CES Moves High-Performance Audio Exhibits

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the producer of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has finally confirmed the rumors that have been circulating for many weeks: The industry sector that CEA terms "high-performance audio" will move from its customary venue at the Alexis Villas (originally the Alexis Park) to the Venetian Hotel in 2007. In addition, "high-performance audio" and "high-performance home theater" will now be represented under the same umbrella.

According to the CEA's press release, distributed March 23, exhibitors in the new, combined home-performance and home-theater category will be able to choose between traditional convention space in "intimate Venetian ballrooms" and "demonstration suites in the Venetian Tower." Increased space will also be available at the adjoining Sands. Karen Chupka, vice president of events and conferences at CEA, asserts, "The Venetian space allows us to expand the category to include exhibit options for high-performance home theater companies as well, plus it provides both attendees and exhibitors with the ultimate demonstration experience."

Don't be so sure about that "plus." Mike Maloney, CEO of T.H.E. Show (The High-End Show), the renegade exhibit option for high-end audio that takes place at the same time as CES in the St. Tropez, located right next door to the Alexis Villas, thinks CEA is making "a real bad mistake."

"I've been in the Venetian suites before," he explained by phone. "We were thinking of moving the show there in 2001, and they gave me four complimentary nights to check it out. I only stayed one because I really didn't like the place.

"I used to build speakers, and I tried to figure out how I could set up a stereo in those rooms. I decided I couldn't. The rooms are huge and nice, and the bathrooms are gorgeous. If you could set up your stereo system in the bathroom, it would be a great place to demo if it weren't all marble. But the rooms are split in half right down the center [see photo—Ed.], with the living room two steps down, and a banister right across the middle. The ceiling steps down 16" at the same time. You can only set up in one half or the banister blocks the speakers plus you have to deal with that step in the ceiling and the floor. In addition, the sunken area is 13' x 14', which is smaller than our rooms. The people who can afford the big suites will have a wonderful display; I'm not so optimistic about the rest."

Richard Beers, president of T.H.E. Show, says that his outfit first learned about the move when exhibitors began calling over concerns that they'd be facing increased prices and suites ill-suited to high-end exhibits. Beers actually expects the switch to benefit T.H.E. Show, and promises more shuttle buses to the Venetian and the Convention Center, even though that may necessitate a hike in his own prices for exhibitors.

Asked about the fact that at CES 2006, far more people were circulating between rooms at CES's Alexis Villas than at T.H.E. Show's adjacent St. Tropez venue, Beers asserted that T.H.E. Show draws a more specific audience than its CES counterpart.

"The people who come to T.H.E. Show are the people who really care about high-end audio," he says. "It's the quality rather than the quantity of people that matters. Some of the biggest names in the industry return every year simply because they know they're going to see the right people in their exhibit rooms."

CEA's press contact, Leah Arnold, told Stereophile that the motivation for the move is to better integrate high-performance audio with the rest of the show. "The Alexis isn't up to par physically," she said, "and the Venetian space allows exhibitors more options. Basically there's so much synergy between home theater and high-performance audio that we're trying to bring them together. There'll be more exhibitors in the same area. It will be easier for exhibitors to display, and for attendees to see them."

Wes Phillips, who attended one session of the March 14 CEA High Performance Audio Subdivision Board, reports that most board members expressed concerns over the layout of the two-storey Alexis Villas, which lacks elevators or wheelchair access to rooms on the upper level. At the board meeting and in conversations that followed, the move to the Venetian was presented primarily as one intended to increase access and reduce travel time between exhibition sites.

In January 2006, CES located its Innovation Showcase for emerging technologies in the Sands. In January 2007, emerging technologies and the Innovation Showcase will be joined by high-performance audio and home theater. All will take advantage of increased space at the Sands and the adjacent Venetian. The Venetian is also easily accessible from the CES's primary Convention Center site using the Las Vegas monorail.

"Home theater companies can either choose to stay in the South Hall or move," Ms. Arnold explained. "We're in space selection, so I don't know how that is going to play out. We're still putting together packages and prices."

Because Arnold lacked familiarity with the layout of the 700-square foot suites in the 9-year old, 12-story Venetian Hotel tower, she could not offer comment on Maloney's criticism by press time. Calls to the Venetian's trade show sales manager and press department offered little in the way of clarification.

Will the switch to the Venetian benefit high-end audio manufacturers? Will they embrace the change, or will they beat a path of retreat to the St. Tropez? Will CES attendees flock to both venues, or eschew the commute and settle on one?

Might exhibitors at the Venetian discover scores of home theater aficionados, shell-shocked after enduring the collective sonic boom of ten auto crashes, five disastrous space missions, and umpteen gruesome murders, heading to high-performance audio exhibits with hopes of embracing a kindler, gentler reality? Will the bifurcated layout of the Venetian Suites result in a rise in bi-polar disorder amongst audiophiles? Or will the accelerating melting of the polar ice cap render such questions moot? The only thing for certain is that, when large numbers of exhibitors make a major shift of venue, manufacturers of devices that tame room acoustics will have a field day.