I just recently had the pleasure of attending T.H.E. SHOW, in Newport Beach, California. I was there both to support the half dozen local dealers that were showing and doing demos with PS Audio products, and to spend a couple of days doing what I love the most, hopefully getting the opportunity to listen to a lot of great music.
Let me preface this in saying I really didn’t know what to expect, but feared the worst. I have been going to hi-fi shows since 1978 as part of my career and my passion. This includes the annual CES shows in Vegas, and years gone past Chicago. As well as CEDIA shows, Stereophile Shows, and many locally sponsored shows regionally around the country. I think it is safe to say I have attended over 100 hi-fi shows.
Hi-fi shows were always the highlights of my year, but then they began to change.
The world began to change; the baby boomer generation that drove this audio explosion began to get very excited about new technologies appearing. Many people began to get caught up in consuming gadgets and being the first on the block with the newest magic box. Quantity began to overtake quality, much more so in America than Europe and Asia, to a stunningly larger degree.
Over the last 10 years high end hi-fi shows began to shrink in attendance and importance to many of the consumers that loved music. Go to a hi fi show and look at big speakers that won’t cosmetically fit in my newly remodeled yuppiezed living room, or go to the Apple Store?
I remember going to the last Stereophile show in Southern California roughly 6 years ago. I was so disappointed. Very poor attendance by end users and most of them were not there to spend money, they just wanted to talk about why what they had purchased 20 years earlier was better than anything new today. And just a ton of little manufacturers demoing grossly over priced products.
I remember walking into 1 room of a speaker manufacturer and he was standing to the side with his hands folded looking at me like I just found the pearly gates. Then he popped on a bad recording of a cello droning away and let it play for 5 minutes while staring at me to see if I was ready to assume a fetal position. I was sitting there looking at the speakers, seeing what brand drivers he was using, estimating the cost of the wood, the drivers, and all the materials. Figured he had probably $600 worth of parts in this pair of speakers. They sounded fairly good, not great, probably a good pair of speakers for around $2000, maybe less in my estimation. After the Chinese water torture of a demo was over he turned down the volume, and being polite as my mom taught me, I said it sounded really great. How much are the speakers? He replied they were $22,000. I said thank you and moved on.
Many of the rooms were similar in experience like this. I could not help thinking if I was a consumer coming down to see how much money I had to spend to get some good sound, I would of walked away thinking they were crazy, and just go buy a car instead. It was very indicative of what hi-fi shows were becoming. Morgues for the walking dead.
That’s why I didn’t know what to expect driving down to Newport Beach along the ocean with the sun shining. I was hoping for the best. Some enthusiasm, some life, some sunshine, inside as well as outside.
Well when I pulled up to the hotel I was blown away, the line for badges to get in was thru the hotel lobby, out the front door. It looked like a Paul McCartney concert, wow. It was still 1 hour before the show even opened. I couldn’t believe it. So I quickly parked and got in line for my badge. There were over 4000 paid attendees!
65 minutes later I finally got thru the admission line I began to wander the music filled halls in my PS Audio Tommy Bahama shirt. Figured I would dress up for the event, what I didn’t figure on was being stopped literally every 10 feet by music hungry consumers that wanted to ask my shirt questions. And 99% of the questions surrounded high performance digital audio, and streaming high-resolution audio
Enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm was everywhere. I honestly felt like the clock had been turned back 20 years and here was a crush of music lovers looking for the Holy Grail. I sat down at lunch the first day at a table with 4 consumers and they were all redoing and upgrading their complete systems. And all of them said streaming digital music was the compelling force. Most had started out with files on a computer, some had moved onto things like a Squeezebox, or an Apple TV with an iPad for control, and now they all were taking it to the next level. 3 of them were looking to upgrade their speakers too. The excitement was everywhere. People pawing thru, and buying classic vinyl, CD’s, accessories and more as well as looking at serious hardware.
And I will say, both the manufacturers and the local dealers put on a tour de force. Products covered virtually everything anyone could ask for. I talked to one guy that was trying his best to get me to tell him my favorite speaker, as he needed new speakers. I kept telling him it’s your preference. I told him there were so many top-flight speakers on display and sounding good, it was scary, just go have fun. Floor after floor was just electric with phenomenal sound, gorgeous rooms with a lot of time and money invested into showing off great sound and how to do it.
Clearly the dealers across America have been experiencing a resurgence in sales of high-end audio gear over the last several years. I hear it from dealer after dealer literally every day. This show just confirmed that to me. Audio is alive and well and on the move. T.H.E SHOW staff, all the manufacturers, and the local dealers are all to be commended for putting on the most exciting, enjoyable show I have attended in almost 10 years. I had a total blast and was just filled to the brim with awesome sound and presentations, as well was the more than 4000 attendees. Bravo!