A Year of Dueling Shows

This year is not only one of fallout from the most divisive political campaigns of our time, but will also one of competing audio shows too close for comfort. Southern California will see dueling audio shows three months and 35 miles apart, and New York City and Washington, DC will host shows on consecutive weekends. While a proliferation of audio shows potentially presents plenty of opportunities for audiophiles to hear new gear, such conflicts ultimately limit which manufacturers can exhibit where, and can render some shows a poor value.

As a result of changing priorities and a revolt against high prices for exhibitors, in January 2017 we saw the smallest high-end audio showing at any Consumer Electronics Show in recent memory. Brightening the horizon in March is the second annual edition of the Montréal Audio Fest (March 24–26). The MAF arose in the 11th hour last year, when Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay, the owners of the earlier Montreal show, came to the rescue after the UK's Chester Group abandoned its attempt to mount a Montreal show in 2016. Managed by a committee of industry members, MAF expects to open 65 exhibit rooms plus a headphone exhibition. "Last year's show was the busiest in 29 years," said Plante. "Admission was free, and will remain free." Wow.

Next month (April 21–23), the largest Audio Expo North America in history, to be held at Chicago's Westin O'Hare hotel, anticipates more than 125 listening rooms and an overflowing EarGear Expo. Joel Davis, founder and CEO of show promoter JD Events, says his ultimate goal is "to continue to grow AXPONA in Chicago so that it serves the entire North American market . . . and becomes like [High End in] Munich is to Europe, as the largest show in North America." Provocative words!

Munich's High End (May 18–21) has become the largest hybrid consumer-and-trade show in the world, with exhibitor space maxed out by more brands than you can name. High End is now the show for every audio company that can find space and swing the high cost of exhibiting. The individual rooms are sonically compromised, and the sprawling exhibition halls are even worse, but the most resourceful exhibitors manage to cope. It's a great show.

Just two weeks later (June 2–4), the madness commences with the debut of the Los Angeles Audio Show, held in collaboration with the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society. LAAS came about when, following the death of Richard Beers, founder of T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, that event's new president, Maurice Jung, initially announced neither hotel nor dates for 2017. With investors eager to back a show, and show runner Marine Presson—whom LAOCAS president Bob Levi believes was "110% of the reason T.H.E. Show 2016 happened"—parting ways with Jung, Levi and his Orion Group quickly grabbed T.H.E. Show's usual weekend and found what sounds like an ideal location near LAX: at the Sheraton Gateway, site of Stereophile's 2006 show.

LAAS is "geared to the entertainment and excitement factors [of] very Hollywood tastes," Levi told Stereophile. As of late last year, Presson anticipated 115 exhibit rooms (down from the 150 rooms of T.H.E. Show Newport 2016), and several huge displays destined to razzle and dazzle. We're talking Harman International's 1600-square-foot lobby exhibit, which will include three cars with complete audio systems, Starke Sound's 2300-square-foot dual Dolby Atmos A/V setups, craft beers galore, and a set of live music at after the show closes on Friday and Saturday.

When Capital Audiofest's Gary Gill moved his 2017 show from August to November 3–5, it looked like a quiet audio summer except for the huge Hong Kong High End A/V Show. Then Constantine Soo, whose summertime California Audio Show disappeared from the Bay Area without a whimper following its smallest edition ever, in 2015, announced on Facebook that CAS would return in 2017. As of press time, only he knew when (footnote 1).

The oy-vey season begins in September. Shortly after the CEDIA Expo home-technology show (September 6–9), which in the last few years has attracted increasing numbers of high-end companies, occupies the San Diego Convention Center, Maurice Jung's T.H.E. Show Anaheim arrives at the Hilton Anaheim (September 22–24). Just two weeks later (October 6–8) comes the most beloved and long-lived of current shows, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

Two phone chats with Maurice Jung left me convinced that T.H.E. Show Anaheim's closeness to RMAF was born solely of schedule confusion, with no desire to undermine RMAF. "T.H.E. Show and Rocky Mountain have always been on good terms, with mutual support, and I want to try to keep that going and help promote other shows," Jung said. He promised shipping discounts from Anaheim to Denver, and at least three weeks between T.H.E. Show and RMAF in 2018.

By the time this issue of Stereophile has been published, RMAF's Marjorie Baumert will have announced whether or not her show will once again occupy Denver's Marriott Tech Center, with its insufficient number of large rooms and narrowed standard-size rooms (footnote 2). I'm rooting for a restart in fresh quarters.

Tentatively scheduled for October 27–29 is the Toronto AudioVisual Entertainment Show (TAVES), which last year had 48 high-end exhibit rooms rather than the expected 60. Then comes the other sticky one. The Chester Group UK's New York Audio Show (November 10–12), which until now has been held each year in a different venue and month, returns to the Park Lane Hotel, opposite Manhattan's Central Park, just one weekend after Capital Audiofest (November 3–5) returns to the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, Maryland.

As tight as that sounds, it is actually a last-minute compromise. For more than five months, Roy Bird, head of the Chester Group, intended to hold the New York show on the same weekend as Capital Audiofest. Thankfully, just two days before Christmas 2016, Bird changed his New York dates and promised to facilitate express shipping between the two shows. The rails and roads between Maryland and New York City could be very busy before Thanksgiving.

Footnote 1: Soo has since announced that the California Audio Show will be held July 28–30 at the Hilton Oakland International Airport.

Footnote 2: As of February 10, the renovation of the Marriott Tech Center had still to be finished.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Renovations to the Marriott remain unfinished. Wait we must.

John Atkinson's picture
Jason Victor Serinus wrote:
Wait we must.

Yoda, write like, you do, Jason. :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

rschryer's picture

Sorry, John, but all you did there was add commas to a regular sentence. In correct Yoda speak, in which I am fluent, your sentence should have read: Write like Yoda, you do.

But don't worry; teach you, I can, John.

Boxsounds's picture

LAX vice NEWPORT BEACH or, god give us strength, ANAHEIM? No thanks.
No self respecting audiophile, high end or otherwise, would venture within 10 miles of such a crime infested, low rent environs. In short, ugh.

Mrubey's picture

May 5th through the 7th.
Embassy Suites Park Central, Dallas Texas

free to the public

tonykaz's picture

Sure, we can say the Shows are dueling but what is there to win? Dealers are scarce, Customers are Scarce, Consumers have plenty of exciting options for disposable income i.e. Mavic Pro Drones, Bass Boats, Powered Paragliders , etc,etc,etc.

Who's considering the purchase of a $12,000 Phono Cart. vs. a two week Catamaran Charter in the British Virgin Islands? or a nearly infinite range of Thrilling things on offer?

I suppose that any of us Audiophiles "might" attend a local Audio Show ( if we can find a fellow Audiophile friend to go with, a sort of Social "outing" ) or maybe just as easily pass on an Event. We've all been to P-lenty of Gear Shows. Is there anything "new & exciting" that we Abbbbsolutely mmmmust go and check out? i.e. the Chord Stuff. I doubt it.

DSP is rather new. Europeans have had access to DSP in thier home electronics, it's getting positive reviews from actual consumer/owners. Linn stuff has had DSP for years now. B&O is presenting it for thier stuff. I'm planning a Visit to my Ann Arbor Linn Dealer to learn about it, first-hand. ( I live in one of the richest cities in the USA and my closest Audio Dealer is 50 Miles away, in a College Town ).

I went to RMAF 2011 and met Tyll and Steve G. , got some "Golden" Advice, I was on a Flight lay-over, that Show was well worth the time. ( Sold my Stax stuff and bought Sennheiser/Schiit that I still own ).

Promise a great experience and I'd bet folks will want to go to one of these Shows but show that a person's gear needs a multi-thousand dollar Cable up-grade and I doubt anyone will be excited to attend.

However, have the Festool Road Show combined with the Lie Nelson Woodworking Tools on display and being demonstrated & explained and you'll pack the house.

People are paying money to do stuff, fun stuff. I don't seem em spending for a Couch-Potato experience ( unless it's for a Lazy-boy ).

On the other hand: Journalists could create excitement by using available/portable Video/Sound recording tools and therefor become Content Creators ( like you see on YouTube ). 4K is available, Software for editing is commonplace, actual Manufacturer's Room demonstrations can be presented to the entire World. Factory visits, real time, can be shared with all.

Most of these Shows are killing themselves by keeping half of their Spotlight on Vinyl. 99.999% of all people view Vinyl as Grampa's Stereo. Mention Vinyl and you loose em.

Winter CES was a must-go event, it was wonderful, you might share an Elevater with Raymound Cooke of KEF, have laughs with Paul & Stan in the PS Audio Room, get a "free" vinyl record from Karen Sumner, those CES's were memorable.

Oh well, seems it is just what it is i.e. a tired hobby.

Do the best you can,

Tony in Michigan

md1809's picture

Tony, I usually agree with your comments, but this time I cannot see your point.
Maybe its’ a geographical issue, but here vinyl is (still?) hip and sought after. Small numbers, of course, but this remains a niche hobby and, in my opinion, and generally speaking, it needs such shows, to reach the interested people. Moreover, we’ve left with no speciality shops, and – at least in Italy – with no major national audio show, just single, even carefully crafted “events”.
What you may seem to underrate is the “toy store” effect: I am looking forward to my annual bavarian short-term “vacation”, as well as most of my audio acquaintances that can afford such an expedition. I understand that too many coincident shows are a pain in the @** for exhibitor, be them manufacturers or distributors (maybe not so for resellers…), but surely not for the showgoers (and that may explain the recent show abundance JVS is writing about).
The main point is: will any of us be an actual customer after those shows (if not due to them)? Unfortunately, I’m convinced that, no, we won’t, mainly because of the skyrocketing prices and our progressively poorer pockets. But this is a topic that can easily drive me off-topic ;-) Just let me close saying that I, too, think that stratospherical prices won’t be a good business card to handle to new people to make them share our illness/addiction :-)
Carlo Iaccarino, Naples, Italy

tonykaz's picture

Sure, Vinyl for us "established" audiophiles, I know people with 10,000 Vinyl collections.

Buuuuuuuut, HighEnd needs "New" Blood, precious few of us oldsters remain.

Buying a Turntable is easy, then comes the MM/MC phono preamp, special cabling, new $50 Vinyl releases, and the Critical Record Cleaning machine & liquids, Phew, it's daunting. This new generation are using their iPhone as their music source but might try Tidal streaming.

Vinyl is a hobby in itself, it's interesting for only a tiny number of us.

The larger point remains "Front & Center" i.e. all people love music!, our Audio Shows should be presenting to All people, not the tiny few of us traditional Analog Vinyl folks.

Bon Vivant

Tony in MIchigan

Anton's picture

Sorry to hear how daunting vinyl is. It is sure to die in 1986.

I only have one vinyl collection, tell me about the people you know with 10,000 vinyl collections!

300,000 tables sold in the US from 2010 to 2015...awaiting 2016 data.

Not enough to make it worthwhile for exhibitors, I guess...


tonykaz's picture

Todd the Vinyl Junkie has 12,000 +

Vinyl did die in 86 ( at least for me ), I sold my Koetsu collection and my VPI, Riaa Preamps along with ( all but 200 ) of my record collection. I had a Vinyl based business ( Esoteric Audio and B&K Imports ). My sales went flat yet still managed to get worse. My Landlord was the Big Winner.

OK, I'm still a "living In denial" vinyl analog man, I'm even considering ( this week ) the purchase of a new LINN Majik system w/LP12 Player. I'm old school.

My Auto Industry does over 30 Billion dollars worth of Car Audio, we're the Gigantic Giants in the Audio Business. All of our products interface with the new generations of people that ALL Love Music. Any guesses as to how many Car buyers also own and use a Record Player?

Any guess as to the average price of those 300,000 players? I'd bet it's under $100 a pop. My granddaughter has a new $59 dollar player in Aqua plastic ( included speakers ). Garage Sale Records for $1 each.

I've done plenty of those Shows, the cost is very high, you'd cringe if you discovered what these outfits have to pay and it's all for attracting nonexistent New Dealer representation. OOOOarrrr, to get Journalist interest resulting in Product placement in reviews ( a positive "must hear for yourself" type review, cleverly written ), accompanied with measurement and hopefully not condemned with the "Obsolete" that Schiit just got on their Obsolete Yggy DAC.

However, make it easy for Music Loving people and they'll throw money at you, billions of money, mucho-dinero!

Go ahead, keep promoting Vinyl, Oakwood Cemetery is patiently waiting for you.

Tony in Michigan

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Dear Ancient Tony,

"This new generation" is embracing the LP in increasing numbers. Methinks you need to spend some time reading AnalogPlanet.com. If you look at the titles of new LP releases, many are of new young bands and artists, and are not geared for senior citizens. The younger generation is also streaming like crazy, with increasing numbers of streaming services offering hi-rez. As for the new blood, you need to get to a CanJam or an audio show headphone exhibit to check out who is listening.

An increasing number of audio shows are doing concentrated outreach to young people. For years, RMAF has offered a special admission discount and free codes to students, teachers, and parents from local high schools. Shows like TAVES and Munch High End are also geared to the general public. Which is not to say that more outreach isn't needed or welcome. But at this point, the issue is more the case of audiophiles and high-end manufacturers keeping abreast of how fast the younger generation is hearing the message, and making sure that the hardware and software are there to serve them. The major labels would not be embracing hi-rez and MQA if young people were not already on board. (See a related story to appear here on Thursday, Feb. 16.)


Anton's picture

You know how many kids Tony hollered at to get of his lawn today?

tonykaz's picture

Dear Jason,

Thank you for that recommendation, I did just have a look and saw a wonderful Tour of Rega by Mr.Fremer.

Rega is a Proud Company, certainly productive and expanding.
They produce about 100 of their best Players per Month, about 80% of their production is for Worldwide Export. Hmm. They look like an Instrument Maker type of outfit, very clean, well lit, youthful employees. Rega's Managing Director ( MD ) took us on the guided Tour. Mr.Fremer's tour of Audio Research looked like a ghost town by comparison. Rega, as well as Linn, seems like the very best of the Past adapting to Today. I'm pleased that they survived and hope they continue. ( I'm considering buying a New Linn Active System ).

I felt fascinated by Rega & Linn saying that they Engineer and Build everything they sell ( in-house ). Oh, but where are their $100,000 Mono Amps?, where are their $750,000 Loudspeakers?, etc, etc, etc.
Still, the one employee asked said that he wished he owned a Rega but didn't.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Rega is that their MD said that they are not quite profitable i.e. they put their money back into the infrastructure, they're building their Business.

Rega is nice gear.

Analog Planet tells interesting stories, perhaps stories about memories, stories about a hopeful future but it's probably better described as prosaic Audiophile Prayers for True-believers, beautiful turns of phrases about all things Vinyl Analog. Except, as we industrialists might say: "it's great dog food but the dogs won't eat it". I realize that Analog people think Vinyl is rebounding but the numbers for vinyl are worse than dismal. ( and I'm a vinyl guy! )

Saturday, I get a ride in a URAL Sidecar Motorcycle, recent manufacture, based on a 1930s German Design, 700cc, two wheel drive, top speed about 60 mph. It's Russian Made. Somehow, we keep doing the Old with the New.

I'll add that I have 78 Era music in my iTunes playlists. ( music of my youth ).

Tony in Michigan

tonykaz's picture

Our Mr.Fremer hosted a Vinyl panel including VPI, Mobile Fidelity ( in my nearby Ann Arbor and the "honest to the core" Chad Kassem.

Chad tells the entire story of Record Pressing and the Vinyl Industry, he's an Industrialist ( my kind peer ), not one to glossy up the realities, an "Unvarnished Truth" kind of fella.

I recommend you have a look and listen to his everyday realities.

The entire hour long panel discussion reveals the "state" of vinyl in each decade : 1960, 1970s, 1980s, -- , -- , 2000s, 2010.

I was already aware of the three earliest decades, the last two were surprising in that they reveal the efforts to rebuild the wreckage of vinyl pressing.

I continue to contend that the Vinyl Cult should not be the Spiritual Leader of HighEnd and should not take the Leading position at USA Audio Shows. Vinyl people are living in an isolation bubble. Promoting Vinyl is bad for business.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I'm still looking for an original Linn LP12 ( without the Valhalla board ) , Ittok Arm and Asak Cart. Afromosia Plinth. ( I typically sold two per day in the early 1980s )

brw's picture

CAS7 will run July 28-30, 2017 in Jason's beloved Oakland.


Allen Fant's picture

Very nice over-view JVS.
it is a return to form for Audio shows. There could never be enough in a calendar year, dueling or, otherwise. Happy Listening!

Chrisy's picture

An update on TAVES: the show will now be at the Toronto Congress Center, October 13th – 15th. TAVES is like a mini-CES with everything from headphones to high end audio to home theater, cars, gaming, wearables, VR, 3D Printing, high tech toys, robotics and more. Last year’s show had over 130 exhibitors and 7,600 attendees – 80% consumer and 20% industry 42% of our attendees were under 35 and 23% were women. This year we’re expecting over 170 exhibitors from around the world and 10,000 guests at our new 70,000 sq ft venue in Toronto.