Al Stiefel, RMAF Cofounder Passes Away

Al Stiefel, 66, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, died suddenly and unexpectedly in Denver on January 27. His wife of 22 years, RMAF mainstay Marjorie Baumert, was at his side.

Al's contributions to the audiophile community were vast. He and fellow Colorado Audio Society member Ron Wellborne founded RMAF in 2004 as a labor of love. Intentionally limiting profit and charging below market rates in order to encourage participation, Al, Ron, Marjorie, Colorado Audio Society founder Art Tedeschi, and other members of the organization worked side by side to create an annual festival where music and camaraderie were foremost in everyone's mind.

"Al and I started our life together in 1987," Baumert told Stereophile. "He was an avid cyclist and enjoyed staying in shape. In our years together we traveled the world while keeping our home in Denver.

"The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest became one of Al's greatest joys. He was able to combine his many business talents with his passion to make a living in the industry. As I watched Al walk the halls in Las Vegas, I could tell that it just didn't get much better for him. Everywhere he turned there was a handshake, a pat on the back or a "Hi, Al." Nirvana."

The first RMAF in 2004, which attracted over 60 exhibitors, was capped by a live concert featuring Patricia Barber. No small feat for first-timers. When Wellborne departed after the first year to pursue other interests, Al and Majorie continued to do the heavy lifting with the assistance of Tedeschi and a host of other volunteer.

"Al was a person who could make things happen," says Tedeschi. "He was a high-energy doer, highly self-motivated. You could always count on Al to deliver on any promise he made. I say that from the heart."

Presenters and attendees returned time and time again, in ever-increasing numbers, because they loved being at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. By 2008, over 300 separate exhibitors in over 100 exhibit rooms joined almost 3500 attendees from 47 states, Puerto Rico, and 21 other countries. Al knew registration was up when he looked at the line on the Friday morning of the 2008 Show, and discovered that it stretched much farther down the hallway than ever before. Exhibit rooms were so in demand that the Marriott Tech Center reached maximum capacity, with additional exhibits and seminars scheduled at the nearby Hyatt Regency. Among the show's many highlights was a series of moderated panels on digital music, as well as ongoing seminars by John Atkinson of Stereophile and Roy Gregory of HiFi+. In another example of Al's unbounded generosity, fees charged for the panels helped fund scholarships for students at the Swallow Hill Music School in Denver.

Born in Washington, DC, Al spent most of his youth in the city playing neighborhood and school basketball. He then moved to Chicago to pursue his education. He received his electrical engineering degree from Illinois Institute of Technology and his MBA from University of Chicago.

After working at Inland Steel in Chicago in various staff and management capacities, and helping develop and implement the first computerized software system for the mining industry, Al moved to Denver in 1982. Five years later, blessed with what Baumert characterizes as "an uncanny ability to turn complex technical challenges into successful businesses," he expanded a small shop into one of the largest and most successful commercial sign shops in Denver. He eventually sold the business to pursue his true passion, audio.

In 1996, Al and Gordon Maughan founded Red Rock Audio. Their first venture was cables. "Unfortunately, this market was already cluttered with too many players," Al wrote in a history of the company. "I was surprised at the strange pricing practices, as well as the amount of misinformation being disseminated to the public."

Next, starting with the KR Audio line, Al spent a few years as a distributor of electronics from Europe. From there, he and Gordon decided to design a triode tube amplifier. Taking off from a design by Jack Strayer, they introduced the Red Rock Renaissance triode amplifier in 2005. Their 97dB-sensitive Synergy speaker debuted at RMAF 2008.

In honor of Al's passion for music and audio technology, the 2009 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest will go on as scheduled. It will be held October 2–4, 2009, directed by Marjorie with guidance from an advisory board, the Colorado Audio Society, and friends.

A memorial open house in celebration of Al's life will be held at the family home in Denver on Saturday, January 31, from 2–4 pm. Those unable to attend are asked not make telephone calls of sympathy until the office resumes operations in mid-February. Memorial gifts in honor of Al Stiefel may be made to Swallow Hill Music Association, 71 East Yale Avenue, Denver, CO 80210 or Center for Hearing & Speech & Language, 4280 Hale Parkway, Denver, CO 80220.

If there is a place in heaven for Audio Angels, Al is there now, enjoying the music and equipment he loved without need of hearing aids.