Written by 4:37 am News

Like Hi-Fi? Come to California!

Roger Skoff looks at California’s growing number of Hi-Fi shows…

It wasn’t too many years ago that about the only place a serious Hi-Fi Crazy could go to see all of the latest in Hi-Fi gear was CES (the “Consumer Electronics Show”), which was held twice a year, in Chicago during the Summer, and in Las Vegas, just after the turn of the new year. Even back then, there was so much new stuff, of so many different kinds and at so many different price points, that no single dealer could ever hope to carry even a significant portion of it, so if you wanted to see and hear all that was out there, you really had to go to CES. 

AR-skoffshows1a.jpgEven back in the 1980s, when I went to it for the first time, CES was so huge that – even if you set yourself a schedule and held tightly to it – you could never see everything in just the few days that it ran, and you had to plan your time carefully; first going to all or as many as you could of the Hi-fi exhibits and then seeing as many of the other exhibits as time would allow. 

Even doing that had its problems, though. For one thing, CES was (although, fortunately for us, they could never effectively enforce it) a “Trade Only” show, and you had to either 1) be in the industry; 2) have a friend in the industry (your local dealer would do) to get you a pass; or 3) print up phony business cards (or use somebody else’s) and “sneak” in. 

The first of the consumer audio shows that I knew of – the ones where consumers and audiophiles were actually invited – was the Stereophile magazine-sponsored “San Francisco” Hi-Fi Show, actually held in San Mateo, California in 1989. From that beginning, less than three decades ago, a plethora of consumer audio shows has arisen all across the country and CES, once “all there was”, now seems distinctly to have lost its appeal, both for the armies of audiophiles who no longer even try to attend it, and to the High-End audio industry who, for many years, have found it to be a less effective marketing tool than they had hoped. 

AR-Skoffshows4a.jpgThe first (that I am aware of) of the really effective CES alternatives was the T.H.E. Show – The Home Entertainment Show — that was run in Las Vegas at the same time as, and in close proximity to, CES. Then, over time, that was expanded to California, where working with the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society (“LAOCAS”), it grew (as T.H.E. Show, Newport, or just “the Newport Show”) in just the last few years, to become the biggest non-CES audio show in the country, and a very major show in its own right.  

Unfortunately, Richard Beers, the “Newport Show’s” owner and operator passed away last year, leaving the Show’s future uncertain and ultimately leading to T.H.E. Show’s continuance under a group spearheaded by one of Richard Beer’s associates, and also to the creation of an entirely new and competing show – the “Los Angeles Audio Show” – with Marine Presson, the former operating head of the Newport Show, as its General Manager and LAOCAS as a co-sponsor. 

Clearly, the competition is heating-up, and bringing it all to a fever pitch, is the “California Audio Show” (the current version of which is “CAS7”), which is neatly sandwiched (July 28,29,30), between the Los Angeles Audio Show (June 2,3,4) and the “T.H.E Show”, now moving from Newport to Anaheim. (September 21-24).  

AR-skoffshows6a.jpgObviously having three available Shows makes for a wealth of opportunities for California audiophiles and audio newcomers to get out and actually see and hear the very latest our industry has to offer. In these times of continuing decline in the number of local dealers and continuing growth in internet sales of audiophile gear, that’s really important and may be the only way for some people to learn of new audio products or to actually listen to the ones that interest them. It’s important for dealers, too, who can expect to augment their in-store business if they exhibit at consumer shows. Exhibiting at one or more of the California shows can benefit audio manufacturers, too: California is America’s most populous State and, if it were an independent country, it would have the 6th largest economy in the world . No manufacturer can afford to overlook a market that big, so exhibiting at one or both of the Southern California shows can only be a good idea. 

Constantine Soo, owner of the California Audio Show, in the Northern part of the State, says that having a major presence at his show, too, is vital to a manufacturer or dealer’s success. He points out that the San Francisco Bay Area, where the California Audio Show is located, “has the nation’s highest median household income by metropolitan area…” and that, even without the rest of the State, it could easily qualify as a world economic power; invites manufacturers and dealers (particularly those who do significant “online” business) to participate in his Show; and asks that they consider what they’d be missing if they don’t exhibit at CAS7 – especially if their competitors do. 

AR-skoffshows3a.jpgAll three of this year’s Shows will have new venues and increased facilities, and all are expecting a record-breaking turn-out of both exhibitors and attendees. For the brand new Los Angeles Audio Show, there’s obviously no direct precedent and for the T.H.E. Show, with both new management and a new location, the huge success of the previous “Newport” Show may or may not apply, but, given past performance just for the market and the area, it seems certain that at least one and possibly even both Southern California shows will do great things. And for Northern California, where the California Audio Show has no direct local competition, the prospects are even better: According to Constantine Soo, the last Show, CAS6 was a full 30% bigger than CAS5, the previous year, and he says that CAS7’s new venue, better and better-sounding exhibit rooms, greatly expanded parking (to handle record crowds) and a special limited-time-only  promotion (offering pricing of just $10 per person for the full three days of the Show) are expected to set more new records. 

If you like Hi-Fi and really want to experience the best our industry has to offer, come and sample one or more of California’s bounty of outstanding Hi-Fi Shows. And, if you’re a manufacturer (or even a dealer with a strong internet presence) the smart thing for you to do might be to take advantage of at least two – one in the South and the one in the North – It’s good business, and, what if Constantine is right and your competitors are there and you’re not? 

Personally, I plan to go to all three. If you see me there, say hello. 

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