Well, it's that time of year again. A new year for consumer friendly audio shows. AXPONA, the first consumer show of the season starts in April. I'll have to admit; I enjoy going to audio shows. In addition to just getting away from every day normality, being surrounded by magnificent audio systems can be eminently entertaining. Regardless if you are a potential customer or there for fun, audio shows have a lot to offer.
If you have never been to an audio show, it might be something worth checking out. There will be more amazing equipment than you will be able to see in one three-day weekend. You can meet some of the people who design and build the equipment you read about in magazines and web sites. You will also be surrounded by people there for the same reason as are you, the love of high performance audio. There are, however, some things to consider along the way.
First is cost. Regardless of how you travel to a show, there will be associated costs. If you are able to drive you will save on airfare and unless you plan to camp out, you'll need a hotel. Most shows have a block of rooms available to show attendees at a discounted price. In most cases, shows are held in locations that offer a variety of lodging choices.
Travel to a show for most people will be by air. If, like me, you live in the Southeast then you will almost certainly be flying to the host city. I can drive to Rockville, MD for the Capital Audio Fest but someone who lives in Mississippi might find that drive particularly long. So for most folks, plan on flying.
Among other associated costs are the show tickets, which are generally pretty minimal. Most shows have tickets for one, two or three days and usually at a discount for advanced purchase. Be sure to check the cost of tickets purchased the day of the show because those costs may increase considerably. Naturally, there is the cost of meals and if you plan to exclusively eat in the hotel's restaurant that can be a little expensive. Most shows are held in locations where there are dining options, often within walking distance, that may help in restaurant selection.
Lastly, there will be local transportation costs. For AXPONA, the Westin is less than ten minutes from O'Hare Airport so there is a free shuttle between the airport and hotel. RMAF, on the other hand, is a thirty-minute drive from the airport. I personally always rent a car at any show I attend but that is my preference and certainly not a requirement.
Once at the show, it becomes all about the music and the many variety of systems. I like to do some advance planning since most shows are too large to see every single room. I like to start on the top floor and work my way down by the stairs. Very often, elevators at shows are full, slow, and I spend too much time waiting on one to arrive. I like to research the vendors on each floor and pick out the ones I really want to visit and see them first. Once my "must see" list has been completed, I'll then visit other rooms at random until I run out of time.
From there, it's about going from room to room and listening to music. But there are some unwritten rules for that.
The sweet spot is usually first come, first serve. Don't be surprised if the host of the room asks you to give up the sweet spot if a reviewer comes in. Remember, the people hosting these rooms spend remarkable amounts of money to get and be there. Getting a good review goes a long way towards justifying that cost - so if you're politely asked to briefly give up a seat for a reviewer, don't be surprised.
I also try to be respectful of the room's host. I try to not talk if I am with someone. If I am going to speak with the room's host, I will take the conversation out into the hall so I don't disturb anyone. When I leave, I always thank whomever is in charge of the room and tell them I enjoyed hearing their system. Because in all sincerity, it just doesn't hurt to be polite.
It is important to remember that audio shows are also about the local dealer. While it will vary by show, dealers make up a fair percentage of the rooms and if you see on the show's web site that "Brand X" is gong to be there; it may be under the province of an authorized dealer. So that is also something to consider.
A common and suggested practice is to bring some of your own music. For Digital, a zip drive or a CD will often suffice and of course you can bring LP's. Manufacturers tend to play a LOT of the same types of music - chosen very carefully to enhance the listening experience. Those little tricks are well known so don't be surprised to hear some of the same artists in multiple rooms.
Mostly, shows are about fun, listening to really wonderful systems and being immersed in the audiophile hobby. If you are in the market to buy anything, you will have the opportunity to actually listen to a wide variety of equipment at virtually any price range.
Unless you live in the Southeast, there are shows in most every region of the country. Audio shows can be both entertaining and informational. And you will likely not find as much audio gear in one place for what ever your reason for attending might be. So if you decide to attend an audio show this year, have a great time!