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AKFest 09 Foreword by Constantine Soo

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Hi-fi enthusiasts in the U.S. have been uniquely blessed with multiple audio shows year round, that we no longer have to count ourselves less fortunate were we living beyond driving distance of a CES venue. There are now no less than half a dozen hi-fi shows every year in the U.S. alone, most notably the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, Colorado every October, the Lone Star Audio Fest in Dallas, Texas every June, and the event of this coverage, the AKFEST in Detroit, Michigan every May. Chicagoans: no need to cry over the loss of CES to Vegas, and get thyselves to Detroit annually.

AKFEST and RMAF are the shows I love to return to every year, because all AKFEST exhibitors are located inside one single hotel, while RMAF has prospered to the point that a 2nd, adjacent hotel was commissioned to host half a dozen exhibitors last year. Because of a lower attendance, the AKFEST continues to be a more leisurely event, although you will still see me rushing down the corridor.

On the attendance of this year’s AKFEST, Ernie Burke, Audio Karma administrator has the following to share:

“Our attendance surpassed our expectations, and even hopes, numbering about 1000, up by about 65%. Exhibit space, in square footage was up, nearly double, and number of rooms were up by about 50%. If you were looking for historic data, last year was 31 rooms versus this year’s 47.”

Now unto sound. Hotel acoustics are never conducive towards a more fulfilling audio experience, and some seasoned exhibitors of shows have begun to amass considerable effort in room treatment, which I suspect and hope all exhibitors of AKFEST will follow suit. With exception of the four corner rooms on each floor of the Embassy Suites Hotel that were larger, and the ground floor ballroom venues that were just huge, all hotel rooms were of such dimensions that a vast majority of exhibitors chose to position loudspeakers up against the long wall with inches to spare. The listening positions were up against the opposite wall. In such surrounding, diligent application of acoustic treatment would seem to be in critical order; instead, bare walls were the order of the day. Perhaps the organizers could arrange for four or more acoustic specialist companies to each supply five or more exhibitors with a minimum of 3 diffusing panels per room. By putting Panel 1 behind the listening position, Panel 2 and 3 on the primary reflective points behind the speakers, the room will take on the psychoacoustics of a much larger venue. This way, there would be at least 20 exhibitors with better sonics, and I will have a much easier time and more fun writing my show report.

The AKFEST was unique in that local audiophiles were allowed to put up their systems alongside industry exhibitors, and although I managed to visit three out of ten of such rooms, the bite of the audiophile bug was clearly evident in the setups of the so-called “AK Member”. One such audiophile told me that from a life of a full-time job, 3 kids and a wife, he hardly had time to spend more than a few hours per week with his system, and the AKFEST provided him with a weekend of music. I understand the room cost him $99, but the hauling of all the equipment and speakers would be a challenge for me.

Many of the rooms featured vinyl playback, and attendees with LPs were not the minority, albeit there wasn’t that many people to begin with. I even saw a 20-some year old young man carrying a heavy load of LPs. When I asked him the rationale for the inconvenience and why not just bring CDs, he replied that LPs sounded better. I am not a vinylphile per se, having invested heavily into digital, and although I do have a collection of LPs and a modest vinyl setup, I wouldn’t expose my precious vinyls to strange turntables in show conditions. Would I be doing the same thing if I were 20 years old? Hard to say.

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