.

Very impressive.


Oppo BluRay players were everywhere. Several were highly modded, some even with tube circuits. The problem is that Oppo has discontinued

the current model and the new one is not as friendly to modding.

Some big news though from Frank Van Alstein. He says he has found a simple and inexpensive way to to strip the encoding from SACD's so that you can play the resultant files like any other hi-rez file in full DSD. Apparently the little Altona box does it via HDMI.

Wharfdale is a very old company that, like most of them, have been through a lot of changes. They make a huge line of speakers and some of them seem to be pretty good for not a while lot of money. The problem has always been that the people who supply them were dull, uninformed and could care less about properly promoting the brand. Going into a Wharfdale room was like going into Best Buy.

All that has changed with Walter Schofield. He's the complete opposite; sharp, articulate and knows how to sell.

Now, if we can actually get a pair of the speakers to review...


The new Usher Mini2 floorstanders for $4,995/pr.


Classic speakers showed their new T 3.4 models. They were so new when I asked maker John Wolff for the price, he told me he hadn't added up the parts yet.

All of us sat there for about 20 minutes and listened to these driven by Atma-Sphere separates,  Kuzma reference tables with a TriPlanar arm with Vandenhul Grasshopper III gold cart. John played several LP's including Dead Can Dance and several other rock/jazz recordings. Most featured low bass. The bass energy in the rather large room was visceral.

You could feel it in your chest. I thought it was a bit slow compared to the horns. Absolutely beautiful woodwork though.

John finally crunched his numbers and came up with "about $28K" for the pair.

We noticed that even at rather loud levels, the power meters on the 60 watt amps were barely moving. All that low bass and dynamic level from only about 1 watt.

He said he estimated the sensitivity at about 102, illustrating once again that with some speakers you do not need high wattage (and dollars) to get really great sound.


This report is huge!

Take me to Part 8!