RMAF 2013: Why should I go to an audio show?

Last month, Roger Skoff began blowing holes in the idea of the audio show as an Unqualified Good Thing. You have to respect his perspective — he’s “done shows” for a terrific while, and if you haven’t read about his experiences, you ought to. It gave me a bit more appreciation for what it means for a manufacturer to show at a show, why they do it, and how much it can cost them.

In large part, however, I’m going to bypass his comments. With CES, he’s talking about an insider-show, one that’s designed to cater to the converted. In fact, CES’s real draw is more for dealers and resellers than it is for us consumers — the point is to encourage, reward, and educate the legion of sales people that will take those products out into the world at large. Given that there are fewer and fewer of these blessed people wandering the Earth these days, the question of whether CES is a good idea is moot. As is the question of whether or not anyone ought to go to CES, or any show like it. The only reason go is that CES also happens to be where manufacturers tend to show off the new stuff for the coming year. It’s a zoo of a show, but as a guy interested in audio’s high-end, it’s not the most interesting on the year’s docket.

I raise this now as, this weekend, there is a very interesting audio show coming to Denver: the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Now in its 10th year, RMAF is going to be huge. Jammed pack with events, audio, and people, this year’s show may well set a North American record for a regional audio show in terms of size, volume, and sheer awesomeness. Given Roger’s recent comments, however, I thought it worth taking a step back and ask the obvious: “why should I consider going?”

  1. It’s fun. Exactly why it’s fun really depends on your personal bent, but I can say that hobnobbing with fellow enthusiasts is a great way to get over the nagging feeling that your particular brand of fetishism is in anyway unique to you. That’s nice, isn’t it? Seriously — most audiophiles are solitary creatures, rarely venturing out into the light of day, much less bringing their hobby along for the ride. An audio show helps. You are not alone. The truth is out there. Live long and perspire.
  2. It’s fun. So, aside from rubbing elbows with your fellows, squeezing past gaggles of them choking the hallways, and repeatedly evicting them as they bogart the sweet spot, there’s the whole “party thing”. Yes, an audio show is a party. Pretty much from opening to closing, with a not-inconsiderable overlap on both ends. Don’t know what I mean? Stick around after closing on the opening night (or any night). Head over to the bar at the Marriott. See who walks in. Yes, that’s the head of engineering over at so-and-so. Yes, that’s the guitarist you heard earlier in the day. That loudmouthed one over there? That’s the publisher of this esteemed publication, hisself. Dude, you never know who’s gonna downing a pint. As you wander through the show, you’ll also learn that there will be after-hours parties in about a dozen different rooms, with free beer, wine, appetizers and even (gasp!) music. Go ask Nina Sventitsky (of WyWires) about her wine importing business. Head over to Daedalus Audio. Attempt to find Roy Hall. Before you fly out, check out Audiocircle (or just about any other audiophile forum) and see who’s getting together where and when — you’ll be surprised at how many groups make “the show” their annual thing. Just remember: imbibe responsibly. No one wants to clean your barf out of the grill of a $100,000 loudspeaker, capisce?
  3. It’s fun. This is the time and place to do all your audio-related window shopping. No, seriously. Chances are that in one weekend spent at a regional audio show (like RMAF, say), you’ll not only see, hear and touch more gear than you will in the rest of the year, you’ll also run across something that’s pretty awesome. Is everything out of your price range? Fair enough — check out the deals to be had (the post-show “clean-up” discounts are amazing), the new music you can grab at one of the dozens of displays where all are offering some at-show discount, or just say to heck with all that and just wander around being amazed at the sheer audacity, or the incredible intricacy and workmanship, or what now passes for SOTA. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything at any audio show, but I have very definitely used shows to launch or clinch an investigation into gear that has since found a home here.
  4. It’s fun. And did I mention that there’s stuff to do? Yes! So much so, you may get a bit crushed. Remember, RMAF is a mile up in the air, so if you’re a sea-level guy like myself, you get the added benefit of getting high — just by standing up! But when you’re wiped out, whether from listening to gear you’re never going (to want) to afford, or from having your brain slagged into cottage cheese after a subwoofer demo …. Hey, no worries. Chill, brother! Go hang out and listen to some dudes chatting about the latest in high-definition audio, or ripping vinyl, or speaker design, or go get your eyes crossed as experts start discussing the relative merits of clocking schemes. At RMAF this year, there are a dozen or more seminars to pass the time. There’s also free yoga — and a retreat/outing for that significant other who is not quite as entranced as you are by the whole audio-thing. There’s more: there are at least three different musical acts you can catch live and intimately in-person. That’s money! Oh, and getting back to that after-hours thing — go find Greg Beron (United Home Audio) and ask about his after-hours master-tape sessions. Definitely off-the-menu, there, but without all the thronging crowds coming and going, you’re quite likely to hear some of the best sound at the show. Secret tip from yours truly, and yes, Greg is totally gonna kill me for cluing you in.

So that’s four good reasons to go. Yes, it’s gonna be loud. Yes, it’s gonna be a zoo. Yes, you’re gonna get overwhelmed. RMAF is a big, bad, immersive experience. If you’ve never been, you really ought to try it out.

As for Roger’s comments on CES, and audio shows generally, I’ll circle back around after RMAF. There are good reasons to put on a show, and good reasons to show at one, and good things you can do to make your show interesting, and why all of this is important to the industry as a whole. But for now, I have some stuff to do. Lots to pack and unpack and repack. Batteries to charge. Cameras and lenses and video stuff to prep. Should I bring bourbon? Cigars? Or just get them there? Do I really need to bring four pairs of headphones? Where should I eat? What rooms are on my “must visit” list? Do I even have a pair of comfortable shoes anymore?

Decisions, decisions.

But the awesome thing? It’s that time again — and I can’t wait to get to Colorado this Thursday!

Hope to see you all there.