The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show: A Better Way?

Photo: John Atkinson

It looks sort of pretty, doesn't it?

Imagine how much prettier it would be if it were real. Imagine again how much prettier it would be if those bridges and roads and towers weren't there at all.

Every time I stepped from the slow elevator and onto the casino floor at Harrah's, where Stereophile's editors spent their sleepless nights, my hatred for Las Vegas was revitalized. This was like some kind of bad joke, some kind of post-modern torture. Oh, god, I am still here. I would turn right and see the same flashing lights, the same low ceilings, the same people who had been there the night before, still sitting, still smoking, still hoping, still staring blank-faced into spinning screens of cherries, spades, and jokers, and I would wonder why.

Why? Most people who visit Las Vegas seem to be looking for money, sex, drugs, or simple escape. Why are we here?

And later, after navigating the long lines and crowded elevators at the Venetian, where one could find the majority of high-end audio exhibits, I walked the seemingly endless halls, praying for invisibility, bobbing and weaving through dealers, distributors, manufacturers, and reps, who would, inevitably, see me, smile, pull me into their suite.

"It's great to see you, too, but I'm supposed to be covering budget amplification," I would protest.

"Ah, but we have this $10,000 amplifier..."

And I couldn't keep from wondering why. Why are we here?

Once free, I would begin my search again, remind myself of the room number I had been headed toward prior to being abducted, realize that that room is not on this floor at all, double back, this time declining the elevators in favor of the stairs because the stairs have got to be faster, down to the 28th floor, onto the elevators with their tiresome opera tunes piping from god knows where, to the lobby and through the casinos, through the smoke, past the manufacturers announcing angrily, impatiently, that no one from Stereophile had been to their room, past the long legs, the short skirts, the cleavage, wondering why. Why? Isn't there a better way than this?

***

A question to the manufacturers, dealers, distributors, marketing and public relations people, publishers, salesmen, editors, writers, bloggers, and anyone else who might be able to provide some insight: Why?

Why do we do this? Does it have to be this way? Is anyone happy? Is this fun? Is this love? Do we do this for love?

***

"Are you having any fun at all?" Jon Iverson asked me.

I looked at him quite seriously and shook my head. "I don't have fun at this show."

***

Maybe this is just work, one way of making money.

***

Some highlights:
1. Breakfast each morning with Jon Iverson and AudioStream's Michael Lavorgna.

2. Dinner with Jon and Michael on Monday night; chocolate milkshakes; Dinner with AudioQuest on Tuesday night; Dinner with MBL on Wednesday night; Dinner with Axiss USA on Thursday night; Dinner with John DeVore, Jonathan Halpern, and Michael Lavorgna on Friday night; duck confit; bacon-wrapped dates; Patrick Butler's sense of humor; the Public House.

3. Getting to thank TAD's Andrew Jones for one of the best hi-fi demonstrations I've ever experienced.

Jones presented two complete TAD systems, one comprising the company's "entry-level" Evolution components and the other made of the cost-no-object Reference products. Chances are I'll never be able to afford either one of these systems, so, yes, it's fortunate that I'm in a position to nevertheless experience and enjoy them.

Far too often, however, the most impressive high-end audio products are subject to the absolute worst possible demonstrations, leaving the listener feeling confused, upset, disappointed, disrespected, frustrated, and/or altogether done with hi-fi. And for good reason. After the manufacturer has spent so much time, energy, and money creating an extremely expensive product, one that should perform at an extremely high level, the listener has every right to expect an overwhelmingly good demonstration of that product. In fact, the demonstration should be the simplest part of the entire process: Set the damn things up and play some good music; there's plenty of it in the world.

Why then do so many demonstrations fall miserably short of that simple goal? Put another way: Why do so many demonstrations, especially those of our most audacious products, suck?

Let me take a guess: Could it be that in our race to make money, we've forgotten the basics? Have we forgotten the love and respect owed to our customers, our products, and ourselves?

Do you see another reason for our failure? I don't.

Very happily, I can say that TAD's demonstration of their Evolution and Reference Series components easily exceeded my expectations, lived up to the promise of these undeniably expensive products. They performed in a way that wholly respected the music and the listener. Those who are able to afford such luxuries should be satisfied for a long, long time.

4. The surprisingly excellent HiFiMan press conference.

5. Getting to thank PSB's Paul Barton and Lenbrook's Mark Stone for keeping the affordable Alpha B1 loudspeaker ($299/pair) in production, unchanged, for over six years.

Longevity in an outstanding hi-fi component, especially one as affordable as the Alpha B1, is something to be congratulated.

Another question then: Why don't more hi-fi manufacturers offer this kind of respect and service to their products and customers?

6. Chatting with Scull Communications' Jonathan Scull.

7. Sitting aboard the Gibson tour bus.

8. Meeting readers. In person, people are almost always kind—very different from the personalities I often encounter on the internet.

9. Turning the volume way up and listening to Bruce Springsteen with Jeremy Bryan in his MBL suite, long after the show had closed for the day.

10. The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers mated to Napa Acoustic electronics and cables.

11. Listening to music with Luke Manley and Bea Lam of VTL.

12. The monorail.

13. Running into Anton Dotson, an especially kind and thoughtful person, a lover of wine, music, and hi-fi, who along with his family and friends has exhibited at T.H.E. Show under the guise of NFS (Not For Sale) Audio for the past several years, recharging minds, bodies, ears, and souls with music, a smile, and a glass of something delicious.

In Anton's room, nothing is for sale. Listeners are invited to come in and relax, have a drink, enjoy a discussion, or just listen to music. There will be no favors asked of you, no so-called "long-term loans" extended under the table and around sideways glances—"Because we all know no one's making a lot of money in this business..."—no words spoken that would in any way make you feel uncomfortable or out of place.

Why does Anton do this? He does this, it seems clear to me, because he knows no other way. He does it out of love.

Anton reminded me of the basics. He enjoys being a part of T.H.E. Show for many reasons, noting especially the camaraderie among exhibitors, the willingness to share, the after-hours parties where guests are invited to come into rooms, music in hand, and simply listen for as long as they'd like.

That's the spirit of hi-fi I want to promote.

***

Some things I missed:
Snooki, Ludacris, 50 Cent, Justin Bieber, too many hi-fi exhibits to list.

***

Some things to consider:
1. One loudspeaker manufacturer told me that this year's CES was a surprising success because it introduced his brand to new listeners. How? While in previous years he had mated his speakers to idiosyncratic tube amplifiers, this year he showed with a more well-known, more widely embraced brand. The results were entirely positive, and he may have gained a few new dealers—unambiguously good news.

His speakers haven't changed, nor has his philosophy. The only thing that has changed is the way in which his products are perceived by certain audiophiles. What does this say about our hobby?

2. A rep for another loudspeaker manufacturer told me an interesting story. The rep was asked to give an after-hours demo for a potential customer. During the demo, he asked the listener, "Do you like what you hear?"

"Yes," the listener responded, "but I want this sound at 120dB."

The rep was taken by surprise, but not deterred. "In this business," he explained to me, "it's kinda like they say 'jump' and you say 'how high,' so I came up with some ideas..."

Setting aside the health hazards involved—listening to music at 120dB for an extended period of time is sure to cause permanent hearing damage—can we blame the rep for wanting to please his customer? Great amounts of money are at stake. Money is not an issue for the customer. He is a millionaire. But is he an audiophile?

Which reminds me: All sorts of people are drawn to hi-fi shows, and for all sorts of reasons. The hi-fi industry does not only serve music lovers and audiophiles, it serves those who want the security, real or imagined, of knowing that they have the best that money can buy. The hi-fi industry serves the 1%, people with money to burn.

3. Over the course of just a few days, in a single town, the annual Consumer Electronics Show brings together thousands of brands, big and small, allowing even the invisible to be seen, even the silent to be heard.

That should be a good thing, right?

***

In my mind, the questions remain: Why? Isn't there a better way?

For the hi-fi press, the goal, as I see it, is to report on all of the exhibitor rooms, in as thorough and thoughtful a fashion as possible. But this is a goal that, under the present circumstances, is impossible to achieve. The show would have to be a month-long event, and we would need a special breed of unemotional, tireless, exceptionally proficient writer, capable not only with the word, but also with the camera, owner of a smile that never falters, and perhaps with patience and cunning that never runs dry.

Or, we could choose to stay home. Why attend CES at all? Here, in New York City, Stereophile has access to many of the biggest names in hi-fi, as well as some of those creating the most idiosyncratic, hand-made, limited-edition products. We could choose to stay here and report at will, thus we'd be doing what we do anyway, over the course of many years.

And sacrifice the inevitable bump in web traffic? Forfeit the page views?

Doubtful.

And, anyway, what sort of message would we present to our industry if we chose to ignore CES? Manufacturers might assume we didn't care about them.

But, wait. Some of them already feel that way.

***

I listened more to people than to music in Las Vegas. Music in Las Vegas is an ugly sound: the grinding of gears, the jingle of loose change, a terrible hissing noise outside your hotel window—"Was it Paradigm?" someone asked. "No," I replied. "They fixed that."—the buzz and clang of temptation, desperation, desire, despair, poor men and women on the street, slapping business cards against their cold hands, promoting cheap sex—living, breathing, walking spam.

Hi-fi is about making music. CES is about making money.

I suppose the logical solution would be to simply continue doing what we've been doing. We will do our best, while acknowledging our limitations and taking into consideration the inevitable compromises and frustrations of a show like CES. As long as manufacturers of high-end audio choose to be a part of it, Stereophile will be there to cover it.

But from all those involved in high-end audio at the Consumer Electronics Show, I still want to know: Why do we do this? Isn't there a better way?

Maybe there isn't.

But if there is a better way, why aren't we pursuing it?

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COMMENTS
deckeda's picture

My perception is that CES and the related shows for audio serve several purposes, or at least several goals, rendering them at odds.

As a consumer I first got exposed to CES from magazines. Apart from ads or reviews it was the about the only way to learn what was happening beyond a local dealer's limited purview. And of course the media does it for themselves as well, to get ideas on what to review.

Later, when I worked for a dealer, I learned dealers go for ideas on what to carry.

The thing I never understood, and was surprised to learn of later, is that the shows are open to the public. Although I always wanted to go to one I never assumed you could get a decent demo. And so it's still surprising to read when consumers show up to buy something there based on stuff slapped into a hotel room. Bizarre, especially when there's never enough time to "shop" at a show.

Aleks Bakman's picture

 

John,

Our work is in the line with the work of composers and performers: we are making the lasting music.  The proper marketing procedure is a derivative of this creed.  The exhibitor masts bring the potential customer in touch with the great minds of the present and the past.  This is the meaning of the careful listening to the great music: to be with the creators of the music at the moments of their highest inspiration.  The show can be a great experience of sharing good time in the company of immortals.  What is my effort to make a turntable compared with the agony of Beethoven who lost his hearing, with the despair of J.S. Bach, who lost his eye sight while copying his sheet music, with the labor of Mozart, who worked himself to death at young age?  My effort is a humble attempt.  I have to continue resolutely.  I have to educate myself and my customers about the music and its creators; I have to prepare for the show like a violinist prepares for his concert.  I have to be ready to deliver what my customers are looking for: the most direct contact with the people who made music. For that reason I have to be one of the makers of the music and one of the people who love to listen to the music.

Aleks Bakman, Onedof LLC

lunchmoney's picture

   Thank you for your candor, Stephen. I feel so removed from the world of hi-fi somtimes, being young and not having money to burn; it feels like an unapproachable monolith. But I love music so much. Thank you for reminding me that not everyone is a robot, that you care about the music, too, even after hearing it played through components neither of us will be able to afford--and being ok with that. 

  Thank you.

  Spencer

kovan yarrum's picture

Having attended CES this year, much of your piece rings true. 

However, being that CES is one of the biggest events in the world, and the sheer number of people, it would be impossible for it to be anything else but impersonal and in general a frazzling experience.

Some thoughts..

CES (high end audio) is not about music, it is about commerce.

Most of the exhibitors in the Venetian were hospitable. But some defied common sense. I walked into several rooms...an no music was playing and there were no offers to play tunes. Huh?

A few exhibtors refused to actually say hello to anyone who walked into their suites. Some basic lessons in sales needed? Several looked so bored, and when I asked questions about their products it was like pulling teeth. 

I saw other instance of odd behavior. I also some exhibitors rudley catering to one person in the room at the expense of others. 

On the other hand, most exhibitors were extremely welcoming and willing to engage in conversation and did a great job.

Here is an idea...maybe organize exhibits by category????? Speakers, Cables, Amps, Music Servers??? Of course this may complicate things for companies that make a full line of electronics. 

Thanks again.

Stephen Scharf's picture

Nice summary, Stephen.

I would have loved to have experienced Andrew Jones TAD demonstration. I've heard the TAD CR-1s twice now, once at RMAF in 2010 with the Technical Brain amplification chain and last October with the TAD electronics, and both times I was completely blown away. I think these are the finest speakers I've ever heard, bar none, and I would have loved to have had the opportunity to have had a technical discussion with Andrew whether he utilized Design of Experiments in designing his speakers.

From what I gathered from CES, the highlights for me would be (not including the TADs of course), the new Audioquest Dragonfly DAC with USB code by Gordon Rankin, the groundbreaking wireless Dynaudio XEO (of which there was virtually no coverage by Stereophile proper, only by Michael with his usual thoroughness at Audiostream), and the new ART-based stereo amplifier by Conrad-Johnson, the ARTsa, which also received virtually no mention by Stereophile (I had to read about it at TAS). 

With respect to the coverage that Stereophile did provide, I found it to be less complete, less timely (there were three days that went by with virtually no new content) and less thorough than it has been in year's past when Jason V. Serinus was doing yeoman work in providing considerably more thorough reportage. 

While I appreciate the effort that went into the coverage that was provided, I am disappointed that significant developments were completely missed, to say nothing of the fact that there was virtually no analog coverage whatsoever. sad

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
With respect to the coverage that Stereophile did provide, I found it to be less complete...

I am not sure why you got that impression. This CES report is actually the largest we have posted with approximately30 more individual stories than last year. Yes, there were still some significant brands omitted - for example, we only realized that no-one from the magazine had visited the Dan D'Agostino and Conrad-Johnson rooms until after the Show had finished -  but that is inevitable given the size and geographical sprawl of the Show and the fact that it only lasts 4 days.

Also to be considered was the fact that the CES took place almost a week later than in previous years, which was less-optimal in terms of the paper magazine's production schedule. Both Stephen Mejias and I spent some of the time we could have been visiting exhibit rooms instead working on the print Stereophile. I am not offering this as an excuse, but as a reason for the intensification of the time pressure at a Show.

Quote:
...less timely (there were three days that went by with virtually no new content)

Yes, the final story was posted a day later than in earlier years. This and the gap in the posting were partly because the high-speed Internet connection at the hotel where we were staying was down to just 30kB/s for much of the time; partly because we were concentrating on visiting as many rooms as possible rather than taking time off during the day to post coverage to the site; and partly, as always, because the day after the show has to be a travel day. There was also the fact that I took an extra day traveling home via Utah to visit Wilson Audio to audition their new Alexandria XLF speaker. This was a day I could have spent posting more CES coverage to the site.

Quote:
While I appreciate the effort that went into the coverage that was provided, I am disappointed that significant developments were completely missed  to say nothing of the fact that there was virtually no analog coverage whatsoever.

As always, our CES analog coverage will appear in Michael Fremer's "Analog Corner" in the April issue of the paper magazine, while Kal Rubinson's coverage of multichannel-sound will appear in his May column. Perhaps it is time we moved this coverage on to the Web also?

Regarding the completeness of our coverage, please note that much of our headphone coverage at CES has been replaced by Tyll Hertsen's report on InnerFidelity.com and of computer audio by Michael Lavorgna's on AudioStream.com.

But thank you for the feedback. It will help us improve our CES coverage next year.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

sommovigo's picture

Stephen,

Agreed wholeheartedly. CES is sort of a meat-grinder of sensory overload, the Egyptian bazaar taken to new and extraordinary heights of annoyance. It is where all that is wrong with our industry becomes highly concentrated in one surreal and arduous environment. Everyone is jumping through hoops with designs to garner just a little more attention from the press, just another dealer in the midwest, just a chance to create some buzz about the new whirlygig that isn't really new, after all.

We audiophiles are, generally speaking (and in my opinion) first and foremost music lovers. At home we have record collections (or CDs ... if you must) that reflect and represent years - decades, even - of a particular love affair with music across a few or many genres. But show up at a CES and what do you get to hear? Some female vocal and solitary guitar from some approved audiophile label, etc ad nauseam. Music is chosen to show off the hardware - so that all these stereo tricks and treats might convince someone that, yes, Diana Krall *is* really here with us in this room singing "The Look of Love" in her sultry voice as we're reminded that it used to be Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" at these shows ... times have changed, even the singer has changed, but the tune remains the same.

We've got to figure out a better way than this high-end audio red-light district approach to engaging in the business of Hi Fi. I'm encouraged by all of the regional shows, of course - much MUCH more enjoyable, and you can even see the radiance in the faces of everyone at these shows. RMAF, Newport, Axpona, Capital Audio Fest, this new one up in New York by the Chester Group, Constantine Soo's Dagogo show out in San Fran - what a contrast, eh? So very different from the CES (for which I'm dearly grateful).

Of what use is CES? Hardly any use for our small corner of the CE world. Munich is a more important show as far as the global Hi Fi market is concerned. I'm hoping to attend this year, actually.

I say let's rather put our CES eggs into the regional show baskets and amputate this dead limb once and for all.

Who's on board?

Bromo33333's picture

It used to be local clubs where people would sometimes come over to people's houses, or meet in a local place with stereo gear in tow - listen to music, talk about new equipment, compare notes, and sometimes trade equipment.

Don't think we have had that for a decade or more! (My first taste of high end audio was at my grandfather's house, where I was visiting on a night where his audio buddies came over and played music until late at night though a new turntable he built himself(!!) and a tiny tube amp through some gigantic box horn speakers my grandmother tried to make look better by putting a bunch of plants on top of them! (horrors!)  Apparently they rotated to other's houses every month and made abit of a social event of it.  All had relatively modest means - so having 8-10 people squeezing into a living room already dominated by speakers was a bit cozy - but apparenlty they all loved it - and all enjoyed themselved thoroughly!

I believe trade shows are a poor substitute, as well as forums - but they are better than nothing. 

Jaques Fish's picture

"With respect to the coverage that Stereophile did provide, I found it to be less complete, less timely (there were three days that went by with virtually no new content) and less thorough than it has been in year's past when Jason V. Serinus was doing yeoman work in providing considerably more thorough reportage. "

It was a pretty uninspired performance from our men in Vegas.

Glotz's picture

It seemed that for the past 20 years or so, the high-end was never meant to be a part of the CES, whether in Las Vegas or Chicago.  Some years ago it was really nice to have, despite the tons of disinterested show-goers that really weren't interested in expensive audio.  Perhaps its just habitual, but I wouldnt relish losing even one show, despite everyones' misgivings.  If the other regional shows that are dedictated soley to home audio can prove it has longevity, terrific.  I think the industry still needs everything it can get it hands on, to help it, sad habit or not. 

tom collins's picture

less coverage of shows like this and more coverage of stereophile's main areas as in what they do each month.  a quick mention of interesting new pieces is plentybecause a listener can't form opinions that mean anything in such an environment.

hundreds of exhibits spread out over a large area and only so many hours in the day.  it thought they did fine.

tom

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
hundreds of exhibits spread out over a large area and only so many hours in the day. [I] thought they did fine.

Thanks, Tom.We will try harder in future.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Bromo33333's picture

Great article - though In my experience in other arenas and trade shows - trade shows are several steps removed from reality - and in Las Vegas you have the added bonus of being in a zone that does not respect money due to its very nature.  And the propensity of these hifi makers selling 5 and 6 figure things ... toxic cocktail for those of us that prefer the quiet spaces to enjoy our music, and have more average budgets!

I 100% agree about the amount of high dollar equipment being produced for the elite and new money - And the average income of the 1% is $350k, so much of this equipment isn't targeted at them but the more rarefied air of the top 0.1% who have incomes an order of magnitude higher.

But having said that, even on my significantly more modest income than those targeted by the high end of the MBL line - I have a system I built up over the last decade that I am very satisfied with - and I feel I have far more choices of good sounding gear that is affordable than I did a decade ago!  In fact, I'd wager I could put together a system as good for about 25% less than I spent (counting only the equipment in my current setup, not the treadmill I was on for the first 5-6 years or so!)

 

 

 

 

volvic's picture

I can't say one bad thing about the coverage, with so many rooms to see in such a short period of time with massive crowds, i have to applaud the Stereophile team for their efforts and for a very good sample size as to what the show must have been like, for those us who could not make it.   While I laugh at the prices some of this gear costs I am glad someone covers it online for me to see and gauge where technology and trends are headed.  

Nick. 

audiofederation's picture

 

We've been to all of the RMAF shows and the last 10 years of CES / THE Show. Because we usually cover the shows, I usually spend some time in 95% of the rooms. So we're not 'old timers' but we've been around enough and thorough enough to get a real sense of these shows.

 

In my opinion, this is the best online Stereophile Show Report ever [but, yes, I agree that it would be nice if analog was also online]. I haven't actually read all of the writing [it's big!] but to me it is the most thorough and professional Stereophile show report yet - professional because, having decided not to report on the actual sound [advertisers EXPECT to get good or neutral coverage, so reporting on the ACTUAL sound would probably be a money losing proposition for an advertising-driven entity], very little is said [either good or bad] and instead an 'enjoyed my time here' kind of detached view is presented. As much we appreciated and enjoyed getting the [rare] positive write-ups on our rooms here in the past [thanks!] it is all too easy for it to degenerate into the boilerplate marketing-speak rose-colored glasses approach or the unethical you-rub-my-back-and... approach of all too many other show reports.

 

As for CES, if you want down-home friendliness and sharing tunes with people who are into pure musical enjoyment then there is always THE Show - the diametric opposite of the Venetian. I find THE Show much friendlier than RMAF even. 

 

However, we have found that the Venetian always has much better sound than RMAF, or any show we have been to, at least at the high-end. Bigger, better systems. More attention to setup. 

 

If we are to be serious here [I know, I know, this is the internet. Hardly the place for seriousness], 140K+ people go to CES. Most get paid to go there. Most are geeks and can appreciate the fine work that goes into high-end audio gear. A lot are tech press. They will go regardless of whether we are there or not. They are from all over the world. This represents a ton of money. The high-end audio portion just hopes to attract a couple of percent of those people.  This alone makes CES very important for manufacturers to exhibit at - and, because they DO exhibit here, it is important [and a blast!], for us anyway, to go hear them.

 

Thanks,

-Mike

 

 

 

 

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
In my opinion, this is the best online Stereophile Show Report ever [but, yes, I agree that it would be nice if analog was also online]. I haven't actually read all of the writing [it's big!] but to me it is the most thorough and professional Stereophile show report yet...

Thanks for the compliment, Mike.

Quote:
professional because, having decided not to report on the actual sound [advertisers EXPECT to get good or neutral coverage, so reporting on the ACTUAL sound would probably be a money losing proposition for an advertising-driven entity
.

But then you take it away. Let me make it perfectly clear. Advertising plays no part in my editorial decisions. For example, in both the January and February issues, I featured products on the cover from companies that have never advertised in Stereophile. If your implications are correct, then that fact is hard to explain.

Regarding our show reports, whether or not an exhibitor gets a good sound at a show depends on much more than the merit of their products. Room acoustics are a crapshoot, particularly in the Venetian with its split-level rooms; I don't feel a company that was saddled with a bad room whose problems they couldn't solve  in the limited time for set-up, needs to be condemned for their poor sound. On the other hand, when a room _was_ sounding great, then that does reflect on the system as a well as the room, and we do make some comment on the sound under those circumstances. But it would be irresponsible to publish negative judgments that will last forever on the Internet based on perhaps just 10 minutes of auditioning at a Show under crapshoot conditions.

And a show report is not intended to be a series of reviews. Instead it alerts readers to new products and new companies that we feel, based on our experience at the Show, to be promising and therefore worthy of further coverage in the magazine. You shouldn't read more into a show report than that.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Robert Deutsch's picture

My contribution to the show coverage, dealing with speakers costing less tham $15k, had stories on 32 such products. Looking through the February issue of the magazine, I found that the number of advertisements for speaker brands that were covered in my show report was TWO.  That's actually lower than I expected--but then I don't pay much attention to who does or does not advertise in the magazine.

audiofederation's picture

I said advertisers EXPECT [that they won't get negative coverage], not that they GET [positive coverage]. 

 

Big difference.

 

I tried to be clear.

 

As far as I am concerned Stereophile is the only magazine left, on or offline, that still has any semblance of professional journalism and Mike Fremer one of a very few people who knows who to write a inciteful and honest review.

 

But then again, we're picky.

 

We, however, agree to disagree about the purpose of shows and show reports, and because people are using them more and more to make buyng decisions the sound at shows has become more important, but  that is why we write our own reports.

 

Anyway, thanks again for the juicy show report,

-Mike

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
I said advertisers EXPECT [that they won't get negative coverage], not that they GET [positive coverage]. 

Big difference.

 

Yes it is. Apologies for my confusion, Mike. - JA

 

kovan yarrum's picture

Hi Mike:

Good post. Well said. But that does beg the question...as an importer, why did you not exhibit????? 

"The high-end audio portion just hopes to attract a couple of percent of those people.  This alone makes CES very important for manufacturers to exhibit at - and, because they DO exhibit here, it is important [and a blast!], for us anyway, to go hear them."

Does this not apply to Audio Note?

audiofederation's picture

The Robert Lighton room was all Audio Note except his RL10 speakers. It was unfortunate that he did not put Audio Note on the sign. The factory sent a representive who spent his time in the room, and Neli and I were also around.

 

We posted this on the blog before the show - but we have heard from many people that they did not know Audio Note was at CES this year. 

 

Sorry about that. Looks like we really mucked up and we and Audio Note will do better next year.

 

Take care,

-Mike

kovan yarrum's picture

Thanks for response Mike:

It seems a shame. In all the online show reports I have seen, I did not see a single mention of Audio Note UK.  

A bit of a missed opportunity for such a famous brand not to have their importer exhibiting. 

I will check out your blog!

defgibbon's picture

 

Great and thoughtful piece, as usual Stephen. I'm sorry it's such a drag, I can clearly see why it is, coming when it does, as large as it is, and with pressure to be comprehensive.

 

I would like to point out something: CES is an industry show, not a consumer show*. CES is specifically intended for making and renewing industry contacts, whether it's a distributor meeting new dealers, a rep finding new products or a manufacturer connecting to new distributors (as in my case). This can be done in many ways, not all of which require playing music in your demonstration room.

 

Shows like RMAF, the old Stereophile shows and most of the newer regional shows are consumer shows and exist specifically for enthusiasts to experience Hi-Fi that they might not otherwise have access to. At these shows a visitor should expect to hear systems playing, and should be able to meet manufacturers or representatives of the various products on display.

 

What yarrum describes is unfortunate, but not unexpected at an industry show like CES. While there's no excuse for rudeness, the show is expensive, and many, like me, do it specifically to broaden their distribution network. If the perfect representative of a huge market I've been trying to get distribution in shows up and is interested in my line, I will absolutely give them my full attention. If they want to know product details it's my job to make sure they get the information they need to make a decision.

 

In contrast, at RMAF, while I do see a number of dealers there, I'm focused on consumers and try to make myself available to answer questions and shake hands with end-users, rather than dealers and distributors. It's a different vibe because it's a different show.

 

I'll agree with Stephen, Vegas is a pretty unpleasant place, but it's still where I make most of my international contacts. Chris is right, the Munich show is more important in terms of international exposure, but it's also several times more expensive to exhibit there--too rich for my company at this point--and so CES remains an annual necessity.

 

As Stephen is all too aware, all this combined with exhibitor's expectations of in-depth and riveting press coverage of every new incremental improvement to every product, makes it a thankless task to even try to cover CES. It's also why covering the consumer shows seem to be a more enjoyable prospect. That said, I'm always very grateful for the astounding amount of work the Stereophile crew puts in to keep it's readers informed. It is by far the comprehensive show coverage I know of, who else even comes close?

 

See you at the next show!

 

*A certain number of "industry affiliates" attend CES each year who don't seem to be connected to any specific company. These folks probably do get the short stick in a busy room where business is the focus. For many companies there is no other time of year that these real face-to-face negotiations can take place.

kovan yarrum's picture

One thing you left out is that CES is also a press show. Press coverage is vital for the introduction of new products. I can't tell you how many new products and companies I became aware of strictly through show reports. 

Exhibitors complain if too many press people come by, and they whine and complain if they don't come by. I

esteban's picture

Stephen: 

This was a fantastic, commendably honest and extremely refreshing piece. Way, way overdue for somebody in this industry to tell it like it is and avoid pleasing anybody with an agenda. 

Thank you. 

As somebody who attended his first RMAF in 2011 (where I actually got to meet and congratulate you in person at the Voxativ room), I have to admit that my experience was that one of confusion, alineation, frustration, immense disappointment (in  most cases) and just plain exhaustion. In other words: just like yours. Seriously, is this the only way? Was it worth it? Perhaps. Got a lot of freebies. Took lots of nice photos. Cleared some doubts. Met some manufacturers I long admired. And now I can say that "I saw this or that ridiculously expensive product in the flesh". But would I do it again? Probably not. My own room sounds better than most of the ones I was able to experience there. I should proclaim that with overwhelming joy but, rather, I state it with unacceptable sadness. And my entire system cost less than $12K (including a 65" plasma!). Save for a fistful of exceptions, the music played was not my cup of tea. At all. And I really didn't get the chance to make new friends. Physical media was way overpriced. I hated the "gotta check this or that out before it's too late" feeling. And those damn elevators never worked properly!

I do not know how you guys find the enthusiasm to participate in this pseudo-masochistic, borderline nonsensical and 1%-driven (as you so eloquently and correctly stated) ritual year after year. 

Then again, it was fun to meet great folks like the guys at Peachtree Audio, Sumiko and Nordost. 

But there is a LOT that is VERY wrong with this picture and this industry. 

Dear Mr. Atkinson: thanks for hiring Stephen and giving him his own column. "The Entry Level" is the best thing that has happened to Stereophile in recent memory. More like it, please. And also please give Stephen more equipment to review!

Stephen: thanks again for this much-needed angle on things that are mostly well-known yet often kept too quiet. 

Keep that honest pen of yours active!

Cihangir Güzey's picture

I wouldn't miss the opportunity to try those systems by myself. When?

At night!

I guess there would be no activity of CES in the rooms at night. If a company would give you the key of the room, I would try my favorite music for many hours personally. Guess what would you think if you would be able to make such relationships with those high-end systems. Too many material to write and tell. I guess in such a case, you would want the CES to go on for some weeks. 

I suggest you to bring your favorite music collection to CES 2013 and start this kind of pleasure trend (pardon me, reviewing, what else you call it!). 

Next year we wish such reports that are performed just like listening your music at your home. That would be pure fun reports (wouldn't be such a fun for the companies who will exhibit their products next day after a through cleaning of beer-potato chips residues from the room).

JasonVSerinus's picture

As a veteran - some would say survivor - of several years of blogging consecutive audio shows for Stereophile, I can well relate to Stephen's laments. For members of the press attempting to achieve maximum coverage in limited hours, CES is, at best, a slog through the quagmire. That Stereophile has managed to assemble such an outstanding show report is a tribute to the dedication of my fellow contributing editors.

 

I am flattered, albeit a bit embarrassed, to find my blogging praised in this section. Let me tell you how I managed to write all those lengthy, detailed reports during shows. I skipped most dinners and parties, except for those involving Stereophile's staff. Often I didn't eat out at all; I chopsticked through Asian takeout, trying my best not to dribble on my keyboard or notes as I typed between bites. I got to bed very late, trying to decompress by channel surfing through an endless succession of mind-numbing broadcasts, only to discover my mind so active that I was up at 3:30 AM, writing some more until I could go back to bed. Then I slept a few fitful hours before I returned to the front lines, doing as much as possible before fatigue affected my hearing and judgment.

 

I applaud Stephen for attending all those dinner parties, and for reserving much of his blogging for his return to the Big Apple. That's probably what I should have done as well. I would have been far more relaxed as I blogged, and far more able to move room to room and listen to music with equanimity. Readers requiring instant satisfaction would not have been appeased, but I think the end product would have been worth it. Plus, I wouldn't have gotten sick after shows, as sometimes happened, nor burned out in the middle of CES 2011, as most certainly occurred.

 

A few months back, a very mean-spirited, anonymous poster characterized me as charging through hallways and into rooms, my head lowered as if nothing mattered but my work. While I was hurt by that portrait and find it grossly unfair - shall I tell you how many press people I observed doing exactly the same at this year's CES, including some of my dear comrades who were so absorbed in their work that they didn't even see me as they zoomed past, let alone how many bloggers for little-read online sites barged into rooms, stood in front of rapt listeners and destroyed the listening experience as they blocked loudspeakers and ignored everyone while snapping their precious photos? - it is true, as Stephen says, that well-known writers for major publications often find themselves negotiating CES with blinders on. Some manufacturers really do waylay you, including pulling you into their rooms and stopping you from going from Point A to B. I expect it's far more difficult for Stephen, who truly is a rock star, than I've ever experienced.

 

I remember the time that JA and I tried to go from one side of T.H.E. Show to the other, and it proved impossible without at least three people stopping John to engage in sometimes lengthy conversation. Hats off to John's English manners. I still don't know how he does it.

 

Last July, I covered the entire California Audio Show for another publication. Since the show took place during my birthday, I resolved not to write a single blog until the show had ended. I spent nights at home with hubbie and pooch (aka our daughter, Daisy Mae Doven), got a fair amount of sleep, and awoke happy to return to Burlingame. I also had a wonderful dinner courtesy of Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings and the folks from Music Lovers, where I hung with Stephen and Laura LoVecchio of Stereophile, and talked glorious music with Peter Mc Grath of Wilson Audio. It was tiring, but I actually had fun. Then, I wrote 46 blogs in two days, posted everything including the photos, and moved on.

 

This CES, which I attended for the first three days, I had the opportunity to hang a bit with publisher Keith Pray and Stereophile staffers. I hugged and kissed Rosemarie, and immediately expereinced withdrawal upon leaving the room. I had a fabulous lunch with the beloved Marjorie Baumert of RMAF, and an equally joyous dinner with Michael Woods of Elite Audio Systems in San Francisco. I stayed offsite, and only once walked once through the casino. I avoided the convention center entirely. I only saw a relatively few of the very many members of the industry for whom I have a great deal of love and respect - and I do mean love as well as respect - but I would consider the interactions I did have mutually rewarding. And there were many hugs. Damn, I had to skip Philip O'Hanlon's cocktail party, and never got to his justly-praised demos, but I did manage to do yoga every morning.

  

Here's how I hope to operate in the future, should blogging opportunities arise. I will hug friends and make others, enjoy quality listening, write up some rooms at the end of the day, get to bed at a quasi-reasonable hour, awake relatively refreshed, and try to smile in hallways. I'll cover a lot of territory, but it will be less of a chore because my time at the show will be more balanced. I may still walk with my head down, but that's as much about my execrable posture and my always active mind as anything else. (Hey, folks, writers write 24-hours a day, as do composers, and we love it. I can't help but review rooms and concoct opening sentences as I walk room-to-room). I'll even go out to dinner , should anyone wish to fill my dance card. I don't think I'll ever end up Ms. Popularity - I'm too New York Jewish only child for that - but I will avoid burnout.

 

To the folks who lament that dealers, distributors, and manufacturers are not always friendly to attendees, please read what posters before me have said. This is a trade show, not a consumer show. The major objective of most exhibitors is to connect with and build their distributor and dealer networks, not to play the favorite tracks of every non-industry person who gets into the show on the coat tails of an exhibitor friend. Even we press from Stereophile discover times when it's best to skip a room rather than potentially disrupt business. And sometimes we even inadvertently, totally innocently err on that score, especially when we're in blinders-on, gotta make my self-imposed room quota or someone's gonna throw a shit-fit, near-exhuastion mode.

 

I gather by now that readers of these many comments to Stephen's incredible show report realize that RMAF, CAS, Axpona, the new Chester Group Show in NYC, T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, CanJam, the Capital AudioFest, and the shows in Canada are much better places to audition music than CES. (The only exception is T.H.E. Show Las Vegas, which welcomes members of audio societies). I also trust that the well-intentioned poster before me who suggested that Stephen blog 9 to 6, then attend often obligatory for someone in his position industry dinners, then return to The Venetian to indulge in late-night listening when it's relatively quiet, and then return to his hotel room and stay up until the wee hours in order to write enough blogs to satisfy everyone, has realized that doing so requires a superhuman effort. Stephen is brilliant, gifted, and immensely creative, as is every writer for Stereophile whom I've been privileged to hang with. He is, in additon, extraordinarily truthful. But he is not Superman. None of us is. 

 

Besides, Superman is too busy flying past rooms faster than a speeding bullet and dodging kryptonite to have time to really listen. Do you really want yourself blinded by his cape as he whizzes by? 

 

jason victor serinus

Rick996r's picture

Stephen,

Wow, that was almost too much to comment on, but I'll try.  As an industry veteran for almost 35 years and more shows in Vegas than can be counted I think I understand your thought well, and in fact I do know that I've lived over a year of my life in that town one week at a time.  While I agree with you that the atmosphere is almost toxic for some of us, the fact remains that WCES is the largest show in the US and Vegas is the only town that can handle the tonnage of people, display space, rooms, etc., etc.,  ,,,,,

I am most fortunate to be a music and audio lover since the days in college selling audio in the very early 70's.  Got into the rep business and have been there ever since.  I am one of the very few where a job did not ruin his hobby.  I love your magazine as a consumer, audiophile, and industry professional.  I have what most would call a high end system, and what my friends call insanity, but regardless I work with manufacturers in the low, middle, and elite tiers and love all of it.

Vegas lost it allure on me decades ago, but we go, work, eat, and try to make the most of it and get out of town at the end.  I for one, do not try to rush out of town as early as possible like most of the masses.  I stay until the last hour so I can spend most of the  last day at the Venetian meeting old friends, making new ones and trying as best as I can to listen to some of the products I love and will learn to love.  It's great fun and while all of the distractions and violations to busines and personal ethics exist, I find them to be in the small minority and do not let them take away the enjoyment I search for after almost a week in the bigger picture of working a show that covers over 2 million square feet of convention space and hundreds of demo rooms all across the town.

Vegas is Vegas is Vegas is Vegas.  No longer Frank, Sammy, Dean, or Howard Hughes, just a little piece of total insanity out in the middle of the desert, but go we must and for all that it takes from us, the show gives everyone the maximum bang for their marketing and sales buck.  Casinos aside, it handles the volume well, just don't let it get to you too much.

Back to my consumer side, I loved the coverage you and your team from Stereophile gave to the show this year and in years past.  I do know from experience that it is impossible to cover more than you do and even though I visited many of the rooms you report on, I can't wait to read what you fine folks at Stereophile saw, listened to, discovered, etc.  I just love it and hope to stay in the right frame of mind going forward.  Thanks for listening. 

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
As an industry veteran for almost 35 years and more shows in Vegas than can be counted I think I understand your thought well, and in fact I do know that I've lived over a year of my life in that town one week at a time.

This is the 33rd year I have attended CES, so I am a little behind you, Rick996r, when it comes to spending time in Las Vegas. Something that has been puzzling me is that 30 years ago, we made no attempt at being comprehensive in our coverage either at HiFi News, which I was editing before 1986, nor at Stereophile. Yet there were no complaints from exhibitors. Now that we do try to be comprehensive and inevitably fail, there are many complaints. I guess people's expectations have changed.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Bubba in SF's picture

Stephen- Quit whining. Do your job. Your there because your paid to be there. Look around Las Vegas with all the over valued homes and closed businesses. You should be glad you are in the middle of the show.

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