The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show: A Better Way?
Every time I stepped from the slow elevator onto the casino floor at Harrah's, where Stereophile's editors spent their sleepless nights, my hatred for Las Vegas was revitalized. It felt like some kind of bad joke: Oh god, I'm still here. I would turn right and see the same flashing lights, the same low ceilings, the same peoplestill sitting, still smoking, still hoping, still staring blank-faced into spinning screens of cherries, spades, and jokersand I would wonder why.
And later, after navigating the long lines and crowded elevators at the Venetian, which housed most of the annual Consumer Electronics Show's 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, and pull me into their suite.
"It's great to see you, too, but I'm supposed to be covering budget amplification."
"Ah, but we have this $10,000 amplifier . . ."
Once free, I would begin my search again. I would remind myself of the room number I'd been heading for prior to being abducted, realize that that room was not on this floor at all, double back, this time declining the elevators in favor of running down the stairsbecause the stairs have got to be fasterto the 28th floor, then take a fast elevator and its tedious opera excerpts down to the lobby, and snake through the casinos, through the smoke, past manufacturers announcing angrily, impatiently, that no one from Stereophile has visited their rooms, past the long legs, the short skirts, the cleavage, wondering why.
Why? Most people visit Las Vegas in search of money, sex, drugs, or simple escape. But why are we here? 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?
Maybe this is just work: one way of making money.
CES 2012 had its redeeming moments. I was thankful for running into Anton Dotson, an especially kind and thoughtful person and a lover of wine, music, and hi-fi, who for the past several years has exhibited at T.H.E. Show (a fringe event held at The Flamingo) as NFS (Not For Sale) Audio, recharging minds, bodies, ears, and souls with music, a smile, and a glass of something delicious.
In Dotson's room, nothing is for sale. People are invited to come in, relax, have a drink, enjoy a discussion, or just listen to music. No favors are 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," said one manufacturerno words spoken that would make you feel in any way uncomfortable or out of place.
Why does Dotson do this? He does this, it seems clear to me, because he knows no other way. He does it out of love.
Anton Dotson enjoys being a part of T.H.E. Show for many reasons. He especially notes the camaraderie among exhibitors, the willingness to share resources, the after-hours parties at which guests are invited to enter exhibit rooms, recordings of music in hand, and listen for as long as they like.
That's the spirit of hi-fi we should be promoting.
A rep for one loudspeaker manufacturer told me an interesting story. He'd been 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 hazardslistening to music at 120dB for an extended period is sure to cause permanent hearing damagecan we blame this rep for wanting to please his customer? Great amounts of money are at stake. For such a customer, money was not an issuehe was a millionaire. But was he an audiophile?
Which reminds me: All sorts of people are drawn to hi-fi shows, for all sorts of reasons. The hi-fi industry serves not only 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.
At a show like CES, the goal of the hi-fi press is to report on all of the exhibitor rooms in as thorough and thoughtful a fashion as possible. In the present circumstances, this goal is impossible to achieve. Each CES would have to last a month, and we would need a special breed of tireless, exceptionally proficient writer, capable not only with the word but also with the camera, owner of a smile that never falters, and with reserves of patience and cunning that never run 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, bespoke products. We could choose to stay here and report at will, over the course of years.
And sacrifice the inevitable spike in Web traffic gained from attending and reporting directly from CES? Forfeit the page views?
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.
I listened more to people than to music in Las Vegas. Music in Vegas is an ugly sound: the grinding of gears, the jingle of loose change, a terrible hissing noise outside your hotel window, 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 sexliving, 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 for years. 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 of 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 a better way. But if there is, why aren't we pursuing it?