As is my custom before traveling to an audio show, I look over the show's web site to develop a list of rooms I would like to visit. Most importantly are the rooms with manufacturers of equipment I already own. Secondarily to that would be anything in which I am interested or perhaps something I would like to further investigate.
Going over the web site for this year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), I noticed five rooms were listed all dedicated to budget friendly audio systems. System prices in these rooms range from $1000.00 to $5000.00. RMAF actually did this same thing last year and my first thought was the same in both instances - I'm not interested. Like many audiophiles, my system's value is well beyond even the highest price of these budget systems and my basic opinion was disinterest - fine for some but not me.
When I moved into my new house in January, I immediately began working on bringing the house up to my own standards. In addition to setting up my audio room, which took months of decisions and trial and error, I also concerned myself with new patio doors, replacing light fixtures, appliances, bathroom renovations and all the things one needs or wants to accomplish in a new home.
When everything was completed, and at the "insistence" of a number of my close friends, I decided to host a house warming party. A couple of months later everything was in place. Some of my closer friends had been to my new home several times but I wanted to wait until everything was finished before the official unveiling. At the party, when I conducted the house "tour" I would save the audio room until last.
For some of my guests, and especially their wives, not many had ever seen a dedicated audio room with a full complement of acoustical panels, a large rack filled with audio equipment and speakers standing nearly six feet tall. That alone enlisted a certain "wow" factor. Most had never previously heard a high performance system. I decided to not offer to play anything just to see if anyone was curious enough to ask me to do so.
Not surprisingly, everyone did.
Aside from the simple "wow" factor of an audio room, the sonics are and should be the real star. I took requests from everyone, did my best to fulfill them and I was amazed at the reactions.
Most of my guy friends had heard my system before - however not in my new home. None of the wives and girlfriends had. Everyone were blown away by what they heard and would quite commonly ask me to "crank up the volume." One or two of the girls even started dancing - well, maybe moving to the music is more accurate. The main point is, everyone was having fun and every single person previously unfamiliar with high performance audio told me they "didn't know a stereo could sound like that." It was a transformation moment to say the least and one that enlisted a feeling of satisfaction on my part.
Now to be honest, I didn't then or now expect any of these wives would go home and tell their husband it was time to assemble a new audio system. Most likely, my system was forgotten before they returned home. What is equally undeniable is that none of them left without some understanding that sonics beyond an iPod or an inexpensive Mid Fi system was possible.
Which brings me back to the budget friendly rooms at RMAF.
I think the addition of rooms with lower cost systems is an excellent idea. I've also come to the conclusion that my decision to ignore these rooms last year was, to some degree, a mistake on my part. It is an obvious statement of fact that not everyone who hears a high performance system will be moved to the point of wanting to purchase one. It also doesn't mean that same person won't be impressed.
So this year, I will visit each and every one of those five rooms - not because I have any interest in them myself, but because I want to be able to make better informed suggestions to someone who wants to enlist better sonics than an iPod.
Call it a newfound ambassadorship, call it propagation of the hobby, call it whatever alliterative term best fits. What I hope to do is to be able to possibly guide someone who is interested but doesn't really know where to start. It is disingenuous of me to make recommendations to anyone who is curious, yet unfamiliar with high end audio to look to spend tens, or worse still, hundreds of thousands of dollars on a stereo system. That is, in all probability, an immediate game over scenario. However, the recommendation of maybe a $1500.00 system that brings better sound into the home, that is something infinitely more palatable.
As audiophiles, I would hope we are all ambassadors of the hobby. Maybe not to the point of being obnoxious but when a friend or colleague who is not asks what they should do, then in my opinion, it is up to us to make reasonable, affordable suggestions. Needless to say this will not always end in a new audiophile being born. Maybe, as in the case of the wife of a friend of mine I helped with a system a year ago, "it will just be something for us both to enjoy now that we are empty nesters."
I plan to expand the enjoyment of the hobby beyond the confines of my own system. Because as much musical pleasure as it gives me, I would find it difficult to believe I wouldn't get some measure of the same enjoyment seeing someone new to the hobby filled with wide eyed enthusiasm at what is sonically possible.