What If They Gave a Show . . .

. . . and nobody came? If you look at the numbers for the high-end audio sector alone, it certainly looks like something went south. However the rest of CES is thriving: gadgets, AI and even self-driving cars have supplanted much of what used to dominate these shows (one of the Innovations Award winners this year is Kohler's "intelligent bathroom.")

So it looks like the downturn is just us. A few short years ago, high-performance audio had a thriving presence here. We occupied three floors of regular rooms at the Venetian hotel, with plenty of exhibitors occupying large swaths of the top two floors, where the much larger suites sit perched over the city.

Outboarders, as I like to call them, exhibitors off the official program, could be found in the surrounding hotels with the Mirage being particularly popular. You could land on any of the top A/B/C/D floors there and find unofficial hospitality suites and parties everywhere.

Not anymore. This year high-end audio occupies only one floor of the Venetian, and there are just a couple exhibitors in the suites above. The Mirage is also down to a couple suites and around town is particularly quiet. So I'd say we are operating at less than 30% of peak CES. Someone may be crunching official numbers somewhere, but I'm suggesting they won't be far off from this.

Stereophile is still here however, and we are running a skeleton crew of John Atkinson, Jason Victor Serinus, Jana Dagdagan (for video) and myself. Where in the past we've focused mainly on new product announcements, this year we'll try to cover everyone who made the effort to show up.

I ran an unofficial survey of manufacturers, both of exhibitors and those who have abandoned the show, and two stories emerged: the costs now outweigh the benefits, and there are plenty of other shows around the world that attract their buyers and customers. Interestingly, of the exhibitors who are still with the show this year, many say the benefits still outweigh the costs, but they will re-evaluate after this year.

Of course, I'm thinking, that's if there is a next year.

PS: The photo above? That's what it looks like the first morning of the show outside my window as I type. Certainly feels the part.

PPS: Thought I should add that I don't consider this downturn at CES indicative of high end audio itself, just its presence at this event. The fact that so many other audio shows are thriving is cause for celebration.

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

http://chadavegas.com/

Just ask them to serve you what they think is best that night and pair it with a Reisling, or three.

Better than Lotus of Siam.

supamark's picture

Tons of live music, great food, a lot of wealth within ~3 hours drive (3 of 10 largest US cities - Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth (the Metroplex), and San Antonio plus Austin is the 11th largest US city with a LOT of tech companies). Austin is also a place people actually want to visit. Makes a lot more sense than having one in the dying Mid-West (i.e. Chicago - nothing around it but dying/dead industrial towns and farmland, WTF have a show there).

CraigS's picture

I dont just want to visit, I'm thinking of moving there (or the burbs to the immediate west) from CA. I Hope the noise ordinances aren't too strict!

tonykaz's picture

Yuk

If you have a close look at where Video is going, just now, you'll get scared.

I'm not talking about the Quality of Cameras working in 4K. I'm talking about the "Walls" of TV monitors dominating our lives.

One partial afternoon at CES will make a person need a full week of recovery in front of Montana-Zobel's Wood burning stove with cord of hickory logs ( and maybe even a Chord Hugo ).

Individual Content creators are doing beautiful YouTube work with the little Mavic drone and the Canon D6 DSLR, even the Canon D1 is within reach of anyone that can afford a proper Audiophile Pre-amp. This kind of work is being done in 4K.

I hope that the Enthusiast Network's powerhouse editorial staff land some new Accounts from their CES 2018 investments, its a "must" event for them, isn't it ?

Tony in Michigan

rt66indierock's picture

Sorry the real action is late October early November for SEMA. Specialty Equipment Market Association does their event right.

spacehound's picture

Our 'high quality audio' is a 'special interest'.

No sane special interest section of manufacturing exhibits at 'general' shows like these.

If, for example, you had looked at the 'Radio control equipment for model aircraft' section you would have seen few exhibitors and even less visitors.

Yet it is a worldwide thriving and expanding industry.

And the industry knows it is not worth exhibiting as model aircraft enthusiasts go to specialized shows not general ones. It's the same for our branch of electronics.

Think about it. How many Hifi or model aircraft enthusiasts are going to wade through acres of 'smart' TVs, gimmicks like 'Alexa' which understand less that half of what you say to them, and all sorts of garbage like that to talk to the few hifi or radio control people who are stupid enough to waste their time there when they can see it at a specialized show without all these pointless distractions?

DetroitVinylRob's picture

I suppose Lost-Wages and CES are finally reaping what they apparently have sown... Possibly we where never a good fit there. Never been, and never really care to but, from what I have repeatedly hear from both industry folks (reviewers included) and high-end enthusiasts is that we are treated like crap and the place is a dump, so why attend?!

Now anyone who believes Chicago and Axpona is dead or not a premiere venue for specialty audio is, well, daft. You shouldn't need a "smart device" to realize what is so with our fine little hobby and pastime...

See you this spring in the dystopian, post-industrial rust belt amidst the franken-corn and amber waves of grain. The music is so sweet, you should count on being treated well, and Chi-Town is big city fun.

jmsent's picture

It's quite the luxury hotel, in fact. It was Kathy Gornick and Jim Thiel of Thiel Audio who were very instrumental in moving it away from the deteriorating Alexis Park Hotel in an attempt to inject a "dose of class" into the show. Made sense back then, bringing the high end exhibits in from the fringes into the main part of the Strip. But the problem is that the price went up, and up again, and up some more. Sleeping rooms were hard to find and the prices for those would double from normal rates during CES. The elevators were horribly slow and crowded. And the Venetian's "room nazi's" would charge you hundreds of dollars, should you so much as dare move a piece of their precious hotel furniture without their permission. And don't forget, it's a show for the trade only, so no end users allowed. Not very welcoming to say the least. Given the explosion of the other consumer shows (Denver, Chicago, LA, etc.) along with the increased significance of the Munich show, CES simply became superfluous. I went every year, as an exhibitor, from 1984 through 2011, and watched it deteriorate before my very eyes. I doubt very many will really miss it.

Anton's picture

Now that consumers have other show outlets, we don't have to get fake CES credentials anymore!

This is my first year missing CES since 1984. Back then, Hi Fi shared the Sahara with the porn industry! Alexis Park was the step up of its day!

deckeda's picture
bilguana's picture

If Sheldon A. doesn't want the Hi-end audio in his hotel then either move it to the Flamingo and/or bring back THESHOW to Las Vegas during CES. We can hope that the good doctors Michael and Antone would return with their NFS room. And we miss their home brewed limoncello.

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