LAAS: It's A Wrap

Michael Fremer interviews Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem at LAAS. (Photo: John Atkinson)

The first Los Angeles Audio Show, the audio show that may very well supplant the transplanted-to-Anaheim, September-scheduled T.H.E. Show as the Southern California audio show of choice, has just come and gone. Even as exhibitors unpack their wares and begin the multi-month process of assessing the show's impact on sales and brand recognition, some observations on the show's success and otherwise are in order.

Although I do not recall feeling like a lost puppy when Stereophile held its show 11 years ago in the same, then not-yet-renovated Sheraton Gateway, the place sure felt different in 2017. Due in no small part to a lack of sufficient big-lettered signage, lots of people had difficulty finding their way around the exhibits on floors 2–5, where hallways branching out from a central elevator bank presented a special challenge. Navigating the lobby, too, seemed to have been a chore, with at least one upper-floor exhibitor claiming it took him two days of quick stops to figure out where the Marketplace was.

Another big issue with the hotel concerned food service and prices. Not only did the menu at the supposedly fancy restaurant not vary from lunch to dinner, but the service, at least for Saturday lunch, was execrable. (It was much better on Sunday night.) When I went to bid adieu to a table of San Francisco Audiophile Society members, they complained that they had been waiting 40 minutes for their meal. Thankfully, many who chose to eat in the hotel opted for the breakfast buffet, and one of the two quick-serve lunch buffets on the lobby level and 2nd floor. As long as you could find a place to sit, the food was okay. The bar space, on the other hand, was extremely spacious, and often packed.


MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan selects a track for JA to audition.

Attendance
Room and exhibit table traffic depended a lot upon where you were perched. Some exhibitors did quite well, others less so. The shrewd marketing team of Ted Denney and Scott Walker, who steered folks from the closed door Synergistic Research demo on the 2nd floor directly into their adjacent equally large sales room, reportedly cleaned up. But another cable manufacturer, whose table was hard to see from a distance due to large pillar in between, suffered.

The big day, Saturday, was exactly that for some exhibitors, and a disappointment for others. On the last day of the show, the perpetually slow Sunday, a number of exhibitors on the fifth floor were crying from hunger. In fact, when I mentioned the record-setting claim of 7500 pre-registrants to an exhibitor whom I have always considered the epitome of a soft-spoken gentleman, he went into a near rage that was accompanied by cries of incredulity. Suffice to say that his outburst would have led you to shield the ears of young children as you watched your cat scurry under the bed.

One first-time show attendee, who traveled from Seattle to Los Angeles, had this to say: "Some areas did have some traffic all 3 days, but attendance definitely did not meet my expectations. I thought it would be much busier. Perhaps I was expecting more. After all it was my first time . . . and probably my last. I was so happy I brought food. Given $26 for breakfast buffet! I would have brought a cooler."

And this from an exhibitor whom I called to check on equipment prices for this report: "I wish there had been more people, but the show was absolutely worth doing. The customers who came in asked quality questions and seemed genuinely interested."

What caused the perceived lack of attendance, especially given the amount of PR we were assured was done beforehand, is unclear. Some people claim potential attendees bailed because Angelinos feared driving to the congested area around LAX. But hey, what isn't a congested traffic area in Los Angeles? John Atkinson tells me that when Stereophile's 2006 Home Entertainment Show was held at the Sheraton Gateway LAX, the attendance had been surprisingly low, especially when you consider that the magazine's 1992, 1995, and 1998 shows had been very well-attended and those shows had been held at the ziggurat-shaped Doubletree (now a Westin?) just a few blocks further away from the airport.

Perhaps attendance was higher than it appeared, but the bulk of attendees favored certain rooms and spaces over others. Maybe a huge number spent all their time in the Marketplace, took in a seminar and a few rooms, and then left. All I know for certain is that there was only one exhibit room where I had to briefly wait for a seat, and I could always squeeze into the elevators. A mini-Munich this was not.

The LAAS Audiophile Awards
One of the most controversial aspects of LAAS was the creation of the "Alfie" and "Extreme" Headgear Awards, which were presented at a $110/plate dinner. (The price may have gone up after March 23.) For $185, show attendees received, in addition to "access to all events & exhibits, (1) Plated meal at Award Dinner, (2) 15-minute appointments with exhibitors of choice, and a VIP Badge for admission to daily breakfast in the Insider's Lounge alongside Exhibitors and Press." In other words, exhibitors had to buy their way in, and attendees with sufficient dough received extra perks. Even most members of the press were asked to pay. Very LA, I must say.

I know of at least one exhibitor who, after being informed in advance of their award, was pressured into attending the dinner. They refused, and rightfully so. As many folks said to me post-show, the price of the meal and award ceremony should have been figured into the exhibit price.

Then there was the whole dress code thing. While show director Marine Presson asked men to wear nice shirts and ties, Bob Levi of the Los Angeles Orange County Audio Society called it an "elegant affair" to which men should wear jackets. From an iPhone shot of the winners that Michael Fremer sent me, the majority of men rejected that call.

But the issues go deeper than cost and dress. As of March 14, initial judges for the "Extremes" included Warren Chi, Cavalli Audio; Charlie Randall, CEO & President of McIntosh Labs and the McIntosh Group, which includes brands Audio Research (ARC), Sonus Faber, Sumiko, and Wadia; and Jason Lord, Co-Owner of The Source AV Group, a specialized headphone retailer. It seems unrealistic to expect that these folks could act impartially and vote for brands that were not in their self-interest.

Judges for the "Alfies," which were positioned as the high-end's version of the Oscars, were announced as including Roger Skoff, Vice President of LAOCAS and founder of XLO Electric cable company, as well as "the legendary John Curl and Bob Carver." While, in the end, others stepped up to the plate, including two journalists for web-based publications and industry veterans EveAnna Manley and Mary Cardas, Curl withdrew because he felt that audio journalists were far more appropriate for judging and granting awards than folks with a perceived conflict of interest.

Finally, the whole premise of the awards warrants examination. While it is potentially possible to judge headgear under show conditions (although how accurately you can judge performance of open-backed headphones when folks are talking all around you is a question worth asking), pretending that the performance of speakers and electronics in hotel rooms, in this case rooms with which the majority of exhibitors were not familiar beforehand, is a fair way to judge is another story (footnote 1). Proper evaluation takes time, and is best performed in one's own reference system, in a known environment.

Goodbye to what was in many ways a great show.

Summing Up
When all is said and done, it was a fine show. I can't speak for the Headgear exhibits, but there was a preponderance of good-to-excellent sound in the exhibit rooms, and much to love. There was also a lot of positive energy within and outside rooms. And for those eager to learn about the potential hi-rez format of choice for streaming and even discs, there were plenty of rooms that offered listens to MQA.

I am certain that well before the doors open on LAAS 2018, multiple kinks will have been worked out. LAAS is an event with the potential to get better and better.

A gentle reminder. What we offer you in our show reports are not reviews. They are snapshots in time, often taken in quick-frame mode. Given that some rooms were secured by exhibitors who did not have the capital or resources to bring in adequate acoustic and power treatment, and that many rooms were not equipped to play music with which we were familiar, some of our reports are more accurate reflections of a system's ultimate potential than others. If something you read about or experienced at LAAS interests you, it would be wise to investigate ways to evaluate it in your home system.

Whatever you do, don't forget to indulge in the audiophile equivalent of stopping to smell the flowers. Equipment is but a tool. The music is where it's at.

That's a wrap!


Footnote 1: Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when Stereophile organized shows, we asked attendees to vote on what they felt was the best sound at each show, asking them to nominate their top three rooms: 3 votes for the best room, 2 votes for the second-best room, 1 vote for the third-best room. That way, we felt that given enough ballots—and we would always get around 1000 returned—the statistics would ensure a fair, representative outcome.—John Atkinson

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

If left to the 'basketball-philes,' Michael Jordan would still be voted this year's best player even though he no longer plays.

Jason's points about rooms not always demonstrating the true potential of a system are so often true that I would feel the audio marketplace would not be well served by such declarative statements as 'best in show.'

Plus, letting the attendees vote? You can't trust us audiophiles! We "brand vote."

We'd vote for Wilson speakers in a static display, or we'd get behind this year's press darling. It would be interesting to have attendees vote as they arrive at the show and then again after and see if anybody's minds were changed!

Please, don't trust us!

I did enjoy this from your old shows, however, but feel alot of it had built in expectation bias....https://www.stereophile.com/news/10239/index.html

On a side note, I fear for THE Show and hope Anaheim goes well.

Michael Fremer's picture

I have no problem with the "Alfies" nor do I pay much attention to awards of any kind. Problems and objections would arise regardless of who and how judges are chosen for the "Alfies". As you point out, consumers pose a different but equal set of problems/conflicts etc. Overall I thought the winners this year represented a broad mix of manufacturers, some unfamiliar and a few very much so, but well-deserving. Speaking of "Best in Show", in the real dog world judges are often people well-invested in the breed they judge. The conflicts of interest there are SCREAMERS and the figurative incest cartoonish. The argument is "who knows better?" and it's true, but the outcomes often indicate "insider trading". I only write this because my wife, who shows our dog, doesn't read this site. Otherwise I'd be in the doghouse!

low2midhifi's picture

Did I miss it, or did Stereophile not go to Munich 2017?

Looking around at other sites, it seems that there were a lot of product launches in Munich 2017, especially from manufacturers who are on most of our radars.

Please advise.

John Atkinson's picture
low2midhifi wrote:
Did I miss it, or did Stereophile not go to Munich 2017?

We did send 4 US staff to the Munich show: Michael Lavorgna of AudioStream.com and Michael Fremer of AnalogPlanet.com, plus Stereophile's publisher and assistant publisher. Paul Messenger represented Stereophile editorial at the show and his report will appear in our September issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Staxguy's picture

Ah the disparity. Audiophiles asked to spend 110,000 on loudspeakers, and speaker manufacturers asked to spend 110 on a dinner plate. The disparity. Cost of attending a Barack Obama plated dinner: 100,000. Katzenberg.

Is it too much to ask a industry player to Pony up the cost of an Audioquest Dragonfly Black? Or does this throw them today into the red?

Magico mPod feet: 4,200 for 4.
LAAS: 110.

The cost of a Tom Ford dinner jacket?
The cost of the words best suit? Vicuña.

The cost of a tux rental...? Is this really an issue today?

MIT ACC 268 is selling for 88,000.

Is the high end audio industry experiencing zero margin?

If the complaint in the high end press is the cost of a dinner and jacket then the days of Frank Sinatra must finally be nigh.

Is it too much to ask a man to wear a jacket and tie at dinner today.

This is not the fashion industry. It is some combination of an engineers paradise mixed with equal parts pt Barnum and standard oil.

While the cost of materials used in hi fi is not low, and some allowance must be made for the Albert Einstein archetype, to ask some small dinner fee and an dress code is not beyond decorum.

A single shot of a top drink here in Vancouver is 600 an ounce so it's not beyond the pale to expect a person making or selling hi fidelity to dress and act at least at the level of a person selling a Bentley.

While audiophile journalists might not be paid so well, the Magico Q7 tweeeter upgrade was 44,000.

If Bentley is out of the question, as a norm, could we not at least expect our hi fi rep to be at the level of an Audi per se?

audiophilenot's picture

I think Staxguy makes some good points. I must say though as well, that I attended the show for 2.5 days and reading what you wrote here Jason was like trying to read a book on a merry-go-round horse. Is complaining about the kinks and hiccups, especially from what I understood to be a new show, really doing anything good? Did you expect perfection?
In my opinion, perfection can not be found in audio in the first place so it makes no sense to expect it in anything else.
I agree that making final judgement based on what one hears at a show is a practice in futility.
That aside though, while I found the Sheraton a little challenging to navigate at first, the show guide maps and the ones plastered everywhere made it a little quicker to grasp. It was a new hotel to me anyway, so I expected a learning curve. I was able to figure out where the marketplace and Sony room and such was within the first day. To me personally, the second floor was trickiest, but I found my way to the rooms I wanted to see. (I do agree about the ridiculous food prices and lack of eating options. I never did find the trucks, I wonder if they were ever there. I thought the website said they would be, but I could be mistaken).

To me, in my opinion, audio shows are about education, finding out about new products, getting ideas, etc.
Personally, as an attendee, I found the LA Show to be exactly as I expected, which means I was more than satisfied. I thought it was quite good and quite big for a new show. I can't speak for the vendors and whatnot.
Just my opinion.

Side note: THE Show Anaheim looks very small to me, maybe tiny, perhaps it will gain a bit more by September, but I am not a gambling man, so I prefer more of a sure bet. I am going to take a pass on the Anaheim show. Besides, I can't afford two shows in a year, so I chose to blow my wad on the LA Show this year. I feel I made the right choice.

AudioMan612's picture

First, a quick correction: Warren Chi is no longer working with Cavalli Audio and is instead working for Head-Fi.

Anyways, here is my own feedback (I was there all three days):

To begin with, the layout definitely was a little odd, but I got used to it (some better signage would've been nice, as I actually missed a few rooms on the first floor). Also, being right by an airport led to some noise issues in addition to the traffic issues (this was unfortunate when trying to spend some time with the Sennheiser HE-1).

I don't know about the quality of the food (other than some desert) at the hotel, as I had dinner with friends outside of the hotel everyday (more on that in a bit).

Attendance was definitely a bit low (many of the exhibitors I talked to felt the same way). There were of course issues with how the rooms sounded, but that's just something we all have to deal with. No one is ever going to build a hotel using construction techniques found in professional studios and listening rooms. To me personally, this caused me to find a handful of rooms to be a bit bass-shy.

So for me, as a passionate music lover, engineer, and audiophile working in the pro audio industry (but wanting to eventually go into Hi-Fi), these events have become more about seeing friends and meeting people than the equipment (not that I don't enjoy listening to the gear of course). I've been attending Hi-Fi events for a few years now, and every time, I end up meeting more people from the industry and forming more friendships. I bring this up because I think it's important to mention that no matter what frustrations you may have with listening to the equipment, there is a lot more to get out of these shows than just that. I ended up hanging out at the bar until around 1:00 AM every night and having a great time (although this lead to me passing out from exhaustion in my clothes once I got home and forgetting to set an alarm the next days, leading to me not having as much time as I would've liked).

That said, I'd like to mention the parking. We were encouraged to buy parking passes at a discounted rate from a building in the parking lot. This is great if you don't plan to leave. As I said, I wanted to have dinner with friends, which often meant leaving and coming back. There was a solution to this, but it didn't work out perfectly: day passes from the hotel. These cost exactly the same amount, but were supposed to be good for ins and outs. Well, I'm not quite sure how these passes were supposed to work (24 hours vs date), but they never worked when I tried to exit for a second time and I ended up having to speak with the parking attendant (and adamantly refusing to pay a second time). In the future, it would be very much appreciated to be able to get parking passes with ins and outs that work well.

Lastly, I'd like to bring up the music played at these events. Obviously, it's important to have a good amount of music that can show off what systems are capable of, but I think the variety of music that's readily available from room to room needs to expand. I find it enormously refreshing when I hear a room playing something that maybe isn't a pristine recording, or something with a more limited dynamic or frequency range, but is just fun. This will often get me to stay in a room a little longer. When you look around these shows, you see tons of middle-aged and retirement-aged people, but not all too many people around my age (late twenties). There are obviously many reasons for this, stating with the downright stupid costs of some of the equipment on display to the fact that most hi-fi companies don't really do a great job of marketing to younger people (though that might be a fruitless endeavor if they are not selling any equipment that most of them can afford).

I have a very diverse taste in music that ranges from classical, to noise rock and industrial hip-hop that would make most people's skin crawl (and nearly everything in-between), so I have absolutely nothing against the amount of jazz and classical, but I think this needs to be expanded. I don't think I can give a better example than that of hip-hop. There is no bigger musical influence today than hip-hop, but how much representation does it get at these shows? You at least hear an occasional rock track (more on that in a bit), but you do not hear hip-hop at all. The only time I did was when I found A Tribe Called Quest's last album on the Cambridge Audio's hard drive and played some. This was far from the most enjoyable system at the show (not that it was bad), but damn did listening to "Conrad Tokyo" on it make it one of the most enjoyable moments for me personally. In my mind, the fact that unless someone has access to a streaming service, I can't find any of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, which I think is easily one of the most important records of the past decade in terms of sound (an incredible comeback for jazz influence in hip-hop) and social awareness, is a big problem. Also, hip-hop is a really fun genre for testing how well a system or a room can handle large amounts of sub-bass.

When it comes to music like rock, which you don't hear too much of (which I totally understand; it's not a particularly "Hi-Fi" genre), most of what you hear is just classic rock or often soulless "audiophile" covers of classic rock songs. I had my classic rock phase when it was all I listened to in high-school, but I got bored of it and moved on. These shows often do a good job of reminding me why I got bored of being stuck in the past without also expanding into the ever-expanding world of modern music (for example, audio events have made me never want to hear any version "Hotel California" again...ever). I do however acknowledge the fact that rock is currently is a bad place due to how uninventive most of it currently is, resulting in a very low frequency of good rock albums, so it certainly takes a bit more effort to find good modern rock albums. That said, you don't need to go back too far to find gems such as Fugazi or Sonic Youth, or even some of the best work that Wilco has done if you want to move away from that level of distortion.

Perhaps the audiophile market doesn't have any desire to expand much into the new generation and I'm just weird for getting into the hobby at my younger age. If that's the case, I suppose I'm currently wasting my time with this. If however, they do, I think it's time to start finding a balance between expanding musical variety and the audiophile classics. I acknowledge that this is a difficult issue to handle, because you want to show off what your system is capable of and give people great first impressions, but how about starting by playing hip-hop (and related genres such as neo-soul and modern R&B) at the same low frequency that we play rock. Encourage people to stick around or revisit a room if they don't like what's currently on, or if it's not pushing a system to its technical limits. If someone leaves a room and doesn't come back because they didn't like one song, that's their own loss for being that small-minded. I'm not an expert in marketing, and I've only been a part of this world for a few years, but I think the wider and audience a business has, the higher their chances of selling products become. I'd love to see more people my age at these shows (such as what you see at a headphone meetup), and I'd like to think that the exhibitors would as well. The audiophile world has embraced the future of technology with streaming, so perhaps it would be a good idea to embrace the future of music as well.

To finish my rant, I'd like to reiterate that I am by no means saying that music that shows off systems should be replaced by music that doesn't. Just that perhaps it would be beneficial to many to expand some of the more "fun" music that gets played at a lower frequency to cover a wider variety of sounds and genres. I apologize for how long this got :).

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Your comment needs no apology. It is invaluable.

FYI, a lot of the rooms were streaming Tidal, which could've played many of the tracks you are talking about if you had requested and they have half a mind to do so. The other thing is that many rooms have the capacity to play music off a USB stick. The latter is how I got to hear what many would call edgy stuff – in one room, where Nola was displaying, The first movement of Lou Harrison's violin Concerto drove every visitor out, while Carl and I marveled at how fabulous the music was.

I hope I get the opportunity to meet you at the show sometime. Jason

AudioMan612's picture

Hi Jason!

I'm just glad people read my long rant. I actually had a USB stick with me, although I didn't use it this year (I have used it in the past). Tidal was great when it worked and I was happy to take advantage of it.

Above all, I just sometimes find myself wishing that people were a bit more open-minded with music at Hi-Fi events. Even if a room allows you to put your own music own, as you mentioned, it might cause the exhibitor to turn down or just have the room empty. There's not much you can do about this, but it can certainly be discouraging to newcomers.

I'm around pretty much any large Hi-Fi or Head-Fi show in the Southern California area if you'd ever like to meet.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Sorry for the tardy reply. My husband and I are vacationing in New York City. The reality that I live in Port Townsend Washington makes meeting at the Southern California show other than this one highly doubtful. However, your words have been heard.

N Have you ever seen my as we see it, don't play it again Sam? I really think you'd love it. Alas, a lot of the people do not seem to read our editorials or spend much time listening to other than audiophile-approved individual tracks. The whole way in which two dances of the Tumblers joined Rachmaninov's symphonic dances in tumbling through the hallways shall forever join Hugh Masejeka and the Eagles in haunting me in my sleep.it's hard to write comments on an iPhone, but you can find my editorial by doing a search. Happy days to you.

AudioMan612's picture

Don't worry about it. I've barely been keeping up on my work emails lately, let alone my personal communications.

I'm the opposite when it comes to music. I don't really care if something is "audiophile approved." That field is a little too full of music that feels like pristine recording quality came above originality, energy, and/or soul. I love a well-recorded track as much as any audiophile, but for me personally, there several more important aspects of music that usually come first.

I'll find the editorials you mentioned when I get a chance. Thanks! Enjoy New York!

dalethorn's picture

I have some hip-hip tracks, along with many other genres. I'm extremely selective, so when I play hip-hop I'm playing more of a "best of" than an album or two of mostly mediocre or boring poetry to a droning beat. If I were paying the price to exhibit at LAAS, in the hopes of driving sales, I'd want to play what my guests wanted to hear, as much as possible. Guests at an exhibit aren't attracted so much by the host having the exact album they'd love to hear on yet-another hi-fi system, rather, they're attracted by personal and sincere attention, and by an exhibitor who is broad-minded enough to have some of their favorites on the player, or something close to it. There are exceptions of course - extreme noise and dissonance just don't fit that kind of venue, unless it's on headphones.

AudioMan612's picture

Is the fact that you largely described an entire (and massive) genre of music as "mostly mediocre or boring poetry to a droning beat" not a perfect example of my point? There's plenty of crappy music out there of all genres, but people love to jump to conclusions about certain ones more than others. Often times, this tends to be with more modern music. It's very easy to give in to nostalgia (we all do it; there's no way to completely shut that off), but it's also very easy to forget that with older styles of music, we've had decades to weed out much of the unoriginal, uninteresting, or just plain bad material.

There is plenty of hip-hop that lives up to the description you stated, but why do we feel the need to jump to such a negative statement so quickly? The fact of the matter is most genres of music are filled with more mediocre material than great material. Hip-hop and other more modern forms of music are not unique here.

I acknowledge that you need to attract guests, and what most guests at these shows want to hear is often a bit different from my own taste. As I said, I realize that I'm younger than most of the attendees. I'm not trying to say that younger people are any more or less important than those of a previous generation, but it's important to remember that someday, that previous generation will die off. I'm very passionate about Hi-Fi, and I don't want to see it become a bigger struggle to make it in the market than it already is, which is why I mentioned trying to attract a younger audience without disillusioning the older audience. This is a tricky balance, but I think it could do the industry some good to work on it a bit.

I definitely agree that it makes a huge difference when the exhibitor is passionate about the music they are playing. That definitely adds a lot to the experience. It's also very nice when they are passionate about trying new things. Somewhat to my surprise, I ended up introducing and exhibitor to Wilco at the show and he ended up really liking it. That was a really nice moment for me. I realize this is a cliche, but I think above all, people just want to connect with the music. Passion is a part of that, as is the equipment. It's a tool that allows us to experience more of a recording (or live sound).

And I agree that there are exceptions to what should be played. As much as I'd love to walk into a room and put on something like Death Grips or Melt Banana just to see the reaction of those already in the room, I realize that that is a terrible idea.

dalethorn's picture

You missed the entire point. It's not hip-hop per se that's at fault, it's the fact that commercially-recorded music is mostly awful, and boring. What I described for hip-hop is just its unique flavor in its mostly boring tracks, not a unique boring-ness for the genre.

AudioMan612's picture

Ah sorry, my bad. I've been pretty sleep-deprived these past few weeks. Yeah I agree, commercial music is generally really boring. You can just feel it following that formula to get on the radio. I would love to go a year without hearing a pop song that doesn't have a chorus with no lyrics only "Wow's" and "Oh's." There are few things that will bore me faster lol.

audiophilenot's picture

First, of all your description of what audio shows have become for you (in spite of your young age) is actually what they are really about in my opinion. In other words, you are correct. Yes, it's an opportunity for manufactures and such to get more exposure and brand recognition, nothing wrong with that, but why not do it while having fun and a good time? There is no stronger sell point than word of mouth and showing folks a good time. Yes, there is far more to get out of shows than just staring at gear from affordable to rediculously priced out of market.

I was there for about two days and could not agree more about the parking. The hotel really screwed up in this regard, not the show. The show was responsible for getting the lower rate, which they did, but the hotel for some reason could not execute. I was not going in and out, so that did not matter to me, but the hotel had the same problem as you describe for those not wanting to come and go and for everyone, attendee, exhibitor, etc.! Massive failure on the hotel's part! It took me an extra 30 minutes to get out of the parking lot because they kept giving me invalid tickets after paying them! I had to go back and forth 3 times and then on the forth time I went to the trailer and a parking attendant had to manually let me out as they saw that I was paid up and all and the tickets were not working. What gets me is that the hotel did not care about the situation, they just had a stack of tickets (all invalid) that they handed folks. (I wonder what they did at the end of Saturday or whatever when the one day attendees needed to leave)?

The other point you make (although I see great bias), but still valid is about the music played or the lack of. Most of what I heard was barely recognizable as music and I am very multi-genre. Yes, the exhibitors want to show-off the system abilities, fine, but what better way to do that then play music that is part of people's everyday lives?!
It's fine to play some audiophile flavor of the month recording, but mix it up for heaven sake! Good rock music from the bygone eras is just as valid, even though good recordings of it are rare. (I do know of a few though). The only time I heard any jazz or rock or real music was walking by the uber expensive rooms my last day there. The rooms I visited were playing very unfamiliar and sometimes strange noise.
Requests were repeatedly ignored and with lame excuses even when made with enough sugar coating to give anyone instant diabetes as I always do. (Never be demanding, you catch more flies with honey). I knew every room had Tidal and or the ability to play from USB stick, but they kept claiming they did not. Sure there are logistics to work out of there are lots of different requests, but it can be done. You will always have those that are somehow offended by one selection or other and leave the room, but that is their problem for being narrow-minded and not wanting to expand their horizons. If you don't like what is currently being played, don't fret, it will be done in 5 minutes and then you can play your selection. (What I personally do in a room of people is ask if they mind the selection I request or what have you just before it is played. I find most folks who would normally bitch are less inclined to do so because of the courtesy afforded them by merely checking with them. Sometimes I have even gotten compliments and requests for copies for future demo from the reps)! I didn't even hear any full symphony classical music the whole time, that would have been nice too.(No funeral dirges though please).

I agree with you about today's rock (from the mid 90s on up), nothing in it. I too never want to hear any version, including the original of "Hotel California" for the rest of my life! Also, yes, please don't play some soulless audiophile rendition of rock songs, I mean, really?
That is another problem with audiophiles, they get stuck on one song for months and months and refuse to listen to anything else. This is bad because it turns an otherwise terrific song or album or artist into something we never want to hear again. Diana Krall is one example, decent artist and all, but way over-played and I never want to hear anything by her again.
Yes, if the brands and all want attract folks and show off the gear, they are doing it wrong if they are not offering more choice of music. People normally don't by a system dedicated to one style of music. I mean, the stuff often played at shows is stuff that nobody except the 1% audiophiles would ever listen to at home.

AudioMan612's picture

I certainly can't deny my bias. I think we're all biased to some degree. That said, I do try my best to keep an open mind (not just with music but in general; I love exploring and trying new things).

I'm not a huge fan of saying what is and isn't "real" music as that's relative and insulting to artists of something perhaps a bit more abstract. Who is anyone other than artists to decide what is music?

That's really unfortunate that you had people refuse to play music for you. I didn't often ask to hear specific music, but I was often asked what I wanted to hear, and usually exhibitors were very friendly about finding music along the lines of what I asked for. I think we are pretty much in agreement on how rooms should be run and the fact that balancing everyone's tastes, as well as playing tracks that really sound good in those rooms is not an easy task.

As far as rock goes, yeah, for me, it's about the early 2000's where it started to drop (keep in mind that I am mostly talking about popular rock, because there is always good stuff coming out as long as you're willing to put in the effort to find it). Now, popular rock has mostly lost its edge (where did the distortion pedals go?!), and I'm even finding less and less underground rock that I really love. As I said, I think the genre is stuck right now due to not knowing how to embrace the future without totally forgetting the past. If you turn on rock radio right now, there's tons of friendly indie-pop and dance inspired music but most of this seems to have forgotten its loud roots. There is plenty of indie-pop that I love, and even some dance music (that's a genre I tend to be very picky about), but I don't want them to take over other genres to the point where those genres have an identity crisis. That said, I don't need another 100 guitar, bass, drums, and singer rock records. We have more than we'll ever need. I'm not a songwriter, so I don't want to sound like an expert, and I realize that finding that balance of new and old, as with the music being played at these shows, is often very difficult. I'm sure the genre will have a revolution at some point. For now, I'm okay with hip-hop and R&B having their time. They deserve it. They are pushing boundaries and coming out with fresh sounds more than anything else right now.

And to address the point of audiophiles being obsessed with a few songs, I somewhat agree. We all have our handful of reference tracks and albums that we use to test out systems. You can't truly know how good a setup is if you're not listening to material you know extremely well. My bigger problem with "audiophile" music is that it often seems to favor recording quality above everything else, especially originality. This is why I generally avoid music reviews from audiophile publications as I think they put too much emphasis on recording quality. Ironically, since working for a microphone company, I've come to realize just how ignorant many audiophile (myself included) are about the recording side of things. There is so much to know, and I've only just scratched the surface.

For me personally, there is little more important in music than originality. I don't need to hear the same thing over and over; that's boring. There is a lot to be said for doing something first. I may not always something new, but I will always give credit for originality. I have my comfort zone albums that I love and listen to regularly, but I could never limit my taste to only those.

dalethorn's picture

The real problem with commercial music is it's commercial music. If that weren't bad enough, automation has entered the studio to a large degree, making it even more boring than it used to be. There's no simple picture, but the rule is easy to understand in almost any context, for example organic food versus big-corporation farmed food.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

https://www.stereophile.com/content/dont-play-it-again-sam

In posting this link, I acknowledge that the final paragraph of my AWSI can be taken as a put-down of hip-hop. I'm afraid that most of the hip-hop that I've heard is either poorly recorded, hectoring to the point of ennui, misogynist and/or homophobic, violence-prone, or socially irresponsible. I've also heard some really good shit, mainly of a political nature.

I spent 10 years living in the East Oakland barrio, and suffered through too many occasions of hip-hop rattling my windows and making listening thinking and even talking impossible. One incident stands out in particular: I shall never forget the time that I walked into our yard on a beautiful afternoon, only to have the lines "Fuck the white chick, kill the white chick" blare at me. I marched back inside, called the owner of the building, and told him that I never wanted to hear such crap again in my life. The call wasn't wasted; the folks on the other side of the fence cooled it soon thereafter. (I think I also screamed, "Turn that shit off" at the top of my lungs, but the music drowned me out.)

I'm afraid that, after a decade of sonic assault from the Norteño gang members who frequented our little corner of the hood, I threw out the baby with the bathwater. Clearly, more listening is in order. Thanks for spurring me on.

AudioMan612's picture

Oh yeah, the majority of hip-hop that you'll be exposed to if you just listen to the radio or what's popular isn't worth remembering. You have your stand-outs, but most of it isn't very good. To be fair, that's pretty true of pop and rock radio as well.

There is definitely a history of misogyny, homophobia, and violence in hip-hop as well. I don't condone this, but it can be interesting to analyze. Musicians are a product of their environment, which is where the societal issues start to come into play. I don't know what it's like to live in a ghetto, and I probably never will, so I do the best I can to try to understand where attitudes are coming from, whether I agree with them or not. It's easy to blow off a track like "Fuck the Police" when you've never dealt with police discrimination, but the fact that now everyone has a camera in their pocket and we can see that there is a problem makes those viewpoints more understandable.

Anyways, as I said, I can totally understand where you're coming from. There are things in music or even life that have taken a lot of effort and/or time for me to open up to.

If you're looking to explore, here are some recent albums worth checking out:

Kendrick Lamar (his whole discography is fantastic, but I'd have to say To Pimp a Butterfly is his best work; if you listen to only one modern hip-hop album, that should be the one. Everything from it's message to its production is top notch. "Alright" became a rally cry for the Black Lives Matter movement for good reason)

Run the Jewels (all three albums are great; my personal favorite is probably Run the Jewels 2)

A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service (let's face it, most comeback records suck, this one is phenomenal)

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata

Also, I think some other artists who draw major influence from Hip-Hop are worth pointing out.

Frank Ocean - Blonde (fantastic R&B album)

BADBADNOTGOOD (Jazz trio with a very obvious hip-hop influence; also, they put on one hell of a live show if you ever get the chance to see them)

Anyways, I don't want to overload you, so if you're interested, there's enough there to dip your toes in some of the best the past few years have had to offer :).

ckharbeth's picture

I appreciate this thread in exploring a more diverse and contemporary mix of music not only at audio shows but in our living rooms. And thanks audioman for pointing out some of the best hip hop you recommend. Hip hop is something I've largely missed thinking it was overproduced and a rather dark take on life, especially urban life. And I have nothing against exploring the shadows, but the misogyny and violence all seem a bit much. I'll check out some of your recommendations beyond Kendrik who I do find a refreshing voice and sound.