Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Short Geek Diversion

This weekend, we took a break from working on the house, and went to one of my all-time favorite annual events here on the Eastern Slope of Colorado. The three-day high-end audio extravaganza known as Rocky Mountain Audiofest.

This is the largest consumer audio show in the country, and one of the best if you believe all the press this show has gotten over the last six years. They basically take over a high-rise hotel in the Denver Technological Center, clear the furniture out of over 180 guest rooms, and the exhibitors then set up all their gear in the rooms. This allows anyone who pays the ticket price ($10 per person for one day, but multi-day passes are available) to come through and hear some audio systems that most of us will never have the money to afford!

I have gone every year since the show came into being in 2003. And I always have a good time! And yes, my Everlasting SoulMate goes with me occasionally. She likes music, but tends to spend more time in the audio recordings room, pawing through vinyl and CDs.

One of the things I really enjoy about the show, besides looking at all the gear, is you can bring your own music and most exhibitors will allow you to listen to a song or two on their gear. There is something about hearing a pristine vintage recording of Tito Puente’s “El Cayuco” coming out of one set of speakers and amps that together cost more than a Cadillac CTS-V. *evil grin*

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “How come they charge so much? Is the gear really that much better?” In a word, yes. However, there is a caveat to that. You must be one of those people whose ears work differently than most to even think about paying that much for audio gear. Accomplished musicians know what I’m talking about. Most of us can listen to, and appreciate, the music we like. But, some folks can process much more information contained within the music and hear small nuances that others cannot. This show is full of this kind of gear that those folks would appreciate.

Now, before some of you all get huffy with me, I’m NOT an audio-snob! I’m not one of these boorish, elitist, nose-in-the-air snobs who walk around the show with a bundle of old jazz vinyl under their arms (“because digital music is sooo over-rated”), who won’t listen to anything without tubes in it (“Oh, digital electronics take so much away from the music!”), and would never even look at something that costs less than my car (“If it isn’t expensive, how can it be any good?”).

I do appreciate the value of good vinyl LPs. I have them. I listen to them. There are certain vintage recordings that will NEVER be released in a digital format, so the only way to hear them in on vinyl. My dad has a whole stack of those in his collection. But, I also understand that digital music is very, very good these days, and the convenience and overall ruggedness compared to an LP is much higher.

I am a geek audiophile. I appreciate not only the musical qualities and audio nuances of esoteric gear, but the technological innovation going on as well. I like to see a piece of equipment doing things in a new way, something that no one had thought of before. And, I appreciate the design aesthetics of the gear too. Follow the link above to the RMAF site and check out the pictures to see what I’m on about.

I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music. I like a LOT of different stuff. I have most everything in my personal collection, from classical symphonic and jazz music to oldies from the fifties to some of the hardest heavy-metal/thrash around. And I listen to it all, depending on my mood. Witness my taste by what I took to the show in my CD holder:

  • Michael Aggson – Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (A good friend of mine who writes and records his own music, and is an accomplished guitarist)
  • Herb Alpert – Definitive Hits
  • Andy McKee – Dreamcatcher
  • Andy McKee & Don Ross – The Thing That Came From Somewhere
  • SouND MiNDS – Jazzorros (An uncle of mine played in this band as the keyboardist)
  • Men of Steel – Live: Men of Steel (Steel-string acoustic guitar music by four of the best players, Dan Crary, Don Ross, Beppe Gambetta and Tony McManus)
  • Chuck Mangione – 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection
  • Various Artists – Windham Hill Records Sampler ’82
  • Phil Keaggy – Acoustic Sketches
  • Shaw-Blades – Influence (Tommy Shaw from Styx and Jack Blades from Night Ranger)

Obviously, I don’t take really wild stuff to the show. Some people’s tastes are not as broad as mine, and Metallica or Green Day just aren’t heard very much at the show. You tend to hear a lot of jazz, new-age, some classical, and just a smattering of rock.

There are always new companies at the show, and I enjoy seeing what is new this year. However, I also make sure to stop by a few rooms of those who have some of my favorite gear. YG Acoustics has made appearances at the last several shows, and believe me, if I could afford it I would have a pair of their floor-standing Anat Reference II’s. They have some of the cleanest, most accurate sound I have ever heard. Awesome.

Ok, another short geek moment. I stopped by the room of Obad Imports. They are a small company in Canada selling, amongst other things, KingRex class-T amplifiers. These are some of the most interesting devices to come around in a long time. They are an inexpensive (by high-end standards) digital amp, that sounds for all the world like a $10,000+ single-ended valve tube amp. The music produced is wonderful! I have been reading about them online, but this was my first chance to listen to one of them with my own ears. I will be getting one soon!

This year, my time at the show was a little shorter than normal. The hotel, with almost 200 rooms full of amps and audio gear, had a major power failure, complete with fire alarm and a full evacuation of the building! That’s the first time I’ve seen that at the show! *grin*

Anyhow, I did have a good time as always, came home with a few new SACDs to listen to and a whole bag full of swag. If you get a chance in early October, and love audio gear like I do…make plans to come out to Colorado and attend RMAF. You definitely won’t be disappointed. And, who knows, maybe you’ll see me there!

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