The Shifting Audio Showscape

The 2018 audio show season is about to start and it's not just Stereophile's coverage of high-end audio shows—which has taken a leap forward with the inclusion of Jana Dagdagan's binaural videos—that's changing. The shows themselves are on the move.

Take the free Montréal Audio Fest (March 23–25, Hotel Bonaventure Montréal, Quebec). Exhibitors are invited to present systems for under $5000 in addition to their preferred systems, and, in an attempt to attract visitors aged 18–35, are encouraged to play music from video-game soundtracks. In addition, musicians will perform live some of the most popular of these soundtracks.

A major change comes to the Audio Expo North America (April 13–15), whose Chicago location shifts from the Westin O'Hare in Rosemont to the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel. While this may seem like a puzzling move for AXPONA, an immensely successful show that, in 2017, sold close to 7000 tickets and boasted 140 exhibit rooms, the opportunity to consolidate its Marketplace, Ear Gear Expo, new Record Shop, and other non-exhibit room aspects into a single Expo Hall makes sense.

"It will be similar to the expo area in Munich High End, except that the Ear Gear Expo will be consigned to the quieter back half of the hall," said Joel Davis, founder and CEO of AXPONA's owner and promotion company, JDEvents. "We also think having one big open space will attract even more young people."

The new venue is right off I-90 at the Schaumburg Convention exit, just 13 miles from O'Hare International Airport, and offers a "giant" free parking lot. The CTA train stop is just two miles away, the PACE bus much nearer, and frequent shuttles to and fro are promised. Some distributors have grumbled about room sizes, but AXPONA's conference and programming director, Liz Miller, insists that the total square footage is about the same as in 2017—a few inches narrower, a few inches longer—and ceilings are a most desirable 9.5' high.

After High End (May 10–13, Munich)—the huge annual consumer show that has supplanted the Consumer Electronics Show as the primary yearly meeting place for high-end audio manufacturers and distributors worldwide—the newly renamed LA Audio Show–Orange County 2018 takes place June 8–10 (footnote 1). Given that T.H.E. Show has seemingly fizzled out, and too many people were disappointed by the layout and the number of attendees at the first LAAS, held at the LAX Sheraton Gateway Hotel last June, it's shifting south, to Irvine and T.H.E. Show's former venue: the Hilton Irvine/Orange County Airport, across from the John Wayne Airport Orange County . . . at least for this year. The Atrium Hotel, next door, will also be used for exhibits.

The show's theme is "Putting the Show Back in the Audio Show." "This is show business," says LAAS promoter Bill Kanner. "We want to provide an entertaining experience, where getting to an exhibit is as enjoyable as the exhibit itself. People have family members who are not all committed to audio, and we need to have something for them. This shouldn't be an exercise in acoustic technology; it should be a smorgasbord of fun."

Although the entertainment roster at LAAS 2018 is not yet set, Michael Fremer will assemble a $1 million system, and an entire floor will be devoted to entry-level and "non-stratospherically expensive equipment," says Kanner.

Other than the Bay Area's small California Audio Show (July 27–29, Hilton Oakland Airport), the US's audio summer may be quiet. But in Asia, the High End Audio & Visual Show (August 10–12, Hong Kong) expects to attract an astounding 30,000 people. Things back home pick up in the fall, when the venerable Rocky Mountain Audio Fest returns to Colorado (October 5–7, Denver Marriott Tech Center), and the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show to Ontario (October 12–14).

This is the 15th RMAF and the final year of RMAF's contract with the Denver Tech Center Marriott. Although plans had not been finalized by press time, show owner Marjorie Baumert was contemplating ways to expand RMAF's popular innovation and entry-level exhibits.

TAVES promises "numerous improvements and enhancements, especially to the HiFi element of the show" when it returns to the International Centre in Mississauga. (TAVES 2017 was held at the Toronto Congress Centre.) I'm not convinced that scheduling it just one week after RMAF will attract a large number of US companies, however.

Just three weeks later, the fast-expanding Capital Audiofest foresees filling as many as 80 exhibit rooms in the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, in nearby Rockville, Maryland (November 2–4). Show promoter Gary Gill, who plans to "push the show a little bit more toward the lifestyle," was pleased to discover that CAF's heavy emphasis on vinyl, along with show posters hung in area record stores, attracted a younger crowd in 2017. Ditto for the presence of local distillers, whose numbers at CAF 2018 will be increased. Expect at least one needle to careen across a groove.

After the small New York Audio Show, which takes place November 9–11, at the Park Lane Hotel, Central Park, next comes Adam Mokrzycki's Warsaw Audio Show (November 16–18). Last year, this 21-year-old show, the second largest in Europe, attracted 12,000 visitors to 168 exhibit rooms and 60 exhibit stands (including a headphone section). That makes it bigger than any US audio show, and, along with Munich's High End, more attractive to industry folks than CES, where the historically low participation of high-end audio companies in 2018 may have driven another nail in that show's coffin.—Jason Victor Serinus

Footnote 1: After this issue was printed, THE Show announced that it was holding its 2018 show June 1–3; one week before the LAAS and also in Irvine, CA; see

jmsent's picture

What a truly ridiculous idea!

supamark's picture

Let me know when they have a show in the South. I live in TX, nowhere near any of these shows. TX has 4 of the 11 largest cities in the US, but no audio show within 1,000 miles. With that kind of stupidity, no wonder high end audio is having problems attracting new customers and show attendence is not what they'd like. Have shows where people are, which is the South. Hell, put shows in places like Miami, New Orleans, and Austin and I'm certain attendance would be great since these are places people want to go anyway. Who the hell actually wants to go to Shaumberg in April (or at all)? Nobody, that's who.

Also, videogame soundtracks? That's not what kids listen to (except a VERY small subset of nerds), they listen to pop (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, etc), rap (Kendrick Lamar, Kanye, etc), and some rock like the Black Keys.

mtrot's picture

+1 about having a big show in TX, since I also live here. I would think that, with its big music scene and central location, Austin might be a good choice. Fortunately, I'm retired, so I will be going to at least one of RMAF or AXPONA, possibly both.

supamark's picture

is where I live and I think it'd be the best choice since it's centrally located and has tons of live music to see. They could do it a couple weeks before/after South by Southwest (the music portion of SXSW is always during UT's spring break, so better attendance would be had before or afterwards, plus hotel availability). Also, legendary pro audio designer Rupert Neve lives nearby (his best consoles are freakin' awesome hand wired discrete class A designs like the "80" series from the 1970's).

I wouldn't mind being able to go to RMAF since Denver is a place with lots to do (visited there about 30 years ago, probably changed a lot since then) but I've no interest in going to Chicagoland (been there) or SoCal.

CraigS's picture

I'm about to escape from SoCal and move to Austin (or at least to the 'burbs to the west), so I'm voting for Austin as well.

supamark's picture

Austin is full up and then some. We really don't need any more people to move here, we literally don't have the infrastructure. Our traffic is a nightmare just like SoCal, the Northeast, or Atlanta (IH35 through Austin is one of the busiest stretches of highway in the nation due to local traffic + NAFTA 18-wheelers to/from Mexico) and the whole city is built around and along IH35. Mass transit is pretty awful, mostly buses. Housing is super tight and overpriced like a lot of CA and the Northeast. Austin is pretty liberal so don't move here to get away from liberals (close to 10% of the pop is college students). It's 100 degrees every day in August, btw, and our recent drought was as bad as CA's is. Because Austin is fairly liberal (and home to the state mental hospital), and TX is a low tax "service poor" state with a tea party governor and former talk radio host lieutenant governor, we have a lot of homeless people with untreated mental issues roaming about.

We had 3 500 year floods in the last couple years (and regular flash flooding). We get the occasional tornado. Within a few years, you're likely to get punched in the sinuses by cedar pollen every January (ashe juniper, technically, and the trees emit so much pollen that they look like they're on fire). We call it "cedar fever" and it's awful, just awful. No free bags at the grocery, must bring your own (we have a "bag law") or buy them. Our property taxes are pretty high (~2.5%), and as I said property values are going up quickly. Sales tax is pretty high too. Pot is not legal in TX in *any* form or for any use. The only major pro sports team within 150 miles is the San Antonio Spurs...

Feel free to move to and work in Cedar Park, Round Rock, Bastrop, Manor, Elgin, San Marcos, Hutto, Taylor, Georgetown.... - please. Housing's cheaper, property taxes are cheaper, and you'll be outside Travis County so you won't be coming in to Austin much (as I said, traffic is a freakin' nightmare from about 7AM to 8PM during the week and 10 to 7 on weekends).

I hope this has caused everyone who's read it to question why on Earth anyone would want to live in Austin, TX. It's a nice place to visit, just don't stay.

CraigS's picture

I tried to keep people from coming to the beach where I live forever. What if I promise to stay west of the river (maybe Westlake, which my wife seems to be pushing for) except for weekends?

supamark's picture

is a small city completely surrounded by Austin, and isn't really a suburb (it's close to downtown). Your wife has expensive tastes, houses in Westlake start at a $million for a hovel in the flat part (most of it is large hills with narrow roads/sharp drops and much more expensive homes/land). It's a lot like the hills that always burn in CA, but instead of mudslides (it's all limestone and scrub brush - no grass) you get flash floods. It's one of the 2 or 3 most expensive parts of Austin to live, but since it's actually a separate city they have their own police/fire/school district. It is also where most of the ashe juniper live so if y'all are allergic you'll be in hell 2 months/year. Circle C and Steiner Ranch are the big (expensive) suburb developments West of Austin (SW and NW of Westlake respectively). The upside? You'll probably never get on IH35 unless you're going to D/FW or San Antonio.

CraigS's picture

"Your wife has expensive tastes" - No kidding. Even worse, she doesn't like large floor standing speakers in the family room. I do a lot of headphone listening and Inner Fidelity reading these days. :)

How about the area north of the river and east of Steiner Ranch, sort of south of the 2222 and west of the 360?

supamark's picture

is really expensive as well. Basically, everything bounded by this big "circle" is above median price ($500k on up)...

W of IH35
S of 2222
E of 620
N of 71

Most expensive areas - just North and West of UT (and around UT in general), Westlake, everything West of Loop 1 (MoPac) and especially the Barton Creek area in SW Austin (Michael Dell lives out there - one of the most expensive areas in the US). The lots are big in the Hill Country due to impervious cover laws which drives up cost, as does building on hillsides.

John Atkinson's picture
mtrot wrote:
+1 about having a big show in TX, since I also live here. I would think that, with its big music scene and central location, Austin might be a good choice.

When Stereophile used to promote its own audio shows, which we did from 1987 to 2007, we found that the key to a successful show was to hold it in a city where there were a sufficiently large number of retailers. This is because manufacturers depend to a significant extent on logistical support from dealers.

We found that the US cities where that was possible were New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. While I have had many great times in Austin - I visit every fall for the Formula 1 Grand Prix - I am not sure it could support a high-end audio show.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

supamark's picture

and Austin is within a ~3 hour drive of San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas/Ft. Worth (3 of the 10 largest cities in the US, Austin is #11). Austin's also full of tech companies (Google, Amazon, eBay, AMD, Intel, nVidia, Facebook, 3M, Texas Instruments, etc are all here, along with a bunch of medical/biotech companies) and their moolah. Austin itself has at least 4 or 5 high end retailers now (just did a quick search) and there's a lot more nearby.

I think the problem is both money (someone's got to put up the money to do the show) and lack of desire on mfg's part to expand their consumer base - Austin is one of the youngest, most educated cities in America, and it's one of the fastest growing areas. I hear a lot about this hobby needing new blood but nobody seems to want to go where that new blood is.

We do pretty well with the only F1 race in the US (I have no idea why it's here), 2 of the biggest music festivals (SxSW - huge industry fest, and ACL fest), and the largest recorded music convention in the US (The Austin Record Convention - ).... maybe schedule the show during the Record Convention and you'd have a huge hit.

Charles E Flynn's picture

I do sympathize about the lack of local shows for those who live near Austin. I live in New England, where we have no local Quad dealer.

I went to a Stereophile show in New York with a friend, probably in the 1980s. The Apogee speakers were being demonstrated, using the Proprius recording of "Cantate Domino". I will never forget how close the speakers were to the rear wall of the hotel room, and yet how they created the convincing illusion of a distant organ, playing in a church.

Shows may not always have ideal demonstration conditions, but they are ideal for creating lasting, enjoyable, and enduringly-influentional memories.

Ortofan's picture

... Boston area should be a popular site for an audio show.
At one time, the Electro electronics show alternated between sites in Boston and NYC. Perhaps the New York show ought to consider doing the same.

prerich45's picture

Here, here to having a show in the South!!!!!

Archguy's picture

Dallas and Houston metros are both very large--both among the ten largest metros in the nation. However, that's really it for Texas--no other metros in the top 30. Focusing upon the 'city proper' municipal figures is misleading. Only the actual agglomerations of people in a given region will matter to marketers and those planning major shows.

Washington has just passed Chicago as the third largest consolidated metro in the nation, which helps explain why Capital AudioFest has grown so rapidly. Yet the city of Washington isn't very large. If Dallas and Houston were close together I guarantee you they'd be able to support a similar show. I agree that Austin would be a nice place for a show but it's a considerable travel distance from the two large population centers in the state, which does figure in to the calculus.

Anton's picture

Is that an old shot from the Hotel Irvine?

I did not know that about THE and LAAS death match set for June.

I love THE, but my hunch is LAAS has too big a head start.

Erik T's picture

Also to mention, I hope, the High End Show in Stockholm, held in hotels in the city centre permitting easy access.

RH's picture

"TAVES promises "numerous improvements and enhancements, especially to the HiFi element of the show" when it returns to the International Centre in Mississauga."

I sure hope there are improvements!

That's a local show for me and I want so much for it to succeed. But the venue and execution last year were just awful. Especially all the exhibits packed in to the terrible little make-shift "rooms" in the main hall. Many of us who went referred to it as the audio equivalent of a "shanty-town." A lot of forum talk indicated to me they better get that act together quick, with a lot of people saying "not worth going again."

But as I say, I'm rooting for TAVES as I have gone every year and would like it to continue (in a good version).

Boy do I miss the days when it was in the King Eddie hotel. Such a classy venue!

The Montreal show is always a blast, though.

ppgr's picture

Not sure about this one. Sure we could do without Diana Krall, but video games?

johnny p.'s picture

...for 13 years. It's called the Lone Star Audio Fest.

No-one here knew that ?

supamark's picture

as an, and I'm quoting the "organizers" here, "...Audio Flash Mob. Somebody has reserved a block of suites which anybody can reserve. On the agreed dates everybody arrives, sets up their equipment, and shows it off. Volunteer experts do free seminars. Show visitors take it all in for free."

Interesting concept, but doesn't bring many big names (and some more structure than that is good for these things imo).

johnny p.'s picture

And why do we have 'show' reports from PFO, etc?