It’s (still) Showtime!

The Hong Kong Show, August 11th – 13th

By Roy Gregory

It’s getting towards the end of July and this year, the same as every other year, I find my thoughts turning from Le Tour to the Hong Kong Show. The year has a rhythm, marked out by key events: Munich and Hong Kong chief amongst them. But that rhythm has changed over the years (and collapsed during Covid). I find myself welcoming the restoration of the familiar, marking the passage of time. But while the significance of Munich might seem obvious, what makes Hong Kong so important?

Hi-Fi Shows just ain’t what they used to be. It’s not so long ago that the international audio world revolved around Munich and not one but two CES events. These days, how things have changed: CES – or at least its serious audio segment – is long gone. In truth it was gone long before the formal demise was announced. And it’s not just CES. Besides Munich – and despite various contenders claiming the throne in different markets, no genuinely significant national/international shows exist in the US or Europe. Instead, as Marc Mickelson of so perceptively remarked, “The problem with US Shows is that there are a lot of them – but they’re all the same show.” It’s a summary that neatly encapsulates the situation in Europe too. Irrespective of size (and few such events attract much more than 2,000 visitors), these ‘shows’ exist for local dealers to sell product to local customers – and that’s a world away from manufacturers and distributors showcasing a complete range for B-to-B purposes.

Yet, despite being a ‘local’ event, in as much as it’s centred on a single city, not unlike Axpona for instance, there any similarities end. Run by Audio Technique Magazine, the show is entering its 20th year. Shows organized by magazines are nothing new. The Hi-Fi News show in the UK was arguably that country’s last, real national/international show, a model that transferred along with the magazine’s editor, to Stereophile in the US. What sets Hong Kong apart is the show’s bi-lateral focus and the sheer numbers that attend. This is an event that manages to appeal to and perform both B-to-B and customer-centric functions without apparent conflict. As a result, it is a key date in the diaries of both the magazine’s many readers and a large proportion of the manufacturers whose products are on display. Indeed, many manufacturers will hold over product launches from Munich just for this show. And the numbers are instructive. Exhibits are confined to around twenty or so large rooms, mainly occupied by the major distributors, with a large hall given over to static booths and ‘sound cabins’. That’s a fraction of the space on offer at a show like Munich, yet despite only running for three days, Hong Kong’s visitor numbers are pretty much on a par with the German show!

It’s a situation that reflects both the buoyant nature of the Asian markets and Hong Kong’s historically strategic position in servicing them, accounting for the large number of US and European manufacturers who attend. But it also reflects a very different approach on the part of the organizers. Visiting the Hong Kong show isn’t cheap – but besides your Show Guide, each year that entry fee also gets you a different, hybrid SACD, loaded with demo tracks personally selected by the magazine’s legendary editor, Lincoln Cheng. So popular are these discs that there’s a small cottage industry that involves lining up repeatedly to gain entry – and a small stock of discs to sell at a profit on eBay! Once inside, things are different too. Many rooms are set up to demonstrate multiple systems, while there’s also a schedule of system presentations carried out by the Audio Technique reviewers. Can you imagine Jonathan Valin, Paul Miller or Robert Harley standing in front of a manufacturer or distributor’s system at a show and demonstrating/discussing the sound? But visitors love it, jamming the corridor outside the presentations to eavesdrop if they haven’t been able to get inside. It’s an object lesson in reaching out to your public and reinforcing your credibility.