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.
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.