🔊 Audio What is a hi-fi/audio show like?

Rather than bury this in another thread, this makes for a good separate topic. I've spoken here of attending AXPONA each year in April (except this year, of course). It might seem like it's all about the new equipment, but for me and many others, it's a lot more.
Sorry the convention was cancelled. It would be audio heaven I’m sure. I’ve never heard of most of the manufacturers that were supposed to be there. Lifestyles of the rich and famous I suppose.
There are a few ways to approach attending a show like this one. Some just see it as a way to try to sell brand new (and often expensive) equipment. That's true, but only to an extent. I tend to approach it a few different ways.

Most obviously, I attend the show to provide coverage online--I only pick out some of the unusual and interesting items here at the Corner, but elsewhere I can go into detail with what I've found (models, prices, new technologies introduced, etc.).

IMG_20180413_210429_804-618x480.jpgThat show coverage also leads to networking, in two different ways.

On one side, I'm networking with industry folks, making acquaintances, and even if I don't actually meet them, they often put on a small spoken presentation to explain their products. (If you look at my coverage last year, I posted a video here of the SweetVinyl SugarCube removing the scratches on a badly beaten Steely Dan LP.) There are some engineers or owners who are very entertaining to listen to. And most of them are willing to answer questions about their products. This networking can lead to future opportunities in a few different ways. When I refer to industry folks here, these could be the company founders/owners, their sales reps or engineers, or reps/salespeople from the larger audio stores who can afford to rent a room and set up a system for showgoers.

The other side of networking is hanging around with fellow audiophiles, and friends of mine who attend. My pals in Chicago are fun to hang around with, and we usually go to dinner on Friday night for some laughs. There are also some friends and acquaintances from our local audio club, and we get to hang out together and compare notes. I also run into a few online acquaintances as well--it's nice to put a face to a name on the computer screen. One of the busiest places in the evening is the hotel's cocktail lounge, where showgoers and industry folks indulge in a bit of recreational lubrication late into the night.

IMG_20180413_132327_303.jpgAs for looking at and auditioning equipment, I like getting a feel for the company itself. Maybe I can't afford the latest and greatest (which they might have on display), but something further down the product line might be something I would be interested in. Some products almost have a "house" sound to them, where the same qualities extend to other products they make. These experiences also inform anything I might purchased pre-owned. There is no way I could afford the newest components from the manufacturer of my power amplifier/pre-amp/phono stage manufacturer, but models from years or decades past can fall within my affordability and still provide decades of reliable service.

Some of the demos are fascinating to hear. I've heard the "million dollar system" (which actually is over $1 million new) presented by The Audio Company, a dealer out of Georgia. To say it is breathtaking is an understatement. I've heard more modest systems that sound different but were every bit as engaging. There are also rooms with equipment where the sound just isn't all that good--some don't bother treating the room (with diffraction or absorption), or they don't get a good synergy between components. I've heard the same set of speakers sound harsh and grating in one room but just down the hall, a completely different system with those same speakers was getting raves from everyone, and rightfully so. A few components get raves from some visitors, and others just do not like them--sometimes it is a matter of personal taste. Some product demonstrations are eye-opening.

Many of us come away from an audio show with ideas we can apply to our own systems. Or we may see accessories or cables we've thought of trying, or find different ways to set up our systems, and are motivated now to make those changes.

Audio shows host seminars. These include topics for setting up your equipment (like Michael Fremer's turntable setup seminar, or Bob Hodas giving advice on how to properly set up and treat your listening space), information about different formats and technologies, and industry panels with company founders who tell about their backgrounds and their history, with the audience able to ask questions at the end. One interesting seminar at a past show was Van den Hul, a moving coil manufacturer--they actually assembled a moving coil cartridge during the seminar, shown through a microscope.

The final reason many enjoy an audio show is to visit the marketplace, where numerous manufacturers and sellers have recordings and accessories to buy. Big music retailers like Music Direct and Acoustic Sounds have numerous tables with records and audio accessories. Smaller manufacturers also rent a table or two to display their wares, as it's less expensive than renting an entire hotel room.

1605586318400.pngThat brings us to the venue. These shows usually take place in a convention center hotel. The larger exhibitors can rent one of the meeting rooms or ballrooms for their large showcase systems. Most exhibitors, though, will rent out rooms or suites to set up their systems. The hotel rooms are emptied of most movable furniture for the demonstrations. In each room are anywhere from four to nine seats for visitors to sit and listen to the system, with at least one rep on hand to run the demo and answer any questions. At the Renaissance Convention Center and Hotel in Schaumburg, the twelve-story hotel had listening rooms set up on floors 1-6 and 10-12. Every other room is occupied, so no two demo rooms are adjacent. Exhibitors and the press tend to fill the rest of the hotel rooms for their overnight accommodations, and the numerous hotels surrounding the convention center host the rest of us.

A typical day starts at whichever hotel we're staying at. If I know someone is staying at my hotel, I'll often arrange to meet them in the morning for breakfast. Since I drive in for the Chicago show, I am the de facto taxi driver from the hotel to the convention center, which is on the other side of I-90. I try to get there prior to opening so I can get a good parking spot. Thursday evenings are the welcome party for the industry and press, and a couple of exhibitors hold informal gatherings later that evening (like meeting up for bowling and/or laughs).

Friday mornings prior to opening are the busiest, as everyone is checking in to get their badges. (Single-day attendees also queue up Saturday and Sunday mornings.) The show opens at 10am and continues until 6pm (Friday and Saturday). Some will leave the convention center for lunch, but I prefer to grab a quick bite at the convention center and continue with visiting all the rooms. With this show having grown so large, it is hard to cover everything in three days and find rare moments to sit and enjoy the music, but I usually try to pick out highlights beforehand and then focus on those rooms, while passing up a few others or paying a cursory visit to see if anything grabs my attention.

IMG_20180413_190914-480x640.jpgBy 6pm, whichever group I'm with will converge in the lobby or cocktail lounge and decide where to grab dinner. After hours, Friday and Saturday evenings usually feature live entertainment in one of the main ballrooms. (2020's show was to feature a Chicago blues band on Friday, and Rickie Lee Jones on Saturday.) In addition, a couple of the larger exhibitors will host after-hours listening parties. Other showgoers will hang around the cocktail lounge or just relax in the lobby if they are staying at the hotel. If I'm with my Chicago pals, we occasionally will head to one of their houses after we have dinner together to hang out and play records for a while. Or if some of my locals attend, we end up in one of our hotel rooms as someone usually brings a small system and will play music and provide some libations to go along with it.

The show finishes up at 4pm on Sunday. I usually depart between 2:30-3:00 and make the five hour drive home. (Although this year, I'd planned to stay until Monday since I was meeting with someone on Sunday evening so we could chat without all of the interruptions during show hours.)

It is a fun but exhausting four days, and always something to look forward to.
 
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GDB2LV

Well-Known Member
That sounds like an audiophiles well spent weekend. How fun would that be every year? It reminds me of the NARM Conventions I used to attend when I worked in retail music. 3 days of presentations, vendors and dinners with cocktail hours etc. Miami in 1986 was the most fun. Got to meet, and have a picture taken with The Bee Gees who just signed with Warner Brothers Records. Miami Sound Machine had just broken out nationally, about on a 90 minute long performance, with everyone dancing, a first for these usually fairly tame endeavors with every CEO and executive in the music industry there. Anita Baker did a boring 3 song show the next evening. Didn’t go over well with 2,000 people in the room. Tons of free merchandise and promos to bring back, including the framed photo with The Bee Gees waiting on my bed, after returning from the morning seminar. Expose’ and Samatha Fox also put on shows while we were there. I think they still have the conventions in some form, though most all record chains and mom & pop stores are closed now. My trip that year was courtesy of WEA Entertainmen,via City One Stop in Los Angeles. I got to go to Disney World and Epcot after. 15th Anniversary for DW that winter. Thank you Rudy for your knowledge and experiences at the audio shows. Hopefully next year they will be back!
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
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That sounds like an audiophiles well spent weekend. How fun would that be every year? It reminds me of the NARM Conventions I used to attend when I worked in retail music.
These shows and conventions can be a lot of fun! I do know that some industry veterans get weary of traveling to so many shows, but for those of us that visit once or twice a year, it's worth the travel time to get there. Aside from AXPONA, the only other show I'd consider is RMAF (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest) due to the location--I get out that way twice a year, schedule (and/or virus) permitting, so it's along the way for me. The really big industry show is Munich (no desire to go there), and the east and west coast have a few shows throughout the year. I believe there's one in Florida as well.
 
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