RMAF 2015 - the Party's Over, the Party's Just Begun
Asked to name his favorite rooms, Herb writes, "Bricasti/Tidal speaker room and the Gordon Rankin Wavelength/Vaughn room. And, of course, the High Water Sound/Cessaro/TW Acoustic room. And the High Fidelity Services room with the Verity Audio Parsifal speakers, Audia Flight amplification, and the TW Acoustic record player. I really enjoyed the VANA room with the new Audio Physic Avanti loudspeakers and Dr. Feickert Woodpecker turntable. I could go on . . ."
Sasha, in turn, lists, not in order of preference or quality:
2. Dynamic Sounds/VPI/Halo/Joseph Audio,
3. Audio Research/Vandersteen/AudioQuest, and
4. Von Schweikert/Constellation/YFS.
I second the one room that both Sasha and I visited, the VTL/Wilson/dCS/Nordost exhibit, and add to it Wilson/Constellation/Nordost, Voxativ, Vivid/Luxman/Mola Mola/Shunyata, Wilson/Audio Alchemy/Stromtank/Transparent, Thrax and company, and Wilson/D'Agostino/Brinkmann/dCS/AudioQuest exhibits. I seem to be the only one of our team who kept encountering the same speaker brand in room after room. I'm not complaining. I'm also aware that each of us tends to focus on our preferred playback medium, as in vinyl vs hi-res digital, and our little "/" slash lists sometimes overlook the wonderful products on display in our favored rooms that we tend to play less in our own systems.
Telling it Like it Is
Without benefit of attendance figures, which were not forthcoming four whole days after show's end, the overwhelming exhibitor consensus is that attendance at RMAF 2015 was down significantly from years past. Estimates vary, but some felt it was up to 20% lower. Friday was slow, Saturday healthy but hardly overwhelming, and Sunday proportionally as slow as at August's California Audio Show. Of course, where you exhibited, as in near the elevator or a major thoroughfare, had more than a little to do with how many people wandered in. Making the front cover of Stereophile, receiving praise in multiple show reports, having a long and honorable history, and having a heap of awards to your credit certainly helped as well.
Nonetheless, the same exhibitors who noted the drop in attendance emphasized over and over again that the quality of attendees was, from their perspective, up. People seemed far more engaged with equipment and music than in some years past. Talking over the music in total disregard of everyone present was down, and sales for many were up. While some exhibitors lamented that they saw the same crowd of white men in their 50s, 60s, and beyondnot that there's anything wrong with white boys in our 50s, 60s, and way, way beyondthe majority sang the praises of an influx of couples in which both parties were equally engaged, of single women, and of younger people.
True, many young people stuck to the huge CanJam. But, perhaps because of the proliferation of headphone amps all over the place, and the revival of vinyl, the inclination to drop the cans when at home, sit down, and listen to loudspeakers may very well be experiencing a revival. Or so it seemed to many exhibitors who watched the eagerness with which young people entered their rooms. As one wrote in response to my email query, "It was really cute to see young lovers engaging in the hobby together. There's something happening in the world and it parallels what I'm seeing in my store. We have a new generation that is asking for vinyl. Having a stereo is cool again."
A few other vital insights from exhibitors merit sharing:
"RMAF has become an important industry meeting place. We saw a number of industry partners as well as vendors at the show. For us, RMAF is very effective and productive from this standpoint. The B-to-B side of the show is a very important aspect that might not be as visible to you and your readers, but one worth noting."
"RMAF is still the best consumer showlots of major players exhibit herebut my gut instinct tells me T.H.E. SHOW in Irvine, CA may be gaining some traction."
"The attendees were very enthusiastic and happy, and the show's overall vibe was outstandingfun, relaxed, welcoming. I spoke to two young women from the Denver Post who were fascinated by digital-to-analog converters! I also chatted with about a dozen other people in their 20s who all seemed to exhibit a genuine interest in hi-fi, along with far greater insight than I owned at their age."
"In 2009 we tried the RMAF, and found it to have the enthusiasm and optimism than I remembered from the CES at the Sahara. Marjorie [Baumert], the organizer, is a joy to work with, the demonstration rooms are a reasonable size, price and quality, the Marriott staff are responsive and very helpful, accommodation near the Marriott is plentiful, the show's official shipper is actually helpful, getting freight in and out of the hotel is quick and easy, and you don't have to put up with the terrible traffic that seemed to be strangling Vegas. What's not to like? We have done every RMAF since 2009, are very happy with it and hope it will continue."
"Sunday afternoon, I had 2025 people who wouldn't leave and stayed until I pulled the plug. Once off, I got a standing ovation."
Frankly, I'm relieved to read these comments. Due in no small part to the proliferation of audio shows, limited resources on the part of exhibitors, and the ability of both T.H.E. Show Newport Beach and AXPONA Chicago to draw increasingly large crowds, exhibitor participation at RMAF declined some this year. As someone who loves this show, I've been concerned that T.H.E. Show Newport Beach/Irvine and AXPONA Chicago, plus the increased importance of Munich High End, will continue to siphon off exhibitors and potential out-of-town visitors, and eventually cause RMAF to whither and die.
Such a strong show of support from exhibitors, however, suggests that RMAF will trim a bit to its core constituencythe hi-end audio show equivalent of a market correctionand remain strong. In fact, as the SoCal show grows, more and more audiophiles may find RMAF a kinder, gentler, and friendlier alternative. And the imminent Marriott renovations, combined with a hopeful return to the Hyatt as an alternate venue for exhibitors wanting more big spaces than the Marriott can provide, will likely breathe new life into RMAF.
The New There were some interesting innovations at RMAF this year. One was the appearance of show-sponsored budget rooms. Alas, because they were peopled by folks not necessarily into hi-fi, the presentations were not up to snuff. More coaching is required next year, and more effort devoted to visuals. Budget does not have to look impoverished.
The First Annual RMAF HiFi Press Awards were a good start, but far more work is needed to refine the concept. Truth be told, the idea was generated at the May Munich show in discussion with a single magazine, and other publications were not solicited for feedback before polling began. You never saw a story previewing the awards in Stereophile because we didn't know any of the details, let alone whether we'd be invited to participate, until way late in the game.
Not only were categories inconsistent, but the nominations were also sometimes all over the place. Perhaps because a number of the publications invited to participate concentrate almost exclusively on lower-priced gear, and some as much if not more on video as/than on audio, the dCS Vivaldi ended up competing with the Oppo BDP-105, and the Wyred 4 Sound mAMP with the Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblock! Wild, absolutely wild. Is the Devialet Expert 200 really better than the Burmester 101, Jeff Rowland Continuum S2, and Musical Fidelity M6si? I'm not even sure that some of the products nominated qualified as being released during the past year, or even in 2014.
For starters, getting consensus as to what categories to consider, and having divisions by price, would make a whole lot of sense. If you're going to vote on interconnects, power cables, and digital cables, for example, why not speaker cables? If you've got one speaker that costs $1500/pair and another that costs 20 times more, and both are exceptional in their price range, wouldn't we benefit from separate price categories? That way, people with limited money to spend on audio products as well as those with deep pockets end up winners, as do companies that design and build to different price points.
When all is said and done, a helluva lot of people in the industry love RMAF and are willing to put their money behind it. Many find it a preferred place for exhibition, sales, and industry networking. And, let's face it, the fact that the show is run by Marjorie Baumert, whose generous heart and compassion for others continually touches so many of us, is a gift to treasure. Witness the Al Stiefel room, the T-shirts whose sales benefit our community, the donation of the three "affordable" rooms, the warmest industry/press welcoming party on the planet, and the industry members willing to sponsor entertainment because they want the show to continue to be a place that celebrates music first and foremost.
Without question, Herb, Sasha, and John join me in sincerely applauding the efforts of Marjorie; her staff, relatives, and friends; the many volunteers of the Colorado Audio Society; and all the manufacturers, distributors and vendors who did their darndest to put their best foot forward at the best RMAF they knew to create. Even as we contributors to Stereophile's show report look forward to the time when we can leave our keyboards behind and listen to entire tracks, sides, and albums of music without interruption, we cherish those moments in Denver when even short snippets of music touched our souls and thrilled us to the core.
May RMAF survive and thrive. On with the show, and onward to RMAF 2016.