I’m writing this on January 6, 2014, the day before the start of the 2014 International CES, and I can already tell you what’s going to happen: First off, you can take it as a given that the audio exhibits at the Show – every single one of them, without exception – will either sound “awful” or will be said to. That includes not only the High End exhibits at the Venetian, but also all of the audio exhibits in the open display areas of the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and in every one of the rooms at the T.H.E Show, which competes with CES at the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel.
A lot of those exhibits actually WILL sound pretty bad, for one or more of any number of reasons: It might be because of the size or shape of the room, itself; or because of the lack or ineffective use of necessary acoustical treatments; or because of hurried or unskilled or unthinking set-up by the exhibitor’s staff; or simply because there’s no way in the world that anybody is going to make a crowded room or an open area at “the zoo” (the Convention Center) sound good, regardless of what they do, how well they set it up, or whatever they might use to try to improve its acoustics. It might even be because the equipment, itself – the goods on display – just aren’t all that hot.
Whatever it is; if it sounds awful or even if it sounds terrific, the exhibitors are going to complain about the room. They HAVE to: If the room really does sound bad, that’s their excuse for why you should like their products and want to buy or review them anyway. And if it DOESN’T sound bad, they’re still going to say that it does, because, as the sales people will tell the press and their prospects, “…if it can sound this great even in a room this awful and this poorly set- up, just IMAGINE how great it will sound in your own reference system, your store, or your customer’s listening room!”
Creating negative expectations to make products seem even better than they are or to provide an excuse for disappointing performance delivered at a show or elsewhere is a trick by no means exclusive to the audio or consumer electronics industries; businesses of all kinds do it whenever they can, and often with considerable success. The problem is that a great many of the rooms or exhibits, not just at CES, but at ANY show, really ARE pretty awful, and the sound that’s heard in them, with just a few rare and glorious exceptions, really ISN’T as good as the equipment that’s on display to make it. That, unfortunately, makes the opportunities to “puff’ their product by falsely “diss-ing” their display room less common than many exhibitors might hope.
The chronic complaints from everybody — manufacturers, reps, distributors, dealers, “sneak-in” audiophiles, and even the press – that Shows aren’t generally the best places to go to audition new toys and goodies, and that what they hear at them generally doesn’t curl their toes, are generally true, so why do they all go?
]]>Well, here’s a surprise: For a majority of industry and press attendees, it’s probably NOT to “discover” new stuff to buy or to review! Whenever a new major show, like CES, is coming up, a great many of the bigger, better known, newer, or more ambitious manufacturers will send out press releases and trade announcements telling about the new products they intend to introduce there. And even if they don’t, there’s generally (there’s that word again) a pretty good idea of what those products are going to be already spreading through the industry “grapevine”. That’s why, well before CES 2014 ever opened its doors to this year’s first visitor, you had already, for days or weeks, been seeing “teasers” for the new stuff – or at least for the upcoming show reports that will tell you about it — on the internet and in the audiophile press.
Except as regards goods from the very newest, tiniest, or least sophisticated manufacturers, who have no effective PR function, many people don’t go the Show for the primary purpose of learning about new stuff. Certainly, some DO go for that, but they’re not necessarily the majority, and a good many of them may not even be in the industry – just audiophiles who haven’t yet gotten the word on what’s new, or who want to be where they think the action is, and have found a way to get past the “trade only” limitation. The truth is that when I was a manufacturer (XLO) we found, over more than a decade of exhibiting at CES, that, on average, a full ONE THIRD of all the people who gave us their contact info were audiophile “sneak-ins”.
Obviously dealers will go to check out new lines that they might want to carry, and so will distributors, both domestic and foreign. Reviewers, recognizing the sonic limitations of displaying at a Show will go, NOT to come to a conclusion about a product or a list of products, but to determine which he wants to sample for long term evaluation in his own system and to make the personal contacts with the manufacturers or distributors that will get them for him.
And that — that personal contact — is really, all across the board, a principal reason why people go the Show. It’s not so much for the products as for the people, and making new friends or allies, seeing old friends (and even old competitors), opening or closing deals, and sharing news, gossip, discoveries, and plans and predictions for the future are the REAL reason why CES is the industry’s biggest event.
After all, if the sound in the rooms isn’t all that great and everybody knows it, why else would anybody go?