The Case Against Show Reports Larry Archibald abuts

Larry Archibald abuts:

I'm of two minds in this debate, because there seem to be significant defects in both arguments presented above. I feel that Consumer Electronics Shows are an excellent place to encounter interesting products, products that are good prospects for reviews. And sound quality is one way to decide which manufacturers to interview, which products to pursue. The CES also provides a unique opportunity to get technical clues from the designers whose products sound good; given the plethora of exhibitors, there's a tendency not to check out the rooms that sound bad. So I disagree with AHC's dimunition of the CES's importance as a sonic showplace.

Moreover, it's a mistake to think that Shows are oriented exclusively to dealers, distributors, and reps. Sure, that's the main focus. But the Press is accorded tremendous privileges at the Show, and for good reason. We're the ones that publicize whatever new and excellent products turn up at shows—and for a subjective-review magazine, that has to be judged, to some extent at least, on how they sound.

Overall, though, I would have to say that I have more disagreement with JGH's apparent "open-season" approach to show reporting. In terms of rewarding those manufacturers whose exhibits sound terrific, I'm all for it. It's a real feat, and as JGH states, there's almost never a product that sounds good under show conditions that isn't actually good.

I don't agree, however, with respect to bad-sounding exhibits. Here's a list of the products that have sounded less than their best at shows: Klyne SK-5 preamplification, MartinLogan Monolith speakers, Infinity RS-l speakers (in some exhibits), IRS speakers, WAMMs (on one occasion), Krell electronics, Spica TC-50 speakers—the list could go on and on. And yet all these products have turned out to be not only not wretched, as might have been concluded from a visit at the wrong moment, but superb.

And it's not surprising, either. Think of what can go wrong in setting up at CES: lousy room dimensions; entire walls of glass in your room; noisy neighbors; RFI; radical power line interference; damage in shipping to your products; damage in shipping to the products that you wanted to borrow for use in your exhibit; any of a possible thousand other hostile interference patterns in the setup of audio equipment that demonstrate bad luck rather than moral turpitude. JGH's solution of a silent exhibit works for well-established companies like Audio Research, whose dealers will visit no matter what. But it won't work for lots of lesser-known companies, especially those new people trying to make an impression.

Nor does bad sound at a Show somehow equal no respect for the consumer's interest, or an ignorance of good sound in the product. The connection simply isn't there, or at least hasn't been demonstrated to me.

Overall, I would have to recommend that readers discount some of the radically negative comments made in our show reports. As far as our gee-whiz reporting, I don't feel so bad—as long as consumers don't invest our ten-minute visits with the authority of a full report carried out under controlled conditions. Go ahead, look into the products we think sounded good. But don't rule out the ones that, to our ears, fell on their face.—Larry Archibald

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