Then we compound the problem by writing glowing show reports or getting all excited online. Guys, it’s time for a reality check. What we hear at shows is so wildly different from what equipment is actually capable of that it really tells you nothing about the individual products being used. The best it can do is tell you who is putting in the effort and actually knows what they’re doing with a system. The idea that listening experiences from shows provide any basis for comparison between different equipment in different systems, or are a substitute for actually hearing a product at home or in a known environment is absolute nonsense. But it doesn’t stop enthusiasts and reviewers (who really should know better!) from offering advice on that very basis. How often does a reviewer or forum poster type the immortal words, “I don’t know, because I’ve never heard that product under controlled conditions”?
The industry has a problem delivering on its promise and shows are a big symptom of that malaise. We really need to do better, deliver more and do so far more consistently. But if shows aren’t the answer, then what is?
In one sense, smaller is better. Any manufacturer looking at his bottom line should take a long hard look at the cost and effectiveness of shows. If regional shows are your major sales platform, then knock yourself out, but for any manufacturer with a strong dealer network, regional shows make less and less sense with each passing year. Given their accumulated costs, there’s a strong argument for ditching them in favour of a series of dealer-based events that offer a more cost-effective and targeted return. Not only do they take place in dedicated demonstration rooms that should provide much greater sonic potential than hotel or conference suites, they offer significant advantages to all sides: The manufacturer gets to show off his products under far more representative conditions; he gets to work with and re-energise his dealer; he gets to meet a pre-selected range of customers with a far higher proportion of genuine prospects. The dealer gets to refresh his knowledge and understanding of the products: he has a genuine reason to reach out and engage with his customer base; he has the opportunity to show existing customers products he may not have in stock. The customers get a better experience, both with the equipment and the manufacturer: they get to listen for longer and to do so in a more familiar environment; they get more opportunity to meet and discuss the equipment with the manufacturer, who is in turn, able to offer them a far more relaxed and individually tailored listening experience. What’s not to like? Best of all, the costs are way lower for all involved.
A variation on this theme is also starting to evolve, with a small number of like-minded manufacturers or a distributor taking two or three rooms at a hotel or conference centre and organising a mini-show. Yes, such an approach suffers from many of the challenges facing any hotel-based event, but it also has a number of serious advantages. It doesn’t need to find so many promising rooms. It doesn’t generate anything like the sonic or electrical pollution problems. The absence of a third-party organiser keeps the costs down and local promotion is often easier and cheaper too. Perhaps the best examples of this model that I have attended are the Ultimate Audio events in Portugal, but they are starting to crop up all over. Take your non-audio friend to an event like this and they are far more likely to enjoy great sound and a pleasant atmosphere.