The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is kind of like a favorite old friend I carve out a long weekend to visit every fall. Now in its 14th year, a trip to RMAF means camaraderie, catching up, and some terrific food. As great as all that is, though, there’s the allure of being able to audition more than 140 of the world’s finest stereo systems under one roof.
Each time I arrive at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, this enormity of that prospect hits me. I find myself standing frozen in the lobby, staring wide-eyed with a blissful grin on my face.
“John’s gone to his happy place,” my wife will say, carefully modulating her tone between a compliment, and good-natured (mostly) sarcasm.
RMAF runs Oct. 6-8. As I type this, I already can feel the anticipation building. One reason for that is RMAF promises to be firing on all cylinders this year. In 2016, the Marriott was in the midst of massive renovations. That caused some obstacles, annoyances, and grumbles, despite the hard work of the show’s staff.
“The hotel’s remodelling is complete, thankfully,” show director Marjorie Baumert told me in a telephone interview. Along with a modernized look, the facility now has an upgraded restaurant, Pint Brothers Ale, as well as The Market, a grab-and-go snack shop. RMAF also may have dodged a bullet with the postponement of the 2017 T.H.E. Show in California, another high-end event, which had been slated for Sept. 22-24. Organizers of T.H.E. Show, which was last held in early June in 2016, cited “too many shows” among other factors in making their decision a few weeks ago. The event would have been the third in the Sunshine State this year, as the new LA Audio Show took the June spot and the California Audio Show followed in July in the Bay Area. T.H.E. Show intends to pick a new date for 2018, officials said.
RMAF’s Baumert said that prior to T.H.E. Show’s rescheduling announcement, which was made on Sept. 6, she hadn’t noticed an impact from the two events being so close together. The only worry she’s had is that some coastal-based exhibitors may have been affected by the recent hurricanes. Still, her numbers look strong for this year.
“We’ll have 160 exhibit spaces with at least 143 active displays and 400 total exhibitors,” Baumert said.
One thing I personally like about RMAF is its intense focus on two-channel audio. There are no exotic car displays or wine tastings, and not a lot in the way of home theater. There’s just glorious stereo – two speakers, and a rack full of separates – surely the way God intended the hobby to be. Enhancements for this year’s show include an “Innovation Floor” where attendees will find hands-on interactive exhibits that can help them learn more about audio technology.
Returning will be the popular “Entry Level” rooms showcasing complete systems priced at $500, $1,000, $1,500, $2,500 and $5,000 (all prices in USD), as well as the CanJam headphone extravaganza.
There also will be a large marketplace area with lots of vinyl for sale, a full slate of seminars each day, and a few live musical performances. Show hours are noon – 7 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday.
This has been a busy year in the industry for new product announcements. Three scheduled for RMAF that I’m particularly looking forward to are Legacy Audio’s updated Wavelet processor, Peachtree Audio’s Decco125 Sky wireless integrated amp and Zesto Audio’s Andros Allasso step-up transformer (SUT).
The Wavelet is getting new technology that Legacy chief design engineer Bill Dudleston says is intended to reveal previously unheard layers in recordings. Peachtree’s 125 Sky, the company’s first wireless product, will not only allow streaming from Tidal, and Spotify, it also will sport a direct mode to play music from a smartphone when no WiFi is available. Finally, Zesto’s new transformer should be an interesting addition to its well-regarded line of tube gear.
And, while I’m always fascinated by equipment at the far ends of the price spectrum – state-of-the-art, and budget rigs – I find I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in rooms where the total cost is about $15,000 to $30,000. That’s still serious money, but I feel this range is becoming a cost-value sweet spot for the high end. There are more, and more systems in that ballpark which can produce sound that gets you closer to investment banker level stuff.
Why not hear for yourself? There’s still time to book a flight to Denver, and you can get more information and register here. When you get to the hotel, just try not to knock over the middle-aged guy in the Part-Time Audiophile T-shirt standing enraptured in the lobby.
Whether you can make it or not, be sure to follow the show on our website. The team will be posting often, and after the last note is played we’ll spend a few weeks sharing our usual detailed room-by-room reports.
Also, keep an eye peeled for The Occasional, our new downloadable, magazine-format offshoot. We’ll be publishing that around the time of RMAF. It’s more Part-Time Audiophile insanity – I mean insight – as well as some of the best photography you’re likely to see. Our creative director, Rafe Arnott, and the esteemed publisher, Scot Hull, have been toiling feverishly on this new offering. We can’t wait to share it with you.
– John Stancavage