A HiFi Show Induced Rant

If nothing else, hifi shows are filled with cliches.

1. “There’s too much expensive stuff and not enough affordable stuff at hifi shows.”

A few years ago at an unnamed hifi show, I was having breakfast at the venue and overheard two men talking at a nearby table. The older gentleman was explaining their costs to exhibit to the younger fellow and the total was $100k in round numbers. This included shipping, T&E for all of their people in attendance, and of course the cost of their single, large exhibit room.

Which leads me to wonder why any company laying out that kind of cash for a show would ever choose to exhibit an “affordable system.” The only reason I can think of is to piss their money away. But let’s say that’s an extreme example and you don’t have to fly a ballroom’s worth of gear and a staff of eight half way across the globe. You and a buddy pack up a van and drive your affordable hifi to the show, which gets you in and out for under $15k. Two questions—how much does an affordable hifi cost and how much of it do you have to sell to break even? Let me help—not enough and too much.

Let’s face facts—hifi shows, like car, boat, and art shows are for the initiated. The enthusiast, the hard core who are willing to put up with crowds, less than ideal conditions, the costs and the smells to experience stuff they otherwise wouldn’t. And like every other hobby in the known universe, most hard core hobbyists are attracted to the new and the ‘best’ when attending a specialized show.

2. “How can we attract more young people to hifi?”

Thinking ‘young people’ will be more interested in attending a hifi show if there was more ‘affordable gear’ is like thinking more ‘old people’ would attend a Mannequin Pussy concert if they just lowered the ticket price and didn’t play their music so damn loud.

If one of our daughters called to say they spent the weekend at a hifi show, I’d be concerned. And part of the reason is young people today appear to have a 10 to 15 year greed tax [footnote 1] to contend with because they have to work that much longer before they can possibly have the things we had at their age. Things like a place to live of their own, a decent car, and decent health insurance. My grandfather left school before the 8th grade to work in the Paterson mills and eventually became a union carpenter. He was the sole wage earner with two kids and he bought a plot of land at the beach years before he ‘retired’ upon which he built their summer home. Try that today.

If we want more young people to use some of their disposable income to buy nice hifis, they need to have disposable income. Not to mention a place to put a nice hifi and the time to use it.

The fact of the matter is, asking “How can we attract more young people to hifi?” is a wrongheaded question because it embodies the problem. Namely old people thinking they know what’s best for young people.

3. “Keith Don’t Go”

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, hifi shows are not always a walk in the park for exhibitors. Whether it be damaged, lost, or gear delayed in shipping, noisy neighbors proud of their subwoofers, tiny rooms with more nodes than an arthritis clinic, the endless balance between quiet and cool (please turn on the a/c), talkative attendees, and crap wifi, putting your best foot forward is not a given. So the last thing you want to do as an exhibitor is chase people out of your room with less than stellar sounding music because 99.9% of those people heading for the door will blame the system.

That being said, there are over 5.7 million great sounding tracks readily available (I counted), with 1.6 thousand more released every week (that’s an estimate). So I have to wonder why some exhibitors feel the need to play the same few tracks over and over for years on end. Is it a lack of imagination? A lack of effort? Fear? A love of tin pans and alleys? The need to amuse bore people to death?

Imagine paying good money and waiting in long lines to see a special museum exhibit titled “Great Art Through the Ages” only to find two types of paintings on velvet throughout the show—pigs playing poker and thin Elvises. Room after room of pigs playing poker and thin Elvises. On velvet. Now imagine you talked some young folk who were new to art into going and being shocked, shocked!, to learn they thought art sucked. No sanctuary here…

4. “It not all about the music, it’s also about the gear.”

If hifi’s didn’t have music, there’d be no hifi. If music had no hifi, there’d still be music except for audiophile music. When all is said, done, and spent, the enjoyment of music is hifi’s end game. If your hifi doesn’t let you enjoy any and every piece of music you ask it to play, get rid of it and buy one that works the way it’s supposed to.

Footnote 1.