A Year Without CES

In the last 15 years, this is the second year we have not gone to CES.

Miss it? A little. Still got my post CES cold, anyway. *sucks*


From a business standpoint the case was clear: prices going way up, attendance going way down – and because this has been the trend for awhile, the number of exhibitors going way down.

Assume the CEA isn’t just trying to call off the uniquely troublesome high-end audio part of the show [a bunch of scoundrels (that would be all of us) masquerading as business people bringing big expensive heavy gear into 100s of pristine luxury hotel rooms and playing very loud music for 4 days].

Then the prices are going up because the rest of CES is still growing. CES overall is successful and there is little competition. Fewer vacant hotel rooms in Las Vegas means higher prices. And THE SHOW Las Vegas abandoning Vegas for Newport Beach a few years ago is no longer there to keep CES competitive.

A growing CES also means attendees of the main conference have more and more to do, and it gets harder for them to find and even remember that there is a high-end audio part of this show [Apparently. Higher attendance MIGHT also mean MORE people making it over to the High-Performance Audio part of the show – but in practice this is not happening].

Last year, attendance was very, very roughly 50% industry and press (friends), 40% people coming up from the very, very busy SANDS conference center downstairs (being at CES for other business), and 10% die-hard audiophiles (more friends).

My hope at this show was always that we would inspire the 40% who just happened to be at CES and stopped by our room to love what they hear, eventually become audiophiles and, someday, someday… to buy something. And by and large this worked. These people, less angry and irritable than their audiophile counterparts I might add (why is this?), almost universally smiled, loved what they heard and told us so, and asked what things cost. And when we told them they put us on their “someday when I’m rich” list. Most of these people are in growing industries, most quite young, so a good percentage will someday be “rich enough”.

But it is a lot to ask of smaller companies, like ours, to invest significant funds right now so that in 10 or 20 years these people will decide buy some decent high-end audio gear, especially when*what* gear they buy will largely depend on what appears on their radar at that time. But larger companies? What else do they have to do in early January? [unless they want to invest that $$$ to get more immediate ROI].

To this analysis we could add the rise and preeminence of the Munich show, the recent success more local Newport show, and…

But, you know, there used to be a lot of international attendees who would come around from the main show, wheeled carry-on dragging behind them, in expensive dark suits checking things out with expert eyes and presumably expert ears [i..e they appeared to be audiophiles]. Why are they not here anymore? Do they just not go to CES anymore? Are they too busy now to make it over from the main conference? Are there just not enough high-performance audio exhibits to attract them? Are they going to Munich anyway, so why bother with a shrinking, unexciting CES audio show?

None of those answers impress me.

Really no clue why they are no longer coming – but I would love to know the answer, as we are always trying to more accurately model the high-end audio economic picture, here now and the future.

And, let’s face it, the best gear just isn’t being shown at CES by most manufacturers. This is why we really, REALLY liked this show. It used to be, but not anymore. And much of the very best, what *is* being shown there, is unobtainable…

As for shows ourselves – looks like we are at least signed up and headed to Newport (L.A.) in late Spring….


THE Home Entertainment Show Newport 2016 – overview


[our room with the Acapella Audio Arts Cellini speakers. Notice how the shadows on the ceiling look like ‘kissing horns’? :-) ]

This year we took videos of the show – a virtual tour of THE Show Newport.

This was inspired by Mike Fremer’s GoPro videos of Munich a few years ago. As I watched those at the time, I was ‘glued to the screen’ – trying to get a feeling for what it was like to actually Be There.

I used my Nexus 6 phone for the video. Hardly CNN quality but it did the job amazing well. As I watch the later videos, they really do look just like the show does to an audiophile attendee [albeit with acute audionervosa – hopping to room to room like that – *most* attendees are not quite that bad :-)]

I have just a few general observations to make.

When we started going to shows 15 years ago about 30 to 40% of the rooms sounded really bad. Now about 2 to 5% sound bad. [not that bad-sounding rooms don’t still get best of show – same as it ever was :-)].

On the other hand the number of rooms going for ‘the gold’ , to be the best systems ever heard, has gone from 2 to 5% to 0. CES used to be the best place to hear these kinds of systems, and a few of us at RMAF tried to do this as well. Maybe it is because the systems earning best of shows are, well, seemingly randomly selected [so what’s the point of trying? ]. Or maybe exhibitors are trying, unconsciously or not, to keep the price down as the economy is still causing a severe drag on the growth of our industry. Or maybe with CES in decline, there is no ‘one show to rule them all’ anymore so where do we show this ultimate attempt at high-end audio? [this describes our plight. Plus we lost our big room at RMAF several years ago, and the small rooms just suck for this kind of approach – not enough seating is one of many, many reasons].

There are still a few rooms with vinyl and they DO sound more like music. Computer-based audio, however, is continuing to improve. Vinyl makes it easy to make a system sound like music, but optimizing the poop out of a computer-based system does help. 😉

This is usually an upbeat show and it was again this year. People smile. Say hi. Say thank you. Kind of nice, actually. We do recommend people try and go attend this show, though we have been there the last three years and may skip next year for a change.

I used to talk about the sound in each room, but not going to do that this year. There are many reasons why – one of which is that we then just blend in with all the others who voice their opinions, our particular experiences, passion and attention to detail not counting for much in such a noisy environment. Maybe next show. But for now I think we will do better by picking up the lines that consistently, in several different configurations, sound better than others and putting ourselves out there in support of these brands.

Shows are really just one huge party of like-minded audiophiles – you get to visit your choices of 100+ ‘homes’ where they are playing music for you to enjoy. They are really, really fun and I hope our videos help inspire people to attend more of them.