Let’s call my audio-show buddy Gavin. I first met him in the elevator at the 2017 Los Angeles Audio Show, and we chatted for ages in the foyer. Then I saw him again as a friend and I stood in line to register for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. We met often that weekend, the three of us visiting rooms together, and talking in corridors and over coffee about what we’d seen and heard.
Gavin is a drummer and audiophile from a town in Northern California whose name you’ll know now, if you didn’t before: Santa Rosa. I’d seen the headlines as I traveled home to Los Angeles from Denver after RMAF weekend, but hadn’t realized how bad the fires were until I heard from Gavin. By Monday afternoon, he had friends who’d lost homes and pets, and he and his wife had the cars all packed, ready to flee.
“When the fires came close,” he told me over the phone a week later, “I had a sick audiophile thought: ‘If the house burns down, what system can I get with the insurance money?’”
Of course Gavin didn’t want his house to burn down. And of course he wasn’t inured to the tragedy around him, that he had been spared by winds, chance, and hard work by the fire fighters. But I think he was only half-joking when he said, “If you use that quote, don’t use my name” so I call him Gavin.
(I’ve named him after my favorite drummer, whose playing I love—though I don’t know him personally. Gavin Harrison of King Crimson and Porcupine Tree. The pseudonymous Gavin is my other favorite drummer because I love his energy, though I haven’t heard him play. He’s one of those rare chatty people who stop and listen, and show a real interest in your life.)
I’d called to ask Gavin what it was like to go from the rarefied world of high-end audio, to needing to potentially flee for your life. He’s seen some ups and downs in his time though, and didn’t seem too ruffled.
As much as I enjoyed all the equipment, he told me, what made the show for me was running into you guys, and being able to experience it with like-minded people.
“It certainly was a crash after that to go from my ‘post Rocky Mountain’ bliss to having to stay up all night watching the fire.”
For me too, RMAF was as much about people as about the equipment and music. My old friend Pankaj had joined me from near Portland, a person from the same city and context I wrote about in Copper here. He’s a knowledgeable audiophile, and as I went to sleep the first night, tired after my early start from LA, he stayed up late to do his “homework”–plotting out all the rooms he wanted to visit. I just copied it before class, changing it enough to pass as mine. Old times.
Also great fun was running into all the audio-industry folk, including finally meeting in person someone all you Copper readers may have vaguely heard of: Bill Leebens [Oh, please—as if they care. —Ed.].
I had some great experiences with the technology too. It was the Old Testament all over again in one of the rooms, where a flame spoke to me; my first experience with a plasma tweeter. Incidentally Bill’s exhaustive article on the subject is up high in a Google search for “plasma tweeter”.
There was the room with the giant tube monoblocks and floor-to-ceiling electrostatic loudspeakers that actually fooled me, as I walked past, into thinking they had live drums in there. There was the after-party of the loudspeaker company with excellent, subversive branding where I had to Shazam every song the DJ played, not just because I didn’t know them, but because I had to know them.
For an industry that is supposedly losing the fight to single-box digital, there was a bewildering number of rooms with tube amplifiers. (Though I suppose that makes sense when you think about it.) There were subtle shades of digital snobbery on display in the room of a company that makes music streamers: someone asked if their products would soon be Roon-ready, and was dismissively told, “That’s computer audio. This is different.”
The sense I got from many conversations—ones I was part of, ones I eavesdropped on, and ones at seminars I attended—was that shows such as RMAF are vital and exciting, but in danger of losing relevance. However, no one seems sure of how they should adapt to the new market.
Roy Gregory of theaudiobeat.com made me wonder if the future for audio companies involves having the budget to exhibit at shows in China.
“The center of gravity of high-end is moving east,” he said at the seminar, High Resolution Audio: Have Files Eclipsed Physical Media?.
The night before, Roy had hosted the Rocky Mountain International HiFi Press Awards, at which Rebecca Chin and Lincoln Cheng of Audio Technique, presented the trophies. Audio Technique is a leading hi-fi publication in Hong Kong and China, which also stages the massive Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show.
Roy stood at the mic at a venue that bristled with people whose names graced legendary products, magazines, and other annals of high-end audio.
“To everyone in this room,” said Roy as he introduced Rebecca and Lincoln, “these are the two most important people in the world.” [Rebecca and Lincoln are flanking Roy on either side of the podium in the header pic—Ed.]
At 2.30am the Monday after RMAF, the fires were close enough for Gavin to go bang on all his neighbors’ doors, waking them up. I think by this time, he was allowed his “sick audiophile thought”… But what if it isn’t a sick thought at all?
“What if it’s about survival?,” I asked Gavin. “About a drive to find the positive in even the most horrible situation?”
If you lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch, what would your new music system look like? What would you do differently? I don’t mean to trivialize a tragedy in which people lost homes, pets, every record of their lives, and even loved ones, but if the center of gravity of high-end is indeed moving east, what else is moving, what else is changing, and how much re-thinking do we need to do?