The Audio Cynic

No CES For You!

Yes, it’s that time again. Time for Leebs’ annual rant about CES—after the fact, as the show took place last week in Las Vegas.

Way back in the very first issue of Copper, I wrote “I Am So Over CES”, which described my dismay with the show, after nearly 30 years of attendance. Issue 25 included “Leaving Las Vegas”, in which I discussed the directional shift in both the show and its hosting body. Last year in issue 51, I got all metaphysical, with “In the Land of the Surreal, is Realism Relevant?” I looked back at a show that started out 50 years ago as a showcase for hi-fi and TVs, and which had become a showcase for giant video displays, drones, and droning speeches by CEOs of car, phone, and software companies.

To put it mildly: this is not of interest to me. This is not useful for me. This is not useful for my misbegotten little industry.

I admit that there is a certain guilty pleasure in the greedy, seedy cesspool that is Vegas, though that usually wears off after 5 or 6 hours. After that, I need a shower.

The hyperkinetic main body of CES at the massive convention center also has a certain jangly, adderal-affected appeal, full of flashing lights, dramatic, bad music, and the anachronistic presence of booth babes from multiple continents—apparently exhibitors haven’t gotten the memo that this practice is just not cool. Oh, well.

As is my practice, a couple months ago I started surveying colleagues in audio on who was planning on attending the show. Last year the tone had been fatalistic, and many had said that 2018 was their last year; another, sizeable chunk said that they’d give it one more try.

To my surprise, the fallout has been even greater than anticipated.

Keep in mind that CES’ site for high-end audio exhibits has been the Venetian Tower for many years now; historically, this three-pronged tower had included multiple floors of audio exhibitors, with several hundred rooms. Over the years, the number has diminished, and in recent years the previously-sacred turf of the high end had been invaded by a bizarre collection of unrelated software, chip, mattress, and garage door companies. Last year, pushback from exhibitors restored some of the integrity of the area; at least, Simmons Mattress and the AARP were nowhere nearby.

Come 2019, it’s clear that as far as “High Performance Audio” goes,  no one in charge at CES gives a damn. And if all is not lost, it’s close enough that I’ll take a pass.

A little context: the show attracts something on the order of 170,000 attendees. Even for a tourist trap/mecca like Las Vegas, that’s a lot of folks, and unless you come several days before and stay several days after the show, simply getting flights in and out is challenging. This year the cost of housing has reached an all-time peak of extortionist absurdity, with $250 per night at places where they just got rid of the chalk outlines and police tape, and $1000/night for middling hotels is not uncommon. And then, and then: the coup de grace is the high likelihood of  a post-show case of flu of virulence and tenacity rarely seen since the 1918 epidemic.

My hand-annotated map of the Venetian’s floor 29 shows what’s left in high-end audio. You’ll see familiar names like NAD, GoldenEar, Nagra, and VTL; you won’t see longtime exhibitors like DeVore Fidelity, Music Hall, or Vandersteen. They’re gone. What’s left doesn’t even completely fill one leg of the 29th floor, and those exhibitors are interspersed with a motley mix of gaming companies, chip makers, and if you’re lucky, the intelligent toilet from Kohler. 

—Oops, sorry: that show-stopper will be in the main hall. Anyway, the latest 29th floor map from CES will show you all that’s there.

If you go, enjoy yourself. The time, expense, annoyance, and risk of catching the plague just aren’t worth it to me—and this is coming from a cheapskate who usually stays at his son’s apartment during the show.

See ya, CES. I hate to say it, but I’ll miss you.