Part Two: If you are as bored as I am over your usual run-of-the-mill vertical baffle MDF boxes with drivers stuffed into them, Gingko Audio's Vinh Vu and Norm Ginsberg were showcasing a rather innovative loudspeaker called the Tubulous ($1,950/pr introductory pricing). Resembling a pair of Sonotubes one laid across the other, each horizontal tube houses three 6.5" drivers one behind the other with the tweeter mounted externally. Both the vertical and horizontal tubes rotate on their axis, thus allowing users to easily customize the sound. Want a big, diffuse soundstage? Swivel the upright tube so that the drivers point further apart and swivel the horizontal one so that the tweeters are closer to the sidewalls. You hanker for a tight, well-defined sonic picture? Point the drivers right at you with the tweeters mounted on the inside. Clever, yes, but it would be for naught if the Tubies sucked. I can assure you they most certainly did not. They were surprising punchy, dynamic and imaged like demons. Hey, and they're only two grand. Gingko also supplies speaker cable identical to the internal hookup wire. The Jeff Rowland Concerto with ICEpower output and switch-mode power supply also saw action with the Tubulous as did the Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One PLC.

You want balls? Then Anthony Gallo is your man. Hmmm, that didn't come out quite right. Also known for unconventional speaker designs, Gallo Acoustics demoed their familiar eyeballs-on-a-stand with active sub. Driving them was the ridiculously inexpensive yet super sounding Onix/Melody SP-3 valve integrated with the Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player starting off the chain. Some visitors were disappointed that the Ref 3s were on only static display, however I really dug Anthony's smaller speakers and thought this room was an excellent example of a smaller, affordable yet killer system: A perfect rig for a small room! And kudos to Anthony for daring to show off his entry-level stuff when shows tend to have manufacturers roll out their big guns which most showgoers could never afford...

One of my fave rooms was the Omega/Red Wine/Hudson Audio exhibit. With a few exceptions, I don't think anyone else at the show offered as much bang for the buck as did Louis Chochos (Omega), Vinnie Rossi (Red Wine) and Tom Hills (Hudson). Louis demoed his funky 96dB 8" hemp single driver HempTone 8 loudspeaker ($1,299), 95dB Aperiodic 8s ($1,099) and the new M5 ($799). Driving the various Omegas was Vinnie's Lotus preamp ($799) and amp ($1,199), the latter based on a heavily modified Tripath board. Digital sources were a modded iPod playing Apple Lossless and a modded Slim Devices Squeeze Box 2 networked to a PC. All wiring was Tom's attractively priced Audiopath cable. The entire system including Eurolab turntable was completed battery powered. That's one way to beat AC nasties. Until this show I thought Tom was primarily in the cable business. However, under his Hudson Audio Imports flag, Tom also distributes Moerch tonearms, Eurolabs and Scheu turntables and the German FJ line of loudspeakers about which I've heard good things. Unfortunately, they were not at the show. Hey Tom, we gotta talk.

Highwater Sound's Jeff Catalano demoed an expensive yet killer system featuring the Hørning Perikles speakers, Tron preamp/ amp combo with the Reimyo CD player handling digital. Analog playback featured the TW Accustic turntable with the lovely DaVinci tonearm. Like at HE2005, Jeff's carefully setup system was a highlight for me. The Perikles is a speaker that continues to impress every time I hear it. I spent at least an hour talking with Jeff early Saturday morning. I don't think we spoke about equipment at all. Our conversation was entirely devoted to music. We discussed the recorded output of the late conductor Carlos Kleiber, especially his wonderful Tristan and Beethoven 5th, the music of Steve Reich, Stravinsky, Mahler and Sonic Youth to name but a few. Jeff and I had a few discs to recommend to each other. Why not share them with you?

Stravinsky/Bach [ECM 1855]
Bartok - Piano Concertos [DG 477 5330]
Biber - The Rosary Sonatas [HMU 907321.22]
Mahler - Lieder [DG 477 5329]
Credo [DG 474 868-2]
Silvestrov – Metamusik, Postludium [ECM 1790]
Wagner – Tristan und Isolde [DG 477 5355]
Beethoven – Symphonies 5 &7 [DG 447 400-2]

Audiomagic's Jerry Ramsey showed off his line of Stealth power conditioners in updated livery including a new three- duplex outlet version for smaller systems. Always interested in tweaks, Jerry showed me a new product he is distributing called the Quantum Physics Noise Disrupter. Apparently it functions similar to the Shakti Stone i.e. as a sink to absorb electronic interference and dissipate it as heat. However, Jerry believes his Noise Disrupter is better. I couldn't verify that but it was easy to note the effects when they were placed on and removed from components during several A/B/A comparisons. I have no idea how this thing works but I intend to follow up with a formal review in the near future. Much to the chagrin of GMA's Roy Johnson, Jerry somehow coaxed better sound from the GMA Continuum 3s than Roy did in his own room. At least until Roy replaced his cables with Jerry's stuff. Audiomagic indeed.

Landes Imports featured the fantabulous Ars Aures Sensorial speakers with the equally excellent Art Audio Carissa monos, Gill Audio Elise DAC and Gill Audio Alana preamp, much as they did at HE2005 earlier this year. Like at the NY show, these speakers and amps were an awesome combo, here leashed together via Dynamic Design cables. I hear the boss is doing the honors on the Sensorial: lucky stiff. On static display were the stand-mounted Do, the F1 floorstanders as well as Art Audio's gorgeous Adagio monoblocks. Is that a World Power PowerWing PLC I see behind the rack? They were everywhere at RMAF.

Art Audio's Joe Fratus had his own room featuring Cabasse speakers -- whose people were a no-show due to hurricane Rita -- the Carissa Signature amp in stereo configuration, Gill Alana preamp, Einstein CDP, Crystal Cables and the ubiquitous Power Wing PLC. I had a brief chat with Joe which, if you have ever spoken with him, is nearly impossible. Joe is one of the most colorful people in audio as well as one of the most generous. I could have listened to him for hours; however, I had to rush off for a dinner date. Art Audio is aptly named. Not only do they convey the art in music but also in their appearance as well. I have yet to hear Joe's gear sound anything less than wonderful.

In the Morningstar Audio Imports room, Bill O'Connell showed off his exceedingly wallet-friendly Eastern Electric line. Do not make the mistake of passing on this brand because of the modest pricing. I own a Minimax CD player and it performs far above what its $1,099 price suggests. For example, I prefer it to the considerably more expensive Rega Jupiter and Cairn Fog v2.0. Plus, it's got tubes! On active duty was the M520 integrated amp ($1,799), the aforementioned Minimax CD player, the Minimax Phonostage reviewed by our own John Potis ($1,499), a VPI Super Scoutmaster turntable, Shelter 901 cartridge, BPT power conditioning and Vivaldi Audio Lowther Horn Speakers. The Vivaldi features two Lowther EX3 drivers combined with a Visaton TL16h horn tweeter and is based on the Lowther Academy bicor rear and top-firing speakers [review with Jules Coleman to follow]. Bill also had a killer headphone setup with his Minimax CD player and the Audio-Technica ATH-W1000 cans that Srajan enthused over last year.

Audiopax featured their new L350 loudspeaker ($3,490/pr), Model 5 preamp ($4,990), Model 98 amp ($8,990) and MSB CD player. A small, simple setup that worked well in a tiny room.

Blue Light Audio demoed a mind-blowing (and wallet-busting) system featuring the Von Schweikert VR9 SE speakers, darTZeel preamp, darTZeel amps, Meitner Dac, Jena Labs cables and Grand Prix Audio's Monaco rack. Big, clean, powerful and tonally sumptuous. Wow. I hear Mike Malinowksi will do the honors on the new darTZeel preamp. Lucky stiff #2.

Another expensive yet awesome sounding room was Alpen Audio featuring the Avantgarde Duos, Thor electronics, Oracle CD player, Grand Prix Audio racks, Audiomagic PLC and Audience Au24 and powerChord cabling. The speed, micro dynamics, clarity and sheer palpable presence conveyed by this system was awesome. This might have been the best of the show. It's hard to say as I didn't get to hear every room.

Colorado Audiophile Sound & Design featured two systems. One showcased Audio Physic's new Scorpio floorstander ($6,500) along with a Berendsen CDP, Conrad Johnson's new CT 5 preamp ($7,500), Premier 350 solid-state amp ($8,500), and the oh-so-sweet MV60. The other consisted of the DeVore Gibbon Super 8 loudspeaker ($4,000), Berendsen CDP, STA 150 power amp, and the diminutive yet beautiful Shindo Labs Montille power amp ($3,895) and Aurieges preamp ($3,495). Unfortunately, the Shindo stuff was on silent display yet the Super 8s sounded wonderful via the Berendsen solid-state gear. I hung around here for a spell, enough to easily prefer the Super 8s over the Audio Physic Scorpio in this room. My opinion of John DeVore's speakers continues to grow each time I hear them. The Super 8 takes much of the technology of the more expensive flagship Silverback and squeezes it into a smaller, less expensive enclosure. Having heard both speakers, I can tell you that the Super 8 comes awfully close.

Walker Audio and Red Rock Audio teamed up to deliver a kick-ass system built around the Verity Audio Sarastro speakers ($35,000/pr), Red Rock's Renaissance Monos ($38,750/pr) and Walker's Proscenium Gold table ($35,000), Reference Phono amp ($12,500), Reference Line Stage ($12,500), Velocitor Power Line Enhancer ($2,995) and Silent Source cabling. Whew! The LP of Ry Cooder's Paris, Texas soundtrack sounded simply wonderful in this system. Lloyd Walker forced me at gun-point to try his new Ultra Vivid disc enhancer. Actually he just asked and being the audio slut that I am, promptly purchased a box of the goo. I can't say for certain Ultra Vivid is better than Audience's Illuminator 2 treatment, which I currently use. However, both work and are clearly better than playing discs sans goo.

AAudio Imports displayed the Accustic Arts Drive 1 transport ($5,500), Dac 1 Mk 3 ($5,700), Einstein preamp ($13,850) and power amp ($9,980) driving a pair of tiny yet big sounding Acapella Fidelio 2 speakers ($6,800). Power conditioning, cabling and stands were via Isoclean, Acapella and Symposium.

The Cain & Cain room majored on jump and presence with their beautifully finished single-horn Ben speakers ($5,500) and Bailey subs ($1,500). Amplification was provided by a Wavac 811 via an AudioTropic Moebius linestage, Teres turntable and a PC handled digital music. Notice the 22-º arrangement of the speakers? If you are having difficulties with your current setup, try moving your speakers to a 22-degree orientation. It works. 22 is the new 69.

Zu's Sean Casey and Adam Decaria delivered the goods with their Druid Mk4 ($2,800/pr) speakers. In this room as well as Song Audio's system, these floorstanders were indeed impressive. What surprised me was how smooth they were without any trace of the shoutiness I usually hear in single-driver designs. Tactile, present and alive were the traits that stood out for me. Driving the Druids were either the Audiopax Model 88 monos or the Song Audio SA-300 MB amps driven by Song's SA-1 preamp. Silver discs were spun by a Consonance Droplet CDP. It was a pleasure talking to Sean and Adam. They are among the most laid- back and approachable guys in audio I've met to date. They are around my age too so maybe that helped. Our taste in music was similar as was our interest in Canadian bands. I mentioned three discs that Sean wasn't aware of. I've included them here for anyone interested in a trio of superlative indie/alternative recordings:

Leslie Feist - Let it Die [A&C 007]
Arcade Fire - Funeral [Merge 225]
Broken Social Scene - You Forgot it in People [A&C 001]

Not content with the status quo, Zu has very definite and interesting plans to reach a wider audience. As I mentioned earlier, this was a common theme with the folks at Green Mountain Audio and Art Audio's Joe Fratus. Zu's Sean and Adam realize that for a variety of reasons, the traditional dealer network has all but collapsed in North America and that High End Audio has more or less failed to attract new blood. Too many firms, dealers and magazines seem content to continuously sell their wares to the same people over and over. That has to change if this industry is to survive. I think a show like RMAF is a good first step. And I see firms such as Zu as the New Wave in audio.

I'll finish with a further trio of music recommendations, in this case hybrid SACDs courtesy of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs' Colie Brice:

Ravel - Daphnis et Chloe, Ma Mere l'Oye, Valses nobles et sentimentales [MFSL UDSACD 4008]
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on Bald Mountain, Khovanshchina [MFSL UDSACD 4004]
Smetana - Ma Vlast [MFSL UDSACD 4006]

All three feature excellent transfers of Quadraphonic recordings made in the mid 70s on the Vox label. I have no idea how they sound in multichannel but on two channels, these recordings are superb, sonically and interpretively. Even if you have multiple recordings of these orchestral workhorses, these gold disks are indeed worth adding to your collection. I've got plenty of MSFL CDs from before their reorganization and they are miles beyond their bog standard silver counterparts. It's great to see these guys back in business.

All in all, this was a terrific show and the best I've attended to date. While consumer attendance wasn't exactly overwhelming, I expect RMAF and smaller, independent shows like it will eventually attract far more interest in the coming years. Well done. [The final tally from Al Stiefel is in: 113 exhibit rooms, visitor attendance up by 80% over last year - Ed.]