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High-end audio show dazzles the eye and ear

Hand-crafted headphones and even affordable gear take the spotlight at this show.

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Steve Guttenberg
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1 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Woo Audio WA33 headphone amplifier at RMAF

I've attended the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver for a number of years, but at last weekend's show I noticed a lot more women and more millennials checking out the sounds. High-end audio seems to be reaching a broader demographic of people at last!  

Unlike huge speakers and tube amps, headphones are popular with just about everybody. Woo Audio designs and builds all of their magnificent headphone amps in New York, and this one, the WA33, paired with the MySphere 3.1 headphones produced spectacular out of my head imaging. The full-bodied tube sound and effortless transparency took my breath away. The WA33 runs $7,999, but Woo prices start at $599 for the all-tube WA3 tube amp. 

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2 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

MySphere 3.1 headphones

These remarkable headphones have a unique design approach. The drivers are placed ahead of, not on your ears, which explains why they sound like no other headphone. The milled aluminum and stainless steel headband is lightweight and extremely comfortable. The MySphere 3.1 will be in full production early next year, with a price expected to be around $4,000.

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3 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Pro-Ject Essential III Beatles Sgt. Pepper turntable

Hardcore Beatles fans craving analog bliss may want to indulge in this groovy Pro-Ject Essential III turntable, it's $499.

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4 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Zu Audio’s Sean Casey DJs

Walk into a Zu Audio room at any audio show and you're likely to find Sean Casey spinning LPs of really cool music. 

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5 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Zu Druid VI speaker

Speaking of big speakers, the Zu Druid V has been a long-term reference for me, so I was thrilled to have ears-on time with the new Druid VI speakers. They have a warmer/fuller sound balance, and I expect to have a pair for review soon. Prices start at $9,999 a pair. Zu speakers are made in Ogden, Utah with mostly American parts. 

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6 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Audio Research Reference 750 SE amplifiers

For lovers of tube amps, this 750 watt per channel behemoth will blow your mind while it heats up your listening room! The pair of amps run a cool $66,000. 

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7 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Pro-Ject Classic SB turntable

This one really does have a classic 1980s turntable look, and I've always liked Pro-Ject turntables. The Classic SB is $1,499 including the $449 Blue Point cartridge.

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8 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

ELAC Adante tower speaker

Looking at the Adante tower ($5,000 per pair) pictured here you see three 8-inch woofers, but there's another three 6-inch drivers inside the cabinet driving each of these in lieu of bass ports. At the top of the speaker sits a concentric midrange tweeter driver. The Adant's sound was astonishing, bold and very transparent. Look for a full CNET review soon of the ELAC Adante stand mount speaker

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9 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Klipsch Heritage HP-3 headphones

Klipsch has made headphones for years, but they never really lived up to my expectations, until now. The HP-3 looks and feels right. Build quality is superb, with die-cast steel, hand-sanded and polished wood, 52mm drivers and premium-grade leathers. The price is $1,199 and I hope to get a pair for review soon. 

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10 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Tekton Double Impact speakers

The Double Impact's multi-driver array baffled audiophiles as they entered the Tekton room, but once they listened most came away impressed with the speakers clarity and finely honed imaging. Double Impacts sell for $1,800 per pair and I'll review them in the coming months.

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11 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 0/96 speakers

The Orangutan 0/96 speakers don't look like contemporary speakers, and I think that's a good thing. They're hand-crafted in Brooklyn, NY, and feature a 10-inch paper cone woofer along with a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. At Rocky Mountain, the Orangutan 0/96 speakers totally drew me into the music, and they sell for $12,000 per pair.

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12 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Clearaudio Innovation Compact turntable

For vinyl connoisseurs who insist on extracting maximum detail from their LPs, I give you the Clearaudio Innovation Compact turntable fitted with Clearaudio's very best linear tracking TT2 tonearm. The design and engineering of it are absolutely brilliant. Pricing starts at $11,000 without a cartridge.

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13 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

ZMF Atticus headphones

That's ZMF's Zach Mehrbach listening to his luscious sounding Atticus headphones ($999) that are hand-crafted in his factory. 

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14 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The Spec GMP-8000EX turntable

This is a larger than average 'table, with a 30 pound gunmetal platter that's nearly 16 inches in diameter! The sound is assured and dead quiet, the GMP-8000EX turntable is for the sophisticated and well-heeled vinyl enthusiast. The price is $24,000.

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15 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Jerry Harvey Audio Lola in-ear headphones

I've written many a review of Jerry Harvey's innovative headphones, but this one still took me by surprise, it was livelier and more vivid than his previous phone. Harvey started making in-ear headphones in 1995! The Lola is hand assembled in Orlando, Florida, and sells for $1,599.

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16 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Joseph Audio Pearl3 speaker

Jeff Joseph never fails to make great sound at audio shows, and that's not easy in cramped hotel rooms. This time, playing reel-to-reel tapes over his Pearl3 speakers the sound was relaxed and oh so natural.

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17 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Abyss Diana headphones

The Diana headphone has had a long gestation, but it's coming soon.

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18 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

MrSpeakers Ether E electrostatic headphones

I've long been a fan of this company's headphones, but the soon to be in production Ether E takes the sound to the next level in purity and naturalness. Price hasn't been finalized, but it's expected to be under $3,000. 

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19 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Wavelength Crimson USB digital converter

Wavelength's Gordon Rankin is a wizard of not only digital audio design, he's also a master craftsman with tube audio gear. A full complement of his analog and digital electronics were making the magic happen with the Vaughn speakers at the show, which was the best sound I heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this year.

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20 of 20 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Vaughn Plasma Signature speaker

This speaker has a following with the audiophile cognoscenti, and now that I heard a pair with Wavelength tube electronics I know why. The sound is hyper transparent and dynamic as hell, and yes, you can get black grilles to cover the drivers. Speaker price, $20,000 per pair, including powered subwoofers.

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