In recent years, the best place to take the measure of the American high-end audio industry and to hear what's new has been the annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), a show that draws several thousand hi-fi enthusiasts, dealers, and manufacturers to a nondescript Marriott hotel in Denver for three days each fall. Compared to the colossal, roaring Woodstock that is CES -- the International Consumer Electronics Show -- the RMAF is a homespun revival meeting, an infinitesimal upstart that began only seven years ago. But with the venerable hi-fi sector now reduced to a tiny, shrinking percentage of the $182 billion U.S. consumer-electronics marketplace, high-end audio has been lost amid the din at CES. The community devoted to the cutting edge of refined sound now prefers to circle the wagons and celebrate its survival each October in Colorado.
I briefly visited the RMAF in 2005 and 2009, but this year I decided to take in the whole show, from midday Friday until the last subwoofer boomed sometime late Sunday afternoon. My first stop in the Marriott lobby was the Colorado Audio Society's table, where a garrulous house restorer and avid stereo hobbyist named Rick Turner ("Society member number two") walked me through the tale of his lifelong engagement with hi-fi, starting with a Silvertone record player in 1957. The Colorado Audio Society itself, which co-sponsors the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, was founded three decades ago and has about 100 active members, including a handful of women -- "maybe three or four," Turner said. Al Stiefel, a hi-fi distributor, gear designer, and CAS stalwart, launched the RMAF in 2004, but he died not long after the jam-packed 2008 show confirmed the event's preeminence and profitability. His wife, Marjorie Baumert, now runs it with the help of a corps of Colorado Audio Society volunteers and friends.