Audio Shows. At Hotels?

June 12, 2014


Having just come back from what I think is my twenty-second audio show in five years (each time swearing I’ll never attend another one), and spurred on by an editorial by Jeff Fritz, who posed questions but offered few answers, I too pondered whether hotels are really the best venue for evaluating audio equipment. Probably not, but are there better ones? A convention center certainly isn’t better. Audio equipment may be able to be displayed in a more attractive manner, like at Munich, but it sure isn’t going to sound any better. A dealer’s showroom may be better, but there is no guarantee. And just how much better is your listening room at home? Everyone says that hotel rooms are bad for evaluating sound. I have even repeated the mantra in the past, but I have also heard some exceptional sounding systems in hotel rooms. So, if you missed my coverage of T.H.E. Show (Newport Beach) 2014, the following is what I concluded.

Hotel Rooms and Sound Quality

With the exception of the meeting rooms, ballrooms, and a couple of suites, all the rooms at the Hilton were the same. Everyone was dealt the same cards. It was an even playing field. Yet some rooms sounded exceptional, some rooms sounded merely okay, and some rooms sounded mediocre. What was different? The equipment and the setup. What can we learn? That while the sound might not be optimal in a hotel room, the equipment, particularly loudspeakers, and the setup do matter. Manufacturers and dealers cannot use the old canard that hotel rooms sound bad as an excuse for why their rooms sound mediocre. The results are largely within their control. These guys are professionals. At least they hold themselves out to be. They choose the equipment and how it is arranged. They decide whether and what kind of room treatments to employ. If their room sounds mediocre, either the equipment is nothing to write home (or blog) about, or the setup is sub-par. Either way, value judgments can and should be made by show-goers and the press alike. That’s why we’re here. Why else come? If we are just going to select equipment based on how it looks, we might as well stay at home and look at pictures of it on the internet. It would be cheaper and easier, and you wouldn’t have to spend two days of your life hanging around in airports. Most of the stuff that is demoed at audio shows is carried by only a few dealers in disparate parts of the country, if any at all, so this is the only setting where most of us can actually hear it. Exhibitors, get your act together. No more free passes.

Improving Audio Shows

How can we stage better audio shows? I think the answer is simple: hold them in better hotels. The rooms would be larger, the amenities nicer, and the experience pleasurable, instead of tolerable. At CES, the rooms are better in every conceivable way at the Venetian than at the Flamingo. Does anyone even go over to the Flamingo any more? Is it any wonder? Why do you think the high performance audio group moved away from the Alexis Park in the first place? AXPONA has moved in this direction, and it has been well received. Rumor has it that T.H.E. Show is going to move to a better hotel next year. While the Hilton rooms are acceptable (just barely), I would not want to show, much less stay, at the Atrium. How much time did you spend at the Atrium? RMAF needs an upgrade as well. The Marriott? Really? Is that where you want to stay for three days? You’d never bring your spouse along. You’d be too embarrassed. What do newcomers think after attending shows at these hotels? I’m not sure I want to know, but it can’t be flattering.

Now I understand that exhibitor cost is an issue. My advice: there is an audio show somewhere in North America every single month, which is at least eight shows too many. Same stuff at show after show. Attend a few and you begin to feel like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day. The only reason there are twelve shows is that there are twelve promoters who are trying to make money off of them. It doesn’t have anything to do with what is best for the industry, the exhibitors, or the attendees. Exhibitors, vote with your dollars. Spend your marketing budget at two or three shows at nicer venues rather than at six or eight mediocre ones. You want the audiophiles who attend to be excited when they get back, not relieved. What’s the old saying? You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Don’t squander your promotional dollars by making a lot of average ones – or worse. Let’s take it up a notch.