The Richness of RMAF 2009

As the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest draws to a close at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, what is now the largest annual audio show in the USA could boast an attendance of 3700, 200 more than last year. Prominent among attendees from 49 states and overseas was a notable increase in the number of under-40 attendees. No doubt they were drawn by the rise of audiophile computer-audio playback, the resurgence of vinyl, and the large exhibit hall populated by the Head-Fi headphone community. The younger attendees included an influx of students, who responded to RMAF’s concentrated outreach to local colleges.

Nor were all the new attendees men. Although the hi-end remains male-dominated, far more women than ever before braved the testosterone-laden environment to discover the best the High End has to offer. Venturing into the halls, they discovered over 150 exhibit rooms packed with products from at least 479 companies.

This year, women were the main driving force behind the show. After the sudden death of show co-founder Al Stiefel on January 27, his wife, Marjorie Baumert, vowed to continue Al’s service to the audiophile community. Assuming directorship, she assembled a dedicated team headed by Assistant Director Marcie Miller. Marjorie also called upon friends, family members, and the Colorado Audiophile Society to assist her in her task. That she not only persevered through her grief, but also managed to put together the finest show RMAF has ever produced, is a credit to the depth of her commitment and love.

After the show, Marjorie expressed her thanks, not only to everyone mentioned above, but also to those who extended “kind words and many hugs.” I, for one, will never forget the night before the show opened, when Marjorie broke down in the arms of Stereophile’s Laura LoVecchio, then rallied to lead a touching toast to her wonderful late husband.

“Over the past five years,” says Marjorie, “the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest has grown from a small regional show to a driving force in the audio industry, and seems poised to remain so, if comments from exhibitors are any indication. If you haven't had a chance to attend in the past, the dates for the 2010 show are October 15–17, 2010. Hope to see you there!”

After the show closed, I happened upon the Auraliti display. Their handout includes a list of delicious sources of high-resolution content. How heartening to discover a host of new products that can play high resolution discs and downloads from Reference Recordings, HD Tracks, Gimell (The Tallis Scholars), M•A Recordings, Chesky Records, 2L, Society of Sound, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Linn Records (including Yarlung Records), Naim, and Moonalice. By RMAF 2010, I expect the list of hi-rez distributors will be far longer, if no more richer than it already is.

This year, two of Stereophile's writers, editor John Atkinson and columnist/reviewer Michael Fremer, were involved in seven of the 21 free seminars presented over the course of three days. JA performed triple duty, not only leading four seminars on the "Loudness Wars" and moderating an expert-filled panel on Computer Audio, but also blogging a number of rooms, and editing and posting all the blogs. To my regret, John's work was made more complex by the sudden death of my trusted Canon digital camera, necessitating an emergency run to Best Buy.

For my part, I realized that Superman might have preferred to cozy up to kryptonite rather than attempt to write a host of blog entries while visiting 150 exhibits, a number of seminars, the Head-Fi exhibit area, and a special Martini tribute to Stereophile's late founder, J. Gordon Holt. Sustained by John's support, several extremely healthy vegetable-rich yummy lunch buffets in the hotel's Italian restaurant by the Tower elevators, and the good will of manufacturers and reps, I went to work.

Surprisingly, I encountered the majority of my "Best of Show" rooms on the first day of the show. That's the day when exhibitors usually excuse their equipment, explaining that it has not totally settled in. Given how great so many of those rooms sounded, I can't imagine how they sounded on Sunday, after all those high-end electrons had found their groove.

Inevitably, I fell far short of entering 150 rooms. The camera fiasco, a temporary power outage and fire alarm drama on Saturday afternoon, and that damned need for sleep got in the way. Worst of all, I enjoyed the sound in so many rooms that I found it difficult to play slam, bam, thank you ma'am. To all the valued manufacturers, reps, publicists, and designers whose achievements I missed, I express my sincerest regrets.

What I don't regret is the opportunity to once again immerse myself in the passion and love for music that brings us together. To everyone who attended RMAF 2009 with open ears, and who responded to Marjorie's dedication with open hearts, I raise the metaphorical glass.

After dinner with JA at the Show's end, we happened upon another party of RMAF co-conspirators. I snapped a group photo. Pictured, from left to right, are Jeff Joseph (Joseph Audio), Laura LoVecchio (Stereophile ad sales), David Solomon (Peachtree Audio), Roy Gregory (Nordost, former editor HiFi+, aka Louise's husband), John Atkinson, Bea Lam (VTL), Luke Manley (aka Bea's husband), and Louise Ford (Nordost-in-waiting).

RMAF 2009 was a truly great show. And the Marriott staff was, as usual, uniformly gracious, responsive and accommodating. Thanks to one and all. Hope to see you in person next year.

Stephen Scharf's picture

I thought the show was excellent, it was my first-ever audio, but a great one to go to. The atmosphere was very laid-back and relaxed and on Sunday, reasonably quiet. I met some really nice people, including some industry folks: Jim Spainhour and David Soloman of Signal Path Intl, Dan Meinwald of EAR, James D at the Intuitive room (who flipped over my Melody Gardot CD), and Ray Kimber. What I was most impressed with was the number of exhibitors, who at the end of the day, were kicked back in their rooms, shoes off, and just listening to music for the joy of it.

Stephen Scharf's picture

BTW, while the rest of actually had time to think, stop and relax a few moments at RMAF, Jason was always hard at work: auditioning gear, listening to music, doing interviews, photographing exhibits and writing this blog. Everytime time I saw Jason this weekend he was rushing off to listen to another exhibitor's room, working tirelessly.Many thanks Jason, for all your hard work and for all the reports from RMAF.

Lee Scoggins's picture

Another great show. Fremer always puts on a good show and I really enjoyed John's standing room only discussion on music compression in the Kimber suite.I am always struck by how friendly the high end audio community is and how different it is from the web stereotypes of same. In this show, I actually heard lots of great music and less female vocal audiophile spectaculars.Roy Gregory and Steve Elford's talk on the new Acuity measurements were fascinating. I hope we get an in-depth report from Stereophile.

Gordon Meltzer's picture

It would be very nice to have the photo captioned: who's there!