Pick almost any industry you like and I'd lay better than even odds that some type of trade show or convention might be found. Whether shows for manufacturing, the arts, insurance or whatever, trade shows are in abundance. In our little hobby, they are simply called "audio shows."
Conceptually, they are quite simple. Manufacturers and dealers gather at a hotel, remove the furniture from the room, and set up an audio system. The general public can then come to the show, visit the various rooms, and hear systems of every description and price range.
When we look at how equipment is sold in the audio industry, and more specifically in the US, it is a sad and unfortunate realism that the number of audio dealers has steadily declined over the last twenty years. Consumers have turned to the Internet in the hope that a deal might be found. Used equipment has become very popular and there are many who have successfully built entire systems with previously owned gear. However, and for the most part, those methods don't really allow the buyer to touch, feel or better put, demo the equipment. That has been the traditional role of the dealer. And now, it seems, audio shows. As dealers have declined, it seems the number of, and attendance in audio shows has increased. Why? Simple. There is simply no other place where so much equipment is assembled at one time.
I suppose it really depends on your interest level and enjoyment in the audiophile hobby that dictates your attendance to an audio show. Personally, I see them as a fantastic way to see audio equipment of every description and price level. Thinking about switching from solid state amplification to tubes? Well, at an audio show you can probably find not one, but multiple different brands to help answer your questions. Same goes for almost any audio question.
Audio shows are also a great place to talk with industry experts, like manufacturers and equipment designers. Most of them are willing to help (in addition for the obvious reason, to sell something) and will happily try and answer a system or set up question. Don't expect to occupy hours of someone's time but asking a question of the experts who are hosting a room is not out of the question - as long as it is done within reason.
Perhaps the best thing about an audio show is simply seeing all the amazing gear. Systems with price ranges from a couple grand to the high six and even on occasion, seven figures can be found. Making a comparison of the show's systems to your own can often reveal things your system does well or maybe not so well - thus defining areas that might need addressing.
Hearing an abundance of new and interesting music is a really wonderful benefit. If you are in a room and like what you hear, ask the host the artist's name. You can then investigate them further when you return home. Most shows also have areas designated for selling both LP's and CD's and some even offer reel to reel tapes. In fact, music, both new and used and even hard to find releases may be found.
There are a few tips for attending an audio show. I would always suggest visiting the show's web site and pick out a list of the rooms you definitely want to visit. Most US shows, and certainly those in Europe and Asia have grown quite large so seeing every room might not be possible. Having a plan will make things go more smoothly.
Because of the crowds, it is always a good idea to start at the top floor and work your way down by the stairs. The hotels where shows are held are not especially designed to efficiently move thousands of people at one time. So elevators can become quite crowded. Taking the stairs down typically makes things easier.
It is important to remember that in many cases, manufacturers and dealers will set up rooms with multiple brands of equipment. Some rooms will be mostly all one manufacturer and other will be a collection of brands. If you are interested in a specific speaker, for instance, keep that in mind.
An audio show is a place to immerse one's self in the audiophile hobby. Generally speaking, they are held on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So for three days, the enthusiast can be surrounded by equipment and the ancillary condition of everyone around you there for the same reason. I've had some really interesting conversations with complete strangers at audio shows about what we've seen, heard, liked and disliked.
I suppose the largest show in the world right now is the Munich High End Show. This show dwarfs any of the US consumer based shows and has in the past reportedly drawn crowds of 25,000 people. For the US, the Consumer Electronics Show is held in January but it is for industry people only. For the general public, the first show of the year is AXPONA held in April in Chicago. The larger and more notable remaining US based shows are THE Show in Anaheim in September, the Rocky Mount Audio Fest in Denver in October, and both the Maryland based Capital Audio Fest and the New York Audio shows held in November. There are also smaller, more reginal shows held around the country as well.
For those who have been thinking "okay, this is nothing new," you are exactly correct. This article is not really intended for those who have attended shows in the past. It's primarily for those who have not attended an audio show and might be thinking about doing so. To those who love the hobby and have never been to an audio show, I encourage you to consider going. If the time and expense can be justified, a great time in the world of high performance audio awaits.