This was my first time attending the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest which is now in its twelfth year. Like CES, it is truly an international show with exhibitors coming from all over the world to showcase their two-channel audio products. This year’s show seemed well attended with enthusiastic attendees exploring all the exhibits scattered throughout the Denver Marriott Tech Center. Like the Venetian at CES, the Marriott also suffered from long lines and wait times for the elevators. Taking the stairs proved to be an efficient way to get around the show.
This year’s show had something for everyone, with an abundance of high-end and exorbitantly priced products, as well as more reasonably priced gear and of course solutions for the DIY crowd. As for general trends, the vast majority of the high-end demonstrations were using vinyl and ultra-expensive turntables as source devices. Many demonstrations were using digital and streaming sources, but vinyl was king at this show. I was surprised to see that many of the digital demonstrations were using 44.1 kHz source material without pushing the high-res content debate. Support for the TIDAL streaming service is growing and we heard that embedded support for Roon from Roon Labs is coming from ELAC America.
The CanJam section was really nice and the large ballroom made it much easier to browse and sample the seemingly endless array of headphone products. While CES is not open to the general product, RMAF is and it was great to see audio enthusiasts at the show listening and talking about their favorite products. Overall, the show was very enjoyable and had a really nice energy. Regardless of budget, it was great to see so many passionate people coming together to celebrate and enjoy all things two-channel.
I think it’s fair to say that if you are serious about audio in any shape, manner of form, you should make the trek out to Denver, at least once, to attend Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I ran into several individuals, and couples even, who told me that they make a point of attending this show annually. It’s not simply just domestic attendance either, a number of these repeat visitors were from Europe, Asia, Latin America and even Australia. And these weren’t industry people I’m talking about, these were consumers, collectors, audiophiles, hobbyists, you name it. Yes, of course, there was business being done at RMAF, there is at every show. Yet this was decidedly not a trade show in atmosphere. I got the distinct sense that the only criteria needed to feel at home at this particular show was the admission fee and a love for sound. It was so much easier than CES to go around and actually spend some time examining various products and actually having conversations with the appropriate people about them. Company folk also seemed a lot more relaxed here than at CES which, I think, was what was underpinning the overall good mood I felt from attendees in general. It was that or maybe it was all the residual pot smoke left over from the legalization of marijuana in Colorado in recent years……KIDDING! I’m just kidding. Really, I kid!
There was surely a little something for everyone at this show. I expected to see a lot of mega-buck sound rigs. You know, the really cool looking stuff that I could never hope to afford, or keep, without maybe a lottery ticket and a prenuptial agreement. Of that type of eye (and ear) candy, there was plenty. But there was also a great selection of good sounding rooms whose gear choices totaled 20 grand, 10 grand, 5 grand and even fifteen hundred bucks. Every price category had something that “delivered the goods.” The CAN-JAM area was especially a treat. To be able to walk around and sample hundreds of different headphones and headphone accessories with in a dedicated floor space was SO much fun and a great way to compare products. I was struck with how much vinyl was being spun at this show. Every room had a turntable. There were vendors that even restored and customized old turntables to better than new condition. It was an interesting contrast to CES where the big thing was DACS. One other thing that caught me by surprise at RMAF was the strong catering to the Hi-Fi do-it-yourself crowd. There were a lot of DIY amp, preamp and speaker kits, all at various price points and for various skill levels. Frankly, it felt good to see this because our enjoyment of audio is, in large part, a hobby. And it’s one that should be accessible to everyone in a variety of ways. If I had to pick out one thing that most stood out in my mind about the whole show, it would have to be the presentation that Robert and I got at the ELAC room. Besides the fact that the Debut F5 tower speaker was a stellar performer for a stupid-affordable price, it was also clear that in talking to Chris Walker and Andrew Jones, ELAC had big plans for the audio market in the coming year or two and that both these guys were very excited about, and hip-deep involved, in what was coming.
All in all, RMAF was a great way to spend a few days with great people, great gear and great music. The show itself felt accessible and unpretentious, with a genuinely good vibe about the whole affair. It’s definitely worth a trip to Denver to check out the show. If you are into audio, it will be time well spent.
Special thanks to John, Susan, Cynthia, Robert and the whole Secrets Team for all their help and guidance.
Read our full coverage from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015