Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010 Show Report
Dr. John Richardson - Senior Editor/Computer Audio
William Schuchard - Senior Editor/Speakers
James & Linda Darby - Publisher/Executive Publisher
To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The leaves on the trees in the hotel parking lot were in the midst of their color change while inside the hotel, even more change was taking place.
THE BEST OF TIMES
Each year, I make a point of asking attendees (the Fest is open to the public) this question: have you heard anything yet that knocks your socks off? Last year, the answer every time was, “well… not really.” I've never had that happen before; the mood was almost sullen. This year, every time I asked the same question, the person's eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Oh yeah! Look at this!” Then they would proceed to dig into their bag of literature and pull out a brochure from one of the rooms, describing the magical sound they had experienced. Linda and I even took several surveys in the crowded elevators and as far as we could tell, it was pretty unanimous; an absolute 180° turnaround from last year.
In addition, this was one of the most exciting and interesting shows we have ever attended, and that's saying a lot. Many rooms were bristling with new technology that wowed us. There were many instances when each of us would actually raise our eyebrows and say “Wow!” out loud. Dr. John Richardson, our computer music Senior Editor, was in heaven. As we have been forecasting for almost 4 years, the future is digital music servers and wireless technology. Well, it's not the technology of the future anymore, it is the here and now. Taking our Stereo Mojo Ultimate Evaluation Disk into a room was useless in most cases
since there were no CD players. The majority of demos were being run by guys with iPhone's or ipads, everyone it seemed, had some flavor of hard disc-based digital music device. Some were obviously thrown together just so a company could say “we have one too”, while a few others were truly revolutionary. One of the major problems that show was all the RF and IR interference!
Yes, there were still turntables from stalwarts like clear audio, Walker, and TW Akustic. But sadly, they weren't showing anything new. Even Lloyd Walker hesitated when I asked him if he thought digital was catching up to analog.
There's new technology in speaker design as well. Senior Editor and DIY speaker designer Bill Schuchard was impressed with many new products he saw and heard. Associate Publisher Linda Darby was excited by some of the product design and appearance as well as the improvement in operational complexity that has so long turned off our wives.
Prices are coming down and audio quality is going up. There were several new companies with stunning new products, as you're about to see, at very reasonable prices and some of the Old Guard showed new products at lower price points. Heck, even Mark Levinson showed a new amp for under $10,000! Miracles never cease.
THE WORST OF TIMES
While there were new companies present, others have closed their doors or just didn't have the cash to exhibit. Many others are hanging on by their eyelashes. More companies teamed up to share a room and reduce costs. There were many more retailers showing their wares who have no storefronts, they sell their gear out of their homes -a major trend since brick and mortar stores are becoming extinct. Just recently, Sound By Singer, a New York high-end icon for decades, bit the dust, which really sent shock waves through the industry.
Internet-based, direct sale companies are springing up and older companies who never would have thought of selling over the Internet just a year or two ago are doing so now. I had many “off the record” conversations with industry leaders about the impact of the economy and how to deal with it. Most seem at a loss or at least in a quandary, just hoping things will pick up soon. I don't expect any bail out of the audio industry in the near future, do you?
The vast majority of gear was items that have been in production for some time, sometimes many years, that has been covered in previous reports. Here we bring to you the newest and the best.
Please understand that that trying to critically evaluate components and systems in various hotel rooms is impossible, there are too many variables. What's more, the exhibitors are constantly changing their systems over the show period to improve the sound. Therefore, if we describe a room we visit on day 1, it will most likely sound much different on day 2, 3 or 4. At every show however, there are certain products or systems that stand out. Once we determine those that do stand out, we revisit them to decide if they are worth of our "Best of Show" awards.
Marjorie Baumert is the force behind RMAF. This is the first year she has had to produce the show by herself
since the passing of her husband and show founder, Al Stiefel. Aided by the Colorado Audio Society, the show was perfect as far
as we could tell, though behind the scenes Marjorie was constantly dealing with issues large and small - talk about high pressure and stress.
Congratulations Marjorie! Outstanding job.
Show me some stereo!
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