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There’s no better weekend to be a music nerd in Denver, thanks to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), the self-proclaimed biggest audio entertainment show in the nation. Visitors can wander room to room, listening to their favorite jams on everything from the latest headphones to ultra-high-end gear.
And to sweeten the pot, Classic Album Sundays (CAS) is returning to the festival for the second time. For those of you who are hearing about both of these for the first time (you’re not alone), here’s what you need to know: CAS gets its hands on original vinyl pressings and rare mobile-fidelity pressings (think: the best of the best); meanwhile, stereo companies eager to show off their equipment at RMAF allow CAS to use their top stuff.
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That means Denver residents have a chance this weekend to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime vinyl records played on some of the finest sound systems money can buy—for no more than $25. Among the selections for this year’s festival are: The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” and more.
“This will probably be the fanciest system that I’ll ever touch in a long time,” says Sam Willett, who will be operating the weekend’s events for CAS. “It’s the premier listening experience.”
Phil Murray, marketing manager at ListenUp!, a Denver audio store that specializes in hi-fi equipment says the difference between hi-fi music and streaming music from Spotify, Pandora, or the like, is akin to seeing a painting in real life versus seeing a low-resolution image on the internet. Hi-fi systems, Murray says, allow for a wider range of pitch and dynamics. Lower bass notes are more audible, for example, and there is a greater difference between an album’s loudest and softest notes than Bluetooth speakers provide.
The disadvantage to a hi-fi system, of course, is cost. Some turntables, Murray says, run as much as $125,000. Sure, you can get hi-fi quality for less (think: $1,200–$5,000), but people who want to spend six figures on a hi-fi system can do so with ease. “It’s like buying a car or a watch,” Murray says. “The sky’s the limit when it comes to a hi-fi system. If you want to do a $3,000-system, we can give you goose bumps. If you want to go higher, then we’ll give you more goose bumps.”
That price, though, provides all the more reason to take advantage of a $25 weekend ticket.
CAS offers a listening experience that goes beyond the actual music quality, though. Guests are asked to silence and put away their phones and refrain from talking; they’re even encouraged to close their eyes. “That level of concentration helps to prioritize the album,” Willett says. “It’s meant to be a very serious listening experience, but I also wanted to spruce the place up a bit so people feel comfortable.”
Willett, who says he wanted to “Spruce it up a bit this year,” is providing a projector that has visuals synced up to the music and has decorated CAS’ soundproofed room with Christmas lights and fresh flowers. So, it’s like one part seeing a symphony at Boettcher Concert Hall, with the other part more resembling your friend’s trippy, living room ambiance.
This dedicated kind of listening, Murray says, is becoming increasingly rare as people use music more as background filler than anything else. Anyone who listens to music to help get through a daily light rail commute or the hardest part of a workout understands that the tunes aren’t necessarily the main thing you’re focused on during those times.
“A lot of people just like the albums already, but when they truly listen and hear it in such detail, it’s a renewing experience,” Willett says. “The music carries a momentum and power they’ve never heard through headphones or even a car system.”
If you go: RMAF takes place October 6–8 at 363 Cook St., Denver, Co., 80206. Ticket information and the complete CAS schedule can be found here.