Great Expectations for CES and T.H.E. Show

Given the state of the economy, speculation abounds concerning major declines in the numbers of exhibitors and attendees at this year's audio/video shows in Las Vegas. If the advance numbers can be trusted, however, that will be anything but the case this January 8–11, when the high-end audio exhibits of both the Consumer Electronics Show and T.H.E. Show will be open.

For one thing, CES's exhibits of what it now calls "high-performance audio" (HPA) have grown. In 2007, when CES first moved HPA exhibitors out of the Alexis Park Hotel and into the Sands/Venetian Convention Center and Hotel, 255 exhibitors occupied 190 suites on four floors of the Venetian Tower and 40 large, air-wall–partitioned meeting/demo rooms in the adjacent Sands. In 2008, after industry manufacturers and distributors had ascertained that the sound in the suites was, in general, better than at the Alexis Park, there were 300 exhibitors in 214 suites and 27 meeting/demo rooms.

This year, 350 HPA exhibitors will occupy 244 suites in the Venetian Towers and 27 meeting/demo rooms in the Bassano, Verrano, and Titian ballrooms, on the Sands' second floor. With 30 more suites than last year, CES now offers five Tower floors of exhibits. A prize to the first person who can honestly take it all in and speak coherently about the experience at the end of Day 4.

High-performance audio is also attracting more attention among manufacturers and innovators. In questionnaires distributed to members of the Consumer Electronics Association, sponsors of the annual CES, 423 companies identified themselves as "related to" HPA in some way, shape, or fashion (see www.cesweb.org/exhibitorDirectory. That's over a third of the 1118 companies that consider themselves "involved with" two-channel audio.

Sarah Szabo, the CEA's communications manager, reports that, despite rumors that hotels are lowering room rates because attendance is expected to be sparse, CES is on target this year for 130,000 attendees. "Hotels have been lowering their rates for everyone," she says. "For years, we've heard the hotel rates were causing a problem for some attendees. That they're lower is an extra incentive to attend."

Over the River and Through the Woods...

The rumor mill has been grinding on hard about the health of T.H.E. Show. Originally sited in the St. Tropez, next door to the CES's high-performance audio exhibits in the Alexis Park, T.H.E. Show is now at least a mile away from CES's current HPA site, the Venetian/Sands. The geographic distance has apparently resulted in lower attendance.

"The rumor mill is totally out of hand," says T.H.E. Show director Richard Beers. "I went to the Orange County Audiophile Society gathering on December 13, and was mildly surprised to hear the rumor that we were closing down and refunding money. I know we're in a very small community, but there are people intent on doing harm. We really need to police our own industry."

In fact, T.H.E. Show expects to host 150 exhibitors, virtually the same number as last year. But this year, everyone will be ensconced in the Alexis Park, certainly a nicer venue than the St. Tropez.

Beers denies that he abandoned the St. Tropez due to poor room sales. Rather, he ascribes the move to the St. Tropez's new management, which has yet to make any improvements in the property. "I was not going to subject either our exhibitors or attendees to a very tenuous situation," he says.

When Beers began to notice some exhibitors dropping out due to the economy, he chose to lower prices rather than charge the penalties stipulated in the exhibitor contract. Though he lost exhibitors in 10 rooms, the price drop helped net 15–20 new rooms and a number of new exhibitors, including some who decided that they could not afford CES this year.

"We know there's a financial crisis out there," he says. "That is why we have reduced prices for everybody. We prefer to put on a viable convention and have more people participating rather than hiding in a hole for a year."

Chief among T.H.E. Show's attractions will be Magnepan's introduction of its new "mystery speaker," powered by Bryston's new 28B-SST 1000W monoblocks. In the Athena Ballroom, DNP will exhibit a huge home-theater setup with a 132" curved screen. Elsewhere, VMPS will pair with Ampzilla and Kimber to stage frequent demos of live vs recorded sound, enlisting a seven-piece jazz ensemble that will perform as Ray Kimber records it in DSD; then he'll play the recordings. Other name companies will include Edge, PBN, GamuT, Art Audio, DeHavilland, Soundsmith, and Audio Federation.

Over $20,000 worth of equipment will be raffled off, including a pair of PBN's Montana loudspeakers; our own John Atkinson will draw the winning tickets. Stereophile editor John Atkinson will also give an ear-opening talk on the state of our industry Sunday around 1pm before the raffle. Expect a showing of members from at least four major audiophile societies (Los Angeles, Orange County, Atlanta, and the Bay Area Audiophile Society of Northern California), who are welcome at T.H.E. Show this year. (Note: CES remains open only to industry members and press.) There are still sleeping rooms available at the Alexis Park and St. Tropez.

While T.H.E. Show continues its policy of free lunch, this year the meals will be available only to exhibitors and the press. Expect significantly better food in the Alexis Park restaurant than at the St. Tropez.

Back at CES...

In addition to exhibits, the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show will offer 200 conference sessions, some on topics related to high-performance audio. Also significant are several TechZones conferences and displays, including: the DisplayPort, which will feature "technology that makes high-quality audio available to the display device over the same cable and the video signal" (The Sands); Greener Gadgets (LVCC, Central Hall); HDMI (LVCC, South Hall 1); and Stevie Wonder and Friends products for the sight-impaired (The Sands).

Especially noteworthy are the Innovations 2009 Design and Engineering Awards Honorees and Awards Showcase (The Sands, Booth 72062). HPA honorees include Magico's debuting Model 5 speaker, Marantz's AV8003 Networking A/V preamplifier, the RHEA W expandable modular speaker, Morel's Fat Lady speaker, and Pathos Acoustics' Adrenalin monoblock power amplifier and Synapse preamplifier.

The Eco-Design and Sustainable Technology Honorees are equally significant. The Consumer Electronics Association recently published a survey, Going Green: An Examination of the Green Trend and What It Means to Consumers and the CE Industry. The study finds that although awareness of "green" CE offerings lags behind such sectors as household products and automobiles, 33% of consumers say they expect to make some type of green CE purchase within the next two years, and 53% say they would be willing to pay some type of premium for televisions with green attributes. Panasonic, aware of this trend, has been able to reduce the standby consumption of power by its plasma TVs by 96% since 2000. Stereophile will publish a CES green follow-up after the convention.

Stereophile's live blog coverage of CES and T.H.E. Show starts Thursday.

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