Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2009, and CanJam @ RMAF – Part 1

The Rocky Mountain Audiofest 2009 was held at the Marriott Denver Tech Center.

That it happened at all may be the most newsworthy observation. Historically the high-end audiophile world was one thing, and the world of headphone enthusiasm was quite another. But at this year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, that changed.

In an effort to bring audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts together in a powerful way, Jude Mansilla and John Purtill met with the RMAF advisory board earlier this year to bring to fruition one of Al Stiefel's visions for the RMAF event. Quoting from the RMAF website:

"Including the headphone community in RMAF was also one of Al Stiefel’s visions, and he and Jude had corresponded in that regard, but were unable to meet before Al passed away in January. Both the RMAF staff and the advisory board were bowled over by the enthusiasm and knowledge these guys brought to the table, and it was immediately apparent that the potential for both organizations is huge!"

Well, the event is over now, and I reckon it was indeed the start of something big. I thought it would be fun for all of you who were unable to attend to get a peak at the action.


Our Sales Manager Jorge displays his mastery of the 'soft sell' and just lets you listen, waiting to answer any questions you may have. HeadRoom attended, of course. Travis Waller, HeadRoom's CEO; Jorge Cervera, our Sales Manager; Mario Maltese, our Manufacturing Manager; and Jeremy Larsen, one of our Sales Experts, manned the booth and showed off a wide range of products. We had three tables displaying everything from our low-cost BitHead USB headphone amp mounted to the lid of a netbook, to our monster big rig Wadia CD spinner feeding an Ultra Desktop Digital to Analog Converter and Balanced Ultra Desktop Headphone Amp and Sennheiser HD800s.

Jeremy points out the value of Sennheiser HD 448 headphones.

We brought mostly sealed headphones to this event as we would be in a large and noisy room. Back in the day, sealed headphones were pretty poor sounding, but these days there are some great sealed cans. We displayed many, from the small and surprisingly good sounding Sennheiser HD 228 to the lovely Ultrasone Edition 8 re-wired for balanced operation.

Mario gets a kick out of our bass demo disc, "Beat Dominator."

We remained fairly consistently busy throughout the show; most audiophiles have come to know us by now, and they search us out if they're interested. It's quite satisfying to watch the smiles grow on their faces as they hear really good headphone audio.

Dustin listens to his creation within the HeadRoom Ultra DAC.

One of the very cool visits we had at our booth was from Dustin Forman of ESS Technology Inc. He is the designer of the ESS Sabre DAC chip that we use in our Ultra Desktop DAC. After he had the chance to experience a good long listen, I took the opportunity to spend some time with him and had him explain the workings of the ESS 9008 Sabre DAC chip. Boy was that interesting! I'll be going through my notes and preparing a post soon on my meeting with Dustin.

JH Audio

Brittany (CEO/CFO) and Jerry (genius at large) Harvey wow the listeners with thier JH13.

Jerry Harvey's card titles him "inventor of awesome," and I'm afraid I'll have to heartily agree. I say 'afraid' because I just have to tell you that the JH13 is simply the most transparent and amazing audio transducer I've ever heard. We had a great meeting with the Harveys and will be working toward becoming a dealer for their line of custom in-ear headphones.

The JH13 is simply amazing! - - Photo by: Edwood

And I also got the distinct pleasure of spending an hour with Jerry asking him questions about the technology and the philosophies he uses when designing in-ear monitors. Man was that a fun discussion; you can expect a blog post soon. Until then all I can tell you for sure is the JH13 is the best audio I've ever heard, and if you're interested in custom in-ear monitors do yourself a favor and go for the JH13. Jaw-droppingly good.

Head-Direct Corp.

Fang displays his HE-5 orthodynamic headphone which will be available soon.

You just never know what Fang Bian is going to do next. Seriously, I just can't think of another manufacturer with a more eclectic mix of products. He makes possibly the world's best earbud in the Yuin PK1 and best clip-on headphone in the Yuin G1A; plus, a variety of other widgets and gizmos. This time, I was quite interested in two new products at Fang's booth: the HiFiMAN HM-801 high-resolution audio player, and the HiFiMAN HE-5 planar magnetic driver headphone. The HE-5 is an orthodynamic headphone that uses permanent magnets mounted to either side of a driver membrane that has a conductor trace on it. The magnetic field from current running through the conductor causes the membrane to be attracted/repelled by the permanent magnets, causing it to vibrate with the music signal. The sound was quite good. I will be doing a full-length review here when the product is available.

The Head-Direct HM-801 portable will play 24/96 audio files on the go!

The HiFiMAN is a high-resolution (24/96) portable player and plays music files in a number of formats. I'm usually quite wary of the quality of portable players...okay miserably skeptical...a doubting Thomas, even. But this device has all the makings of a truly extraordinary player for audiophiles using the PCM1704 DAC and OPA627 op-amp as the output filter. You may not know these part numbers, but you'll know the good sound when you hear it. We bought a unit, and will be reviewing it in depth here soon.


Andrew grins about his cool and inexpensive iM-590 in-ear headphone. It was a real pleasure to meet Andrew Houston, General Manager of Maximo Products, to congratulate him on the iMetal iM-590 in-ear headphone. These low cost in ear headphones sell for around $59 and are really surprisingly good sounding. They have a rather unusual eartip that seems to work quite well. This little headphone is also available as the iP-595 with iPod specific remote control, and as an iPhone/musicphone headset in the iP-HS5 iMetal headset. Maximo makes a variety of other relatively low-cost in-ear headphone and headset products. This category is heating up, and Andrew at Maximo is one of the folks stoking the fire. HeadRoom expects to be carrying these headphones shortly.


Michael with very good sounding 24/96 USB headphone amp prototype.

Many audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts won't be familiar with CEntrance and Michael Goodman, but they will be familiar with USB DACs from companies like Benchmark, PS Audio, Lavery, and Bel Canto. What's the connection? All the above have products that support 24/96 audio over USB, and all use the custom drivers written by and licensed from CEntrance, which are stored in the Texas Instruments TAS1020B high-resolution USB DAC chip inside. Which is cool, but cooler yet is the nifty portable 24/96 USB headphone amp they are about to release: The DAC Port. Plug in the USB cable, and it powers up and decodes high-resolution audio without any fussing around with drivers. It has its own volume control and sounded quite good. Expect to see it available in the next few months.

Ray Samuels Audio

Ray shows off his B52 balanced headphone amp with balanced Sennheiser HD-800.

Ray and I go way back. I'm sure I've met him at Head-Fi meets at least a dozen times and shared a handful of meals with him, including one at his house with his lovely family. He's passionate about audio, particularly headphones and vinyl, and manufactures pre-amps, phono-stages, and numerous home and portable headphone amps. Hey Ray! It was good to see you again, buddy!


Alexander displays the LCD-2 with Sankar standing by.

Another orthodynamic headphone appearing at RMAF in a pre-production form was the Audez'e LCD-2. This magnaplanar design has appeared in various forms around the audio world, most famously in Magnapan speakers, and are re-emerging in the headphone world with the orthodynamic moniker. I enjoyed my time listening to the LCD-2. Afterward, I spent some time talking with Alexander Rosson and Sankar Thiagasamudram about getting one to play around with. Expect a post soon about orthodynamic cans with some listening tests.

On to RMAF 2009 Part Two --------->

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