Frankly Speaking

The Shows Must Go On

Issue 107

I never thought I’d have to write a piece like this. Well, none of us can keep our heads in the sand, comforting as that may be at times.

This also may seem like a trivial consideration compared to what’s happening to the world at large, but on the other hand, the subject is a microcosm of the bigger picture. How is the coronavirus going to impact the world of audio? Specifically, audio shows?

I’m no epidemiologist, so whatever is expressed here should be viewed as something resembling (hopefully) reasoned speculation and philosophizing.

On the other hand, we have plenty of facts to deal with. The Munich High End show has been canceled. AXPONA has been postponed until August. The people behind Montreal Audiofest have announced they’ll make a decision whether to postpone or cancel by the end of the month, but the show will not be happening this March. A state of national emergency has been declared in the US.

Certainly, cancelling or postponing these shows is prudent. For decades people in the audio and music industries have been joking about the “CES Flu” and “NAMMthrax.” These jokes wouldn’t be made if they weren’t based in reality. And in fact every year some attendees get sick after these shows (including me, and a number of industry friends, after CES 2020). But with the specter of coronavirus in the air the risk factor is obviously much higher.

Not to downplay this very serious consideration, but there are other challenges involved in putting on and attending audio shows. It’s often difficult for the exhibitors to get good sound, let alone show off their gear at its best. The rooms may be deficient acoustically, with some speakers being too large for the space they’re in. The combination of equipment may not be synergistic. (I’ve mentioned this before – sometimes manufacturers co-exhibit to save money, and may not even have tried their equipment in combination before. It’s a big gamble.) The AC power might be sub-optimal.

It costs a lot of money for exhibitors to ship their gear, travel, staff their rooms and deal with other expenses, and many shows aren’t free for attendees either. Sometimes the rooms get so crowded that show-goers can’t get a good listening seat, or even get into a room. Hotel logistics can be challenging, with big distances between rooms, or rooms too close together and intruding on each other sonically, to say nothing of crowded (or broken) elevators or lack of parking in some venues.

So, why bother? Because we need these shows. And they offer a number of tremendous advantages. Nowhere else can attendees, journalists and reviewers get to see and hear hundreds of audio components under one roof. Of every variety – analog, digital, tubes, solid state, affordable setups, cost-no-object ultimate-statement systems and literally everything in between. Show-goers have the opportunity to meet the designers and the people behind the products. We in the industry have a chance to meet our friends in the industry and kibitz with them – in fact, for many of us these shows are the only times we get to see our friends in the business.

A less uplifting reality is that, with the diminishing amount of specialty audio dealers, audio shows are becoming the only place where someone can personally experience a large amount of audio gear at a single location. (See our Issue 105 Industry Viewpoint: Are Audio Dealers in Trouble?) If this trend continues, audio shows will continue to grow in importance.

But there’s another, perhaps more fundamental consideration. As editor of Copper, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is: is writing about music and audio trivial considering we’re in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic right now?

Part of me thinks, yes, compared to the very serious issues we’re now facing.

But the bigger part thinks, no, absolutely not.

Music is vitally important. It’s a fundamental aspect of humanity. Look at the evidence that history provides – or sit down and listen to a favorite song. We need music. And I think we need it more when times are tough than when we’re cruising along. Music provides joy, solace, pleasure, excitement, an emotional connection with our lives and those of others.

Therefore, so do audio systems. And the better the system, the better the music can be heard, and its emotional meaning conveyed. (The fact that music can be listened to at home, and can be a great comfort or even a welcome distraction for those who may be isolated during the current outbreak, hasn’t been lost on some of us.)

Since I’m not a doctor or a soothsayer, I can’t predict when the current crisis will peak and then diminish. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that it will, and when it does, we’ll be out and about again, if perhaps a little more apprehensively than before. Humans are resilient. Normalcy will return, if perhaps a little more tempered than before. When it does, so will the audio shows, and we’ll need them more than ever.

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