Re: An open letter to RMAF Vendors

This post is in response to Pez’s ” An open letter to RMAF Vendors ” on Audio Circle

I kind of have one foot in show reporter space and one in show exhibitor space so I may have a perspective that might be useful to answer the question perhaps more succinctly put as:

“Hey, Show Exhibitors… WTF?”

Essentially, we agree with Pez, but… there are a lot of ‘buts’.

Sound: Does it really matter?

First, a strange and terrible fact is that sound does not affect sales in a significant way. Pez alludes to this when describing how the major brand’s rooms do not sound very good. We’d say it adds 10%, maybeeee 20% to sales to have good sounding rooms at shows. To most exhibitors who have good sound, it is more a point of pride than an effort to increase sales. So many exhibitors, after several years of stressing about the sound, just see bad-sounding rooms selling gear just fine and wonder “what’s the point?”.

‘Good sound’ is only one of many, many reasons people have for buying a particular piece of gear.

Setup is NP-hard (though I know of no proof, or extrapolation of another proof, which proves this. But it is)

To expect a setup to be optimized is expecting a lot.

Typically, we were just happy as can be that the system actually came on and played music. 🙂 Travel and shippers are not kind to electronics gear.

We were happy with a grade C setup with a 36 hour pre-show continuous play warm up – getting the system to settle in. Of course we tried for grade ‘A’, and once in awhile we got a grade ‘B’. I am not sure I have heard a grade ‘A’ setup at a show. Trying not to be Romyesque here, but I do not think I have been to a home that had better than a grade ‘D’ setup in place.

[Good setup requires GUTS. You have to take a setup that sounds pretty darn good already – which you achieved after perhaps many hours, days or months of work – risk never getting it to sound that good again, and radically move and change things about, always looking for that OMG setup that is there, somewhere, dammit…]

Another strange and terrible fact is that most speaker manufacturers do not know how to setup their own speakers. At all. To a large degree this is because they have never heard them optimized, i.e. paired with optimal gear, and so do not know what quality of sound they should expect – what sound to look for – that they need to keep adjusting things until they get this sound.

Obvious exceptions are Acoustic Zen, Evolution Acoustics, PranaFidelity, Audio Note, Odyssey – mysteriously the same people with good sounding rooms at most shows.

“[Big name vendors]… Every year without fail your rooms are god damned terrible. Without fail. Wilson, legacy (which was better this year, but still overall bad), Dynaudio, Joseph, Focal, Nordost, B&W etc”

Ha ha ha! I laugh every time I read this. 🙂

Legacy WAS better this year, which is kind of disturbing….

Skipped VTL / Wilson this year – tired of Bea Lamm shooing me out of the room .

Didn’t get into Nordost, do not really have a half hour to sit still for a 1/2 hour demo and was not able to catch them between demos.

John Barnes [Audio Unlimited, a local dealer who had I think up to 6 rooms some shows] used to complain about some of the problems these big rooms were causing with the quality of the sound. But On a Higher Note did just fine in Longs Peak, and Zu Audio [ and before that  Gamut (KT Audio Imports)] sound great in the giant room, so…. maybe the two middle rooms are cursed?
Joseph Audio at rMAF 2014

Contrary to Pez, I think Joseph Speakers are setup OK – usually catercorner right? Yep, see above. And they do not usually blast the poop out of their system like some other people do. So if it does sound bad sometimes,  at least I am not cringing and wondering if my fillings are going to fall out. Yeah, we’d all like to see them on something else besides Bel Canto once in awhile…

It is unfortunately true that some of the gear in the system has never before been seen by the people setting up the system.

The way show systems are designed is that various exhibitors find other exhibitors who are willing to chip in money and or gear several months (hopefully not days) before the show. This is usually something like “I am looking for a speaker” for their exhibit room at the next show. Not “I am looking for a speaker that sounds great with a 40 watts push-pull 300B amp in a 12×17 foot room.”

Then it all is shipped to the room and the first person to arrive gets the joy of setting it up as best as they can. This does have the advantage of keeping the exhibitors from being bored :-). We always tried to get people to send us the gear to our shop a week or more before a show; gear which we would then lug to the show ourselves when the time came. This helped the sound because we could hook it all up ahead of time, keep it warmed up, and learn ahead of time what to optimize for – but this is not always possible.

 no first reflection treatment???? WTF????

We are not room treatment fans. Kind of feel we have to speak up – because we see so many rooms ruined by room treatments. It is kind of a dark secret that windows are OK, and untreated walls are OK. Much of the time. We feel treatments are only necessary in certain circumstances. If you are along a long wall, or catty corner, or using horns, or severely toed in, or have a dull sounding room [which standing-room-only rooms quickly turn into] then first reflection treatment is not really necessary and can add problems.

Be happy. This is going to fix itself.

What Pez is really saying, of course, is that the show could be so much better if exhibitors cared more about the sound and treating people like people. This we agree with 100%.

The way the market is going, people are going to shows to hear gear, and buy gear.

With the deluge of new brands of gear, and new micro-dealerships, people will now be able to much more easily avoid dealing with bad sounding gear and impolite salespeople. They are no longer stuck just buying the big 10 brands anymore.

This leveling of the field of play, which the internet is primarily responsible for, means small brands can look as big as large legacy brands. More and more people are choosing to buy gear from smaller brands and from nicer people.

Makes me smile… 🙂