It’s the time of year for saving money!
The flight back from Denver just landed, and while I couldn’t spend a whole lot of time at 2018’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), I do have a few hot takes from the show for those of you who didn’t make it.
This was the last year the show will be held at the very tired Denver Marriott Tech Center hotel. My taxi ride from DIA was $120 and my Uber back to DIA the next day was over $130. A first-class round-trip ticket from LAX to DIA and back was about $550 to put the drive into perspective. In moving to an airport hotel, time and money will be saved and hopefully RMAF will be able to offer a cleaner, more modern and relevant space for exhibits in ways that more effectively competes with AXPONA in Chicago. If they can’t, at least they can help the Free Masons enslave audiophiles at DIA (read the actual conspiracy theory that I just learned about regarding the DIA airport here.
I saw Mike Levy from Alta Audio and Walter Schofield from Krell doing a demonstration for college kids in their room. I’ve long been calling for this type of outreach. Kudos to them for realizing that you can’t make a sustainable living in audio selling yet another $10,000 preamp to 70-year-old Baby Boomers forever. Sorry, it’s just fact. This hobby needs a new generation of supporters.
Gauges don’t affect the sound of electronics, but God damn are they cool, and I saw them aplenty at the show. The super-sexy Anthem STR gear (reviews pending later in 2018) I saw on the floor looked amazing powering Paradigm’s reference Persona bookshelf speakers. D’agostino Audio’s steam-punk industrial design comes with perhaps the industry’s coolest and most expensive gauge. Classé Audio is back and their gauges are pure digital sex. Others had cool screens and gauges, including Naim Audio and many others. I know, I know, the “sound is all that matters” crowd will poo-poo my focus on aesthetics, but they matter because cool factor makes me want to pull out the Platinum card. And trust me, friends–at RMAF, many of the products require the buying power of a Platinum Card and maybe even some low-interest, long-term financing to go with it.
More rooms were offering refreshments for show attendees. Paradigm had an entire bar, snacks, candy and bottles of water. I saw enough good-level, Costco-sized candy that I thought I was going to ask someone for a syringe of insulin to deal with temporary diabetes from all of the little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that I swiped from room to room. Nevertheless, it’s good to make people feel welcomed when they enter your room.
I didn’t get to hear the results, but I like that MQA was recording and playing back (on a large-scale Focal rig) music recorded on the spot. I liked this when Sonus faber did the same at their event this summer in Kansas City, and I liked it here at RMAF. Giving audio enthusiasts an inside look at the recording process makes them more informed consumers and hobbyist.
More rooms were using good acoustical treatments to deal with less-than-perfect room conditions. GoldenEar, B&W, Classé, Paradigm, MartinLogan & D’agostino, Focal, Tekton, Wilson’s dealer–who was showing their new bookshelfy speaker for $10,000 a pair–and so many others. Keep up the good work. Audio enthusiasts know that that hotel rooms tend to sound ass-y compared to a good retailer’s demo room or even your listening room at home, but the lure of hearing so much audio in one place makes these audio shows compelling. Fixing room maladies just makes the audio world a better place.
RMAF is a 100 percent sausage party in terms of demographics. The only women there were wives dragged to the show by their audiophile husbands–and many looked bored. RMAF should aim to find a way to engage new attendees that have two X chromosomes.
I know I mentioned this already, but the Denver Tech Center Marriott venue is really tired, and even suffering this venue for one last year was a downer. I mean, c’mon–you can’t pressure the Marriott to bust out a few cans of paint for the hallways and the stairwells considering that’s how many people experience the show thanks to very crowded elevators? Some fresh carpet could have gone a long way, too. Stacking a bed frame in one of the hallways on one of the floors was just outright dangerous. The new hotel hopefully (almost certainly) will be better. God help me, if I have to call the Illuminati to make things better, I will. I hear said Illuminati have secret offices at DIA now, which is nice.
As compared with other comparable shows, the music I heard as I was walking about RMAF was just terrible. Let’s be honest with ourselves: audiophile music sucks. It always has and always will, no matter how good the recording is. I specifically rewarded rooms playing RIAA Platinum-selling, critically acclaimed music. I walked past countless others playing obscure or clichéd tracks from the likes of Rebecca Pidgeon and Livingston Taylor. I did hear a good rendition of “Red House” and “Out on the Tiles” in rooms that I would have never entered otherwise, and I ended up in there spending more time than expected.
When will audiophiles learn that vinyl is an inferior format? Relying on a physical platter with high distortion and 65 dB dynamic range is like building a mighty skyscraper of musical playback on quicksand. But you know what? Vinyl was everywhere at RMAF. The Denver Audiophile Society needs to start preaching about the fact that an audiophile can stream high-res audio with nearly unlimited access to every meaningful recording ever made for $20 from two different sources (upstart Qobzz and Tidal). Or that you can buy 24-bit HD music for about $20 an album and play it back from a growing number of excellent music players/streamers that are truly affordable.
Ferraris don’t run better on 50 octane gas, and audiophile systems don’t sound better on vinyl, even if the format holds nostalgic power over the elders of the hobby who fight anything new.
I couldn’t find any meaningful video anywhere at RMAF. Real-world buyers are just as likely (if not more likely) to buy a $4,500 65-inch Sony Master Series OLED TV as a pair of good audiophile speakers driven by excellent electronics. People with the money to buy audiophile gear likely also watch movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu in 4K. To keep these two worlds divorced shows RMAF’s lack of vision about a) who can actually afford expensive audio gear and b) the pending future of the hobby/business.
Another constructive memo to the Denver Audiophile Society would be to remind them that, in 2018, the video game industry does more business than the entire music industry and all of Hollywood combined. Kids are winning $250,000 playing Fortnite. They love high performance equipment. What’s being done to bring that booming audience to help transition the hobby from 60- and 70-year-olds? At this year’s show? Not a thing.
When Bill Curtis owned Stereophile and Home Theater Magazine, he threw an event in Orange Country that was like everything he has ever done: first class. Not only did the show embrace the absolute best in audiophile systems, but it had killer, never-seen-before home theater and video setups. But what Bill did that none of these other shows do correctly is that his show had media partners. I am not talking about Stereophile, TAS, or even HomeTheaterReview.com. I am talking about, in Bill’s case, The Orange County Register. He pumped well-heeled people from all over the sun-drenched locale of the OC into his show. Retailers did their best to woo said Bentley-driving potential buyers. What if RMAF shared $5 per ticket with The Denver Post to help promote the show in September and early October in return for promotional considerations? What about raising ticket prices $5 per day to allow for a budget for radio and television promotion? We need new blood in this hobby and nothing is being done, despite the past success of mainstream marketing for specialty AV shows.
Overall, RMAF 2018 had a lot for the audiophile to enjoy. It didn’t change any stereotypes or norms but it really offered the already-initiated the chance to experience the world’s largest stereo store at a time when stereo stores are dying faster than 1980s pop stars. And for that reason alone, it was worth the flight out from Los Angeles. Hopefully, the new venue will offer a big improvement. Even more hopefully, the Denver Audiophile Society will take the constructive comments above to heart and realize that they play an important role in the future (or lack thereof) of this hobby.
Nicely written article with some great points about the evolving world of audiophilia 🙂
There are others who will likely be stabbing their Jerry Del Colliano voodoo doll for my suggestion that this hobby is at a change or die crossroads.
The day RMAF caters to gamers is the day I stop going. They’ve got plenty of shows, we have few.
You fully missed the point…
In 10 years when Baby Boomer audiophiles are 80 not 70 – will you have ANY SHOWS.
Embracing old, outdated and lame technologies is the WAY of the audiophile… The WAY OUT OF BUSINESS.
The video game business is BOOMING and its driven by tech-savvy, young people who love high performance. At one point high performance audio was the point of the hobby. Perhaps now snobbery is the goal? I suggest we reject that and invite the kids in.
I’m not worried about high performance audio continuing. I brought my 21 y.o. son with me to to RMAF. He is more excited about the field than I am (and he is in the video game business as a software writer). He and his friends spend way more on equipment than I as they all make good money. Some have systems worth more than their cars or other belongings (they all rent too). Music is really important to them. All I see in Denver record stores are people his age. At 57, I think I was the oldest one in the Canjam room when I was there. Guys my age are more interested in vintage equipment than buying new, just like our muscle cars and motorbikes. When I spoke with vendors at the show, they all agreed that business was great. Paul at PS Audio, for example, was saying times were never better (booming as you say) and that they were expanding into a new, larger, facility to accommodate demand. Doesn’t look like anyone but you are predicting the end of the high end audio business. Next year RMAF will finally be hosted in a nice, modern hotel complex. I predict record crowds, filled with many young people….still likely all men however, just like you see at high performance car dealerships and opposite of what you find at the annual Crafts Show (so what?).
I am glad you brought your son and have him getting into the hobby.
I did not see the young demographic that you saw. I did see mostly WIRED headphones at Can Jam and well the last 100,000,000 plus iPhone sold without a headphone jack. Not looking forward again there..
A few comments… there was a panel on Saturday that spoke to the issue of creating a greater diversity of attendees and/or participants in the audio community. It was well attended and offered several key ideas to increase attendance and long term growth for the industry.
There was also a panel on Friday that spoke to how music moves people with suggestions as to how a more diversified room “playlist” could benefit the industry.
The price did increase this year for weekend passes – as to where the additional monies went, not sure. Tickets are half off for students and veterans.
Home theater is a great idea to attract a wider audience. Not sure about gaming as the crossover is not there other than through headphones.
Vinyl still sells and is still the King. For sure the ability to access a streaming service would be great, sadly too many rooms chose not to offer that (internet costs, control over the music, etc.).
Shared at the panel on Saturday covering diversity and the future of the audio industry – YouTube is the number one source of music for those under 30, Urban Outfitters in the number one seller of both vinyl and turntables. Are we reaching those audiences?
Agreed the music sucked but most rooms sounded rather good. All rooms should offer a time when any music by anyone will be played.
Dave Clark, Editor at Positive Feedback
Thanks for the feedback but I’ve got to take you to task a little here.
You say “Vinyl still sells and is still the King” and you are so incredibly off-base its scary. This type of post-factual comments I expect to hear out a moron Trump croney or the Orange-one himself.
Here are the facts.
According the the RIAA – physical media made up a mere 17% of total music sales to 65% streaming and 15 digital downloads. (http://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/RIAA-Year-End-2017-News-and-Notes.pdf )
In 2017 according to the RIAA Compact Disc sales made up $1,100,000,000 in total sales thus 12% of total music sales. Vinyl sold $338,000,000 thus 4.5% of the sales. That’s about 1.4b of nearly 9B in total music sales. Streaming with 65% and digital downloads making up another 15% on top of that. Take a look at the trend on this RIAA chart (https://www.riaa.com/u-s-sales-database/ )
Not only does vinyl not sell. Its a 100 year old format that has a MAX of 65 dB of dynamic range (source: Garry Margolis – former president of the AES, SACD exec back in the day and recording engineer with 40 years experience from LP to 24-96 HD). A snare drum alone can peak at DOUBLE that volume but audiophiles can’t seem to move on. Moreover, the “warmth” that they are some comfortable with is SECOND DEGREE HARMONIC DISTORTION. That’s right DISTORTION. Why do you need a $10,000 preamp to hear a distorted format? Why would anyone promote a format with distortion when there are $20 per month unlimited streaming formats like Tidal and QoBuzz (coming soon) as well as $20 downloads of 24-96 files for those who want to own the music. Literally, the NOW (not the future) allows audiophiles to listen to master tape. The real deal. Bit for bit. Vinyl (and CD for that matter although better) can’t do that but you don’t have to sacrifice.
The hobby needs voices like yours focused on high performance audio, youth and real music. There are 66,000,000 Millennials out there and they love music more than any generation ever before. RMAF didn’t do SQUAT to appeal to them. You should try. We sure as hell are. Its not easy but we are sticking with the facts and moving forward.
All the best!
You just had to bring your politics into an audio discussion. You’re a childish loser. Get over it. It’s been 2 years and your still butt hurt and whining like a prissy little bitch!
I was there… and not bored…
Agreed. I was too busy to be bored. Even with the additional trade day next year I’ll be too busy…
You were working, right?
I hope you wouldn’t be bored…
The wives being dragged around looked like they needed a STIFF chardonnay with a chardonnay back. 🙂
That happens when no one talks to you, and you’re listening to nothing that you actually listen to at home 🙂 I talked to several women who seemed to be having fun, and yes, could also use a drink. lol
My response was prompted by this: “RMAF is a 100 percent sausage party in terms of demographics. The only women there were wives dragged to the show by their audiophile husbands–and many looked bored.”
Not 100% and not all were dragged there. Especially at CanJam – I love the association of the two shows, and lessons can definitely be learned from both!
OK – I will revise to a 98% sausage party… Its was pretty much all old, men at RMAF.
As for a cocktail – next time go over to Paradigm and tell them I said to pour you a stiff one. They had a whole set up for anyone who was thirsty. SMART on their part.
“Classé Audio is back and their gauges are pure digital sex.”
I have this vision of your wife foregoing lingerie and wearing gauges instead and I can’t help but laugh. I know, I know, I’m easily amused.
One digital gauge for each nipple… Very sexy!!!!
WOW ! Generally speaking the lifestyle of a younger demographic does not understand this hobby that Specialty retailers enjoy with their customers. The ritual of cleaning your Vinyl, turning your tube amps on, getting a glass of your favorite wine poured, Making a cheese and cracker tray with dried apricots or grapes is rather cool. The numbers you talk about works if you want to be Amazon. Specialty is not for everyone, It never was for everybody and chances are it will never be. RMAF is a Consumer show which primarily focuses on figuring out how the manufacturers/dealers can get product in customers homes. Now the challenge is how do we sell this lifestyle ? Once you care about recordings, enjoy well recorded music that can be reproduced at home, we should survive.
The car guys have made it glamorous to own a Porsche, Corvette, Bentley etc… Can we do the same ? Never.
You more than anyone should know that your business is in jeopardy if you can’t woo new customers.
Yes, wine cheese and crackers are nice. So is driving on PCH with the top down on an old Porsche but its not high performance just like vinyl isn’t high performance yet 70 year old Baby Boomer audiophiles cling to the past. NOS DACs? Really? No room correction? Really? No subwoofers? Really? No video? Really?
There are 66,000,000 Millennials who LOVE music. Do you really mean it when you say you want to target there parents? Do you know how many of these kids work in Silicon Beach and LOVE technology? Mark Ormiston at Definitive in Seattle embraced tech people from Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks and he’s got the best retailer in America. A CI department. A Marine department. An Aviation department while still selling more audiophile gear than most specialty AV dealers in the nation out of two locations.
There’s a new way of doing things. There are new people to sell too. And RIGHT in your backyard. My friend -I encourage you to embrace the future of this business. Its going to line your pockets with money and help the hobby survive.
Don’t hold back Jerry. Tell us how you really feel!
Glad to see someone state the truth about Vinyl. I still listen to and like it, but compares poorly to true high resolution audio digital recordings.
“experience the world’s largest stereo store at a time when stereo stores are dying faster than 1980s pop stars” is why the RMAF show exists. For what you want go to CES? TAVES co-showed with a technology show featuring robots, visual reality, and 3D printers. There was no effective crosstalk that I could see and the show is cancelled. People were at RMAF from Europe, the East Coast, the West Coast and t”he middle” Canada was there. That was a success. Make this “world’s largest stereo store” easy to get to in a venue that can move big shit in and out and we have a winner for now. The video gamers are in their 50’s now so it is coming. Home Theater is trying to exist at CEDIA with great expense and not much traction. Products that are bridging to Theater and Video are often made in China. We will need a group of engineers who are excited about audio and video and gaming to come along. If you find them please sponsor a show Jerry and I will show up.
Jerry is right…who can forget the pop, crackle and the distortion of the last song on the LP? How about warping? I have a Dual Turntable and Sony Moving Mag Cart…last time I used it was 8+ years ago.
Loving reproduced music is not all about statistics, many of which have no bearing on the actual listening experience. For that reason, vinyl does rule. Putting on a record, admiring the album art and reading legible liners on the music, in addition to hearing amazing sound regardless of dynamic range stats and the like, is a fun, involving experience. Streaming music has less involvement, there is no sense of listening to an actual complete work of art, regardless of maybe slightly better sonics. Like you said yourself, it’s not just the sound that matters. By the way, I have no idea why your comments mentioned President Trump. I doubt many of the audiophile companies based in the U.S. are complaining about the lower 20% corporate tax rate. That will support the industry you purport to care about. Also, since you are a streaming music fan, you should know it’s “Qobuz” not Qobzz or QoBuzz.
jerry, reading one of your reviews is like watching someone beat a dead horse. one can just take bets as to how long it will take you to bash the liar-in-chief or vinyl. ;~)
well, i am all for bashing the liar-in-chief, too. but having orange cheeto man at the helm will be a small price to pay if it wakes up the dnc to make them realize they need to to whoring at the same corporate brothels as their counter-parts on the other side of the aisle.
regarding vinyl, you babble:
“When will audiophiles learn that vinyl is an inferior format?”
my answer? when it IS. the “ayes”, uh, i mean EARS have it! ;~) we don’t need charts or graphs or boring repetitive dead-horse-beating ad nauseum comments telling us how much better digital is on paper. all we need to do is LISTEN.
Yet another show and we didn’t catch up. Will you be at Capital? I’m guessing no. AXPONA then…drinks are on me. As to the article, why does everything have to be mutually exclusive? I was in most of the rooms and many were offering both vinyl and digital…and some were spinning tape. While i agree that there needs to be an influx of youth into the hobby, I saw lots of it in the CanJam room. As to wireless…Bluetooth still can’t compete with wired (wanna revisit your vinyl argument?) yet most of the headphone manufacturers were offering wireless alternatives. Sennheiser, 1More, Beyerdynamic, RHA come to mind right away. Bluewave and Mytek both make devices that add Bluetooth wireless to any wired headphone as well. Senn, Beyer, Audeze and Mr. Speakers all have gaming options. I believe that one way to usher millenials into high end audio is through personal audio. They start with headphones on their daily public transit commute or in their apartment and move to speaker-audio when they have the space for it. I agree with you that adding a video component to the show and to the rooms would help.
Spot on as always. I thought we’d already proved that ignoring moneyed consumers looking for video or able to extend their gaming to high-end audio is a dead-end strategy.
For $9 you can take an RTD train directly from the airport, with one train transfer and end up 1/2 a mile from that particular hotel. Sure, it’s not as fast as a taxi or Uber, but you’d save over $230.
I agree totally about vinyl. I think people who buy turn tables for $20,000 buy them to pound their chests in order to hear inferior quality sound. Maybe they should put mufflers on their pair of $200,000 speakers. I listened to speakers costing $60,000 and they did not hold a candle to the $6,000 Salk speakers. Jim Salk is a genius and knows more about audio than 90% of the dealers attending. I wish people discussed master setting. I also think the expensive sound systems are too big for most houses unless you own a 12,000 square foot mansion.
Perhaps if you want to read a more professional review of the show that does not include a whining kid wiping his nose and throwing a tantrum, see Paul Wilson’s review below. Jerry, get back in Dad’s Porsche and head down the road to the local coffee shop with your HiRes MP3 player and white earbuds, its more your style.