The Curtain Closes on CES

By Day Three of four-day CES 2019, reality had set in for most of the few high-end audio exhibitors who set up shop in the Venetian: the curtain has closed on CES as "the place" for high-end audio product introductions and business transactions. Several of the smaller companies I spoke with were already done with waxing nostalgic on the glory days of CES—an era when there were so many distributors, dealers, and journalists clogging the hallways and rooms that some exhibitors had to either close up shop at the factory or recruit extra help to cater to everyone. After wiping tears from their eyes, they had decided to move on.

Exhibiting in the Venetian and LVCC (Las Vegas Convention Center) has grown so expensive—four nights of lodging for one person at the Treasure Island Hotel, across from the Venetian, cost a ridiculous $2068!—and the response so meager that exhibitor after exhibitor vowed not to return. Those larger companies who will return because their reach extends beyond high-end consumer audio—KimberKable, for example, whose exhibit will shift to the LVCC, where they'll set up next to Sony, for whom they supply many cables—will bring even less staff, or abandon bigger suites for smaller ones. Others, such as Harman International, will probably remain off-site (although the Hard Rock Café is about to change ownership and reopen under another name).

Many will bid adieu with deep regret. "We exhibit here because rooms in the Venetian sound much better than at Munich," said the owner of one multiple-award-winning company at the end of the first day. One day later, upon acknowledging that a lot of visitors to his room were potential consumers taking time off from their industry-related work to slum amidst the sonic splendor, said manufacturer was repeating the mantra, "We need a US B2B [business-to-business] show."

Need and reality, however, are different things. There is no industry-only high-end show in the US, and the press and industry days at consumer-oriented shows have so far proven to be a huge, patchily attended flop. Instead, most companies have found ways to conduct industry-related business while welcoming the general public at AXPONA, the High End show in Munich, and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

It's time to stop lamenting the past and things that no longer exist. Instead, put the money wasted on trips to Las Vegas into bringing sufficient room treatment and effective tweaks to consumer shows, and hiring extra staff to run your exhibit while you, the owner(s), conduct business in the corner of a restaurant. As for lamenting that fewer and fewer people seem to have the time, room, and inclination for the high-end experience, how about acknowledging that more people than ever are listening to music, albeit through smart phones, and finding ways to bring audiophile-grade sound to that enormous market?

While the lowly Serinus does not call the shots, I find it difficult to imagine that Stereophile will return to Las Vegas in 2020. Not when most new-product unveilings are now scheduled for the three above-mentioned shows—Munich above all—or other shows in Europe and Asia. For no more—probably less—than it cost to send me to Las Vegas, I could have easily covered the Munich show.

Yes, the curtain has surely closed on CES. No more need to wash every item of clothing to remove the cigarette smell, to avoid the people shoving flyers in your face, or to dodge the recorded voice of Ellen DeGeneres as she yells, "Hey you. Yeah, you. Come over here [and play this slot machine]." No more paying $50 for the same Chinese food that you can get elsewhere for $15. CES is dead. Long live high-end audio.

Bill Leebens's picture

For simply reporting on reality.

Many of us in the biz have had a love-hate relationship with CES and Vegas for years. It may be sad to acknowledge that the glories of the past are dead and gone; for those of us who have attended the show for decades, part of the issue may be in having to acknowledge our own aging. Oh, well.

Over the past several years, many of us in the biz have been chastised for negativity for simply reporting the decline and ultimate irrelevance of CES for high end audio. So it goes—- but I’ve always assumed that the show should serve the high end industry—-not vice versa.

As noted, press/trade days at US consumer shows haven’t been effective as they currently exist. In the world of integrators and custom installers, the CEDIA expo has also seen upheavals in the past few years. And aside from headphone exhibits at US consumer shows, we’ve done a poor job of attracting the interest of younger music lovers.

Perhaps the next step in shows in the US should be an association with NAMM, or SXSW?

I don’t claim to have the answers here. But I’d sure as hell rather discuss the future than mourn a show that lost interest in our industry decades ago.

Anton's picture

I started loving Hi Fi as a kid, so it's hard for me to ponder the outreach part of helping Hi Fi, because it just came to me by my nature. How to lure in a new generation is the multi-billion dollar question. And where to hold gatherings is another tough question!

I think these new music festivals would be a ripe hunting ground. A hundred thousand festival goers being able to sit and sip and sample a Hi Fi line would be cool. Probably companies like Sonos and the trend to wireless would help make the great leap, as well. Melding quality with convenience is a biggie: kill the wire "looms," put the amps in the speakers, and control it all with a phone...even I want that. As the resolution abilities for these babies gets high enough, we may be in good shape.

It would not seem like a good idea to be investing in high end wire manufacturers right now.

So, wireless and demo for consumers where consumers who love music aleady go.

As for B2B, I'm surprised the current shows don't help. manufacturers can still go grab some cocktails or a meal and talk business away from the hubbub of the show.

I hope the current shows survive. As a consumer, I wanna be able to go listen in this land of receding bricks and mortar stores.

jhaagenstad's picture

Hi Jason,

I agree with you that high end audio at CES has been dying for years and may finally be a lost cause. We've been doing AXPONA and Munich (with the occasional RMAF thrown in) and have had good success mixing the "B2B" part with the "B2C" going on in the room.

I agree with Bill: let's focus on the future (and I don't think it has to be bleak!) rather than lamenting the past.

tonykaz's picture

Paul McGowan doing his daily YouTube Videos,
Jason Stoddard doing his HeadFi Series,
Steve G doing his fascinating Tour of all things Audio.
The International John Darko's little video educationals.

The World of Electrical Device Sales and Distribution evolved, probably leaving the larger number of us stagnant Old Timers pining for the Good Old Days of the Rivera and being able to Walk the Strip, taking in the Flare and Glamor of Sin City ( our very own Pompeii ).


RMAF Seminars are Brilliant and accessible!

Winter CES was never as great as our memories of it, ( absence makes the heart grow fond ). Still, we got to refresh our personal relationship with Raymond Cooke MD KEF, Ivor from LINN, Art Ferris of Audible Illusions, Jim Thiel & Co., Paul & Stan of PS Audio, etc.

Winter CES is long gone just like internal combustion engines are about to be gone, rotary-dial house Phones & pay phones and nearly everything from Winter CES's great years.

On the other hand, in NY, our leading Audiophile Guru, the Verbose Voice for all things HighEnd has, just today, taken us down memory lane with a Video Visit to Blackie Pagano's Repair Shop to see a Fischer 400 being restored to Greatness. Can our hobby get better than that?

The Screens on our Desks and the Philosophers populating the Internet have done a nice job of saving us $$,$$$,$$$ of CES expense. I've shed my last tear for Sheldon Adelson's loss of HighEnd Audio's presence. ( I pretty much did most of my exhibiting at the neighboring Tuscany's Pool Side Rooms )

Tony in Michigan

foxhall's picture

It appears CES week still supports surge pricing.

I had a work trip there in mid August and I was able to get a Monday - Thursday rate of $143/night at the Cosmo. I know nothing about the economics of lodging but I am guessing ultra hot weather in the middle of the week creates lower demand.

I just checked a few room rates for Strip hotels for this week - really cheap.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

170,000 - 180,000 visitors = seller's market.

tonykaz's picture

38 Million Visitors per Year.

Las Vegas has been averaging over 35 Million Visitors per Year.

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be Stereophile pays for 'penthouse' stay in Vegas for their reviewers :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I don't think Stereophile reviewers are 'high-rollers' :-) ............

tonykaz's picture

Nonsense, there are no good rooms in Vegas but the very best are on or near Ground Level by the Pool.

There are very few good views in Vegas, so, any window thats up where you can see Mountains is rare and worth looking out of. Vegas is all about being indoors and looking at Architectural Fittings and Claustrophobia settings. Looking out of a Window is as close to sanity and a person can get. Vegas is Vertical Prisons & booze to anesthetize.

Tony in Michigan

cookiemarenco's picture

It was good seeing you at CES, Jason. I went to the Venetian for a few hours to visit friends on day one.

I agree... for the audiophile consumer to come see the latest in high end gear it doesn't make sense. With so few exhibitors, it doesn't make sense to do business deals there either.

I spent the next 3 days at the convention center. As an audio engineer and sound enthusiastic, I found new innovations in sound fascinating. I won't get into detail about it here but I found behind the scenes some very interesting innovations -- the most excited I've been about audio in 20 years.

But it wasn't about high end sound. It was about innovation in sound technology and exciting for sound engineers.

I'm not advocating for high end to return to CES. For sound engineering, I will probably go next year. There may be a new future for sound engineers that hasn't existed for a very long time.

Wishing everyone a happy new year!
Cookie Marenco
Blue Coast Records and Music

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Very exciting Cookie. I look forward to learning about where your discoveries take you.

cookiemarenco's picture

Will do, Jason!

JRT's picture
Jason_Victor_Serinus_very_astutely wrote:

It's time to stop lamenting the past and things that no longer exist. Instead, put the money wasted on trips to Las Vegas into bringing sufficient room treatment and effective tweaks to consumer shows, and hiring extra staff to run your exhibit while you, the owner(s), conduct business in the corner of a restaurant.

I would hope that more than a few take the approach that you are suggesting.

With ongoing collapse of brick and mortar retail, which started earlier with audio electronics, many do not have a convenient place to audition excellent loudspeakers properly set up in a room with good acoustics. If they drive the distance to one of the few remaining retail establishments, they may find that the business focus is on custom installations of A/V systems, networks, home automation and security. Most sales are via internet email and telephone calls, so what they do have for demonstration systems may be low priority, poorly resourced and poorly set up in rooms with inferior acoustics.

If the consumer makes the trek to a big show, more often than not they find some very good loudspeakers underachieving in hasty setups in rooms with poor acoustics in combination with too much background jabber.

The buyer and seller both need something better.

jim spainhour's picture

Some good comments on this thread. Just a few random thoughts..

Most of the best dealers in the country belong to buying groups (Pro Group, HTSA, Azione, etc) Those groups meet a couple times a year in large events and invite member manufacturers to the shows. Between those shows and CEDIA the dealers are covered for 80% of their B2B needs. Some high end audio companies thrive within those buying groups but most aren't even considered.

CEDIA is the only show that attracts most of the better high end audio dealers. They don't go there for high end audio but it's the only show that most of them attend.

So...If the shows need to focus on consumers for survival, Mr Leebens makes a good point. We're not attracting enough younger audiophiles. The problems started over 40 years ago with the first Walkman. In the 80's and 90's car stereo also took a bigger chunk out of the under-40 audio budget. As a rep in the 90's I did more business with one Kenwood car amp than the entire Adcom line, and I had good Adcom dealers! Automobile manufacturers took that business away by 2000 but the kids graduated from the Walkman to smart phones and streaming. How do you get on their level?