Rocky Mountain Audio Fest: Bigger than Ever

Next weekend's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) is bigger than ever. Scheduled to be held October 15–17 in the Denver Marriott Tech Center, the seventh annual show has expanded from last year's 145 display rooms to a record 174. Add in silent displays in hallways, and there were products in every price range from a good 400 companies (up from 350 in 2009). Now occupying six floors in the Marriott Tower (including the mezzanine) and two in the Atrium, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest has well earned its reputation as the largest consumer-audio and home-entertainment show in the US since the demise of the Stereophile Shows.

"I sold the last hotel room last week," RMAF producer Marjorie Baumert proclaimed by phone. "Even the handicapped rooms, which are four feet less due to the expanded size of their bathrooms, have been sold. We've also maxed out on large rooms and showrooms. Because there are no bigger hotels that will remove the furniture, and I certainly don't want to switch to the less personal environment at the Convention Center, our only way to expand is by engaging a second hotel for some of the larger exhibits."

Between exhibitors and public registrants, people from at least 29 countries are flocking to RMAF this year. There will even be a welcoming and orientation table for first-time attendees. With considerably more attendees from afar preregistered, the show looks to break last year's attendance record of 3700. (RMAF has sold out its guest-room blocks for the Denver Marriott Tech Center and Hilton Garden Inn; some guest rooms remain available at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tech Center.)

Though an entire floor of exhibits has been added, with the inevitable result of spreading exhibitors and attendees over a larger area, RMAF will likely retain the same comfortable, relaxed feel that has left potential exhibitors begging to share in the experience. RMAF's reputation as a "special" show is so widespread that even mainstream companies such as Sony are jetting to the Mile High City to strut their stuff.

To ensure that everything runs smoothly, the Marriott's electrician is double-checking the power supply. This is one hotel, at least, that understands that when the voltage drops, the sound suffers. RMAF even makes it possible for exhibitors to receive extra voltage for their rooms, as long as they fill out request forms beforehand. If only every show followed RMAF's lead.

Special Events at RMAF

Once again, is organizing a CanJam to showcase headphone amps, computer audio, headphones, and in-ear monitors. Major companies include Sennheiser, HeadRoom, Head-Direct, Moon Audio, and three major makers of custom in-ear 'phones: Westone, JH Audio, and Ultimate Ears. The event, to be held in the large Rocky Mountain Event Center, will feature 14 or 15 exhibits, with lots of space in between.

Seminars—in themselves worth far more than the price of admission to RMAF—are scheduled for the Aspen Ampitheatre and Evergreen Ballroom E. John Atkinson will host a session on "LP Ripping" with Pure Vinyl's Rob Robinson, and will moderate a panel on "Advances in Computer Audio" that will include key players from XMOS, Wavelength Audio, Bel Canto Design, and Channel D.

Another potent voice, Harry Pearson, founder of The Abso!ute Sound, will twice hold forth on "The Truth About Audio Reviewing." Seminars will be devoted to subjects from "High-End Digital on a Budget" to "Analog Magnetic Tape." The final seminar on Sunday afternoon, hosted by Chris Connaker of Computer Audiophile, will be a free-for-all Q&A on computer audio and anything else attendees wish to discuss.

In addition to an Aspen Ampitheater panel, "High Resolution from the Masters," with Prof. Keith O. Johnson of Reference Recordings, The Audio Salon and Marutani Consulting will present a series of seminars in Tower Room 9022. Johnson, Chris Connaker, mastering engineers Paul Stubblebine, Sangwook "Sunny" Nam, and Michael Romanowski, and reps from Magico and Sooloos will discuss cutting-edge research into the archiving of vinyl to digital, alternative audiophile formats, high-resolution recordings, and loudspeaker and music-server design. The brain power in that one room alone could short-circuit the entire hotel.

As the surviving partner of Al Stiefel, who founded RMAF with the indispensible support of the Colorado Audio Society, Marjorie Baumert is especially aware of the needs of spouses who attend the show. Once again she has organized an outing for not-quite-audiophile partners and spouses. As an alternative to shopping till dropping, this year's trip is to Golden, the city best known as the home of Coors Brewery. Perhaps attendees will drop for reasons other than shopping . . .

Surviving and Thriving

Baumert acknowledged that when new regional shows, such as Axpona and the California Audio Show, materialized in 2010, and T.H.E. Show and Son et Image scheduled new shows in Los Angeles and Toronto in 2011, she began to get nervous that people might not make the annual pilgrimage to Denver, and even considered dropping RMAF and working for other presenters. Instead, she has signed a contract with the Marriott through 2013.

"I learned that all the exhibitors love Rocky Mountain so much that they intend to continue coming," she says. "I've had a lot of support because of what Al and I accomplished in the past, and I work very hard at making sure RMAF is a pleasant experience. If you treat people fairly, it all works out."

John Atkinson, Stephen Mejias, and I will attend the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where we will blog our brains out. Our comprehensive coverage will be posted October 15–19.