International CES is a weird, weird audio show. But only if you judge it by any other audio show. The reason for that, I think, is that it’s not an audio show — at least, not by any current definition. The Audio Show, as we here at The Audio Traveler like to think of them, pretty much left CES behind.
I mean that pretty literally. CES isn’t new. Not by a long shot. I have no idea when “high-end audio” started taking a chunk of air space out of CES, but it was most likely many years before the reigning Big Momma of the current audio show circuit, RMAF. And that says something interesting all by itself. We’ll get back to that.
CES, at least as I’ve been made to understand it, really isn’t for the casual aficionado. Not for the enthusiast, either. Rather, this show, unlike just about every other, is really tailored to the business of consumer electronics.
Got a new idea? Bring it to CES where every other attendee is a “journalist”, at least in some sense of the word. No, really — there are a lot of writers, bloggers, videographers (and all their associated and sundry attached bits) at the show. Like, thousands (over 6,000, actually). Yikes.
Not looking for funding or looking to hand them out? Not looking for acquisition and/or exit strategies? Well, that’s a shame, because there are a lot of those folks too.
More relevantly to audio’s high-end, this is where dealers come to shop brands. You remember dealers, right? Yeah, those people you’ve largely abandoned, sidelining and ignoring their decades of expertise in favor of never-ending progression of what’s-new=what’s-best group-think. Ahem. Anyway, the ones still in business come to CES to swap stories, get wined and dined by the manufacturers, and maybe make themselves a deal to let them resell Brand XYZ.
This also used to be The Place for new product announcements. The kind of thing that would create a bit of buzz in the media and maybe get the interest of those prospective dealers. Interestingly, as audio dealers have found other things to do with their time, this happens less and less — and has moved out into the consumer audio show circuit. Not entirely, but it’s happening more and more.
There used to be a consumer-friendly audio show hosted concurrently with CES, put together by Richard Beers and T.H.E. Show. This year, for the first in recent memory, that show has been abandoned in favor of the mid-year Newport Beach extravaganza that is, you guessed it, focused on the consumer.
Going through all this, I tend to hear a question bubbles up: “Why should an audiophile go to CES?”
It’s a tough question — and many of my fellow writers have decidedly abandoned Vegas in favor of the more relaxed and more demo-oriented shows now dotting North America, Europe and Asia. “There are too many shows,” they moan. “No one shows at CES anymore,” they groan. “CES is not what it once was ….”
But then, there’s that “headphone thing”.
In ways that two-channel audio just isn’t mainstream these days, personal-audio just is. Headphones, and all the associated “stuff” that goes in that bucket, was a $2B market in 2014, and that trend-line is arcing up and to the right. Given that the target audience of the average high-end audio show is somewhere north of 50 and the average personal audio consumer is about half of that (give or take), it makes sense that personal audio is going where there are the relevant eyeballs.
Which means, like it or lump it, that CES is still the place to be. And probably will be for the foreseeable future.
Happily, two-channel enthusiasts can rely on CES for some goodies, too. Much of the old-guard brands tend to show only at CES — think Conrad-Johnson and Rockport Technologies, for examples. Many newcomers feel that a room at CES shows that they’ve Made It, and many not-so-newcomers use CES to show that they’re Still Here. That means that the show has some unusually good density. Of the 5 floors reserved at the Venetian Hotel for High-End Audio, one is only partially filled. Two are great big demo/meeting rooms, and only offer a total of 20 rooms between them. You might start wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth at this point, dusting off your soapbox for a lament about the Death of Audio, but before you do, let me remind you that the other two floors are freakin’ jammed — between them, there’s something like 150 demo rooms. For the record, 250 rooms is bigger than any audio show on North America, and that’s before we start counting the booth areas both at the Venetian and at that horror-show, the Convention Center proper — and that’s where most of the personal audio stuff is, tossed in like toasted nuts into the world’s largest tech salad. Again, taken as a whole, this greatly diminished show is still probably twice the size of its next biggest competitor — at least on this side of the Atlantic. Put another way, CES is still the Big Daddy of the show circuit, and it ain’t close.
So, I’m gearing up. CES starts tomorrow.
There’s a lot of interesting things I’ve seen cross my desk, promising wonder. In fact, just today, 45,239 of them hit my inbox. Weeding through that is a bit much — so, let me refer you to Enjoy The Music’s excellent pre-game show. Lots of teasers in there. I’m going to do my best to track them down, but it’s a big show ….
Got any requests? Make ’em in the comments section, below!