Montréal's Hi-Fi Show Points to the Future
"We try every year to bring new people," says the show's bilingual manager, Michel Plante. "Veteran exhibitors expect a certain kind of qualified [initiated] clientele they can easily conduct business with, but you can't speak technically to new people or play too much music they don't know. So we must ensure that the exhibitors adjust themselves to the new clientele."
Hence Plante has encouraged exhibitors to display USB DACs that can accommodate the iPhones and USB keys ubiquitous among younger audiophiles-in-the-making. He also invites industry members to initiate "101 conversations" that focus less on specs and more on music.
"There's a difference between bringing a new machine on the market and changing how we talk about it," he says. "The new customers don't have the same interests as the older customers. It's a new world for us, and it will take about five years to change the market's vision and adjust. It will also take five years to convince young people to come."
With the High End's continued evolution in mind, Salon Son et Image has reframed the reference "CD" it issues each year. Instead of a silver platter, this year's recording of Montréal band World Folk will be sold only in USB key format. When these files are taken room-to-room, new digital music players from a host of companies will demonstrate just how good the music can sound.
Plante also expects to attract large numbers of women and future-minded consumers with a 6000 square foot home automation display. Security, food, lighting, sound, home theatre, music servers, and perhaps even your pet's pooper scooper will be inter-connected and automated, with everything controlled by an iPad or equivalent.
"You can be at work and receive a signal that your kids have returned home from school and are safely in the house," Plante declared in his best Big Father voice. And, in case you're boycotting Apple products at the moment because of their Exodus International iPhone app, you'll be happy to know that Salon Son & Image has for months planned a demonstration that compares 56 different tablets with the iPad.
Other goodies include a HeadFi.org exhibit room filled with amplifier and headphones, along with a workshop on choosing headphones. Other workshops will explain how to tweak your computer to make it sound the best it can, and explore the multiplicity of download formats and new trends in digital music. Our own John Atkinson will do a presentation on how to understand the loudspeaker measurements published in Stereophile, and there will of course be a Stereophile "Ask The Editors" panel.
In keeping with the show's forward looking vision, there will even be a Bach to the Future presentation [my title] that will employ audio and visuals to explore the life and music of the great and never outdated classical master. From the other end of the spectrum, if not the far side, comes a 142-screen, 3D exhibit in the Hotel Bonaventure's ballroom that will include the big Focal Viva Utopia loudspeakers and 240V versions of Simaudio CP-8 and MC8/5 amps.
Plante expects a major increase over last year's attendance figure of 9000, and has spent a small fortune on print, Web, TV, and radio advertising to expose people to the 290 audio brands and recording labels on display. Free tickets have been distributed to 12 colleges and universities, with ads running in what French-Canadians still call "underground newspapers."
Plante's only major disappointment is that some of new large audio conglomerates are leaving exhibiting up to local dealers, and not devoting capital to renewing their clientele and expanding the interest base. Trade shows can do a good job attracting fledgling audiophiles of all ages, he believes, but they need the assistance of exhibit fees and advertising dollars from these large companies to do the necessary outreach.
Attendees will note several opportunities, including an auction of hand-painted Totem in-wall speakers and the live "Passe-Moé La Puck Dédé" concert in the Amphithéâtre Dédé Fortin to support the Dédé Fortin Foundation. Named after a popular singer who committed suicide, one of the foundation's goals is to eradicate the stigma of mental illness so that people suffering from severe depression will seek treatment rather than take their own lives.
"My sister and brother, one of my employees, and the father of my girlfriend all committed suicide," Plante explains. "These people were not mentally ill. They were burned out and depressed, but they did not treat themselves or seek treatment. This is not a very popular cause, so we've decided to educate people. It could happen to all of us."
A free classical music concert, one by the Give Band, and third by bassist Dean Peer and percussionist Bret Mann will help provide a live (if often amplified) reference. Check out the three pages of "official" show photos from last year for a delicious taste of what's in store. For the real skinny, watch this website for comprehensive show blog coverage provided by Robert Deutsch, Art Dudley, and John Atkinson.