CES 2017: The Grand (Shrink) Wrap
How to sum up the smallest high-end showing ever at a 21st Century CES? While it seems likely that CES trade-show attendance in general was down just a bit this year from the 2016 high of 177,393, the official estimate of "more than 175,000 industry professionals, including 55,000 from outside the US" stands in sharp contrast to the scene on the upper floors of the Venetian Tower, where some hallways that had formerly been packed with what CES calls "high performance" exhibits and industry people were now dominated by tech-company exhibits and visitors.
When all is said and done, one pre-show count of 157 high-end exhibitsat least 40 fewer than 2016did not account for several rooms that were reserved for meetings-only. On that score, Jon Iverson's fabulous Simmons blog speaks volumes.
The reasons for the shift are many. First, there is the rise of Munich High End as the show where European and North American industry people unite. It may be a consumer show, while CES is trade-only, but that does not seem to prevent a helluva lot of industry transactions from taking place. People seem to find a way to deal, and the most affordable way, especially if they have European dealerships or distributors, seems to be Munich over Las Vegas.
Secondly, there is the rise of the major US shows: Rocky Mountain, AXPONA, and some yet-to-be-determined shakedown between the new Los Angeles Audio Show and the continuing-in-a-new-month-and-location T.H.E. Show Anaheim. Lots of deals and check-ins take place there as well, along with many of the product premieres that used to be reserved for CES.
Hey, I remember when I virtually had to run room-to-room in the Venetian in order to cover my territory. This year, I was able to spend over half a day at the Las Vegas Convention Center, covering the all-important Hi-Res press conference and pavilion; perform duets with light worker in ukulelist guise, Jake Shimabukuro; sleep over seven hours every night; and return home to complete my blogs in record time. Which is not to say that covering CES remains anything less than an exhausting experience. As I type, Art is still editing furiously as some of us are still submitting blogs and, in Jana's case, editing video.
Finally, there are the price and environment issues. The CES room prices at the Mirage Hotel have risen so high that the place wasn't even full. Evil Uber wasn't price-gouging the way it was last year, at least not when I arrived on the afternoon of January 4, but hotel and food prices were absurd.
As for the environment, CES has to be the only show where you need to either change clothes every day or come out smelling like a walking advertisement for tobacco companies. And if you're not into gambling, drinking, spending huge sums on meals and entertainment, or denial, Las Vegas has virtually nothing to offer other than noise, crowds, and mind/environment-desecrating glitz. I confess that when I wrote the As We See It, "What if They Gave a CES and Nobody Came?", I did so as an act of wish-fulfillment.
But that's just my hit. These thoughts from other Stereophile editors, supplemented by two quotes from industry members, help present a more rounded picture:
When I started doing CES show reports some years ago, with "less expensive speakers" as my assignment, the borderline between "less expensive" and "more expensive" was defined at $10,000. Nonetheless, I had trouble covering all the new speakers in that category. This year, the borderline was set at $20,000, and my problem was the opposite: too few new speakers were under $20,000/pair. The phenomenon of escalating pricesdiscussed by John Atkinson in the February 2017 issue As We See Itis real, and is part of the reason for the decreasing number of CES exhibitors. (The proliferation of regional shows is another.) In any case, to reference Max Ehrmann, no doubt the audio universe is unfolding as it should.Robert Deutsch
Two things jumped out of the deck at CES Vegas 2016: The lonely grinders sitting by themselves, smoking, drinking, and pouring their life's resources down some glowing monster's gullet, and the power of a CD. The charming and knowledgeable Jonathan Derda (MoFi Distribution) burned a mix CD on a MoFi Gold CD-R for the show. Besides helping MoFi (and TAD) to have the best sound at CES, this unforgettable disc placed one heart-rending (unreleased) Prince song at the center of my CES 2017 consciousness.Herb Reichert
With fewer high-end audio exhibitors and sparse traffic in the Venetian at the weekend, the 2017 CES was a shadow of what it used to be. But when it came to sound quality, I think I heard more great-sounding systems at this show than I had in the past. The MSB room, with YG Sonja 1.2 speakers stands out for me, as did YG's own room, with the Sonja XV speakers driven by Audionet amps, the VTL room with Wilson Yvette speakers, the Vandersteen Quatro Wood CT speakers driven by Brinkmann's integrated amp, Magico's S7 speakers driven by Soulution electronics, the MoFi room with the impressive little TAD standmounts, the MBL room, Joseph Audio's Pearl 3 floorstanders there were many more, but the memory I am left with is trying (and failing) to destroy the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96s on Sunday afternoon with a 24/192 needledrop, from a 12" 45rpm single of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way." Rock'n'roll, audio-show bliss!John Atkinson
The Venetian exhibits this year, more than ever before, highlight how the High End has split in two: cost-no-object (CNO) products, and then all the value-oriented products the rest of us buy. The Venetian is a perfect place to present CNOs, with its luxury focus and high prices for everything from water to kale salad. But many of the value products were missing, and rightly so. Unless CES rethinks how it presents us, I'm thinking Rocky Mountain (for US show-goers) now provides a better place for everyone and seems a better fit to represent both ends of our obsession. Can we leave Vegas behind? I wouldn't miss it.Jon Iverson
I saw fewer high end exhibitors in the upper floors of the Venetian Hotel in CES 2017. Bryston and Pass Laboratories, for example, were missing from their usual rooms. Manufacturers told me they saw less foot traffic in their exhibit rooms than in previous years. They brought vinyl and digital files for source materials, so I was unable to listen to my CDs in several rooms. As for sonics, there was exceptionally good audio to be heard in the high price-point exhibits, but also in rooms featuring less expensive equipment, such as Technics and MoFi Distribution. Jake Shimabukuro, Jon Iverson's artist-in-residence, was exceptionally warm, approachable, caring, and talented. He provided many fresh insights into the high-end audio listening experience.Laurence Greenhill
I got a 20-plus-year tag on my badge, so I do have a historical perspective on the high-end segment of CES. Early on, it was both lavish and intense. The changes in the economy have curtailed the former and that is not necessarily bad. The reduction in high-end participation and the dispersion of the exhibits has been ongoing. The Hi-Rez group has moved to the LVCC, separating it from its natural associates, and non-audio rooms have been inserted among the high-end rooms at the Venetian. Soon, it will look like Alice's Cheshire Cat: only a smile in the darkness. Concomitantly, vendor resources have been redistributed to regional shows where some of the original CES intensity survives. If CES permitted consumers to attend the high-end segment, it might blossom. Who knows?Kal Rubinson
And now, from two industry people. The second spoke without permission from the boss, and thus prefers anonymity:
Regarding "ShrinkWrap"well, the title says it all. The show was smaller than ever. Reportedly 40 less rooms in the High Performance section, but actually more than that. Since when did AMD Processors and other computer peripheral companies become part of High Performance Audio? Very few international distributors and even less domestic dealers.Bill Parish, GTT Audio (YG/Audionet/MSB/Kubala-Sosna)
We definitely found the show to be quite slow, and I know other manufacturers felt the same way. A number of our reps didn't come, and I only had a few people come in the room who were looking to possibly take on our line. (Maybe 4?) Only a few of our dealers attended, so that is disappointing as well. Several of my reps told me they didn't have many of their dealers attending the show.
We have become well-known enough (yay!) that we were busy chatting with people most of the time so not huge amounts of time in the room when we were bored with no one to talk to. But ideally we would have liked to see more dealers, more reps, and more dealers who are checking out the line.
We aren't yet sure we will attend next year that partially has to do with the slowness of the show, and partially just our way of doing business. Every year we evaluate how many shows we want to do, and whether to only focus on the big ones or also include some local shows. Until now, we've never missed a CES, and only missed RMAF once.Anon.
In addition, I've been watching manufacturer postings on Facebook, and dialoguing with others on the phone and via email. Not only am I encountering multiple declarations that exhibitors will not return, but I'm also reading stories of how many people got sick flying to and fro. The consensus is: high cost, major hassle, and low return. With more and more folks saying that it just isn't worth it, I expect that CES2018 will host well under 100 "high performance" exhibits.
From a press standpoint, while CES2017 was much smaller than before, it still offered plenty of great musical experiences and enough enticing premieres to make our effort worthwhile. But with similarly great musical experiences available at consumer showseven at the ever-enjoyable Munich High End, whose horrible room acoustics derail many an exhibitand lots of premieres migrating away from Las Vegas, CES as a high-end showcase is in marked decline. Without a doubt, there will be fewer members of the high-end press wandering the hallways of the Venetian in 2018, trying to figure out if "XYZ Industries" is a high-end company or a chip manufacturer.