A young audiophile’s cross-country-journey to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest — words and photography by Marc Boyle.
So like, the strangest thing happened to me the other day. My phone was making a weird noise, almost as if someone was calling me. For those of you who are unaware, this is a rare occasion. People my age love to text, come up with hashtags, send memes, and do everything else other than what a phone was originally designed to do. Nevertheless. I answered with excitement.
On the phone, I was offered a challenge, if I chose to accept it. My task was to simply attend Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and write about my experiences. While most people would fly directly into Denver, I knew I had to do something different and exciting. This trip would require several methods of transportation including: planes, trains, cars, pedicabs, and an inflatable rubber tube. However, I don’t want to get too off track, this is an “audio” article after all. Time to get down to business.
This story starts with a flight out of the hurricane-crazed-Florida and into the windy city of Chicago. Why Chicago you might ask? Isn’t that about 1,000 miles away? Well, you are correct and that’s some great geographical knowledge. I had to Google the distance. The main reason we chose Chicago was that I was destined to meet up with Eric Franklin Shook™ (Part-Time Audiophile and AudioHead), Grover Neville (InnerFidelity), and Jameson Mourafetis (F1 Audio) in hopes to cause trouble around the city, and visit some of the local HiFi stores before we traveled cross-country on our way to Denver.
Arriving at the airport, I was surrounded by a sea of people relaxing and listening to music before their flight. This came as a surprise to me. I always bring my headphones with me when I travel, but I always thought that’s because I’m a self-proclaimed audiophile. But let me ask a quick question first. Where else do you see a mass gathering of headphones outside of the HiFi world?
Being that it was a few hours before the flight and I didn’t have that much else to do, I decided to put on my detective hat and start investigating. I went up to a few of the people listening to their headphones and asked them how they were listening. At first, I was met with odd looks and people pointing to the headphones. So more specifically I asked what was the source of their music. Most of their answers were either Pandora or Spotify but I was surprised to see that someone mentioned Qobuz and then asked if I knew about it. After some chat about music and a few album suggestions, it was time to board my flight and finally embark on this journey.
The first place on our list of local visits, was Decibel Audio. Not only did they specialize in newer equipment, but they also carried a greater selection of used gear.
I’ve always appreciated taking a look at the equipment from the past to see how it impacted and influenced the gear of today. To further this appreciation they even had a huge diagram of turntables from the past. Bonus points if you can guess which one is mine.
The next stop on our list was ProMusica Audio Specialists. Their tagline was, “We Sell Music: Audio Equipment is simply a means to that end.” This was clearly conveyed from the moment you walked inside. We were greeted by Ken Christianson (Co-Founder of Promusica, and Master Class Educator at Columbia College).
Ken let us in on one of the most unique elements that really tied everything about listening experiences all together. All of the music that we listened to was recorded live in the Promusica showroom. They frequently have live performances in-house and have recording equipment on-site to capture the magic. This inspired Grover to hop on the piano and throw down some sweet melodies during our visit.
The last stop on our Chicago list was at F1 Audio. We were greeted by Jamie Pauls who was ready to showcase what his store had to offer.
This was more of the type of Hifi store that I was used to, however, everything here seemed very refined. You can tell that there was a lot of attention to detail when the rooms were created. They have a very at home type feel with well-performing equipment to back it up. They also let me select the music while we were there so we had a chance to rock-out for a bit before they closed up for the night.
Time for part two of this audio adventure. With a 15-hour drive ahead of us, we loaded up the car with all the essentials: a bucket of beef jerky, a case of water, and one piece of Laffy Taffy. Grover was the DJ in charge, and Jameson was the unlucky fellow to drive the first leg of the trip.
In the back of the car, you could find Shook™ and myself cracking jokes the whole time (crambone!). We were sure the pilot and co-pilot would leave us stranded at the next gas station. However, with enough beef-jerky-bribing, we were allowed to stay. Next stop, Denver!
The sheer size of the hotel was breathtaking. We decided to take a quick look around and visit some rooms before we officially started business. Remember how I just mentioned the size of the hotel? Well, I didn’t think of how far I had to walk to get room to room. Next year I might invest in a ride-share-program to get to the furthest rooms. Mention this story and you’ll save 20% off the ride.
All joking aside, most of this was done in part to make sure that the sound did not bleed through room-walls and interrupt your experience while listening.
So let’s get down to business. There are many places that you can read about the gear at the show. However, there are very few places that you can read about the experience of the show. To me, these experiences are almost as important as the gear. For those of you who have not experienced a Hifi Show, I highly recommend it.
Not only do you get to experience some of your favorite gear, but you also get to speak with the great minds behind the gear. You can ask them questions about their product and they will be happy to do so. This is where a lot of the magic happens and this is what keeps me coming back.
For example, you can find Paul McGowan at the PS Audio room for his “Ask Paul” sessions. I love their banner that states, “You’ve got hi-fi questions, he’s got long-winded answers”. It just shows the care that they want to provide.
Another example would be Ted Denney with Synergistic Research. He put his money where his mouth was and showed us the results of what happens when you use his products. He brought a whole suite worth of gear and showed how each one changed the sound. If I didn’t experience this first hand I would have been wary but after seeing the demo a few times over the course of a couple of shows I’m convinced.
The show also held different seminars that allowed you to learn more about different aspects of the industry. I attended one about how your company website can affect your sales and another one that spoke about gender-inclusion in audio. Both of these were thought-provoking for me and you felt like you were part of the seminar. At any moment you could ask a question or make a comment.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see the love given to headphones at the show! Almost every floor had a room or two that had headphones on display, in addition to their main system display.
There was also a dedicated ballroom exhibit for headphones, and related equipment, that you could go from booth to booth trying out the different gear. Right next door to that was the marketplace where all of my money suddenly disappeared.
Everywhere you went at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019 there was something new to experience, or a great mind to strike up a conversation with. All-in-all, I can say it was definitely worth the long drive and I’m happy about the new experiences and friends I made along the way!
Fire-up the bandwidth, it’s a long one.