The Case Against Show Reports J. Gordon Holt Responds

J. Gordon Holt Responds:

Sorry Tony, I just can't agree.

Sure, CES is just a showcase from which dealers choose the lines they'll carry, and it's common knowledge that most dealers put sound quality at the bottom of their priority list, well below such mundanities as mark-up, manufacturer promotion, and the glitziness of the product's hype. And if Stereophile was a trade mag, aimed at dealers, that's the way we would approach our show reports.

But Stereophile isn't a trade magazine. It's a consumer publication, for people who care greatly about sound quality, and it is what a new product sounds like that interests them—not its features and its marketplace appeal.

Granted, show conditions are unpredictable, and different rooms do different things to low-frequency response, which is why I tend to overlook bass problems that I hear. Yet it is significant that manufacturers who are selling bass—those who sell subwoofers or full-range systems capable of reproducing earthquakes—usually seem to manage to get very good bass at shows. (I have never heard poor bass in Janis's demos, for instance.)

The upper frequency ranges are a different matter, though. All the high-end exhibit rooms at CES are heavily carpeted, which starts the exhibitors out on a relatively even basis. Beyond that, those who care about sound quality will often make an attempt to dampen wall reflections, even if the acoustical treatment consists only of some of the host hotel's bed mattresses leaning against the longest, barest wall(s).

Exhibitors who care about the sound they produce will also come to the Show with (or will have made prior arrangements to borrow from other exhibitors) ancillary equipment—a signal source and electronics, for a speaker manufacturer—that has been carefully chosen to best show off their products. There is still no guarantee that they will get as good sound as their products are capable of, but the chances of that are a lot better if they try.

Those who don't care will wait 'till they get to the Show and then try and scrounge up any old amp, preamp, and first-generation CD player, and then wonder why JGH came into their room, cringed in horror, and gave them a dishonorable mention in his CES report. (The least they could do is say something like "Pardon the rotten sound, but the moon is in conjunction with Venus today," or something like that, just to show that they know bad sound when they hear it.)

For a consumer (or a reporter for a consumer magazine), good sound reproduction is what high-end audio is all about. If a CES exhibitor who can't get his system to sound good elects to demo it anyway, what does that say about his commitment to sound quality?

Finally, I should point out that AHC's parting shot does not reflect the party line. The rest of us feel that our observations at CES are of at least some value to prospective buyers, although we would certainly not advise consumers to base a buying (or nonbuying) decision on those observations alone.—J. Gordon Holt