During a recent seminar, Michael Fremer remarked that there are three big trends in audio’s high-end today: vinyl, high-resolution audio, and headphones. He’s spot on. But there is another major trend overlooked in that count. A social one. One I think that’s as important, and for many reasons, to the other three: the audio show.
I’m not sure a lot of my peers in the audio press would be happy to agree with that assessment, but that’s okay, they’re wrong a lot. In fact, I know a lot of them have griped about how many audio shows there are, about how much work it is to cover them, and how the same folks keep cropping up over and over again. I can see their point and feel their pain, even as I get a little chuckle out of that last bit. But the point is, they’re missing something. Something the sheer fact of the audio show “circuit” ought to make plain, but gets lost behind the typical product-focused navel-gazing audiophiles are so rightly accused of obsessing about. It’s simple, really. It’s the community.
In many ways, this is something that personal audio folks get really right. The Head-Fi meets and meet ups are, and have been, an integral part of the personal audio experience, especially as that part of the audio market finds its feet. I think it’s rather ironic, actually, that headphone-based audio enthusiasts are so much better at getting together than audiophiles are — I mean, headphones are almost by definition not inclusive. Hi-Fi, on the other hand, takes place in spaces meant to be shared. Hmm.
Anyway, it’s the audio show that brings these things back together. Not music. Not love of music. But shared passions. That’s what binds us. And audio shows are what’s helping drive, expand and shape “the industry” today.
Capital Audiofest is a great show, in part because it’s in my back yard (hooray!) and in part because it’s well run and ideally located.
Let me pause and harp on that point. Every other audio show I can name, save one, is located near nothing of interest. I love Newport, AXPONA and RMAF. I do! So I almost hate to say it, but John Wayne International Airport is not a destination. Neither is O’Hare. Nor Denver Tech Center; it’s a good 10+ miles outside of Denver proper (which isn’t really all that large of a city). Only CES, smack in the middle of Las Vegas, actually boasts “things to do” that aren’t audio related and don’t require a car or cab to get to them. Other than CAF, that is. Sitting a block away from public transit, the entire DC area is up for grabs. Of course, you could (and I do) skip all that and walk the three blocks to some fantastic ethnic dining and stop by one of my favorite pubs for a tasty adult beverage. Put it this way, at CAF, your family can come, and instead of you abandoning them to go hang out with a bunch of dudes wandering the halls of a hotel, they can completely ditch you during the day and have a ball doing it. That’s something that’s far too difficult to do at some of these other audio shows. And that’s a shame.
Look. Location is a sore spot for any show organizer. There’s really not a ton of options, and I get having to balance cost with suitability. But I do wonder if “hotel” isn’t what’s limiting the evolution of the US-based audio show, something that Munich’s High-End seems to have graduated beyond. Again, I understand the challenges involved, but I think we’re ready to start that conversation!
The point, here at CAF, was that I found Silver Spring to have one of the best blends of available distractions. And the food was outstanding. I joined Audio Head’s Brian Hunter and Brannan Mason of Noble for sushi at Ikko on Thursday. Brian, Ian White of CLONES and Bowei Zhao of Audio360 (and Panda on Head-Fi) met me for some tasty dim sum on at Oriental East. Brian and I joined Sean Casey of Zu Audio and Gary Dews of BorderPatrol for burgers and bourbon at the Quarry House. Saturday found Brian and I with Brannan and Dan Clark of MrSpeakers at Pacci’s. Sunday was more dim sum up at Hollywood East in Wheaton. I might have gained 10 pounds that weekend alone. Nom nom nom. And every evening, there was more mayhem in the hotel lobby, till all hours.
It was, as you’d expect, a party. What’s not to like?
I got to meet the Pittsburgh Crew; Dan Halchak, Bill Hanna, James Nelson, Chris Doman and Kala Henessey all circled around the show this weekend and I must have stumbled on them a couple of dozen times. Especially James. Especially in the hotel lobby. Late. And where did that bottle of Noah’s Mill bourbon come from???
I owe a special debt of gratitude to pro photographer Lee Shelly who was standing in for Alex Cavalli at CanMania. Lee took pity on me and helped me sort some seriously thorny lighting issues — all too late to help much with CAF, but I suspect RMAF will be a different story. Thanks, Lee!
Another special thanks to Alexis Chen of Red Wine Audio for being such a good sport about parading that awesome T-shirt around!
And lastly, an extra-special, super-duper ally-ooper thanks to Brian Hunter for providing his expertise in landing some of the best photos from the show.
And now, on to the show wrap up!
Best in Show
- Best in Show: Live Sound Designs. I cannot believe the size of the sound stage that these reconditioned and rebuilt vintage RCA and Altec loudspeakers were able to throw into the room. Simply incredible.
- Best Overall Experience: Zu Audio. The Zu Audio room had everything — great sound, great people, great music and a great time. This is exactly what the “audio show” is all about.
- Best Sound: Daedalus with ModWright and WyWires. Something clicked in this room, and to say that I was impressed would not begin to cover it. Absolutely incredible detail, life, and tone. Anyone who was ever likely to use the term “soul” when talking about music reproduction could have been talking about this room.
- Best Value: Odyssey Audio. You cannot beat the value here. For just under $7k, you got sound quality that competed with the very best on offer anywhere in audio’s high-end. Simply outstanding.
- Best of CanMania: Moon Audio. I got lost on this table. Hugo with Fostex, BMC with Audeze, Cary with Grado — some unbelievable personal audio pairings here.