Editor's Note: We are republishing this report from the 1980 CES both because many of the themes strike resonances 35 years later, and because it emphasizes the hard time high-end audio was having at the end of the 1970s. The LP had been eclipsed by the cassette and 8-track cartridge as the primary massmarket media for recorded music and the decade-long hi-fi boom that had been fueled by the entry of Japanese brands was running out of steam. Ironically, it was the launch of Compact Disc three years later that was to reinvigorate the audio business.
The 1980 Winter CES, held in Las Vegas in January 1980, came on the heels of the worst business year the audio field has seen in almost a decade. So-called high-end audio, in particular, had distressing sales declines during the last year of the 1970s, with some dealers (who had not yet gone out of business) predicting that their books for 1979 would probably show as much as a 30% loss in sales from the previous year. Dealer turnout in the Las Vegas Jockey Club, where most of the high-end manufacturers were showing their wares, was nonetheless surprisingly good, although makers of the highest-priced exotica were not as ecstatic about the turnout as were those exhibiting more-affordable gear. One high-end entrepreneur was heard to say (to one of his associates), "It doesn't look any better for this year than last."