This may have been my first RMAF, but it certainly won't be my last. I've been arguing for years that the high-end community is not well-served by CES; as if to prove the point, RMAF has shown itself to be more accessible, more affordable and more productive for many exhibitors than CES. Several European manufacturers told me they no longer intend to exhibit at CES. Their reasoning? Not enough US dealers attend CES to make it worthwhile to show in Las Vegas, and most buyers from the hot middle-eastern and eastern European markets attend The High End show in Munich, rather than CES. Munich and Denver may be the main shows to attend, in the future.
I heard a few grumblings in the halls about attendance being down, but it seemed plenty busy to me. Official notice on the RMAF website: "Thank you for a wonderful show 3700 attendees, 470 exhibitors, 150+ rooms." Just as a matter of perspective, it's always been difficult to obtain meaningful attendance figures for the high-end exhibits at CES; the best figure I've ever been able to get out of the CEA (the organization which produces CES) is roughly 5,000 attendees to the high-end exhibits alone. There's no telling how many of those 5,000 folks are exhibitors, or attendees of the adult video show who got lost. Nothing like that at RMAF (darn it!).
Seriously, that's a good thing. Nothing is quite as dispiriting as trying to explain the merits of a $100,000 amplifier to a video queen named Bambi. Trust me on this.
Audio may not be polarized into red and blue states, but it's always easy to find representatives of totally divergent philosophies. At RMAF, it was easy to find credible examples of the latest digital software-based technologies, and equally easy to find astonishing updates of older analog technologies, such as LP players and reel-to-reel tape decks. Similarly, 'stats and planars could be seen across the hall from field-coils and horns.
Empirical Audio, well-known for their DACs, went the new-digital route, leaving old duffers like me feeling a bit anxious and out of it. The system used a Mac Mini as a source, and featured custom-built speakers managed by a DEQX digital crossover. The system was not only bi-amped, but bi-DACed? Never heard of THAT before. An interesting, forward-looking set-up which offered a lot to think about.
J-Corder went the Back to the Future route, showing beautifully-rebuilt Technics 1500-series reel-to-reel tape decks. The rest of their gear offered flashback moments for the aged audiophile, with Kenwood and Carver amps, and homebuilt speakers in old Epicure enclosures. A nice showcase of a technology which, like LPs, just refuses to die.
John Wolff's Classic Audio speakers featured vintage-inspired horn speakers using field-coil drivers; technologies which date back to Peter Jensen's first Magnavox "loud-speaking telephone" in 1915. When a technology survives for nearly a century, you assume it has some distinctive merits; these speakers certainly did. Elsewhere in the show, Lowther America also showed a new/old field-coil driver; their first such unit dated back to the '30's with PGAH Voigt.
Analysis Audio, along with many other companies which showed planars or ribbons, showed the other side of the philosophic street. The Analysis Omega multi-way ribbon speakers bear a strong resemblance to the old Apogees, and offer many of the same striking benefits in power and definition. Analysis, showing with JPS labs, also showed new mono amps from their affiliated company, Arion Audio.
Almost every room featured something worthy of comment; the fact that very few rooms did NOT have something worthy of comment, is in itself worthy of comment! While time and life in general prevent me from offering a detailed analysis of each room, we are proud to once again feature detailed photography of every single room at RMAF.
Luckily, we had old pros Albert Porter and Audiogon Al doing our photography, because Audiogon Bill's candid shots show the effects of old age and jet lag. If I could show my blurry pics, you'd see some of my favorite moments of the show: the brilliant John Curl attempting to explain Bybee technology to bewildered me, over a cold beverage; the lovely and ageless Christina Yuin and Gabi van der Kley sharing a table at the J. Gordon Holt Memorial martini bash hosted by Luke and Bea Manley of VTL; a World Famous Editor and World Famous Reviewer quaffing Coronas at day's end; and an enthusiastic Miami dealer sitting in on congas at a local nightspot. For a bunch of stiff old audiophiles, it was a pretty lively bunch, and a fine show indeed!