by Darryl Lindberg
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: the sounds we hear at audio shows like the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival are an indication—and sometimes just a faint indication—of what we would potentially hear in our own rooms. Like the majority of attendees (I assume), I haven’t heard a good many of the individual components featured at the show, let alone these components in the usually unfamiliar show systems—and systems in rooms that are not necessarily conducive to good sound. That is, in most cases, it’s difficult for me to tell exactly what is affecting what in that I couldn’t definitely say that this particular speaker or that particular amp/preamp made THE difference.
Now, the exhibitors do their darnedest to ensure their products are shown to their best advantage, but they’re pretty much starting from behind the eight ball, given the less-than-stunning sonic potential of typical hotel rooms in terms of physical layout and construction. Then there’s the issue of power and . . . well, I mean really, do have to say anymore? Let’s just agree that show conditions will probably always be less than optimal. Now that doesn’t mean that we should prepare ourselves for sonic disappointment; it’s simply something to keep in mind as we try to process the sometimes overwhelming array of show systems. The fact is that I’ve heard show set ups of equipment that I know from my own experience to be outstanding sound decidedly mediocre; conversely, I heard show set ups of gear I thought mediocre sound outstanding. In the first instance, you try to make allowances; in the second, you realize that maybe you hadn’t given the gear a fair chance—that is, if you’re honest with yourself.
But, in my opinion, the obvious limitations that are pretty much inherent in audio show set ups are far outweighed by the sheer convenience of hearing a broad range of offerings at a single location. It’s a low-pressure forum where one may experience—even if not ideally—the latest advances in sound reproduction technology. Or even the latest advances in live sound production; e.g., Robert Silverman’s exquisite piano performances. Equally important are the relaxed, eyeball-to-eyeball chats with the manufacturers and distributors. Finally, there’s just something special about sharing experiences with a bunch like-minded folks, many of whom are far more informed—and, in some cases, obsessed—than I am.
Before I get started, I must tell you that this year there was a change on my end: my name tag. No, I didn’t alter my name to conform to some numerological formula or to sprout a hyphenated surname appendage. This year I wore a pink name tag that identified me as one of the “audio press.” In the past, and I’ve attended every RMAF since its inception, I was simply registered as good ol’ Darryl Lindberg, potential consumer, raconteur and bon vivant. Although it didn’t make any difference to my old friends, that simple change in badge color subtly—and in some cases, not so subtly— altered the reception I received in a number of the rooms where I was unknown. In particular, some of the exhibitors were what I’d term overly accommodating, while others were overly condescending. It wasn’t that big a deal by any means, but it made me wonder whether it might be better to attend these shows in “mystery shopper” mode in order to get the unvarnished treatment.
Given my mini-screed regarding the general desirability of hotel rooms as audio showcases, I thought it would be interesting to divide my observations by room size: big rooms, medium rooms, and small rooms, i.e., the standard hotel hovel-ette (note: room size is based on my perception, not measurements). Also, since speakers are the demon devices that are most affected by room size and placement possibilities—or lack thereof—I’ve subdivided my comments by speaker where it makes sense (or not). Even though it should be self-evident that room/speaker matching is no less important at audio shows than it is at home, there are always overzealous exhibitors who, in my opinion, fall prey to the “too much speaker/too little room” syndrome. Of course it’s natural to want to show the biggest and best stuff, but shoehorning mega-speakers into a puny room is not likely to produce great sound no matter what the ancillary equipment. That’s enough of that ….
I’m not attempting to be comprehensive here by any means so I’ve covered some of the systems that piqued my interest. Here’s what’s next:
- Part 2, Big Rooms with Big Speakers
- Part 3, Big Rooms with Medium-Sized Speakers
- Part 4, Medium-Sized Rooms with Medium-Sized Speakers
- Part 5, Small Rooms with Medium-Sized and Smaller Speakers