"Rave on words on printed page!"—Van Morrison, "Rave On John Donne"
HI-FI '96, the Home Theater and Specialty Audio Show (to give it its full title), is the tenth high-end hi-fi show to be organized by Stereophile Inc., and the third to be held in the World's Greatest City, New York. (Our earlier Big Apple Shows took place in October 1987 and April 1990.) From Friday May 31 through Sunday June 2, 1996, 11 floors of the classic, city-block–sized Waldorf=Astoria Hotel will be devoted to the best in home audio, reproduced sound, and Home Theater.
The Waldorf's corridors will be packed. More than 200 exhibiting companies—including every US audio magazine other than The Abso!ute Sound, but with Hi-Fi News & Record Review from the UK—will be demonstrating what they have to offer in 26 meeting rooms, 114 hotel rooms, and 58 booths. Live music will run throughout the Show, including concerts by pianists David Chesky, Lincoln Mayorga, Mario Grigorov, and Robert Silverman (whose Liszt Piano Sonata recording for Stereophile, described elsewhere in this issue, makes its debut at HI-FI '96), violinist Arturo Delmoni, blues singer Doug MacLeod, harpsichordist Gavin Black, jazz reedman and keyboardist Chico Freeman, virtuoso bass guitarist Dean Peer, the Lynne Arriale Trio, vocalist Margie Gibson—and don't forget operatic tenor Joseph Grado! (Yes, that Joe Grado.) On Friday night, Chesky Records presents Paquito de Rivera live in concert. And the Grand Concert on Saturday night, sponsored by Kenwood, features audiophile favorites Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, with Dr. John the Nighttripper providing New Orleans counterpoint for those who like their music a bit more down'n'dirty.
Want some questions answered? Seminars and workshops run the duration of the Show. The editors and writers of Stereophile and the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater—including Martin Colloms from the UK—will be taking part in daily "reviewer roasts." Michael Fremer will be leading a discussion of how to get the best from vinyl in the '90s. Robert Harley hosts three "Meet the Designers" sessions, featuring such luminaries as Bob Stuart (Meridian), Mike Moffat (Angstrom/MML Labs), Bob Katz (Chesky, Digital Domain), Tom Calatayud (Madrigal), Arnie Nudell (Genesis), Neil Patel (Avalon), Gayle Sanders (MartinLogan), David Wilson, Jim Thiel, Richard Vandersteen, Steve McCormack, Dennis Had (Cary), David Manley, and Dan D'Agostino (Krell). Widescreen Review's Gary Reber will be chairing discussions on DVD and multichannel sound reproduction. Lawrence E. Ullman, Editor of the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, will clarify the alphabet soup afflicting the future of the High End—DVD, DSS, AC-3, DTS, HDTV, MPEG, WWW—with an expert panel including Pioneer's resident future-watcher Mike Fidler, the Imaging Science Foundation's Joe Kane, and Roger Dressler from Dolby Labs. Robert Harley will talk about how to get into high-end audio with the minimum of pain—and cash—while yours truly will demonstrate how to measure a loudspeaker and get a good idea of how it should sound.
And on the last day of the Show, the Academy for the Advancement of High-End Audio will be auctioning off equipment donated by companies exhibiting at the Show!
An important part of the Show is the addition of two days for trade visitors, May 29 and 30. These days are being run in conjunction with the Academy for the Advancement of High-End Audio, on whose behalf Andy Regan of AudioQuest has organized a complete program of workshops to benefit those front-line heroes of the High End, the people who work in the stores and sell you stuff.
We think there's enough happening at HI-FI '96 to excite even the most jaded audiophile. Still not convinced? Read on.
The first Hi-Fi Show I ever went to, back in London in 1969, was the antithesis of all the High End stands for. It was held in a giant barn of a convention center. Yes, there was audio equipment on display, but the fact that the purpose of such equipment was to produce music was almost completely ignored. And in the few instances when sound quality was being demonstrated, the system was set up in a flimsy shell, with as much sonic leakthrough from the neighboring "room" as there was sound from the system I wanted to listen to. With as many as 60 people in the room, the idea of doing any critical listening was out of the question.
Even as Shows became more sophisticated throughout the '70s, and started to be held in hotels rather than open spaces, the same sorts of problems persisted. At consumer Shows, the emphasis always seemed to be on cramming as many people as possible into the smallest possible chunk of real estate.
So what makes HI-FI '96 different? The focus of all our Shows is on the essential difference between what the High End produces and the mass-market dreck to be found in your local discount warehouse—in other words, quality. Stereophile Publisher Larry Archibald and Show Coordinator Maura Rieland check out many possible hotels before choosing which has the best combination of sufficient good-sounding rooms, wide enough corridors not to feel cramped, and facilities that won't give up under the load of several thousand audiophiles.
And that's just the start. Once a suitable hotel has been found, we take care of the details. Back in April, for example, Wes Phillips and his buddy Jerome Harris toted a cart of multikilowatt heaters into the Waldorf's rooms, loading up the electrical circuit in each to see if it could take the strain of a cranking high-end audio system. Exhibit rooms at our Shows are separated by sleeping rooms to ensure good acoustic isolation—something noticeable by its absence at most other Shows I've attended. And the exhibitors, I've found, in general take extraordinary care to set their systems up to sound as good as possible.
We all look forward to meeting you in Manhattan in May. But if you can't make it, a full report will appear in the September Stereophile. And if you're on the Left Coast, HI-FI '97 is scheduled to take place at San Francisco's historic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square the last weekend in May.
Rave on!—John Atkinson