Preliminary Thoughts about The Home Entertainment Show 2014. Manufacturers Who Aren't Going To Be Here. My List of Recommendations to the Show Organizers.
Preliminary Thoughts about The Home Entertainment Show 2014
I made some polemic suggestions at the end of my report of last year’s THE Show (see THE Show 2013: The Green Report). It generated a lot of feedback, most of it off-line. My main point was that THE Show was not inviting enough, especially towards a younger crowd. This led to follow up articles about who this younger crowd was which also generated quite a bit of feedback. But it needed to be said, and besides, it's out there now, so I can't take any of it back.
So now that I’ve looked over the 2014 show’s website, advertising and brochures, I am starting to seriously worry that THE Show organizers and the LAOCAS are not hearing the message from the SoCal consumer. I’m not lamenting my own blog’s popularity here, but I am really worried about the almost phlegmatic position of the HiFi industry and the audiophile community to change. Is this the message they want to send to the younger generation? And I have to ask: how this will affect HiFi sales into the future?
The show this year, is in serious risk of stagnating. Yes, I've read and been reminded by many that this is the largest, most succesful show in North America. I'm guessing they mean that it is so well attended, and I won't argue with that - it certainly was packed last year. That's great, but how much sales does this show generate for manufacturers and dealers? I'm thinking of the hard working folks who schlep those 300 lb. speakers to the 10th floor of the Hilton and spend hours each day of the show demo-ing them to people who probably spend less than 10 minutes in each room?
At the end of the show last year I asked some of the dealers if this show will generate much in sales, and either they said they had no idea, or they were less optimistic and said that they didn't expect much. This is not encouraging considering the large number of people who attend. Maybe they were more interested in the cigars, wine and cars, then the millions in HiFi gear up in the rooms? Of course, I'm just speculating, but that would be a scary thought. Since this show is looking to be much of the same again, I'm thinking that the outcome at the end of the weekend, and the months ahead may not be so good either.
But who knows? The show hasn't started yet. I could be pleasantly surprised. Let's hope so.
Manufacturers Who Aren't Going To Be Here
OK, so why talk about the manufacturers who will not be here this year? Well because they had a reason not to be here. Perhaps the other shows further East are more lucrative in generating sales? I'd like to think not, but what if that's true? Before I begin, there may be some manufacturers listed below who I did not see in the program or the website but who are actually here. If I did, I must apologise in advance. I will make corrections after I return home tomorrow night.
With that said, here are my thoughts on a few manufacturers who won't be represented:
I didn't see this venerable manufacturer of record cleaning machines on the list. With the vinyl revival in full swing, this was already odd. But this company hails out of Montclair, California. It's just a car drive away, and the fact that the cleaning machines are small and compact, I don't see why they wouldn't just load up a pick-up truck full and head on down to beautiful Newport Beach. Did the VPI Mafia scare them off? Did Okki-Nokki have something sneaky to do with it? Strange indeed.
I'm a sucker for tubes, and Manley makes some great looking and sounding gear. And these guys are right up the freeway from the show. Their gear has that oh-so-cool Harley-riding edge to their designs and I'm really wondering why they won't be here. They are well entrenched in the SoCal audiophile community, and Eveanna Manley is a long-time member of the LA & OC Audio Society too. So what's up? I'm sure that some of the dealers will sneak some gear in from Manley Labs, but as manufacturer, I don't see them mentioned anywhere.
Cary Audio Design
Another company that makes a great product, was at the show last year, and this year decided to skip it. It's not like these guys are an unknown mom & pop outfit any more, either. Their products are also priced competitively, IMHO, and it will be a pity not to see them at the show. Cary, oh why did you tarry?
OK, I realize that Colorado is a bit far off, but couldn't Paul just pack up a suitcase with a few NuWave units, hitch a ride on the Ayre & Boulder bus, and make it to the show? I can pretty much guarantee that the weather here is going to be better than up there. Now I know I saw several PowerPlants plugged in at the show last year, so I know the people at the show like and trust PS Audio products, so why can't they come to the show?
Rogue Audio & Ray Samuels Audio
Iconic names in audio. Rogue makes great products, too, but with a name like that and a logo that's a silhouette of a raven, that just exudes cool. The same can be said for Ray Samuels - he names his products after fighter jets, for Pete's sake! Their emphasis is on headphone amplifiers and phono pre-amplifiers, I mean what could be more current in HiFi? Not to mention that their products are budget-friendly, too. Why are they not here?
Krell, Avalon, Theta, Thiel, etc.
OK, I'l admit that I haven't seen them at the show before. However, if you want the world to know that you mean business as an audio show, you need heavy hitters like Krell, Avalon, Theta and Thiel represented. They are iconic names in audio and their products are highly regarded across the board.
I fully realize that a show can't have all the big names present. However, these manufacturers above have a few things in common that I think is important in the context of my message. They are all American companies, they share an aesthetic that I believe appeals to a SoCal crowd, and they make products that are still within a price range that will keep the attention of the SoCal buyer. That some of them are local to the show, but still won't be here is truly unfortunate. I wonder why they aren't here?
My List of Recommendations to the Show Organizers
I may not have answers as to why the manufacturers above are not attending, although I have some suspicions. I also don't know why the show is perceived as not able to generate sales with some manufacturers. And of course, I don't yet know how this year's show will turn out, but I do have some thoughts about what I've see on the website and the brochures so far. Here is my list of recommendations to the show organizers.
- In his opening letter to the dealers and manufacturers Richard Beers states: “Southern California is easily the highest concentration of people with disposable income that are seeking the most exclusive high-end lifestyle gear in the world. In Southern California it is not difficult to tempt consumers into discovering the BEST in fine audio products” (Welcome letter to the Exhibitors).
Why did Mr. Beers have to put it like that? It implies that the SoCal consumer (which refers to me as well) is rich, superficial and gullible, rather than knowledgeable and looking for quality & excellence. I understand that this is quite possibly the sentiment of many people (I certainly don’t think so), but don’t state it so blatantly on a web page for everyone to read! The SoCal crowd is also a techy crowd and they will find this webpage and they won’t like reading it.
- What’s with all the Jazz again? Look, I like jazz and I listen to it regularly, but most people don’t. It’s just not that compelling to folks, in SoCal, or anywhere else. Actually SoCal has a thriving classical music scene, but that takes backseat to jazz at this show. Seriously? If you want to attract new people to HiFi, bring other music.
- Apart from the banner at the top of the webpage, there is nothing green mentioned anywhere. Granted, I may have missed something, but so far, THE Show is not doing anything that might be considered green, and if they are, they aren't mentioning it. People in SoCal do care about this. Irvine is one of few cities that have comprehensive trash and electronics recycling. Newport Beach residents are very much concerned about the pollution of their coastline. Laguna Beach has an active plastic bag elimination project under way. And the list goes on with aggressive programs in Chula Vista, Costa Mesa, Laguna Niguel and many other SoCal cities.
So here are just a few suggestions to help green up THE Show:
- In addition to the other awards, include a green innovation award
- Keep the food trucks from idling while we’re trying to eat
- Create a greener program for the show (lighter paper, less color, less gloss, etc.)
- Include more electric and hybrid cars in the car show (P.S. there is more than Tesla out there)
- Have a workshop on Class-D amplification
- Have a workshop on green requirements (like ROHS) and their impact
- Encourage vendors to bring smaller equipment (perhaps offer a discount for less crates?)
- Encourage more use of public transportation & provide info about it on the website
- And of course, mention on your website that you are green – it’s OK, it’s trendy now.
- I really don't mind the exercise because I'm an exercise junky, but most folks that come to this show aren't too keep on all the walking back & forth. So why not have the whole show in one hotel & let people use the other hotel for sleeping. I wonder, what percentage of the visitors actually make it over to the Atrium? Considering the Hilton has 5 floors that aren't even used for the show, I’m convinced that the rooms could be assigned better.
- I hate to be the one to break the news, but big, bulky headphones are fading out in favor of smaller ones. The general public prefers on-ears over the ones that cover the whole ear. Also, most customers don't care for the open-back design either - the sound may be better, but what's the point of wearing headphones if everyone can hear what you're listening to and all the noise from outside bleeds in to ruin that pristine sound? For the prices that some of these open-backed headphones are selling, the customer would be much better served with a nice pair of KEF LS50 monitors.
- I'm also of the opinion that big, expensive DACs are on the way out too. Customers want something smaller, preferably USB powered, or if not, at least rechargeable. Yes, there are a few manufacturers that make these, and that's good, but even they are trying to upsell you to the big bulky amp-sized DAC sitting next to it. It's wonderful that DACs can now do DSD and 384Kps without upsampling, but for the average Joe who's connecting this up to his Sonos or home theater receiver, there is no audible improvement over the smaller little DAC that costs $200.
What people do need and want are products that aren’t well represented at the show this year: storage for their digital music, convenience products, and wireless products. These are areas that have already proliferated in the mass market, and now that consumers have seen the potential and utility thereof, they now want it integrated into their HiFi investment. This show doesn't need more big speakers, amps that double as space-heaters, and record players that weigh more than a cow and cost a mint. Think: small, green, digital and wireless-capable, that is what the consumers want.
Anyhow, I could include more comments and observations, but the show isn't even here yet. That said, there’s a lot to chew on here, I think. There still seems to be a huge disconnect between the folks who live in Orange county, where the show takes place and the HiFi industry that services it.
This disconnect is best reflected by the map on page 22 of the Program Guide, showing where the dealers in SoCal are located: there are none near the show. Look, if this “is easily the highest concentration of people with disposable income,” then where are the dealers? Well, they are all in North Orange County and LA, hugging the ageing entertainment belt. This is inconsistent with where the show is located. Am I the only one who sees this?
Next blog post will be about my first day at THE Show.