Reflections of an RMAF First Timer

Photo: John Atkinson

The 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest has come and gone, and here I find myself, back in the quiet comfort of Brooklyn.

Back with a glass of red wine in my hand, a table full of hot Indian takeout, and a dreamy Chet Baker serenading me through my modest system: a Technics SL 1200 Mk. II turntable with an Audio Technica AT440MLa cartridge (on a Technics headshell), a Fisher 800-C stereo receiver, and a pair of Rogers LS3/5a monitors sitting atop Skylan Speaker Stands.

What more is there to life?

. . . Or so I had thought, prior to attending Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2016, my first-ever major audio show (footnote 1).

One week later, and it's still all I can think about. My heart is raw from persistent waves of adrenaline. My mind, desperate to hold on to every detail, continuously runs and re-runs through every moment I can even slightly remember. I find myself staring at the floor maps, trying to recreate each room, each component, each sound, each individually nuanced experience. Have I finally gone insane? Or have I just officially been inducted into the audiophile community? Through all this, my body remains but a mere heap of skin and bones; a stale shell defeated by over stimulation and over exertion—as it should be.

Emotions aside—I had the most unique show experience possible. As a recent (now almost 8 months) addition to the Stereophile team, no one knows who I am. (Or if they do, they don't know what I look like.) I was rarely seen with JA, Herb, and Jason during the day, which made me virtually invisible. I was like a disguised food critic . . . except that the table wait was sometimes annoyingly long, and the food was sometimes provided without utensils. There were times when I'd walk into a room and be completely ignored, only to soon after receive special treatment, upon the exhibitor's learning of my affiliation with Stereophile. As oddly inconvenient as this was, it was rather amusing. In no other circumstance would I have been able to see the show through the perspective of both a writer and an attendee.

All in all, it was a complete contrast from what I had been expecting. In the weeks leading up to the show, conversations lingered over construction this, construction that, fewer rooms, fewer exhibitors, and did you hear CanJam is to be in a tent? While this was all true, it did not detract from my experience at all.

I have only a single complaint: exhibitors who pack up before the show's end. Let me rephrase that as a question: Exhibitors, why do you pay so much money and time only to not utilize your space to its fullest by leaving before the show is over? There are passionate hobbyists, serious buyers, and determined show reporters eagerly hoping to experience your exhibit—and for whatever reason, their only availability just might be at 3pm on a Sunday, an hour before the show's close.

Let me rephrase that as a polite request. To all exhibitors who pack up early: please do us both a favor and stay around a couple more hours. I know it's a hassle, and it was keeping you from Denver's exotic nightlife, but you're wasting your resources, self-sabotaging your products, and cutting yourself off from potential fans, buyers, and press folk. Please. Pretty please.

Aside from this single gripe, I consider myself lucky for RMAF 2016 being my first show. I couldn't have asked for a more gratifying way to broaden my audiophile horizons. Shows like these aren't just about hearing the latest, greatest components, or searching for the best sounding system—and they aren't (only) for arguing over cables or MQA either! They're also about meeting all the people who keep this wonderful industry going from the ground up, and about sharing in a mutual love for good music and good sound.

Thank you to everyone who made RMAF 2016 so unforgettable.

Life will never be the same.

Footnote 1: As I've mentioned in previous writings, the only other audio show I've attended was the New York Audio Show in 2015. Thus, I am choosing to place it in a different category because it was a show of much smaller scale, and because I was not reporting on it for Stereophile.

Anton's picture

Glad to see you enjoyed your first dip in the show pool!

I have found that after I go to a big show and get impressed by all the cool gear, I return home, fire up the Hi Fi, and say to myself, "Hey! Not bad! I'm OK with this."

Do you think the show changed your appreciation of your own gear?

prerich45's picture

I did the same thing. Declared that I wasn't quite there, but very close....then some crazy deals came my way and there I was...upgrading again :(

I think I've found my place now though - it took me 4 years to change out speakers. I think I'm good now - fingers crossed!!!! ;) !!!!!

Anton's picture

I find it kind of reassuring to come home from a show and hear my own system.

Like you, I admit to getting the change bug when a crazy 'opportunity' arises.

I hoard all my old gear and, damn, I recently hooked up my old Yamaha C-4, M-4, and NS 1000 speakers in grandma's apartment above the barn (using a 350 dollar Marantz SACD player,) and it sounds so fine, it makes me wonder what the heck I keep chasing after.

The coolest part is that she has decided to live in the house, so I get to hang in the apartment and rock out.

Cheers prerich45!

prerich45's picture

Wow!!! I owned the Yamaha C-80, M-80, and NS-1000's with a whole rack of DBX gear... all of which are gone :(

The stupidest thing I ever did was sell the NS-1000's for $45!!!! I'm glad you still get to hear them!

I've had some good stuff in the past...but one of my favorites - I still get to listen to, my old Snell-EII's - which now reside at my son-in-laws home...setup by me ;). He even lets me sit in the sweet spot when I come over because he's not as "picky" as I am (He likes the lounge chair in the right corner - I like the couch - sweet spot).

I would like to see a shoot out with some older 80's 90's speakers against some of the newer stuff and see how it holds up. Just how much better has audio really gotten....would be fun to find out.

tonykaz's picture

Dear Jana,

These Shows "are" for meeting new folks, reinforcing relationships, catching up on all the Industry Gossip, showing off improved product lines and maybe bragging on increased Sales Success, etc.....

As an Importer, Manufacturer and sometimes Retailer I'd keep a nice Suite by the Swim Pool, well stocked Open-Bar, plenty of finger foods and loaner Swim suits. I'd invite my "new targets" to casually meet and relax with Industry Insiders. We'd always have a good time.

I'd say that you'd be "invisible" in the Audio Industry and in a great many non-related Industries, I sometimes travel with a Lady CEO of a bicycle Company who can be ( and mostly is ) ignored by her unknowing Industry Peers. 10 years from now, we'll discover that Hillary finally changed all that, I hope.

Don't sell your LS3/5a for something better, there is very little that's better than those British Mini-monitor designs which include the Linn Kanns and ProAc Tablets - Richard Gerberg r.i.p.

Oh dear, you're a Brooklyn Girl, phew, when I travel thru Brooklyn, from an Airport, I feel compressed, I'm certain it affects your writing which seems a bit beginner edgy and inquiring.

You might need Karen Sumner to take you around for Introductions ( and to learn the ropes ). Kathy Gornik ( Thiel Loudspeakers ) would've been a help but she left the Industry.

You're in for an interesting adventure.

Bon Voyage,

Tony in Michigan

calaf's picture

Oh dear, you're a Brooklyn Girl, phew, when I travel thru Brooklyn, from an Airport, I feel compressed, I'm certain it affects your writing which seems a bit beginner edgy and inquiring.


Allen Fant's picture

Very nice reporting and coverage wrap-up Jana.

Think of yourself as a "secret shopper" of the RMAF variety.
Good to read that you enjoyed all that was offered.
Did you come across a good Scotch while in Denver?

finnemga's picture


You left me wanting more ... much more actually. Some of what I would have been interested in seeing from a first timer is

1) Practical tips that other first timers might not think of vis-a-vis the actual attendance experience.
2) New perceptions of your own system after listening to all the hoidy toidy systems.
3) The biggest surprise you ran across in terms of audio equipment vs. your preconceptions.
4) Why an ordinary joe should consider the time, trouble, and expense of attending an audio show (as a member of the public who will be largely ignored).

T-NYC's picture

Not "most unique" -- just unique as in pregnant, dead, taxed, etc, and more coffee or tea for the editor

John Atkinson's picture
T-NYC wrote:
Not "most unique"...

Yup, missed that in the haste to get Jana's show impressions on-line.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

No worries, JA, you are still the penultimate Hi Fi editor!


kuroda99's picture


Thanks for your honest reporting of your first RMAF visit.
I think we can all look back and recall our first visit to an "Audio Show" ! It will always be etched in our memory.

Also, thanks for covering the affordable side of products. It's always left out due to being out-shined by the high-end products.

I look forward to future show coverage by you.


antonmb's picture

Did you really mean penultimate Anton, as in "penultimate: next to last?"

Anton's picture

People frequently misuse that term, so I meant it as humor next to "most unique."

I meant it as "next to the best," but not really, because JA is the best. JA is not just 'a' man, he is 'the' man.


JA is so great, that any turntable he walks past will start to show excess "Wow!"

As long we are faced with Hobson's choice for editor, at least we have JA!

antonmb's picture

Well, there are certainly other audio magazine editors, but I would agree, no tongue in cheek, that JA is the best.

rschryer's picture

No, he's the bestest.

veentage's picture

Brava Jana!

IgAK's picture

You are hardly invisible! I met you at the 2015 show and certainly remember you, quite pleasantly, with my eyes and sensibilities, both. Always nice to see ladies at an audio show, especially when not towed along by a husband and looking unwilling to be there.

I'd like to add a significant note to your request of exhibitors. I have been one myself, as well as writer and simply visitor various years. While there is reason to want to pack up a large or complex system early or just to be done from getting "burned out", this is not the best business practice. Many visitors, having surveyed the field, try to come back to whatever impressed them enough to consider buying for one last listen. Too bad if you've packed up already and lose that best chance to clinch the deal, eh?