Axpona: Up Your Game, Exhibitors!

While watching Stereophile’s video of 2017 CES impressions, Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio made a comment  (at 1:48) that some of the demo rooms need to “up their game” with the demo music. In his opinion, the musical selection “…borders on musical illiteracy.”

That struck a nerve with me.  I first visited AXPONA in 2016, returned for 2017, and I completely agree with McGrath’s comment.  While all rooms featured music, naturally, there were some manufacturer’s representatives or dealers playing music that drove many of us out of the rooms.  In many cases, it was what they played.  In others, it was how they played it.

Asking fellow attendees, I had mixed responses about what they felt was overplayed.  One local acquaintance, Dave, commented about some “weird chant music” being played that drove him from one demo, and hearing too much Pink Floyd, Neil Young or Bob Dylan.  Another commented that he had heard too much of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms and I concur, the overplayed “Money For Nothing” and “Walk of Life” appeared far too often this year.  The most humorous description I heard  was “five minutes of nothing but flute and cymbal.” My pal Don mentioned that the sequencing of demo tracks in some rooms was disturbing.

The Continuum Obsidian/Viper, heard through the Constellation/ML Renaissance system.

My earworm from 2016 was “No Sanctuary Here” by Chris Jones. No offense to the artist, but I honestly never want to hear that song ever again in my life.  It seemed like every other room played this, and it even lingered in a few rooms this year.

My worst experience this year was listening to the Martin Logan Neoliths. First of all, something just sounded “off” about that whole system.  Using McIntosh electronics and source components, it had this odd, harsh sheen to it.  The Martin Logan Renaissance 15a, in fact, had the same odd quality in this room last year when I heard it.  (This year, I heard that same Renaissance model in another room driven by Constellation electronics, and it sounded wonderful.)

What made this even worse?  Their poor choice in music.  The couple of times I passed the room, they were playing the same tired, awkward tracks they played last year, poorly sequenced. (One should never segue directly from classical to techno.)  The worst part? Blaring “The Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition at a painfully high level. OK, we get it. The Neoliths play loud.  I’ve heard plenty of live classical performances to know what “realistic” sounds like.  This was not it.

Those problematic Martin Logan Neoliths. “Monolith” is more like it.

This room was not alone—a few others played music too loudly, or did not take enough care in setting up the systems so they sounded their best. Some sounded overly bright to me.

What is the answer, though?  Dealers and manufacturers want to show off their products. They are at AXPONA to sell equipment, and try to choose demo music that highlight their systems’ best abilities.  Show attendees want to hear good music…good sounding music.  They want to hear favorites, or recordings they are intimately familiar with to see what they sound like on equipment they are not familiar with.  Guests also do not want to be driven from the rooms by poorly selected music they would rather not hear.

Should the rooms take requests?  Some rooms offered their visitors any choice from the library they brought with them on their music servers, while a few went further by tapping into Tidal to accommodate their guests. A few who still had CD players on display allowed visitors to play their own discs.  These were the rooms where visitors hung around the longest, including myself.

The Music Direct/MoFi room, musically, one of my favorites.

Even in rooms that weren’t taking direct requests, they were changing things up enough that it kept their guests pleased, and sequencing the selections properly. In one of the Paragon Sight and Sound rooms, the sales rep told us, “We play regular music here, not audiophile music.”  In Chicago dealer ProMusica’s room (demonstrating ProAc loudspeakers), Ken Christianson was playing a lot of his own live two-mic recordings which sounded fantastic. Others made sensible, well-recorded choices that most visitors found pleasing.

As for the rest, here’s some advice. Your rooms can offer better music if you put your minds to it, and take more requests from users if possible.  Avoid alienating what could become your potential clients, and avoid repelling buyers away from the products you’re demonstrating.  Stay away from the oddball, overplayed “audiophile” music.  Play something accessible, but well recorded.  Keep it at a sane volume level.  It leaves a bad impression if you ignore these basic courtesies for your guests.

Let’s keep “fun,” “informative” and “entertaining” in the audiophile show vocabulary, and everyone wins.

Readers, what do you think?