If there is a possibility to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure, why shouldn't you take that opportunity? So we did and boarded a Delta flight in Amsterdam that hopped the Atlantic to Albuquerque. After an 8-hour wait in Atlanta that lengthened our trip substantially, arrival at ABQ's Sunport became our first surprise. Surprise? We arrived at an almost deserted airport where the baggage appears on the carousel within a couple of minutes [that's living in the high desert for you - Ed.]. Outside the building, plenty of taxis awaited fares in a lovely climate. One of them, driven by a sound engineer in his 'other life' (who just so happened to know many Dutch ventures) took us to our hotel.

After a well-deserved rest, breakfast was our next encounter with the pace of New Mexico. The word breakfast should be changed to break'laxed here. All things are at ease, slow and relaxed, requiring a serious adjustment for us big-city dwellers. No waiters running by at 5mph, pouring coffee in your cup while moving. After breakfast, it was time to do the Old Town of Albuquerque. We asked the hotel reception for a taxi and one showed up within 5 minutes to take us to the best starting point for a mini tour. En route, the driver, Ron, explained some of Albuquerque's sights and handed us his business card in case we needed future transportation. After our rounds through a town that seemed caught in a time warp a century back, we enjoyed a New Mexican lunch. The fajitas of various sweet peppers and hot chillies were a mere teaser of many great meals we'd have on this trip. Were we surprised to see driver Ron show up within minutes after we called him to take us back to the hotel?

Next morning, Srajan and Ivette picked us up to take us to Santa Fe and later to their homestead near Taos. For us, it was an amazing experience that we could leave our valuables in the locked car while visiting some of the many art galleries in Santa Fe. This is what you call relaxed living.

Our bed in Taos was at a B&B just around the corner of our hosts and another fine example of how sweet life can be when the pace is slowed down. After dinner in one of the many great eateries there, we were truly amazed by the New Mexican sky free of light or other pollution. The pictures in our school's astronomy books are for real! How small do you feel when looking up at the sky to see millions of twinkling lights? Here in the high desert of New Mexico, life is very good. Clear skies, a lovely 85 degrees, friendly people and great food. And on top of that, music. At Srajan and Ivette's, we of course listened to lots of music through the realsized system and took plenty of notes on must-have CDs. Work!

After a few days in Taos, it became time to pack again and head to Denver for the second part of our trip. Denver meant the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. A 4-hour drive took us to the Denver Tech Center Marriott hotel, home of the show. We arrived during setup day while the reception hall was filled with familiar faces chatting with each other to postpone the inevitable - schlepping boxes. Time to explore downtown Denver for us. From what we saw, Denver for a big city was again very relaxed and low-key. The center's architecture was open and airy. Not bad at all.

And then the following morning - show time. RMAF had a total of 113 exhibit rooms and suites spread over multiple floors. The beauty of RMAF is that it's a truly independent show. No trade organization or magazine is behind it. This means exhibitors are not obliged to attend in some political or other way. No ties exist between advertising space and punitive attendance (the notion that not being there means your business is in trouble). But there's more. Fees for exhibit rooms are realistic and affordable. Exhibiting at a show is costly enough when you add it all up. Exhibitors love affordable. Hey, so do we. Best of all, RMAF is open to the public.

We had two days to cover everything so we started on time. Packed with our EAC'd compilation CD filled with samples by Avishai Cohen, Vicente Amigo, Misia, Renaud Garcia-Fons, Eric Vaarzon, the Hadouk Trio and L'Ham de Foc, the 5th floor of the atrium became our starting point. We spent quality time at many rooms - so many in fact that it's impossible to name them all. The rooms mentioned next are select examples of the ones in which we enjoyed extensive listening sessions or where something else caught our attention.

Vinh Vu and Norman Ginsburg of Gingko Audio had finished their Tubulous project, which we last heard in New York. Now the design has changed and the three consecutive 6.5" woofers are built into a sealed horizontal tube. One woofer drives the next, which drives the visible one. On top of the horizontal tube, a bullet tweeter starts doing its work at a very high 4,500Hz. The Tresolution design as it is called makes the sound punchier and more alive than the ported single woofer we'd heard previously. Remaining are the many tweakabilities. As the vertical tube can swivel around its base, the loosely coupled horizontal tube can rotate as well. Combining both actions, the perceived musical image can be adjusted from small and intimate to large and widespread as a demo by Vinh and Norman clearly showed. At the current asking price, the Tubulous is a versatile and interesting offering. Non-US customers can order the Tubulous directly from Gingko.

One of the larger rooms on the 5th floor was occupied by Randel and Ron Williams of dealership Alpen Audio, showcasing Avantgarde Acoustics with a pair of dark-grey Duos powered by Thor amplifiers. This German/American combination proved to be an inspired choice. We played some tracks of our CD and got a real good feeling about this system which, in the Duos, mirrored our own at home. The roughly diagonal layout of the system in the room with a comfortable couch and smoking chair made the whole scene very domestic and very un "hifi show". (Ever since we wrote our 22-degree article, this type of setup is becoming more and more prevalent at shows we attend.)

Edge shared a room with Acoustic Zen and demo'd a complete system for $16.000. Not a bad deal at all. The battery- powered Edge G2 preamplifier and new CD player match nicely and the G-series amplifier did magic on the new Acoustic Zen loudspeakers that impressed us with their definition and bass extension.

Eduardo de Lima of Audiopax brought his new small floorstanding L350 loudspeakers from Brazil. Though an unwilling CD player handicapped the room during our first visit, these speakers have the same audio signature as the big Ref 100. Some later Pugliese (Lucho Records) proved this.

Over at the Zu Cable room, psychedelics were abundant. After a couple of days listening to Srajan's Definitions off his Zanden front-end, the show speakers received their signal from a Mac running iTunes. A projector threw Nvidia's soft-ware generated visualization onto o a screen in front of the room. Playing the Hadouk Trio [Edition Melodie France] with its mesmerizing lyrical sequences now was enhanced by mind-boggling visual effects. And this was pure electronics, no chemical substances involved. The Definitions are a very special loudspeaker with capacities that go well beyond the gestalt of the box. The fact that the source was a Mac with iTunes pointed us at a new challenge - a home project to run EAC on a Mac Mini and use that for a music source. Song Audio played the smaller Zu Druids which made a potent statement that affordable equipment can be very musical. Enough said. Try this combination when possible. You will be happily surprised.

At Moscode, Gage Rommel and George Kaye combined their hybrid Moscode 401HR amp with Dynaudio loudspeakers. Our first impression was not overly enthusiastic. However, we already knew from the NYC show that this homage to Harvey Rosenberg is very much capable of bringing the soul of music to life. We concluded that the combination of amplifier and speaker didn't click. Wrong! It appeared that the circumstances of the moment did not click instead. In order to keep the room nice and cool, George and Gage had run the air conditioner at a very cold setting overnight. This substantially cooled down the drivers of the Dynaudio. The great mass of driver baskets and magnets held on nicely to this chill and seemed unwilling to warm up quickly. Hence the perceived lack of performance. When we returned later, the sound had improved significantly. Lesson learned? Loudspeakers are more sensitive to room temperatures than one might imagine.

Though very satisfying, a long day of listening is tiring. The first show day was scheduled to last until 8pm. At 5:30, it seemed like a good time to interrupt the routine and get some nourishment. Within walking distance from the Marriott is Bara Sushi, a real must-go destination we frequented more than once.

Back at the Mariott, we headed for the Mezzanine. After all the positive impressions we collected thus far, it was time for our first downer - at the Nordost room where some of the finest of Scandinavian products were assembled together. The Raidho Eben loudspeakers sounded very promising and we asked to play some of our own CD. No problem, the requested track started. Then it happened. After a quarter of the track, the presenter ejected the CD without warning in favor of some gospel. "Listen how the soundstage spreads outside the speakers." The presenter may not have liked the music we fancy but this rudeness was a simply unacceptable display of disrespect (and we travelled all the way from Holland to be there). So we packed our gear and left this room in a hurry.

HighEndAudio's room became a safe haven for our frustration, curing us with a VRS music server, Thor amplification, Virtual Dynamics cables and Duevel loudspeakers, a setup soothing to mind and body. Ted Lindblad moved around by cane, having injured his back packing up the Duevels to transport them to Denver. We uploaded a few tracks to the VRS hard drive and were good to go. The unique radiation pattern of the Duevels provided a very enveloping sound in the large room. In the back, we spotted a few guitar amps by Palette. Conversing with owner/designer Robert Wakeling, we learned about his mission of building the most musical guitar amplifiers and speaker cabinets extant. That's perfect. Robert's returning HiFi back to its roots. He uses Hifi-grade -- if such a thing really exists -- woods and metals for his amps and cabinets. What a difference from our days with Sound City and Marshall. The amps are built with interleaved transformers, carbon composite resistors and polyester capacitors. The speaker cabinets with their dovetailed joints house Alnico magnets. Talking with Robert made time fly. In no time, security was asking us all to leave the room to close up. The clock stops when you're having musical fun. Fun continued in the bar area where exhibitors and attendees mingled well beyond closing time.

After a healthy Odwalla juice breakfast the next morning, the Marriott's tower rooms were our goal. This hotel has the oddest floor numbering system in the Western world. The best option? Just hit a button in the elevator and see where it goes. We began on the top floor and ran straight into room 7107 where John DeVore was playing good wake-up Rock'n'Roll over his Gibbons Super 8 and showed us his latest loudspeaker babies, a pair of Gibbon 3 mini monitors. So far we haven't heard them but they did look attractive. The Super 8s in the meantime kept on rocking and sounded very much like the bigger Silverbacks. We hope to see them in Europe soon.

Next door was the Gershman room whose Black Swan loudspeakers we'd heard previously but now sounded different. The Swans had completely loosened up and Ofra Gershman was proudly admitting it. A pair of Red Rock Renaissance monos provided presence behind a Modwright preamp. We played several tracks from our CD and whatever exactly was responsible, we both got tears when Vicente Amigo's Ciudad de las Ideas filled the room. Boy, this system could really transmit emotions!

Another room that triggered the old waterlanders was Modwright's. Hørning speakers and Channel Island power amps followed the Modwright SWL 9.0SE preamp and modified Denon CD player. For emotions from vinyl, the HighWater Soundroom needs to be mentioned. In a simple setup dominated by the beautiful TW Acoustic turntable, Jeffrey Catalano showed what vinyl does so easily that CD only manages with great effort. Too bad there still aren't many -- if any -- releases on vinyl that cater to our musical tastes.

The Dowdy Lama, Jim Dowdy, had the most stunning equipment of the show in his room. A whole row of Electronluv amplifiers by Josh Stippich filled out the right-hand wall. A pair of PHY-based hornspeaker made by Josh's father set the air in the room aflutter to the output of two Dowdy projects. This room had a high sense of VSAC, the other great US show - love of music and tubes.

By now we'd worked our way downward and a second visit to the Mezzanine was in order. In a large room, we spotted BAT combined with Avalon Eidolon Diamond loudspeakers. Time to get our rocks off! And did the Hadouk Trio ever go. With almost unlimited power and sufficient cubic feet to fill, this became a party. At the end of the track we were, again , asked for the group's name and CD label by more than a few folks.

In an even larger room, we witnessed the baptism of the new Avalon Isis. A proud Lucien Pichette showed us around and a stack of Boulder equipment kept it all in the state of Colorado; a true home run. Every (new) Avalon speaker has a distinctive shape. Once again, the Isis had that sound that says I'm here but I'm not. You cannot cage Isis - she needs a big room to do her magic.

For the last rooms to visit, it was down to ground level. In the Ars Aures room with Lee Landesberg, we were once again surprised by the sound of a setup we'd heard before. The Midi Sensorial sounded completely different however, much more dynamic in the lower region and more alive in the mids. Was this an upgraded version? After a Vicente Amigo track, Lee told us what happened. H'd spiked the Midis straight to the floor instead of putting the cabinet on a slab of marble. Such a small change, such a big difference. We love this hobby with all its quirks and hidden treasures.

Next door, the Cain & Cain room sported a diagonal setup with the Single Horn Ben and two Bailey subwoofers and an amazingly beautiful Teres turntable. Terry Cain proved once and again that great sound and pure visual beauty are both signs of heartfelt craftsmanship.

Before we called it a show, we visited the big Von Schweikert room. Here the darTZeel amplifiers drove the sizeable VR-9 SE without restrictions. Best spot was at the back row of seats. Close your eyes and the music would take you away.

Of course we haven't mentioned even half the rooms we saw. Even if you had the full 3 days, 113 rooms might find you short on time. A week even would be too short to truly fathom the depths of all that was on offer. But that would be challenging the Human Rights Society. (Think about it. If you spent 15 minutes in each room and subtract the static rooms and the A/V stuff, that still left you with ca. 100 of the 113 rooms this year. 100 x 15 minutes is 1500 minutes = 25 hours. Add some time for all kinds of bodily fluids/solids exchanges and
you would have needed 30 hours to cover the event in a hurry.)

With Steve Marsh in receipt of the Audio Space 300B monos, we decided to take a picture of their display as a teaser.

For us, RMAF has become the US audio show. Hence we would like to thank Al Stiefel and all his friends for facilitating this event. It is our expressed hope that other -- established -- shows take an example from RMAF's philosophy. Let's hope there'll soon be an East Coast initiative similar in spirit and execution to RMAF so that the right-coasters can enjoy a real audio fest, too.

By request, we herewith publish here the tracks we had on our CD, copied with EAC version 0.95b3 to Mobile Fidelity Gold and MAM-E ProStudio Gold :

1. Avishai Cohen, "Feediop" from At Home [Tazdaz]
2. Dean Peer, "Air Circus #1" from Think... it's all good [Turtle Records]
3. Dobet Gnahore, "Intro Pygme" from Ona Neko [Contre Jour]
4. Dobet Gnahore, "Youne" from Ona Neko [Contre Jour]
5. Eric Vaarzon Morel, "Tientos del tete" from Flamenco de Hoy [Lucho Records]
6. Hadouk Trio, "Barca Solaris" from Live at FiP [Melodie]
7. Osvaldo Pugliese & Astor Piazzolla, "La Yumba" from Finally Together 2 [Lucho Records]
8. Misia, "Feu de Bengale" from Drama Box [Coast to Coast]
9. Renaud Garcia-Fons, "Navigatore' from Navigatore [Enja Records]
10. Yoram Ish-Hurwitz, "Chapelle de G. Tell" from Annees de Pelegrinage [Turtle Records]
11. Vicente Amigo, "Ciudad de las Ideas" from Ciudad de las Ideas [BMG]