Written by 6:00 am Audiophile News, Audiophile, Audiophile Music

Is The Pandemic Impacting The High End Audio Business Or Just The Trade Shows?

Paul Wilson looks at the impact of Covid on audio shows and the industry in general…

Talk to many high performance audio dealers and they may tell you business has not really dropped off since the end of 2019 when the phrase Covid-19 first entered our vocabulary. In fact, some dealers will happily confirm their business has not been any better in quite a few years. Some will even say ever. 

In a way, this makes sense. With the threat of this sickness at the forefront of so many people’s minds, the one surefire way to avoid health problems is to remain at home. Also recommended are vaccinations. Wearing a mask. Social distancing. Being cautious. 

How many audiophiles decided to spend more time than usual with their systems is hard to say. For most of 2020, certainly quite a few. Despite many areas of the country now returning to some measure of normality, it would seem the audio business is still alive and kicking. Several of the dealers with whom I spoke tell me 2021 is on pace to be even better than 2020 and that was their best year ever. 

On Thursday September 2nd, I received an email from Marjorie Baumert announcing the cancelation of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF). What’s more, the email also announced that because of the financial constraints imposed by canceling in both 2020 and 2021, the painful decision to permanently terminate RMAF had been made. Going to Denver for a mountains based audio show would be no more. Which is sad because I always liked that show. 

Shortly before the RMAF announcement, I also received an email telling me Axpona had canceled their October 2021 dates and postponed the show until April 2022. At least Axpona is still around – for now anyway. 

I have always enjoyed audio shows. Seeing all the gear is very entertaining and enlightening. I relish talking to manufacturers about their creations. I have been known to strike up conversations with perfect strangers about the audio hobby. I ask questions like “have you seen anything that really stands out?” Most of all, I enjoy seeing people I’ve met in audio – people I realistically only see at a show. I’ve enjoyed more than one wonderful dinner with manufacturers talking audio. 

I now cannot help but wonder if all that is ending because of Covid? I also wonder if consumers are turning more to dealers because they cannot attend an audio show? Is Covid both helpful for the audio business and a hinderance at the same time? 

For attendees, audio shows take a certain amount of effort and expense. Attending on a Friday may even mean missing a day of work. Those who can drive to a show will incur less cost. For me, I typically spent about $2000.00 each for RMAF and Axpona. By the time I purchase plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, meals, etc., the costs add up. 

Manufacturers spend orders of magnitude more than that. Costs of tens upon tens of thousands of dollars are not unrealistic. Look how many potential customers they get to see. Audio shows always were, and are, a sales tool. Are they now coming to an end? 

My guess is no, they are not. Logic dictates this Covid nonsense will fade away at some point in time. When that happens, or the misery it inflicts along the way is difficult to predict. When the threat has been reduced to insignificant numbers, I feel audio shows will return. Or at least I hope so. 

In the meantime, however, is this pandemic wreaking havoc on just shows or the industry as a whole? Are there those who are benefiting audio-wise from Covid-19? 

Well, yes there are beneficiaries. Who, you ask? Audiophiles, of course. In the absence of venturing away from home too often or for too long, spending time with the system makes perfect sense.  Who wouldn’t enjoy an extra hour or two in the chair listening to music? 

And in so doing, could it be that maybe the decision to put off the new component or set of speakers has gone on long enough? Maybe the decision is reached, as additional chair time is incurred, to go ahead with the new whatever. Likewise, if that decision becomes a reality, should it be considered Covid based? 

Buying a new component, speaker, cable or any other part of an audio system helps the industry. It keeps engineers engineering. It keeps manufacturers manufacturing. It keeps dealers dealing. It keeps the industry moving forward. Is this happening to any extent at all in spite of the fact a disease seems to be working hard to have the opposite effect on business and our lives? 

Personally, I would like to see more regional shows. Chicago, Denver and even California (where there are a couple of regional shows) are a long way from North Carolina. There is a show in Florida but that one is also a plane ride away. I’d like to see one somewhere in the Southeast. Atlanta would be a perfect spot. I can drive there, and I know my way around “Hot-Lanta” so I’d be right at home. There is the Capital Audio Fest held outside of DC in Maryland. I’ve been to that show as well. Perhaps more, smaller regional shows will be the new plan going forward? 

However, until Covid is gone or significantly reduced, how safe is it, and how comfortable will people be in attending audio shows? There is no way to know if the person next to you in the elevator is going to infect and make you sick. Because of the fear this pandemic has instilled, large gatherings with strangers are, for most people, something not eagerly done. Maybe that fact is why some dealers are seeing increased sales numbers. 

Audio in general will survive Covid-19. We will soon enough return to normal. My hope is that we do so before economic pressures bring audio shows in general to an end – a business model that has existed for many years. In the meantime, audio dealers will keep peddling as fast as they can. 

When shows are once again part of our audio journey, I will resume heading off to far away places all for one reason – the pursuit of the audio hobby. 

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