Re-Tales #40: Showing Your Best

Dear audio show exhibitors: This one's for you. As members of the press who have spent decades covering audio shows, we've developed a clear sense of what works for us and—we think—for other show attendees. We ask your indulgence as we share our observations about how to mount a successful exhibit and get the best coverage possible from Stereophile and, presumably, other publications.

Over and over, we see mismatches between the size of the speakers and the size of the room. Consider the exhibit space before deciding which equipment to demo, especially speakers. You may have a big new speaker to show off, but it will not show well in an undersized room.

Room size isn't the only consideration; also consider the room type. Air-walled convention spaces in subdivided ballrooms can play havoc with low bass and suffer from serious bleed from the adjoining rooms. A truck's worth of room treatment and copious thick black draping may tame bass nodes and control reflections, but it may also flatten the soundstage and reduce air and spaciousness that contribute to the "you must hear" buzz and reportage you hope to generate.

Remember to be careful with that volume control. The ears of seated visitors are roughly at tweeter level. You, on the other hand, are off to the side, where the treble and midrange aren't as loud. The best way to deal with this issue is to calibrate volume in advance for every track you intend to play, with levels determined while seated between the speakers.

Experienced reviewers know that a new product may approach its full potential only during the last hours of a show, so tip us off when the system isn't fully broken in. We can make allowances.

Speaking of making allowances: We know how hard it is to get good sound in a random hotel room or segmented ballroom. We won't condemn a product or company just because the sound isn't optimal. It rarely is. Which is precisely why we're impressed with rooms in which the sound is really good, and with companies that manage to achieve good sound year after year, show after show, demonstrating that it can be done. So spend the time it takes to make a proper marriage of system and room. Nothing matters more.

How many times have members of the press—and the broader public—asked for an equipment list with accurate prices? Yet every show has rooms in which no such list is available. Take the time to prepare one. There's no need to print hundreds—just post said list (with pertinent details and specs) on the door or an accessible wall so that we can snap a photo with our camera or smartphone. We'll reward your efforts with more thorough and accurate coverage ... especially if the list is detailed and error-free.

Informing us of what you're up to, though, starts well in advance of the show. We're probably on your email distribution list—if we're not, we should be—so send us a press release ahead of time. Highlight new products—we love to cover those. Social media posts do not cut it.

Stereophile show reports include original photography. Please help us by making your systems photography friendly. It is difficult to photograph a speaker with a bright LED lamp right beside or directly behind it. A speaker or stack of components set up by a window and backlit by a bright, sunny day is even worse—as challenging as shooting sharp photos in dim light. So, please take the time to get the lighting right. We'll do what we can to get good shots: moving lights around, asking you to close curtains, standing on chairs, laying on floors, contorting ourselves in other bizarre ways. But there's only so much we can do given time and resource constraints.

Just as important is to keep the room neat, those pretty components polished and fingerprint/dust-free. Cables sprawled carelessly across the floor and messy piles of discs (silver or black) make it look like you don't care. Sweat the details, visual as well as sonic, to make the best impression.

Because we want to know technical details for new products, we may ask you to step outside to discuss: We prefer not to disturb the other showgoers. Even better is a short exposition several times an hour in which you concisely provide basic facts and answer questions. Concision is key. And please treat music like music. Play an entire selection rather than 30-second snippets. Give us a chance to settle in to the experience.

Some audio writers and publications may expect you to cater to their every whim, like the imperious restaurant critic in the film Ratatouille. At Stereophile, our expectations are more modest. As much as we hope you'll direct us to a seat that shows off your system at its best, please don't shoo everyone else out of the room and lock the door behind them so that we can have a private listening session. It's unnecessary and embarrassing.

Quiet is important. So please set an example and don't engage in conversation while the music is playing. Learn some techniques to control the crowd. If attendees start chatting loudly just after they're seated, intervene courteously. If the conversation continues, ask them to leave. Keep the room focused on what matters: the equipment and the music.

Sometimes people chat because they're bored. Even classical die-hard JVS would rather hear a good pop, electronica, or rock'n'roll track than well-recorded Sunday-brunch classical or soporific smooth jazz conducive to elevator excursions. Nothing reveals more about an exhibitor's priorities than the playlist. Banish the old, stale music played year after year in room after room. Show us you love music by playing something new and good. Surprise us.

Shows require showmanship. Professionalism. The better the sound, the more comfortable and stimulating the experience. Do your part to put your presentation over the top. Our coverage—and the response of the other attendees—will reflect your care.

Glotz's picture

Every single point. Being quiet is key from an attendee standpoint. The hallways are 20 feet away.. lol.

The playlist... yes. Most have the entire internet are their command in each room. Just ask the showgoers what they want to hear if it means the same show tunes year in and year out.

James.Seeds's picture

Don't send Jason Victor Serinus to cover the show, sorry Vic it's time you hung up your ears and write that novel you've always dreamt of doing.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Happy Valentine's Day to you too.


Anton's picture

I think JVS is top notch in his show coverage.

He's the hardest working man in "Show" business.


His descriptions are great. I think he's a little tough, actually, but that is far better than show coverage that requires the reviewer to carry a thesaurus to cover all the synonyms for 'adequate.'

Archimago's picture

I totally agree as one who has "covered" shows as a hobbyist. Music selection, controlling ambient volume, reasonable playback volume, photogenic setups, complete & accurate list of components and prices all will improve the experience.

Good ideas based on experience.

OCVIKING's picture

Most exhibitors don't play High Rez files, even on half million dollar systems. They don't even know the file resolution on music playing. When asked to play a High Rez file, many can't find one on their computer (since they are not labeled with rez).
So make sure you bring great high rez files you can find easily. And YES, some of us can tell the difference.
I also agree on excessive talking. But we sales guys like to talk....

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

so with you on this. If exhibitors refreshed their playlists with new material, this would not be an issue.

The catch, however, is that sometimes it takes a long time to load one's personal files to their server. Plus, there ave been occasions when someone has tried to lift the entire contents of my USB stick. So bringing one's own files is no guarantee.

zacster's picture

I went to a trade show in NYC a few years back and in a room the salesman was extolling the virtues of his speakers and went on and on about them. He had a crowd of people waiting to hear how great they were. He finally puts on some music, a recording of medieval flute music. The entire crowd walked away.

Later that same day, I'm in a room listening to some jazz on some system, but down the hall they put on Hotel California at rather loud levels. Every other room emptied out to hear it.

The lesson? Put something on that people want to hear regardless of system.

But my overall impression of shows is that I just want to go home and listen to my own system. It always just sounds better.

Steve Norene's picture

Thank you zacster - "Put something on that people want to hear regardless of system."


hemingway's picture

to the extent possible, try to keep down smells with air flow or candles. Lots of bodies in the seats, not all audiophiles seem up to speed on hygiene . . .

some exhibitors are cold to requests or may even say, let me know what it is before I put it on. I think that is judgment based on demographics, assuming attendees will choose something not 'hi-fi.' Appreciate they want the system to sound good, but the condescending attitude is never appreciated.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'm so with you on the scented candles thing. I once walked out of a room I'd Intended to cover because I couldn't breathe.

The "bring your own music" thing, however, is a double edged sword. Marc Phillips, now with PT Audiophile, used to work as a distributor and exhibited at shows. He wrote an essay about the time that a reviewer walked into his room at a time right after he'd cued up a visitor's crappy recording. The reviewer heard the music, turned around, and walked out the door, never to return. That's why some exhibitors refuse to allow people to play their own recordings.

Hey, it works two ways. Sometimes, exhibitors play the worst recording imaginable of classical music. Why in the world would any exhibitor play a CD of Bach's Brandenburgs by Neville Marriner and St. Martin in the Fields (yawn) when they could play the infinitely more colorful and engaging 24/192 files of Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin performing them on period instruments?

avanti1960's picture

they have one shot at getting it right. One shot to impress show attendees with your wares. From the sound of many rooms over the years some do very well despite the circumstances, many do not as you mentioned.
In terms of evaluating any of the system components for purchase, I would be more interested in ones that demonstrated nice sound at the show rather than ones that did not. Bottom line.
Besides speakers too large for the room the next most frequent problem I have witnessed is poor system synergy- one reason being different brands and dealers coming together wishing to share a room and not having complementary sounding amplification, speakers and cables. Check your synergy and compatibility before you decide what to bring!