I just got back from the Newport Beach T.H.E. Show, which was much improved in its second year. There were many more demo rooms that there were previously, more manufacturers and even more outrageous gear on display. Beyond audio, you could play around with exotic cars in front of the hotel and/or eat from gourmet food trucks while taking a break from touring what was, for that weekend, the largest audiophile store in the world. As you might expect, the Newport Beach show was packed with geeky and nerdy audiophiles who were taste-testing all sorts of exotic gear that we, the press, get to hear every year at CES. However, most consumers don't get to hear $90,000 Focals or the new Magicos or a variety of Wilsons, tube amps and all sorts of exotic goodies. They seemed pretty content with the offerings at T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach as a whole.
My rant today is about the epidemic of audiophile stores and manufacturers using lame demo music for trade and consumer show demos. One audiophile company, MBL, has figured out the solution, but most of the others are still failing on an epic level. MBL plays their pricey but stunningly beautiful speakers and electronics at tradeshows at 100+ dB with Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and other meaningful, popular rock and pop music. The effect is that they have a line out the door of people who want to come and experience their sound.
ZU Audio is apt to play some hot tunes from time to time as well, but nearly all other rooms were playing crap. Jazz at the Pawnshop should be banned as part of T.H.E. Show's contract. Same with Jennifer Warnes and a number of other played-out audiophile standards. Companies should replace weak-sauce audiophile music with something like Hendrix in the West if you must do a vinyl demo - and don't forget to crank it up a little. Respectfully, if your demo system can't play Hendrix, then stay at home, because your rig sucks.
Here's another idea: play The Wall from a music server or a disc, as Roger Waters is selling out stadiums in every city in America nearly 30 years after the release of this meaningful record. Moreover, how about figuring out what kids listen to on their headphones and play that, as headphones are the gateway drug to becoming an audiophile. Acoustician to the stars Bob Hodas turned me on to No Doubt's "Hella Good" as a demo track, which is not only a hit song, but also a great bass demo with plenty of excellent imaging. People know the song. Men and women alike dig the tune and it's Orange County-relevant. Bob Marley is loved by all generations and can be a good demo. Even some of today's hip hop can be fun while showing off the audio gear to advantage.
I am not saying that audiophile music or jazz or classical don't have their place, as they absolutely do. The people who make these beautiful recordings are selling the science of the recordings as their true value proposition. I am suggesting that what sells real high-end audio is the emotion of dynamic, meaningful music, whether it's from a disc or a server. Reports I've read recently suggest that, in the United States, only three percent of the populace listens to classical music, with jazz reaching four percent.Michael Jackson's Thriller (which I did hear creeping out of one room and bravo to whoever that was) sold nearly 50,000,000 copies. That's mainstream. The Eagles' Greatest Hits is right behind Thriller in sales numbers. Dark Side of the Moon is in the multi-platinum conversation, too, as is Back in Black. We all know the songs. We know what the recordings sound like. Audiophile manufacturers - do you have the balls to show people what your speakers and electronics sound like on music that they know? If not, do you really think you have the right to charge the astronomical prices that many companies ask?