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View from the 34th Floor

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Sitting on the plane coming home from a great audio weekend in Chicago, namely Axpona 2017… and with too much to digest at the moment, so I digress!

Earlier this year another CES come and gone. CTA (nee CEA) promoted the 2017 Las Vegas show as the most expansive ever, boasting 2.5 million square feet of booth space. And the greatest number of attendees.

The high performance audio pundits call it the most poorly attended audio trade show in years due to weather, canceled or delayed flights, soaring hotel costs, high price of admission, stricter security and nothing new to see…. not much new to hear and an invasion into the world of high performance audio by the presence of an AARP room and other things not related to our hobby and very much out of place in our usual venue.

And how do I characterize the view from the 34th floor of the Venetian? Really bright, and inviting, at least for the years when Pass Laboratories was exhibiting. Oh, you mean what is the view from the windows? This is Las Vegas, my adopted home town, and contrary to popular opinion things frequently are bigger than they appear! For both the industry and the hobby the latter is the more accurate view of our world, things are bigger than they appear. And certainly more significant than first look would indicated.

CEA has their markers and the pundits, theirs; I, too, have my benchmarks. Mine are little harder to get on paper in ways that comfort the statisticians: Collectively, smiles per capita, willingness to engage, thoughtful questions, various intangibles that I lump together as “Quality Factor“. Between us, the pundits and I, there is a disconnect.

They see the “quality” sinking….. I see quality bolstered and on the rise.

From my industry position and access to international industry news and  regional shows in North America, I’m seeing what I think is a potential trend. Historically, I recall shows where the majority of comments have very little to do with anything, the audio-event equivalent of  weather bashing.

“Why are you using those speakers?”

“Can’t you play a FLAC file?”

“I don’t like opera.”

“Can I get it painted to match?”

 

Contrasted to those, the vast majority enter and leave without a word, looking a little lost and detached.

So, what is this quantum shift of which I speak? The shift first manifests with that age old tradition of offering up an honest, warm verbal greeting. Rather than contemplation of one’s shoes or abrupt about-face, the more typical retort at the most recent audio shows goes something like “Having a great time how about you?” Followed by “Have you seen or heard this really cool thing?” or “I heard a great piece of music playing down on a lower floor, you really need to go check out all the cool new hardware and software!”

Many guests coming in with their significant others and on more than one occasion the significant other (non-audiophile) commented, “I really miss good music in my home office,” “I really liked those speakers we heard up on the 35th floor, what can I pair them with?” And a greater percentage of younger guests to the room and in general more diversity of guests, all desirous of engaging with the room hosts and with each other.

And certainly more frequently asking pertinent technical questions:

“What is the advantage to monoblocks over multi-channel amplifiers?”

“Can you help me integrate this headphone amp into a system for both music and gaming?”

“I brought a drawing of my room, and like these speakers can we talk about how many watts of amplifier I might need?”

 

The “Hmm-Job”:

“Hmm that’s really interesting, tell me more!”

“Well, Hmm; What do you think about……?”

“Hmm, that might work really well for me too!”

“Hmm, that potentially solves my dilemma, rather neatly!”

 

In general, conversation that’s thought provoking and a more friendly back and forth interplay with purpose.

From my acquaintances in the industry, the exchanges went less negatives, more optimism:

“I moved the operation from location X to a place we all like better, and we all really enjoy coming to work in the morning.”

“We’re having fun designing and building products that the customers really like, what a great time to be in this industry.”

 

And my favorite:

“We need to start a club and only invite people who are having fun to join. Yeah, that’s it, we need a users’ group of nothing but manufacturers, representatives and retailers who are having fun and encouraging others to have fun! What a great hobby!”

And there it is in a nutshell: “What a great hobby.”

I was introduced to this hobby as a teenager who, like all my peers, lived, and breathed music. Like so many of us I tried and failed miserably at playing music & happily settling into the listening.

My introduction to this hobby came from a small circle of what we now call audiophiles who seemed to be having more fun than everyone else. Some were just a little older and had jobs, some were much older and retired. Some moneyed, some not. They loved the hobby in all it’s aspects: the music, the hardware, the performers, the formats…. right down to the silliness of 3-band color organs, tiki torches, bookshelf speakers and fake tropical plants on the patio sporting a stuffed artificial toucan or two swaying to the jungle sounds of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny.

But what they loved the most was sitting down with anyone who would take the time to listen to an LP, a cassette, a reel-to-reel or heaven forbid a lowly 8-track.

Call me myopic, but I really don’t recall the format wars as having great personal power. Great annoyance? Yes. But not annoyance as in “this format is great and that one sucks.” More along the lines of “I only have this piece of music as an 8-track, we’ll have to go listen in the car.” Or, “we have to go over to my house to hear the LP, what are you doing this evening?”

Some of the home systems were modest, humble and imaginative beyond belief (A horn loaded toilet bowl with plasma tweeter), some were actually quite elaborate for the day. A treated room, stacked Quad electrostats and what many years later we would call a sub-woofer: a 21-inch Hartley in an infinite baffle.

I can recall one where the owner/audiophile had built an addition to the house and filled the walls with playground sand and laid his carpet over two layers of padding, one jute fiber the second foam rubber. During and long after the build, there was some very verbal and heated disagreement on LEDE, which should be the live-end and which should be the dead-end. And this is the salient point, it was a time of collective listening engagement and discovery!

And then came that now famous Memorex poster, hair blown back, one listener and a single chair …… and we all started keeping our own company and listening alone. Arguing in print and solitude which surround format was better SQ or QS? Hafler or DynaQuad.

The collective wrong turn, and a bit of advice: It’s not too late!

 

Kent English is the North American Sales/Worldwide Technical Support of Pass Laboratories.

 

Publisher’s note: Announcing a general discourse forum at the upcoming CAS7, where attendees are invited to participate and share their audio stories in a forum setting. It will be named the High Discourse in recognition of Mr. English’s quasi-fictional introspection/monologue from a high-rise in Las Vegas. Constantine Soo to moderate. More info on scheduling to come. Visit www.caaudioshow.com

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