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Mirroring the Industry: Weekends come in all sizes and shapes

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Long weekends…really long weekends.
It comes as no surprise. Their hype and advance marketing make their impending … a foregone conclusion. For the attendee it is a chance to get away, embrace the hobby, and marvel/revel in all that is on offer for 3 days. For the industry: manufacturers, distributors, dealers and members of the press it can run from 4-5 days.
I daresay that all parties involved will do their fair share of respective preparations leading up to them, and depending upon just how seriously one takes it, or it overtakes, will determine just how many hours go into the process. Much like these weekends have taken on respective lives of their own, the shows have embraced Moore’s Law (the principle that the speed and capability of computers can be expected to double every two years, as a result of increases in the number of transistors a microchip can contain) inasmuch as the successful ones tend to outgrow the well-worn characteristics of a weekend show.
Up to now I will have deftly avoided employing the term Hi-Fi Show, not due to any repulsion on my part, but rather the realization that there are shows and then there are trade-shows. This year’s AXPONA, given its breadth and volume has established itself as a proper trade-show, something veritably for everyone. It was the first show in the States, where I had to weigh in and make concerted preparations weeks before the show to make the most of my time. Fortunately, as a member of the industry’s fourth-estate, I was able to acquire a working document from the showrunners which I could study and edit.
At first glance, it was daunting, there was no way I was going to visit all the exhibitors over the course of the weekend and not be a total wreck. AXPONA was/is four shows in one: Hi-Fi Manufacturers taking their hotel exhibit rooms, Dealers taking their oversized hotel meeting rooms, Head-Fi manufacturers manning their stalls in the convention space and the Record/Accessory dealers and manufacturers likewise at theirs. This revelation marked the first step in my digestion and prioritization of what would be, setting the stage for the color coding to come. Having assigned one such color to each of the four, I drilled down using a combination of them to determine what had to be seen, what should be seen, and finally what would be seen if I have the time and were so inclined.
It took weeks to accomplish but once done, I could rest easy in the knowledge that a working plan existed. Here’s where one would expect me to insert “the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry” [The actual lines from Robert Bruce: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”] and if this were Hollywood sure, but with the devil being in the details, I managed to do such good job, be so productive, that I managed to make it work better than expected. As I travel in a day early to catch up with industry folks on set-up day to press-the-flesh, I found that I could get everything I needed to get done by Saturday night. In hindsight, given the snowstorm and resultant chaos in the aftermath, I should have left for home Saturday night as well.
Chuffed as I was with my success, it was a bittersweet exercise. It felt as though I was preparing for a civilian’s war, in my book that’s a trade-show. For over 20 years I attended the COMDEX, the computer industry’s convention to end all others, spanning just about all of the Las Vegas strip, making it impossible to attend without serious preparation and swiss precision in my time management. After the first few years COMDEX became a necessary evil, a real slog, which towards the end I faced with dread. I don’t want this to be the case for the Hi-Fi industry, not that I think it is going to grow anywhere near the size of the behemoth that is CES, which in my estimation has outgrown itself.
AXPONA is necessary, it is NOT evil, nor has it grown to a size rivaling the above, however it has evolved into something else, and NOT that weekend show where you can hang out with the exhibitors as your mates, your colleagues, your peers. It is no longer your father’s Oldsmobile, and that’s okay if one complements AXPONA during the course of the year with another smaller regional shows. Here’s where I dole out advice which should be well-heeded by such shows, the fairs and the fests: do not rush to grow to compete with others, where attendees feel they have to put in an inordinate amount of work in advance.
Hi-Fi is a business for those in the business, it is an assignment for those on assignment, for others not so dedicated, it should be fun, informative and enjoyable. Most importantly, the experience should be appreciated, and the weekend made memorable. That’s why I make it a point to attend regional shows where the atmosphere is more intimate, convivial and attendees can spend more time with exhibitors to learn in detail about their products and services. Just as important it gives the exhibitors the ability to better understand what is on the mind of the consumer, the audiophiles out there in person and not just online in Facebook’s Groups and standalone Hi-Fi web-based forums.
For any number of reasons there are manufacturers and attendees alike who cannot make it to AXPONA. Time and money, from my research and discussions are the two overriding factors, and with that, the regional shows are a welcome outlet. They are an opportunity for certain exhibitors to be seen, and a welcome attraction for attendees residing in under-served Hi-Fi markets. For me, in my capacity as Dagogo’s International correspondent, I take that as a cue to visit any number of shows, abroad and domestic, to get a much better feel as to what’s going on in the extended industry. I can tell you that Hi-Fi Shows differ in their feel from country to country, from state to state, but that’s fodder for another commentary.
Dagogo’s publisher, my publisher of all things Hi-Fi runs the California Audio Show (CAS) in Northern California, specifically Oakland. This year marks its 9th year. I attend first and foremost because it is MY publisher’s show, and make the trip even though it is not local to me here in Columbus, Ohio and even less local to me when I’m back in London, England. But once I’m there it’s a weekend where I can hang back and take in the summer sun, surrounded by industry folks and attendees in a super-chill environment. I know that I’m going to see products from manufacturers I probably won’t see anywhere else for reasons of logistics. I know that I’m going to see friends on the West Coast apart from the Hi-Fi industry who I only get to see, hear, speak and type with online. It’s that camaraderie I look forward to at the show, minus the pressures, and the non-relenting queues at and waiting for elevators to arrive.
CAS is not the only other show in North America there’s the Audio-Expo CONSAM taking place in Tijuana, Mexico next month organized by my newly minted friend Fernando Méza and members of the Sociedad de Audiófilos Mexicanos who come up for CAS, always great to meet with them and learn more about what’s going on in their country as well as Latin America and South America. Their group boasts a thriving international membership and YouTube channel. And then there’s the Toronto Audio Fest in October, hosted by Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante whom I met with at AXPONA and in doing so made sure that I would be making the trip up North. That would not have happened with me not being in Chicago, showing that there is a mutualistic relationship between the show. I am eager to see how they run their show and visit with brands that are distinctly Canadian. And then off in November there’s the Capital Audio Fest for those in the Northeast Corridor and Mid-Atlantic States. It takes place in Rockville, Maryland and has become a regular stop as I reconnect with long-time friends from the East Coast.
The Hi-Fi industry has to take long hard look at all the show and recognize how they are evolving, how they are contracting and expanding. They are a mirror of what is going on out there. The online groups and forums are to be taken in with both care and caution. The voices come fast and furious and with them opinions dressed in sheep’s clothing. It is one thing to hold an opinion, everyone has the right, but wholly another in possessing the ability to back that opinion up with logic: facts and sensical rationales. Again, the small regional show, is the place to go offline, take a breath, speak to people eye-to-eye, ear-to-ear and not only learn from each other but celebrate that which regardless of: skin-color, gender, religion, age, nationality, geography, affiliation of any stripe bring audiophiles/hobbyists enthusiasts closer together.
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