It appears 2018 is going to be another hectic year for U.S. audio shows. One California event that was postponed last year is set to return — less than a week before another major show in the same city — and several others are upgrading to new venues.
The Home Entertainment Show (T.H.E. Show) cancelled its planned September 2017 event at the eleventh hour, but president Maurice R. Jung told me this week his show will return on June 1-3 in Irvine. T.H.E. Show had a similar date in 2016 in Newport.
The early-June spot was taken last year by the new Los Angeles Audio Show, which is run by former T.H.E. Show director Marine Presson. Her group announced quite a while ago a 2018 date of June 8-10 for its second event, which also will be in Irvine. This puts the two shows only days apart.
Jung, however, seemed optimistic there is room for everyone.
“We are really looking forward to coming back,” he said in a telephone interview. “T.H.E. Show will be in a brand-new upscale hotel, the Marriott Irvine Spectrum, that also is close to high-end shopping. In addition to audio, we’ll be bringing in luxury cars, such as a $3 million Bugatti, and offering a lot of live music.”
Explaining the June 1-3 date chosen for T.H.E. Show, Jung said the idea was to return to the spot it occupied in 2016, as well as to satisfy requests from exhibitors. That, however, does put it on consecutive weekends with the LA Audio Show, which drew more than 6,000 people in its first year and is moving to a new hotel.
“We believe exhibitors may want to do both shows,” Jung said. “They can ship the gear out, do our show, stay in town for a couple of days, and move it to the next hotel.”
Bill Kanner, a spokesman for the LA Audio Show, said the response from exhibitors so far has been encouraging. His event hopes to sell more than 100 rooms.
“Our show already looks like it will be a success. It’s only a matter of how big a success,” Kanner said in a telephone interview.
As for the close date with T.H.E. Show, Kanner was sanguine.
“It would say something positive about the industry if it turns out that two shows can co-exist in essentially the same place and time,” he said.
The revival of T.H.E. Show also represents the third major event planned for California. The other is the California Audio Show, July 27-29, in Oakland. So, that makes a trio of Sunshine State shows in an eight-week period, and brings the total major events announced nationally to five. Add in several sizable regional gatherings, as well as large international shows such as High-End Munich on May 10-13, and you have a pretty full calendar.
That’s good for audiophiles who want to hear the latest gear, but it could be a challenge to manufacturers and retailers, especially the many tighter-funded boutique firms that make up the heart of the industry.
There’s no doubt that the disrupted retail environment has helped boost the popularity of audio shows. The circuit, if it once could even be called that, used to be much different. Several decades ago, Stereophile magazine held a large annual show, and there was a smattering of smaller events across the country. Then, 15 years ago, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest began carving out a sizable niche with its annual October gathering in Denver.
The decline of the January Consumer Electronics Show as a hi-fi showcase coincided with the shrinking of the brick-and-mortar dealer business to create demand for more shows. With a well-run event, an audiophile could audition more gear in a weekend than otherwise possible anywhere else, including New York and Los Angeles, along with the opportunity to shop for records, meet like-minded enthusiasts and hang out in a vacation destination.
Events began to spring up and flourish, such as T.H.E. Show, Chicago’s Audio Expo North America (AXPONA) and, most recently, the LA Audio Show. Meanwhile, regional shows like Capital Audiofest near Washington, D.C., and the New York Audio Show also grew.
Can there be too much of a good thing? That was a question I posed in Part-Time Audiophile at this time last year as the number of events swelled. By the end of 2017, most show-runners had reported being pleased and, indeed, were planning for growth in 2018. Even T.H.E. Show, which dropped out for multiple reasons (one of them being “too many shows”), is optimistic that all the events can be successful this year.
“Our niche is going to be the high-end customer,” Jung said. “That’s why we picked the hotel that we did and are bringing in cars from five luxury manufacturers. We want to attract affluent people, some of whom may not be that familiar with the type of audio we will be showing.”
The LA Audio Show, for its part, does promise to have a different focus. Although it will feature plenty of state-of-the-art gear, it is making a special effort to attract those not familiar with hi-fi — especially younger people. Entry-level equipment will be highlighted in four special systems, an increase from last year.
“There will be audio systems at our show ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to just a few thousand dollars or less,” Kanner said. “We want to let people know that hi-fi components are not just the playthings of the very rich.”
Perhaps the fastest-growing show in recent years is AXPONA, which will again be first out of the box, April 13-15. After several years at the Westin O’Hare in Chicago, AXPONA is moving to the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel. The larger space will allow a number of enhancements, said event director Liz Miller.
“We’ll be able to offer more than 150 listening rooms (up from 140 in 2017), as well as expand the marketplace area to 30,000 square feet with a new Record Shop and a larger Ear Gear expo,” Miller told me in a telephone interview.
AXPONA, which officials market aggressively throughout the year, is coming off a record performance in 2017. Almost 7,000 people attended, with 46 percent from outside Illinois. International traffic also was impressive, with attendees from countries such as Germany, Japan, Canada, the U.K. and Australia, along with 12 percent of the exhibitors coming from abroad.
Still, with almost every event seeking to be bigger and better, that brings us back to the question: Are there too many shows?
“There only needs to be one — ours,” the LA Audio Show’s Kanner said with a chuckle. “Actually, there are just a lot of people seeing a niche and trying to fill it.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge is for manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Shows are not cheap (one retailer told me he spent $8,000 to exhibit at a single event last year), and the industry today is filled with small firms. Those mom-and-pop shops can struggle with not only the expense, but also the time away from headquarters.
Even larger companies, such as Provo, Utah-based Wilson Audio Specialties, pick their spots.
“We primarily participate in support of our dealers who want to attend a show,” Wilson sales manager Bill Peugh told me. “We also will work with other manufacturers who want to use Wilson speakers as part of systems demonstrating their own gear. So, a room may have Wilson products, but our name isn’t first on the door.”
Still, even that strategy can be exhausting. There’s a lot of preparation, crating and shipping, and Wilson personnel — including company executives — often travel to help set up their speakers and give presentations throughout the weekend.
For serious audiophiles and the hi-fi curious, however, the large number of shows is nothing but a boon. Having so many scattered across the country increases the chance that a music fan can attend at least one. And, from my observation, once an enthusiast makes his or her first audio sojourn, it likely will become an annual must-do. There’s the sensory overload of seeing so much equipment, the thrill of meeting famous designers, the great music and — maybe the biggest lure — the chance to score some otherwise unheard-of deals on equipment.
Since 2017’s four major U.S. shows and several regional events for the most part did at least fairly well, it may turn out that the market indeed can accommodate more. This year’s scheduling, though, is an unknown factor. We’ll find out.
So, pick a show (or shows), book a plane ticket and grab a room at the host hotel before they’re gone. It’s going to be a fun year.
Major and regional U.S. audio shows for 2018
April 13-15, Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, Schaumburg, Ill.
AXPONA will offer more than 150 listening rooms, gear from 400 exhibitors, a large marketplace for records, turntables and accessories, a separate headphone exhibit, and live evening performances by blues legends.
The new hotel is said to offer an efficient layout, as well as a restaurant, coffee shop, a bar that also serves food and free parking.
June 1-3, Marriott Irvine Spectrum, Irvine, Calif.
T.H.E. Show will present a variety of high-end audio and luxury items, including exotic cars.
June 8-10, Hilton Irvine Hotel, Irvine, Calif.
Now in its second year, organizers have moved to a somewhat smaller venue than last year’s Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles. This was intentional, they said. About 100 listening rooms are envisioned, making it easier for attendees to see everything.
“We are essentially taking over the entire hotel,” Kanner said. “It will be a more intimate experience.”
Along with components, records and ear gear, the show will offer live entertainment, wine tasting and craft beer.
July 27-29, Hilton Hotel, Oakland International, Oakland, Calif.
CAF seeks to separate itself from the pack with a carefully curated list of exhibitors that includes well-known names as well as some of the smaller, innovative boutique firms. The event typically is more compact and slower-paced, allowing attendees plenty of time for lengthy auditions and discussions with company representatives.
Oct. 5-7, Denver Marriott Tech Center, Denver, Colo.
RMAF is celebrating its 15th year, making it the oldest event on this list and one of the largest. For 2018, the Denver show anticipates 160 listening rooms and a large CanJam exhibit.
Overall, RMAF takes a not-broke, don’t-fix-it approach. The focus is on two-channel audio and the music it makes. It also is known as the friendliest stereo gathering. If you’re sitting alone in the hotel restaurant, you won’t be for long.
Nov. 2-4, Hilton Hotel at Twinbrook Metro, Rockville, Maryland
This early-winter regional show has slowly been growing and generating more buzz. Last year saw more than 50 rooms, with an attractive mix of brands.
Nov. 9-11, Park Lane Hotel, Central Park South, New York, N.Y.
For the second consecutive year, this regional show will be the weekend following Capital Audiofest, making two sets of events (along with T.H.E. Show and the LA Audio Show) that will be so tightly sequenced in 2018. Organizers expect several hundred products to be on display, including speakers, electronics, high-resolution digital audio and headphones.
— John Stancavage