RMAF 2016: An Assessment
All good things must come to an end. Even as these men were busy taking down signs from doors and walls on every single floor of Marriott Denver Tech Center's lobby and newly-remodeled 11th-floor tower
the Astell & Kern folks joined others who were packing and transporting gear from the tent erected for the biggest CanJam at a US show.
While Rob Robinson and crew were packing up all the stuff they used for their Channel D/Joseph Audio/Classic Album Sundays and personal presentations in the portable Pod that show organizer Marjorie Baumert rented to replace space lost to ongoing renovation, some of us were pausing long enough to try to figure out just how well RMAF 2016 had gone. On which score, it is worthwhile noting that the Pod I entered seems to have been the only Pod that exhibitors elected to use.
I emailed Marjorie for attendance figures. When I received no response, I called both her numbers and left voicemail messages. Then I wrote again. Now, a full five days after show's close, I have heard nothing.
My sense is that, undoubtedly due in part to lack of space and low expectations, both of which resulted from the Marriott's remodeling being so behind schedule, turnout was down. To validate that observation, I turned to my colleagues for their thoughts. Thus hath John Atkinson opined, "I thought at first that traffic seemed good on Friday. But if you consider that there was around half the real estate compared to previous years, and that the tower corridors didn't seem busier than in previous years, that means attendance was down."
Of course, there were other factors at work here. The consistently shrinking (Northern) California Audio Show may have died with neither a bang nor a whimper, but Southern California's increasingly successful T.H.E. Show Newportunquestionably the largest high-end audio show in North America in 2016has just morphed into two different, hotly competing shows. The new one, the Los Angeles Audio Show [LAAS], has moved to the Sheraton Gateway next to LAX. Having taken over T.H.E. Show's dates in the beginning of June, it has garnered the support of Bob Levi and the huge Los Angeles Orange County Audio Society.
Meanwhile, the Southern California installment of T.H.E. Show, now under new leadership due to the death of founder Richard Beers, has shifted to Hotel Anaheim, and will open the third weekend of September, just two weeks before the start of RMAF 2017. That, my friends, means it's in direct competition with RMAF, which is not a good thing. And given that Marjorie is one of theno, THE most-loved show organizer in the United States, as well as an extremely generous and caring woman who has garnered huge support out of her devotion to the industry, something has got to give.
Then there are the additional issues that have plagued RMAF since Day One. In the beginning, RMAF had its roots in the DIY movement. While it has certainly shifted in a major way toward established brands, this year saw an unusual number of speaker and other start-up companies, some of which had a distinct DIY feel. The show also welcomed any number of non-US companies, some of which took the place of familiar names. Ostensibly, those major exhibitors only held back in 2016, awaiting suitable demo space in 2017. But if RMAF remains in the Marriott, and the long-hoped-for large rooms that companies fight for do not materialize, or if there is major dissatisfaction with the now-shrunken demo space in standard size rooms, what will happen?
In my blogs, and in a comment posted by Bill Leebens of PS Audio (and the entire audio industry past present and well into the future), the issue of electrical current has also been raised. I simply do not know if all other hotels are also plagued by drained electrical systems that output 107 volts max under stress and THD of 8%. This may, in fact, be a universal phenomenon. What it means, for attendees and exhibitors alike, is the fact that the sound of some equipment is even more sabotaged by these problems. It also means that, whatever a consumer likes at show, they would be wise to audition again in their own listening setup before making a firm commitment. And that calls for working with a reputable dealer rather than buying used, without audition, off the web. Equally essential is checking out John Atkinson's invaluable measurements and assessments of what works best with what.
The other major issue haunting RMAF concerns attendance. Part of the show's charm is that it is never so mobbed that you can't breathe. People move slower in Denver than they do in L.A., and they are also less clubby and less high-pressure. It makes for a truly lovely feel, which has been nurtured by Marjorie's warmth and encouragement of community. It is this energy that has garnered such support amongst members of the Colorado Audio Society, who have in turn contributed immeasurably to RMAF's success and vibe. But even in the best of years, attendees have never turned out in numbers equal to T.H.E. Show 2016. Given how many people were attracted to both AXPONA and T.H.E. Show this spring, will lower attendance in Denver ultimately tempt exhibitors to switch their support?
Finally, there is the question of the legitimacy of the annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest International HiFi Awards. While the awards are ultimately a very good thing, and the eminently capable, brighter than hell, and wallflower antithesis Roy Gregory has done much to bring them along, there are still lingering issues which you can read about here. These must be addressed in the next year.
Some may damn me for raising such issues. But the truth of the matter is, anyone with half a brain who is involved in this business is asking these questions. It is the job of a vital press to articulate concerns and offer critical commentary, rather than generate ad copy. What issues remain unspoken cannot be adequately addressed, let alone changed.
In all my years covering shows, I have met exactly one person who has said something negative about Marjorie, and I have intentionally blanked out their name. So many of us love her and want her to do well. We also love this show. Only time will tell what 2017 will bring.
Let's begin with the poet amongst us, he of the Flights of Fantasy that inevitably find us frolicking in fields of fertile fancies and heavenly hyperbole, Herb Reichert. The show had hardly ended when Herb, who had visited the Wavelength/Vaughn room after its shipping-related equipment problems had been successfully resolved, offered the following:
"I thought Vaughn's Plasma Signature loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) with their new bamboo cabinets, revised plasma tweeter, and eight Fostex midrange drivers combined to create a most scintillatingbetter than electrostaticsmagic realism. Sourced and powered by Gordon Rankin's spectacular electronics, this system was easily the best sound of the showmaybe the best sound of ANY showever!
"My second selection is not only for best sound: It includes best people, best amp, best records, best attitudebest of everything! I declare Dennis Fraker and Serious Stereo the winner in all these categories! Thank you allBravo! Brava! And amen."
For my part, my faves of the lower-, mid-, and high-priced rooms I visited are unmissable. That said, if you want to know what I favored, what John Atkinson favored, and what our fabulously articulate show debutante, Jana Dagdagan, liked and didn't like, please check out our blogs. (Herb's, too: he liked a lot!) For headphones, please see Tyll Hertsens' at InnerFidelity.com; for analog, Michael Fremer's at AnalogPlanet.com and in future issues of Stereophile; and, for computer audio/digital, Michael Lavorgna's equally informed and dedicated online treasure trove, AudioStream.com.
Now that your homework has been assigned, mine is done. It's pouring like cats and dogs in the Pacific Northwest, and the three rabid terrorers need to eat before conducting their business in the great outdoors. The infamous Guy Luvberg is now quashing his hunger by ripping into one of the business cards I acquired at RMAF. Raingear, slosh, and fir needles for days, here we come.
Have a good one, folks. Despite what anyone may say, only younot your hairdresser or your favored candidate for office or we crazed bloggerscan make the final call on what can and will bring great sound your way. We can help point the way. But no one can do it better than you.