The Hub: Viva Las Vegas!

Forgive me if some of this is elementary. I don't know how much you know about the Las Vegas shows.

The Big Kahuna is CES: the International Consumer Electronics Show, a giant trade-show-cum-party thrown by CEA, the Consumer Electronics Association. Now, there are really several CESs; what you see on TV with the gadget gurus takes place in a couple of huge convention centers, featuring displays of software, TVs, all kinds of stuff from about 2,500 companies (CES website), with keynote speeches from the likes of Steve Ballmer. The show is immense, hugely bureaucratic, and painfully expensive for exhibitors.

This whole shebang is a TRADE show, which means attendees have to produce business cards or proof of professional allegiance in order to gain entrance. It's not like RMAF, where newbies stroll in, check out some 'phones, maybe buy a coupla discs or downloads. Think of CES as WHOLESALE, and RMAF as RETAIL. CES is primarily selling product to potential distributors or dealers; that does occur at RMAF, but most of the pitching is to end-users.

The CES most audiophiles care about is a tiny corner of the show called the High-Performance Audio exhibits. A few hundred exhibitors are tucked away in stripped-out hotel rooms (admittedly, very NICE stripped-out hotel rooms) on the upper floors of the Venetian Hotel. A few of the bigger players occupy ballrooms on the lower floors, which can be tricky; while the ballrooms are large and impressive, they are also tremendously echoic, with severe bleed-through from neighboring rooms. Without proper set-up, the sound can be "a chamber of horrors", as one well-known reviewer defined it for me last year.

So, how big a show are we talking about? The CEA's own figures pegged 2008 attendance at about 141,000; last year, called by cynical veteran attendees "the deadest in memory", dropped to about 113,000. While still a heckuva lot of people, it did mean you could make your way down the hallways of the audio exhibits without apologizing to someone every five feet for stepping on their toes or elbowing them in the ribs. As such things go, it was comfortable, which is NOT how show-producers like it.

Of those six-figure body-counts, how many make it through the audio exhibits? I've never been able to get official numbers from CEA (and yes, I have asked), but unofficially, I've been told 5,000. Obviously, that's a tiny fraction of the show's overall attendance; given that RMAF this year had 3,700 attendees, much lower costs and a much cooler vibe, the CES audio exhibits may be losing some of their influence.

As if shows in other parts of the country weren't enough of an annoyance, CES has The Home Entertainment Show (T.H.E. Show) right in its own backyard. T.H.E. began in 1998 as the cross-town, laid-back cousin to CES' audio exhibits; exhibitors were often smaller and tweakier than their uptown counterparts.

This year, THE has moved from its old home at the Alexis Park to the Flamingo, just down the block from the Venetian. While CES' audio exhibits are contracting, THE's are more numerous than ever, featuring well-known audiophile brands like Magnepan, VMPS, Atma-Sphere and Kondo (view full list).

THE's attendance policies fall halfway between RMAF and CES; trade attendees are welcomed, but so are members of audio societies. While there's generally no free lunch in life, there is at THE.

So, which show? For me, the choice is easy: both. See you there? I'll be the tired-looking sweaty guy in a suit. That should narrow it down for you!
No doubt these shows will be an overall indicator of the health of the industry and as well as the narrow vertical market we call high end.

With national unemployment cradled now at 10 percent, although when one considers those that have fallen of the roles, but still seeking employment, those that have found jobs, but working for far much less than years past. The real figure is close to 17 percent unemployment nationwide. Here where I live in Martin County, Flordia the figure is over 12 percent and has been at that level for many months now. My sales here on Audiogon are down some 30 percent in 2009.

This is not a recession, but a full blown depression, ask those out of work if this is a recession or depression.

I spend a lot of time with ARPH (Australian Shepherd Rescue)and we have been challenged as never before in the long history of this rescue. In 2008 and some of 2009, we were bringing in Aussies into rescue, from folks that clearly over extended themselves in their home purchase and many Aussies were brought into the program. This year it is the salt of the earth people, that are in the throes of these times. Folks that didn't over extend, but now are laid off, severly diminshed income and now those Aussies are coming into the program. I only offer this info on Aussie Rescue because we are the official nationwide, border to border, coast to coast rescue for this breed and this has been our economic indicator, and the future assesment is very bleak for 2010.

In regards to high end, it will survive, but we will see many fall in these trying times. I will be anxious to see how these shows manifest. This is not the end, but in my opinion the landscape may forever be changed.

I am considering attending at this late juncture; however, it seems it would be difficult to secure credentials to the High-Performance Audio exhibits with "audio enthusiast" as bona fides.
C1ferrari: the CES show proper my indeed be difficult to attend without some form of business affiliation. However, all they require is a business card with your name on it, and a company name that somehow implies an electronics industry affiliation even if the implied affiliation is advertising related or just about anything else really. Be aware though, there is a $200.00 registration fee at this time if you want to attend.

On the other hand, the T.H.E. Show (at the Flamingo) is free to attend, and they are much more flexible on who may attend.

Nice to run into you, Bill (almost literally) at THEshow. It does seem quite a shake-out of the smaller entrepenurs, I can only hope costs can be kept down at THEshow for some of us small guys and DIY'rs like myself to keep an even playing field. Overall the sound quality, on average, was better to my tired ears at THEshow than at the Venetian high performance CES exhibits. I won't comment on specific sound rooms as it seemed many were commpromised by the mix of speakers, electronics, and software (as so many guys now call the music). Ipods everywhere, less vinyl, but still fun to hear the lastest stuff. Best wishes to Audiogon and THEshow too....Cheapmike (Used Equipment).

THE show report.

The main reason I came was to see Bryston and Magnepan combo presentation.

However, I was quite disappointed by their set up.

I was hope to see Maggie 3.6 or 20.1 with various Bryston's amp such as 4BSST & 14BSST.

But they only matched up 1.6 maggie with 28BSST !
(what a joke )

They drew the most audiophils, but the guys who ran the room doesn't seem to care for the attendees like other exihibitors. (perhaps too tired from showing to so many people)

So I'll give Mag & Bryston D minus for their presentation.

However, of the 100 or so vendors at the Flamingo, 3 companies really stand out and got my attention

The first is Sanders Sound System, Sound lab and Teresonic.
My favorite was Sanders speaker, very crisp, detail, excellent imaging... for about $13K.

My only complaint would be it is TOO crisp and TOO clear.
I would say it is lacking in natural comfortable listening sound.

But if you want the pure undistorted sound, I think Sanders speaker delivers the best... Most accurated full sound for your buck.

I would love to test it with vinyl and tube preamp. I would bet that the sound will be much warmer and feel natual...

So two of the top three were electrostatic speakers.
Teresonic speakers were the only conventional speakers that gave me a goose bump. Beautifully curved designed but it was powerful, all hi, mid, low, all ranges were superbe. This one can handle full symphonies.

Sound Lab M1 speakers were the most expensive of these 3, and it was HUGE. I mean this thing was humongus!

Natually, it sounds very natural... I think it sounds better than Maggie 20.1

I feel tense when I listen to Sanders, my nerves are all awake and intense,, but Sound Lab speakers made me realxed and let my guard down while I listen...

I am glad I came here,,, this was a wonderful experience.
My ears got real treat thsi weekend.

Where else can i listen to so many different systems in one day?

Viva Las Vegas, Viva THE show !!!
The Magnepan-Bryston exhibit was, in fact ,the new Magnepan 1.7's, not the 1.6. I agree with you about Wendell Diller being unwelcoming and a poor presenter. I visited that room three times. On Thursday, it sounded impressive but a bit mechanical. On Friday, it was sublime. On Saturday, he shows up at 10:10, the room fills up and he switches on the amps. No warm up! Unimaginable -- what was he thinking? It sounded lifeless and, again, mechanical. So I can see why you might have left unimpressed. But I was knocked out on my second visit.

thanks for correction on Mag.

The Mag was the main reason I came to the show -
I guess I was expecting too much...

I went there 3 times, too. Couldn't get in one time, though.

Sencond time it was much better... the music came out alive instead of dull and dead.

Anyway, I thought the Mag should have sent a better team of presentors... just my 2 cents.

What other sound systems did you enjoy at the show?

Cheers !
A few friends I've spoken with have told me attendance is WAY off this year. Can anyone confirm this? Obviously, anecdotal evidence from one or two people is not enough to draw a real conclusion from.

It very much surprised them, as they were expecting a bounce back this year.
This is what I hear from taxi driver and exhibitors -

Better than last year.

Of course if he is comparing to 2 years ago, it is still WAY off.