What's Zhou With You?

Show organizer Matthew Zhou is what we call an audio lifer. He wrote for hi-fi magazines for three years, penned a newspaper column on the high end for three years, has put on this show for 13 years, and has hosted a three-hour Sunday radio show on music, hi-fi, and sound for 16 years.

"The market is shrinking," he said. "It's a bottom-line situation. If a newspaper prints a single real estate column, it can support it with 16 pages of real estate ads. With audio, not so much."

That sounds familiar. So how can he have so much energy at his show—so much that I can barely keep up as he strides through the floors and floors of exhibits. "When you turn what you love into your career," he says, "you view everything with new eyes. I love what I do and I listen to music on LPs every day."

He looked guilty. "Well, not yesterday or today—the show has kept me busy. But I did get together with 120 of my listeners last night—and we listened to master tapes on reel-to-reel, so I've really only skipped today."

I said yesterday that the show's logistics are staggering, and they are—the flow-through of the crowds is remarkable. Zhou has one elevator set aside as the catapult to the seventh floor exhibits—all of the other elevators serve the hotel's guests.There are traffic directors at all bottlenecks and they keep the crowds moving through them (politely, but firmly), and the staircases are open and marked for all floor-to-foor travel. The halls are crowded, but more electric than at American shows—and the rooms are pretty much packed with people.

Critical listening? Fuhgedaboudit—but there's lots of cheerful ogling and sometimes respectful silence when everybody catches a spark of that hi-fi magic. The big rooms—where McIntosh, Krell, Mark Levinson, VTL, Classé, Sonus Faber, Tannoy, and Paradigm exhibit—are different, more accommodating of relaxed reflection. However, the dynamic of this show is, um, dynamic, if you know what I mean.

And here's a thought that makes me gulp and go pale: Matthew Zhou is coming to HE2007 in New York. I sure hope he doesn't decide we're pikers in comparison to his show.