Walking around Denver’s yearly premier HiFi event, Rocky Mountain Audiofest, you’d be hard pressed to think that the industry is at some sort of perpetual crossroads. Since formally joining the HiFi circus as a reviewer some 17 years ago, this crossroads talk has been a consistent constant. Just the other day, participating at local HiFi dealer, Audio Element, Pasadena’s genuine, bona fide salon la musique, the conversation of crossroads came up more than once; no, make that more than eighteen times. Such is life in this boutique industry. You have players that are successful, you have those that aren’t and you have those who talk. A ton. But back to Denver’s Audiofest 2018. Seeing this as the finé outing of Marjorie Baumert’s Rocky Mountain show at the Marriott, Denver Tech Center, you’d have expected there to be something sort of qualifying as a final hurrah. There wasn’t. Instead, it’s as if nothing major was changing, which in fact of course is precisely what’s happening. The big, nay, major news of this year’s show, is that as of 2019, Marjorie and team will be pushing a full court press at the all new and all-encompassing Denver airport Disneyland, Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center.
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) 2018 by Danny Kaey
Indeed, Marriott’s time has come and gone, game over, match, set and point. Fine by me, good riddance I say. You see, even as the Marriott prior to the practically complete down to the studs rehab of 2017, was home to the Audiofest since inception, the hotel and most importantly, the Audiofest, has significantly outgrown their first kicks. Combined with the goal of becoming the audio show in the US, Marjorie felt it necessary to go big; in fact, much bigger. Cue the Gaylord Resort. With a significantly larger capacity, far superior layout and proximity to the airport, altogether more elaborate hospitality and likely friendliness, the Gaylord will set the tone for shows to come. Meanwhile back at the Marriott, it was fanfare of the same kind, redux. If anything, I noticed a drop in attendance, even as Marjorie countered with an overall greater industry presence and “sold out” status. From small to big, from wide to tall, Audiofest 2018, seemed just like any other regional HiFi show. Surprisingly, even CanJam, the show’s quasi permanent headphone wearing guest, seemed far less hectic and full than in year’s past. Sure, the usual suspects and head turners where all present: in fact, a company I have been keeping a very close eye on, Auris, seems to have grown from newcomer to startup to mainstay in record time. Fronted by my affable countryman, Miki Trosič, Auris Audio had presence at the show’s CanJam section and a more than fantastic presence on the show’s main HiFi floor. With a vertically integrated offering on hand, Auris is definitely a brand to watch for and most certainly audition if you are in the market for a tube based, exquisite, European flair’d HiFi brand.
Elsewhere at the show, the room most often spoken of was without doubt the massive Verity Audio room, fronted by their massive Monsalvat speaker and electronics system. The sound, in the handful of cuts I heard, was almost befitting the room’s price tag: big, bold, with dynamic capabilities north of Canada. That the system also looked the part was an additional bonus. Another highlight was Brian Ackerman’s must see and hear mix of Ypsilon and Wilson Benesch. The greek’s powerful, yet musical electronics mated perfectly to Wilson Benesch’s british roots: that Brian sells and imports both brands isn’t a surprise, though I admit that Wilson Benesch isn’t necessarily my cup of British 5 o’clock tea for two.
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) 2018 by Ingo Schulz
Zu, as always, brought the Zoo and then some. Though I didn’t have a chance to spend too much time in this room, I think the time has come to finally accept Zu as the neverending music party train that it is. Zu Druid VI where fronted by thirty watts of Pass Labs power, which on the outset seems outgunned; yet on closer inspection plays far more powerfully due to the crazy high efficiency of 101db, Druids have on tap. Boulder electronics coupled with Rockport speakers fronted by two of the best show masters, Rich and Steve, offered up effortless sonics with the right pedigree to match. MSB is MSB, which is to say always stellar. Is there more on tap? You bet: case in point, Vinnie Rossie paired with Harbeth; or John DeVore with his new Über-double-speaker. No matter the music, Vinnie and John’s room was frequented often and repetitively at that, which is usually a good indicator of who’s who and what’s what. Nicely done gents!
Other highlights, seen and heard at the show seemed to indicate no stopping whatsoever of a) vinyl, b), streaming and c) more cooks than fit the kitchen. That last comment in particular unfolds as such: “Hey Paul!” [whereby Paul is a generic someone with an idea, great or otherwise] “I think you should make your …” [Paul, deep in thought, followed by not so much critical or really any thinking at all, simply says] “hmmm… you know what, good idea!” Cue Audiofest 2019 and voila, Paul is now the owner of the next best thing in HiFi. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many a newcomer was founded on precisely such principals, given the seemingly insatiable visibility of said wares at this year’s show. These sightings, inexplicable though they may be, make HiFi that much more challenging to quantify for the novice: household brands like Sony, Apple or HP are far and few between. On this side of the fence there are precious few; even more precious are the ones that genuinely exist based on a sound business model. Therein lies the rub: newcomers beware.
Lastly, YG offered up a very interesting and promising hospitality suite. Partnering with Devialet, YG toured VIPs to their factory on Friday for an exclusive audition of Devialet’s self contained, self powered Sonja 2.2 speaker system. The catch? Gone was Yoav Geva’s intricate and passive crossover network, replaced by a fully active Devialet powered DSP version of the same. Is this the future? Hard to say given the requirements and obstacles in plain sight. Then again, perhaps it is one step closer to the adage of “all you need are two speakers and your iPhone”. Noble attempts if the glue sticks.
YG Acoustics factory visit 2018
Looking forward to 2019, it becomes crystal clear that Marjorie and team have an incredible opportunity of taking HiFi to the next level. With hotel limitations now a thing of the past, the future indeed looks bright. Cross-functional tie-ins, far more large suites on offer, the Gaylord could indeed be what we always wanted: the perfect HiFi show. 2019, here we come!