Getting into the Show Required Some Patience – The Hotel Layout Quagmire – A Different Hotel Vibe – A Digital Divide – A Change is in the Air
This is part 2 of my report on T.H.E Show. Part 1 can be found here: The Home Entertainment Show – A Tale of Two Cities.
Well it’s been a very long day and I’m exhausted. I will say that as THE Shows Newport go, this was certainly the largest one yet. The weird thing is, because of the way the hotel is laid out, it didn’t feel as crowded. This hotel is certainly big enough. However, it was not all good.
Getting into the Show Required Some Patience
The parking lots and structures are huge, that’s true. However, that also made it so that I was forced to park a good 15 minute walk back to the hotel. That’s right, there were plenty of parking spaces that I passed on my way to my spot, but the ushers just directed our cars further and further away. Not good. While I thought I had arrived on time for the opening ceremony, I did not consider the parking misery, and I ended up late after all.
The front lobby is also much larger, but considering that we had to wait line of an hour to get in (apparently there was a computer glitch), it was good that there was enough room for the hundreds of irritated customers to form a line all the way past the café lounge, past the gift shop and out the back door. It was so bad that several people in our line just walked right on w/o a pass and made their way upstairs. Come to think of it, anyone could just walk right in and do this, and I don’t think there was anyone checking passes at the doors.
The Hotel Layout Quagmire
Once we were in, it was incredibly confusing to get around. I’m not an elevator guy because I like taking the stairs, but I could not find a stair case up. When I asked the ushers they seemed puzzled about what I was asking. The idea that the elevators might be too slow never dawned on them, I suppose. After further inquiries I found out that we could take a staff-only door to the nearest stairs and I was on my way. Well, sort of. The second floor apparently was off-limits, at least that's what it said in the stairwell. Aaargh...
The way the hotel is laid out, with three branches of rooms on each floor and a circular hallway around the elevators in the middle, made it very disorientating to know which way to go every time I reached a new floor. There were no clear signs by the elevators or the stairs, as to which way to go, so just wander until you hit an open room. This was further complicated because one two of each floor’s three wings was open for demo rooms, the third being just regular rooms. I did figure out after a few floors that the long hallway was the one with the rooms.
To top it off, every hallway was a dead end, so once you were done, you had to walk back to the central circular hallway to find your way to either the stairs or the elevator. Granted, there are stairs at every end, but that required going outside and seemed counter intuitive - plus there were folks smoking out there too. So when it was busy in these hallways, it was particularly bothersome to walk back against the flow of people. One final irritation, although this affected the exhibitors more, was that the last room at the end of the hallway was often skipped altogether because it was around the last corner, easy to be missed. On the plus side, these were also quieter rooms so I did enjoy those more because they had less traffic.
But what a mess....
A Different Hotel Vibe
So did this hotel have a different vibe?
Well, since the irritation level from visitors was heard and felt at every confusing turn, I’d say yes. But that wasn’t the only reason. The staff was clearly not prepared for the crowd, and so they were not very helpful. But they also made me feel more like a customer and less like a guest. That was a sentiment that others expressed as well. This I have to attribute a bit to the Irvine vibe. I’m guessing that this hotel’s past conferences probably kept the crowds downstairs and never had those wandering up to the rooms, so the staff didn’t quite know how to deal with that. Being re-directed back to the elevators every time didn’t help this feeling of being a hamster on a treadmill, either.
Another irritation was that there no drinking fountains anywhere. I don’t recall the Newport hotels missing those, but when I was absolutely parched, I asked one of the staff if they had a drinking fountain and she directed me to the gift shop downstairs. Fortunately one of the exhibitors was kind enough to give me a bottle when they heard this, but this is no way to address this issue for the thousands of visitors that will be streaming through the hotel this weekend. Again, I felt like a customer more than a guest. I can’t compare directly, but I just don’t think that would have happened in one of the Newport hotels.
As expected everything was cleaner, newer, and more rigid. Everything from the angular architecture to the uniformity of every floor and every room re-enforced the feeling of order and just being shuffled through. Speakers started to all sound the same, amps looking the same, and the cables were just your garden variety oversized lump of copper stretching from device to device. Maybe I was just getting tired. It was already 3pm and I had only reached the 3rd floor.
And while prices for HiFi are always high, I also felt like these were Irvine prices. There was a sense that now the prices were simply just warranted. Having live in area for many years, I am all too familiar with the “Irvine tax” that magically accompanies every product once it crosses the “Orange Curtain.” Maybe the cost to exhibit this year was higher, but it did seem like the prices were all also a bit higher than just a year before. Yes, I know that at these shows everything is negotiable and that there are huge markups that cover the costs of all the middle-men involved in production, distribution, and sales, but I just had a sense that everything was still tilted up a bit. I will ask around tomorrow to see how other feel about it.
A Digital Divide
What about the divide between the digital and analog crowd?
In just about every room and at every booth, exhibitors are expressing their preference. Naturally, those that have already invested in smaller, simpler and more energy efficient digital technologies are singing the praises thereof. Those clinging to the recent bump in record sales as a sign of a comeback and are expanding their analog offerings are naturally praising the superiority of that medium. There isn’t an exhibitor who doesn’t have a preference for one of the other and most visitors have also cast their ballots, but it’s not clear that one side will wane. Truth be told, this whole hobby is about holding onto things, so it’s quite possible neither side will fade. That said, consumer technology and convenience is making itself felt on both sides, and it’s a fact that it will find more synergy with the digital side, so even if not apparent yet, the writing is one wall.
It goes without saying that just about every room had more digital stuff. Even the analog-focused rooms have a CD player or music server plugged in somewhere for the customer who wants to hear that. Gone are the analog-only rooms – while I didn’t go into every room, I did not see one. There were also more headphones everywhere, not just in the Headphoneum tent outside. Even cable manufacturers like Audioquest have headphones now. There was also quite a few more class-D amps in use, and there were some manufacturers who are moving to smaller gear. Yes, there are still plenty of big speakers and amps to be found everywhere; I did hear people ask people ask questions about weight, heat, and power requirements. Maybe I was just listening for it more than before, so this is hardly an impartial observation, but I did feel like this was on the customer’s mind more than before. For example, there was more than one person commenting on the impracticality of turntables the size of a whole table like the Clearaudio Continuum behemoth (as much as I would still want one, lol).
A Change is in the Air
There is definitely a change to be felt. Does the hotel further it? I can’t yet say, but it certainly factored into the experience of many people at the show, visitors and exhibitors alike. I will continue my tweeting (@MichaelGJK) on the show tomorrow and write another report at the end of the day.