CAS 2013: A Preliminary Evaluation

The fourth California Audio Show had just come to an end, but from the vigor with which the Music Lovers Audio staff launched into take down (above), it could have just as well been set-up day. Perhaps some of their energy reserves arose from the fact that attendance seemed significantly lighter than anticipated, even on Saturday.

Why have I devoted so much time and energy to writing up rooms at what was essentially a modestly sized regional show? To my way of thinking, exhibitors, both newbies and industry regulars, invested so much time and energy into making a good showing at CAS that I owe it to them to help get the word out far beyond the limited number of attendees.

Why the low attendance and the preponderance of "familiar faces?" For one, advertising was limited compared with previous years, and the frequency of ads on radio and in other media was questioned by some dealers who claim they couldn't find them. Second, the lack of one-day and two-day passes meant that people who only wished to attend for a single day had to pay the full $30 fee, which, I assure you, convinced more than a few people to stay home.

Then there was the absence of many major brands. MBL, Magico (except in the Sopranino demo), Conrad-Johnson, Nola, Pure Music, Joseph Audio, MSB . . . the list goes on and on. Even some major brands that made an appearance did so only because some exhibitors brought along components from their personal reference systems.

In part, the absence of brands was due to low participation by regional dealers. Audio High in the South Bay, Audio Image in Emeryville, Elite Audio Systems in San Francisco (whose Michael Wood came to represent Linn rather than display his many other brands), other stores in Marin and the South Bay, and so many of the in-home, storefront-less dealers whom I saw at previous CASs chose to sit this one out. Did they not find their financial outlay coming back to them in sales?

It's important to note that one of the things that propelled T.H.E. Show Newport Beach to prominence so quickly was the enticement of free admission to anyone who joined the Los Angeles/Orange County Audio Society. With LA/OCAS as a show sponsor, both show attendance and society ranks swelled. This year, CAS only offered discounted show attendance to Bay Area Audiophile Society members who bought their passes early, and did not make a room, hospitality suite, or table available for us. BAAS benefitted nada, and some members who attended the first year or two said "No way."

For sure, CAS had many good things going for it. The Westin SFO is the best hotel show organizer Constantine Soo has yet secured, both sonically and location-wise. It also has one of the nicest feels of any hotel I've been in during a show. Certainly the majority of rooms, both big and small, were more sonically friendly than those in many a hotel. The cash-and-carry snack table (or whatever it was called) actually had decent salads and fruit, and room service was good. And, since stairways only served as exits to the street, with no possibility of using them to move between floors, it was good that elevators moved relatively fast. For people who spent the night, wireless internet, although costly, sure was better than at many a hotel.

Show signage was in general good, but the lack of signs that stuck out from doorways meant that folks at the end of halls on the third floor often felt themselves ignored. Thanks to Lee Mincy of Phasure/XXHighEnd, panels on recording and computer audio included some really stellar experts, and offered a lot. Constantine's decision to schedule live jazz and classical concerts was also a distinct plus, although many attendees lamented that the jazz was poorly amplified.

"Please don't take my baby away from me just yet!" begs Wilson's Peter McGrath

I really liked the feel of this show. Of course, my perspective as a writer for Stereophile differs greatly from that of exhibitors and visitors. Only twice did I find rooms too full to allow my easy access, and never did I encounter any of the rudeness and inconsiderate talking over music that I've discovered and barely endured at Newport Beach and other shows. (Okay, BAAS head honcho Bob Walters, it's true that, in a few cases, the only one talking besides the exhibitor was moi.)

What I did encounter in room after room were true music lovers intent on discovering which equipment had the potential to bring them the most joy and satisfaction. Isn't that what it's all about?

As a contributing editor who has a reputation for whizzing from room-to-room, like an aging Peter Pan on steroids, it was so nice to finally be able to slow down enough to listen to several selections per room, and schmooze with people I know. People seemed to understand that when a writer must cover many rooms at a show, they can often do so only by maintaining a certain pace. While there were still times when I had to answer the question, "How can you possibly do so much?" with "By not stopping to explain how," in general I was able to maintain a more human pace. The downside came on the last day, when, after pausing long enough to smell the flowers, I ended up having to cover more exhibits than an andante con grazie (if that's how you say it) could handle. But when all is said and done, the smiles, greetings, and well wishes I did have time to receive were extremely gratifying, and often deeply touching. It is so nice to find myself among friends.

If there was one overriding theme to CAS4, it was that the truth that music imparts, and the myriad ways in which it enriches our lives both mentally, physically, and spiritual, is of paramount importance to Bay Area audiophiles. That, my friends, is the bottom line. Which leads to tip my proverbial hat to Constantine Soo, and thank him from the bottom of my heart for the beauty, hope, and magic he enabled industry members and their fellow audiophiles to share. In this expression of gratitude, I know I am not alone.

Onward to CAS5 in 2014. Hopefully we will return to the Westin SFO, this time in greater numbers. May participants multiply, and the music we love sing stronger than ever.

Share | |
COMMENTS
JohnnyR's picture

Personally Insulting content deleted by JA. JohnnyR, if you continue to post flames and insults on this site, we will have no option but to ban you. Consider this a formal warning.

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson wrote:
JohnnyR, if you continue to post flames and insults on this site, we will have no option but to ban you.

Despite my warning, JohnnyR posted several comments last weekend that were nothing more flames and personal insults. I have therefore blocked him from posting to this site and emailed him to let him know of my decision.

I have let stand his posts that did contain content, however.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

DougM's picture

I spent most of my life in the bay area where when I was young we had Pacific Stereo and the Good Guys, two chains who sold hundreds of good affordable audio products that young people could afford. If you saved your hard earned dollars, you could buy a good integrated amp (or receiver) from Pioneer, Kenwood, Sansui or Marantz, a good turntable from the same japanese brands, or Dual and Garrard and Lenco, a nice cartridge from Shure, ADC, Pickering, Stanton, or Empire, and a decent pair of speakers from Klipsch, Cerwin-Vega or JBL if you liked the dynamic rock sound,  or AR, Allison, KLH, or EPI for a more reserved sound, or KEF or Polk who seemed to straddle the line between the two sounds.

If you want to get young people interested in good sounding gear other than ipods and Beats headphones you have to show them gear they can afford. They're are many relatively affluent young people in the SF area, but most of them can't afford Vivid or Wilson, VTL,  and the like.

Where were the Cambridge Audio, NAD, and Marantz amps, KEF, Paradigm, PSB, Monitor Audio, and similar speakers at this show?

The Bay Area delears exhibiting at this show appear to only be pandering to the 1%.

Shame on them. In the long run, it will be their demise.

 

untangle's picture

Jason and SP have created, once again, the most detailed and rich depiction of "what it was like" at the show.

And Constantine should be given some kind of medal for site selection alone. MUCH better.

I myself am not that troubled by the high-ticket items. I just try to learn from them what I can. To me, many of them sound no better (and often worse) than the more moderately priced kit. Jason and SP spend a fair amount of time on the latter, both here and elsewhere. So why fret?

FWIW, Jason and I heard things in much the same way at CAS4, and I've left some of my impressions on the BAAS blog (baasnotes.com).

I am somewhat more troubled by the relatively low attendance. But there's even a silver lining there: I saw a higher percentage of younger attendees at CAS4 than RMAF or CES. Granted, many/most were attacted by the headphone demos. Even so, they seemed to be making the loudspeaker rounds as well.

Very nice show, nicely executed.

Bob

Bay Area Audiophile Society

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

My one glaring omission in my show wrap was the paucity of women. I kept on running into the same woman, a BAAS member, in room after room. She spent three days listening, seriously listening. Other than that, I think most of the women I encountered were exhibitors/co-exhibitors. And even there, the number was extremely low...

[Insensitive, incorrect, and inappropriate content redacted by JA]

Audio Legend's picture

Jason, ever wonder why the hobby is devoid of young people, women, and minorities...and is really populated by middle aged white men?

Simple..the current state of the audiophile hobby is that it has VERY LITTLE to do with MUSIC. It is about SOUND, and "good recordings".

It has nothing to do with musical enjoyment what so ever.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I cannot accept this. It is true that some dealers, albeit not the ones I know intimately in San Francisco and Berkeley, have a paucity of imagination and curiousity when it comes to music, and that some audiophiles have very conservative taste. (HP was a main reinforcer of same.) It is, of course, also true that some dealers have no idea what to offer prospective customers beyond a standard playlist of audiophile classics, and some audiophiles are, as you say, more into gear and sound than music.

But I know plenty of audiophiles who love music first and foremost, among whom are a goodly number with a taste for musical adventure. You need only read what Stephen Mejias, Ariel Bitran, Robert Baird, and Fred Kaplan have to say on this site and in print to realize that many of us are listening to and talking music all the time.

JohnnyR's picture

You mean the Stereophile staff. You don't seem to be in touch with what the public wants. These shows you like to pretty up with your subjective opinions have gone over to the uber rich. If you can't spend at least $10,000 on something as simple as a power cord then you best stay home and that is exactly what most of the public do. It's for middle/old age white men with money.

Audio Legend's picture

It must be the idealist in you that cannot accept the facts. The NUMBERS DON'T LIE Jason. I can count on two hands the amount of minorities and women I have seen in hifi shops. And those women were spouses.

I'm glad you mentioned Robert Baird. He is a brilliant writer about music and has exceptional taste. I like Stephen Mejias too, but let's be honest, he can't afford 95% of the gear you report on. I don't know Fred Kaplan, sorry.

Audiophiles like sound, and most are insufferable. Most of the hard core that I have met have the usual "200 or so" CDs. They rarely if ever leave their parlours to hear music.

Of course there are true music lovers in the hobby, but they are outnumbered by the vast majority.  I appreciate your response btw, thank you.

Et Quelle's picture

As an attendee of the Newport Show. Everyone probably took this as a tail end show to Newport. Newport was fun; beautiful audio, records and good selection of refreshments.

Young people are not going to come to the show in large numbers ever. This is a more mature event; they can not sit still for more than a hour anywhere. That is not per floor; that is per event. If they want and can afford anything in the entry level, they will check it out on the internet and add to cart. But they won't know that it is high end or that it might be in THE Show. They will say "what is that"?

warrenpchi's picture

I had the pleasure of attending both T.H.E. Show in Newport as well as CAS4 this year, and I would have to take exception to your assertion that "young people are not going to come to the show in large numbers ever. This is a more mature event; they can not sit still for more than a hour anywhere."

One of the most overlooked components of CAS4 this year was the Headmasters event.  While it was centered around high-end headphones and personal fidelity, it did draw a small but significant crowd.  In fact, I've since learned from Frank Iacone that a third of Friday's show receipts were in direct response to an ad placed on Head-Fi.org (a personal/portable audio forum and community).

The fact is, there were young people there.  And outside of the industry folks I spent time with, I doubt that many of the attendees at Headmasters were even remotely thinking about what it might be like to be 30-years old one day.  I even had the pleasure of conversing with audiophiles as young as 14 years of age looking to plunk down $1K on something as rudimentary as a headphone amplifier.  They spent hours per day listening to gear and communcating with vendors, and came back multiple days.

And yes, these whippersnappers did make it over into the rooms.  They spent time with Zu Audio, with Fritz, with Sony, and even wandered into Raven's room to oogle at what might be one day.  Say you didn't see them, say they weren't there to check out the gear that you would have them want, but don't say they weren't there.  I beg your pardon, but that just isn't true.

returnstackerror's picture

"although many attendees lamented that the jazz was poorly amplified. "

It needed to be amplified in what would have been a relatively small room/attendance?

Peter

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hi Peter,

I wasn't there, so I don't know the story; I just heard the grumbling afterwards. While the room was of good size, it was alive enough to enable musicians to perform without amplification. The reality, however, is that jazz musicians are so accustomed to letting sound engineers find an ideal balance between them that the musicians may not have been comfortable performing without amplifcation.

burnspbesq's picture

You've ascribed a set of characteristics to thousands of people you've never met or had any communication with.

I'm willing to bet you're wrong about a majority of them.

I can listen to a 128k mp3 of the Casals Bach Cello Suites with Apple earbuds from the headphone jack of an iPhone.  Or I can listen to a 96/24 ALAC file of the same performance with Sennheiser HD 800s from the headphone output of a Lynx Hilo that is connected to a MacBook Pro via a good quality USB cable.  I know which one gets me closer to the music.

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

An audio manufacturer / dealer /distributor, who spends the money to do a show like this faces quite a few challenges. I guess I have been to enough shows over many years (both pro audio and consumer audio) to make some abstract observations on shows.

Shipping is expensive.

The room is expensive.

Travel related costs and food expensive.

Their time is expensive.

This all adds up (I am quite sure) and is attached to the company's profit loss for the year.

Take those expenses multiplied by all these new regional shows and you have quite a big number to crunch against the years sales.

Now take the shows results and see how it stacks up.

1.) Sales made from the show: Any one buying anything?

2.) Press coverage: Good or bad? I did a brief tally of the coverage by Mr Serinus (37 in my quick tally) and I see that he commented positively on only 13 rooms while attaching some negative statement (large or small) on 24 rooms. That is 65% negative!

That means that 65% of the rooms covered (excuse my quick tally feel free to do your own) have negative press that they now need to overcome with prospective buyers. How does this justify doing a show if a major magazine is going to attach a negative statement on your product 65% of the time when they walk into your room? I have not tallied up the results from other shows by Mr. Serinus but I bet they are similar from my recollections. So with the potential that someone will give your room a negative write up 65% of the time it may be better to uninvite them from your room.

These shows are surely a financial drain on a companies resources and if sales do not justify them and the press is negative they will disappear like the audio storefronts have done already. Many say that the lack of new younger audiophiles is the problem and that is probably true. When the white haired 50 yr old plus crowd was young we had 3 tv channels to watch and no computers, so we listened to and invested in music and audio hardware. Now music is only one small "thing" out there for a young person to do, video games, social networking, 500 tv channels, on demand movies, I Pads, I Pods, it goes on and on. Maybe we are just seeing a social change in the young or a fundamental lifestyle change, they just don't care about sound quality. They may still care about music but it is on a back burner and their money is going to computer based technology, internet costs, and software, not audio hardware.

 

 

   

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is a very interesting observation. But let's look at this situation another way. Bob Walters, the President of BAAS, has commented to me privately that, for the most part, our observations are the same. Without naming names, he thought I was actually much too kind about the sound in certain rooms.

What would have happened if I had refrained from what you call negative comments - things like the bass boomed a bit, or "not to my taste" - and reported as though listening through rose-colored earbuds? You can find plenty of those reviews in the audiophile press, both in print and on the web. They make manufacturers, dealers, and advertisers happy. But they have no credibility, because audiophiles who actually hear the stuff talk to each other on the net and post their own observations. People know who's telling the truth.

The days of writing fictional reviews may be far from over, but the public, or at least one segment of it, knows fact from fiction. It knows who is selling reviews for advertisiing dollars, and can sense when someone is bending the truth or choosing to omit certain critical observations in order to please members of the industry. And the public no longer has to resort to Letters to the Editor, some of which are never printed, to speak its mind.

The truth is, despite countless reviews whose conclusions seem written to provide ad copy, some equipment is better than other equipment. In addition, in stores and at shows, some people are far more devoted to set-up than others. Kerry of YG Acoustics had stuck mattresses in a corner to help control sound in the YG Acoustics room. Jeremy Bryan of MBL does the same. I've been to shows where Luke Manley and Bea Lam of VTL have shown me marks on the floor, made over a period of six hours, as they experimented with different speaker positions until they found the best one.

Some exhibitors at CAS didn't even bother to take advantage of ASC's offer of tube traps. IMHO, it's important to mention that, and its effect on the sound. It's also important to ask if equipment is broken in, which is something I did in many of the rooms where the sound seemed off to me, and to mention this in reports. Some of what I prefer to see as my critical observations address these issues.

GeorgeHolland's picture

"The days of writing fictional reviews may be far from over, but the public, or at least one segment of it, knows fact from fiction. It knows who is selling reviews for advertisiing dollars, and can sense when someone is bending the truth or choosing to omit certain critical observations in order to please members of the industry."

In mine and other's opinions, you are a main culprit in doing just this. Saying that power cords, cables, gadget tweaks and other non-proven items make a "profound" difference in the sound isn't exactly being truthful now is it? Why is it that you always give Nordost so much praise no matter what cable is brand spanking new? I know for a fact that it's either mostly sight bias, expectation bias or maybe you aren't as savy as you would like to think you are when it comes to listening at these events.

Equpment doesn't need to be "broken in". The only audio component that could have a very slight difference is a speaker where the spider on a driver is still stiff. That takes care of itself in the very first few minutes of being played as the cone flexes back and forth with the music.Same for digital cables, either they can pass zeros and ones or the wire is broken, period.

[gratuitous personal comment deleted by JA]

Audio Legend's picture

Agree that room set up is a skill, and many reps, dealers, and even manufacturers
uterrlly clueless.  Tough luck. Learn your trade is my suggestion to them.

Audio Legend's picture

 

Dear Pro Audio Tech:

All your points are noted an quite accuarate in regards to cost and time.

Also totally agree on the change in demographics. When I was a kid MTV just started up, cable tv was for rich people, smart phones were a fantasy, and their were basically two formats, LP and tape.

Howerver, the negative comments rooms are no fault of any one besides the exhibitors. It is just NOT that hard to get good sound in a room with decent preparation as Jason suggests. It is not his fault that many dealers and reps have no clue how to set up a sound system. Why are there certain exhibits that sound good show after show after show?

Don't blame the messenger.

untangle's picture

This post is about the show - remember? Many commenters weren't even there. I'm not sure how many commenters even read all of the coverage. For example...

Two of JVS's (and my) favorite rooms featured, respectively, $2K speakers and a $3K total system price. OK, so he liked a megabuck system best - who cares? Can't he just call it like he hears it? If you've also heard the system and disagree, great - tell us all about it. If you haven't, why say anything on this thread? (Audio Assylum is a good place for that.)

Further, neither JVS nor Stereophile control the demographics of the high end market. And they only slightly control buying trends. So let's not act as if they do and blame them for such matters. Steve Jobs exerts more influence and he's dead.

There is a raft of good gear available to the younger set, including turntables. But this group gets its info from the internet (think headfi.com), not trade shows.

So you want to know what drives young folks away from the high end? Comment strings like this one where older people criricise each other for sport (and to show how much they know).

And now we're going to criticise a reviewer for having some negative comments. Really? When the community has begged for "objective reporting" and "just tell it like it is"?

Now that's truly irony...

Bob

GeorgeHolland's picture

"So you want to know what drives young folks away from the high end?"

 

Prices, know it all snob sellers, silly reports like JVS does where he always heaps praise upon power cords, cables and useless gimmick items, products that place flash and status symbols above utility . . . [gratuitous insult deleted by JA] . . . reviews that are mostly about some guy's girlfriend or the women in his life and barely about the item being reviewed, digital cables that sell for more than $20, giving an item a good review and then you find out there are only 4 distributors and one of them is in Haiwaii and none of them have prices posted online, speakers that have maybe $500 total in parts and they sell for $20,000, oh and prices, prices, prices.

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
giving an item a good review and then you find out there are only 4 distributors

Stereophile insists that unless it is sold direct, a product being featured in a full review be available from at least 5 US retailers. See www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/307awsi/index.html. We always list the number of US retailers in the review's "Specifications" sidebar.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture

"Good review" meant what Mr Serinus does on here perhaps you want to call it a report?

I guess you won't ever be doing a "full review" of the EnigmAcoustics' Sopranino self-polarizing electrostatic supertweeterbecause that was what I was refering to. Look up "where to buy" on their website. Anyway not including the cost on any of the places selling it just frustrates those who don't want to have to call them up or go in person just to find out what it will cost.

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
"Good review" meant what Mr Serinus does on here perhaps you want to call it a report?

Yes, I would have thought it obvious that Jason's report from the CAS is just that, a report on what he saw and heard visiting rooms at an audio show. By contrast, an equipment review is based on long-term auditioning in the writer's own system.

And to return to your criticism in light of what I have just explained:

GeorgeHolland wrote:
giving an item a good review [in a show report] and then you find out there are only 4 distributors

Are you really saying that a magazine like Stereophile has a responsibility not to report on exhibitors at shows if their distribution is limited? That would be draconian in its implications.

Please note, BTW, that I have now twice had to delete gratuitous insults from your postings. While I have no objection to criticism, even strongly worded criticism, flames and insults will not be tolerated. Address the topic, not the poster, please. If you disregard this instruction, we will ban you from this website. Consider this a formal warning.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture

All I did was bring up criticism of handing out praise for a product that has limited distributation plus no where on the internet do they post a price list.

As far as insults and not being on topic, you would do well to delete posts by a certain person who seems to just revel in causing problems on here and is never on topic and by the way it's not JohnnyR so figure that out yourself.

Your way of dealing with criticism seems to be delte delete delete. So be it, you are only coming across as being guilty of hiding things to everyone.

No wonder the high end and those that cover it are being considered as not beingh exactly honest to their customers. I suppose this will be deleted also?

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
All I did was bring up criticism of handing out praise for a product that has limited [distribution] plus no where on the internet do they post a price list.

And as I pointed out and you argued with, this is in the context of a show report. And shows are where new products with limited or even no distribution are often to be found. A new manufacturer has to start somewhere and a show is the ideal opportunity.

GeorgeHolland wrote:
As far as insults and not being on topic, you would do well to delete posts by a certain person who seems to just revel in causing problems on here and is never on topic and by the way it's not JohnnyR so figure that out yourself.

That others behave badly does not excuse your own behavior. You have been warned.

And I assume you are referring to ChrisS - please note that I have deleted multiple postings from ChrisS, as I have done with JohnnyR, where all he has done is post insults. The exception is where you and or someone else has responded to a ChrisS post with factual content that I felt worth leaving in place.

GeorgeHolland wrote:
Your way of dealing with criticism seems to be delte delete delete. So be it, you are only coming across as being guilty of hiding things to everyone.

As I have said, I am not afraid of strong criticism, as can be seen from the postings in this thread. But as I have also said in the past, I will delete posts that are nothing more than flames or insults without notice. People who address the content of someone's post and not the poster himself should not have their posts deleted.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

ChrisS's picture

I revel at behaving badly only towards those behaving  badly... Of course, there's no need for it, but that's part of the fun!

ChrisS's picture

Just curious, Georgie... How do you know how different components "sound" and whether "breaking in" is a factor or not?

GeorgeHolland's picture

How do you know how they sound if your hearing has gone bad as you say? How do you know there is break in? I contend that "break in" is just the person listening getting used to the sound over time.Maybe I should pull the wiring from my 60 year old house and use it to sell someone some $50,000 power cord since after all it is already "broke in"

If the people at these shows really are concerned that their products sound their best, wouldn't they make sure to bring components that work instead of finding out afterwards? Isn't bringing faulty components a sign that perhaps quality control isn't a big factor in their product? "Shit happens" was what JVS said but honestly shouldn't higher priced components be built better?

If you think "break in" is a real factor then show me proof it is instead of asking me to prove it isn't.

ChrisS's picture

Fascinating how you know things, Georgie, without having any direct experience with anything that you write about....

Pages

X
Enter your Stereophile.com username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading