2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest
This year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was a personal high for me and no, I do not smoke legalized Colorado weed (though I smelled it on more than a few occasions). This Audio Fest was the events 12th in row and is largely hosted by volunteers of the Colorado Audio Society. Unfortunately, for the first time in many years, I had the feeling while walking the show that it's becoming increasingly harder to get the industry at large (manufacturers, dealers and/or distributors) to participate. The reason is obvious: the high-end audio industry is hurting and there are just too many shows on the horizon. And it's amazing how fast the momentum can shift. For example, the Newport show, I'm told by everyone that has been there, has grown to become the USA equivalent to Munich Germany's High End show in terms of appeal. The success of the Chicago's AXPONA held in the spring, makes it a worthy alternative. Not to mention the steadily growing Capital Audiofest held each summer in Washington, DC. The Chester Group's New York Audio show which will be taking place in Westchester, NY this November is hoping they can make New York the place to visit each Fall. Duly noted, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in January, is still considered a heavyweight champ by some. For me, the undisputed heavyweight champ of audio shows is the Munich High End. Like a well-tuned BMW or Mercedes Benz, if you really want to see what's going on in the world of high end audio this is really the place to be in May. Here at the RMAF, I got the impression the event was far less energized and more spread out in terms of exhibitor's rooms. The sparsely populated hallways and elevators also indicated there just wasn't as many showgoers as I remembered from years past. I've always maintained the RMAF as my favorite here in the States. However, since the success of the Newport show and AXPONA, exhibitors have to carefully choose their venue since most simply cannot afford to be at every major event. Unfortunate, but true.
All in all, this RMAF proved to be the most fun for me because I had the rare occasion to walk this particular show with some friends whom I've known for decades. (photo above: left to right) John Bramble Sr, Moreno Mitchell, ESP loudspeaker designer Sean McCaughan, the irrepressable Bill Jiggetts, John Bramble Jr and I got a chance to hang out in the ESP room after hours and came away once again highly impressed (more about that product later). Three major things we all have in common is a passion for classic '60's jazz music (Miles, Monk and 'Trane), high-end audio and we all reference the Laufer Teknik Memory Player as our digital source. Perhaps the most surprising revelation during the show was our common admiration and mutual agreement for certain rooms over others.
Just imagine, it's dinner time and the five of us (even when briefly interrupted by RMAF host, Marjorie Baumert above) discuss our personal experiences surrounding the incredible impact the MP had upon first listen. I have owned the MP since its innagural launch back in 2006, and found it frustrating hearing all these marvelous stories about its performance, yet not a single machine was being used at this year's RMAF. The best audio gear I've heard always remains on the margins of this hobby and is hardly ever seen at trade shows. Consider yourself blessed to hear FM Acoustics at RMAF (which is the only trade show I have heard them in over a decade thanks to their Colorado-based dealership). When was the last time you saw or heard Goldmund or Audio Consulting of Switzerland's battery powered electronics? Ever heard Behold electronics of Germany? Why? I doubt small exotic brands like these could live up to the demand as they're usually hand built and extremely slow to build (and I'm sure they're many more valid reasons). So, sadly they too remain on the margins of an industry that has coexisted on the margins of public acceptance since its beginning. All I will say is the Laufer Teknik MP is easily and handily the best digital drive I have EVER heard still today and though considered a beast back when it originally launched in 2006, it performs now on a level I never imagined digital ever could.
I hit the ground running.
Arrived Friday morning, caught a $65.00 taxi (ouch!) from Denver International airport straight to the Denver Tech Center where the show is held each year. Upon my arrival at 10:30 AM, said hellos to RMAF director Marjorie Baumert and her staff, checked into my room, pulled out my trusty Canon 5D MII camera and attached Canon 24/105 L do-it-all lens and headed right back out to catch the show!
It was nice seeing old faces like the Cable Company's Robert Stein and his friendly staff.
It was oh so nice to see all the usual displays and exhibitors exchanging pleasantries with showgoers. One in particular is this Volti Audio ad (photo above). That life-sized ad - along with the sonic excellence heard in that room, always brings a smile to my face.
The one high-end audio component that was most obvious once again was analog, turntables and personal headphones. Kingsound introduced their new KS-H04/M03 transistor amp and portable headphones package at this year's RMAF. Their room was among the busiest as well. In terms of vinyl rigs, I doubt I've ever seen this many at RMAF. Here's just a few I thought were worth sharing....
I simply couldn't help but notice the color theme. Don't know whether they meant to match the carpet, but there were some really bright looking loudspeakers at this year's show.
I've seldom ever heard loudspeakers play this loud so you can imagine how amazed I was to know they were the ($80k) Martin Logan Neolith electrostatic loudspeakers! Driven by a pair of massive EMM Labs MTRX mono amps ($130k) and an all-EMM front end, I have to admit, I was impressed at how life-like and realistic this system could go.
Those JM Lab Stella Utopias ($97k) in fiery cherry red sounded quite impressive in one of the mezzanine's spacious suites strapped to an arsenal of VAC tube electronics (I should add the Utopias sounded much better than previous setups using Soulution gear). VAC president, Kevin Hayes was all smiles this year as he introduced a lower priced version of his VAC Statement iQ series electronics that featured his Statement phono/linestage ($66k) and Statement iQ stereo amplifiers ($116k ea). Pricy for sure but lofty sounding as well. All cabling was by way of Shunyata Research.
I've been steadily impressed by Bill Dudleston's Legacy Audio V series loudspeakers. My eyes fight against a multi-driver system, yet my ears can hardly detect there's more than one driver working. I hate when that happens.
I was also highly impressed by the performance of the Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers driven by lots of Constellation Audio components and top-of-the-line Nordost Odin 2 cabling.