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Newport 2014: So long, saddle pals

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John Darko, Kirsten, Mal, Brian Hunter and Tyll Hertsens

hiresnewportlogoforwebWell, that's another Newport show put to bed. My third Newport, as a matter of fact, and my second as a "member of the press" (I still have a hard time saying that with a straight face). It also marks the sixth show I've attended in the past two years. At this point, the main thing I end up asking myself is, "what made this show different?" Newport has a distinctly different vibe from the other shows I've attended (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and the California Audio Show). Other pundits have commented on this, attributing it to the warm, sunny weather and a show environment that encourages showgoers and exhibitors alike to mingle and linger socially at the on-site bars and restaurants. I think they're on to something. If you want to find an echo chamber to gripe about how the industry sucks or how all the gear is boring boring boring, you can still find it, trust me, but it does seem like it's a bit easier to resist being a grumpypants when you're sitting poolside in the sun, eating really yummy pork dumplings and listening to live music.

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Part-Timers and Audio Show Vets, Malachi Kenney and Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney

So yes, being well fed and cheerful definitely helps when it comes to staving off the jaded “nothing new under the sun” feeling that can creep in. There’ll always be the guy who responds to the standard elevator line of, “Heard anything great this weekend?” with “Nahhh, it’s all the same.” Which is why it felt really good to realize this weekend that there were new, younger faces around. Not just in the industry, either, although my mind was slightly blown Saturday night to realize that I was sitting at a table with NO ONE OVER 50. No, I mean in attendees. I don’t know if any demographic statistics are kept on showgoers — I suspect not — but in comparing the crowds to my first Newport show in 2012, I saw a more diverse crowd: more women, more minorities, more younger people, and more families with kids coming in for the day to check things out. I don’t wring my hands a whole lot over the lack of young audiophiles in general, because I figure most of us don’t have the cash for a serious stereo, let alone a place to put it, until we’re creeping up on feeling like we have to mumble a little when people ask how old we are. But I’m a big fan of nice things. I think it’s a healthy thing for the industry to have people milling around who maybe can’t quite spend the megabucks yet, but are thinking about it and have an appreciation for great tools for great sound.

Which brings me to an issue that was especially evident to me this year, and might kill your buzz a little. Sunday was the day that I saw the most parents show up with their kids to give things a listen. That makes sense: no work, no school, and no soccer practice make Sunday a good day for a family outing. While foot traffic was relatively dead on Sunday, it was also different: there were a lot of folks, not just the aforementioned families, who only had one day to hit the show, and that day was Sunday. Problem is, I saw a number of rooms starting to pack up by 3 or 4 PM, even though the show was scheduled to go until 6 PM. I feel like this is really bad form, friends, and I promise I don’t just think that because I need every minute to finish my show coverage.

Let me put it this way: I went to my first show because I don’t like going to dealer to listen if I know I’m not ready to pull the trigger and buy that week, if not that day. It’s awkward to walk into a dead silent showroom (because they’re always dead silent when you’re feeling the most out of place) and feel like you’re putting someone out and maybe should be letting them run a credit check before you even get to hear what’s awesome. Shows are the great leveler in that regard, or at least they should be: you pay for your ticket, and in return you get to hear everything, no guilt. For that reason I hate to see a closed and locked door, since it means that everyone loses out — the person who bought that ticket, and the exhibitor who missed out on a chance to connect with a potential future customer. The conversations I overheard from people looking to buy were rarely, “I’m going to buy X today” or “next week.” They were people working out a long-term plan, trying to decide what to purchase first and what their goals were in the coming year or two or five. If the industry’s going to survive, it means not assuming that someone who doesn’t have their checkbook in hand at the show is just kicking tires and will never buy, or that someone who shows up at 4:00 PM on Sunday isn’t worth staying open for. The very least thing showgoers are owed is not being cheated out of the value of their ticket, and that means staying until the show’s over.

Ok, lecture over, no more serious face. I’ll just say that I hope the trend of seeing more variety in the crowd continues, and that folks in the industry learn to embrace it!

Rumor has it that after this year, the show is moving to a new location. While I am definitely supportive of the idea of getting everyone under one roof, I’m feeling a bit verklempt, here; many of my most memorable and educational audiophile experiences have been at this show, and in particular, in the patio bar at the Atrium. Which is why my choice for Best in Show is obvious: I quite simply have to bequeath the honor to Patrick, the Atrium’s poolside bartender, who kept track of multiplying and confusing tabs, poured lethally heavy drinks, and kept the potstickers coming. If THE Show is indeed moving to new digs next year, I may have to organize a field trip.

That’s it from me until the next show, but I’ll see you on the trail. So long, saddle pals!

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“This is bad.” — Mal

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“This is good.” — Mal

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“This is great.” — Mal

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“This is better.” — Mal

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“This is a friggin’ genius at work.” — Mal

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“This is what awesome looks like when nobody is watching.” — Mal

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“I hope to God that I never see anything this scary again.” — Mal

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“This is why you avoid shows.” — Mal

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“This is why you should go anyway.” — Mal

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3 Comments on Newport 2014: So long, saddle pals

  1. Jim Hewson // July 2, 2014 at 4:08 AM //

    Why is the Gallo room “bad”?

    • Simply put: it’s ugly and it’s lazy.

      It’s an empty hotel room without a thought given to set dressing or presentation. It’s the kind of environment that tells you “we don’t care enough about your experience to do more than show up.” Spending time in that room was about as pleasant as hanging out at a Greyhound terminal.

      Forget about the sound. I would contend that nobody needs a stereo enough to actually want to sit themselves down in an environment this annoying.

      Compare the Aluminous Audio room — which also displayed two satellites, two subs, and a rack of moderately priced gear. Whatever you could say about the sound, the environment was designed to be relaxing and pleasant. Or compare the Snake River Audio room that I called “good.” The folks who put that room together clearly cared about their attendees’ entire experience. Do we even need to mention Zu Audio?

      Showing up, plopping a couple of speakers in the middle of an unpleasant room, and calling it a day gives a bad impression. If you’re selling a lifestyle luxury — and let’s all be clear that a recreational stereo surely isn’t a *necessity* — it might be wise to at least pretend that you respect your customers enough to put some minimal effort into making them feel comfortable.

      So, yes, that room was bad.

  2. Yes, it’s extremely disappointing to hit closed rooms before a show is supposed to be “over.” I didn’t get to hear MBL’s big setup at Axpona last year for this reason, so I’ve still never heard it. I’m one of those people interested enough to go to a show, but only for one day.

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