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T.H.E. Show 2022: Hi-Fi Shows Are Back…So Why Are Manufacturers Making the Same Mistakes

There were a lot of great sounding rooms at T.H.E. Show 2022 but the manufacturers are making the same mistakes and failing to offer new customers affordable experiences.

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Putting on a Hi-Fi show is an enormous amount of work; having worked in the financial media and event planning side of that industry in the 1990s, I have a strong understanding of the challenges of running something as complex as a trade show with as many 30,000 attendees in multiple cities over the course of a few months. Everyone loves to complain about how they are run — but none of those people could do it better. If they could — they would be in that business.

The COVID pandemic was the final nail in the coffin for a number of Hi-Fi industry trade shows like RMAF and there is enormous risk involved when putting one on; there is no guarantee that consumers will show up even if they pre-order tickets.

Emiko Carlin worked like a meshuganah to put The Home Entertainment Show 2022 on and we were very proud to be involved as both a media partner and participant. It’s something that we will definitely do again.

Meeting existing readers and new readers after this weekend was a great experience for our team; this was the first industry Hi-Fi show for many of them even though they have been audiophiles for many years.

We had breakfast and dinner together almost daily for 4 days and it gave us an opportunity to compare notes, and listen to differing opinions about the systems that we all listened to.

The eCoustics Team at T.H.E. Show 2022
The eCoustics Team at T.H.E. Show Long Beach 2022 (except Emiko).

If you think we all agree about what we collectively listened to — you would be wrong.

We’re going to cover our “Best in Show” in a future article at the end of the week, but make no mistake — some companies understand the landscape in front of them a lot better than others.

S. California is an enormous market for high-end audio/video and personal audio equipment and it was encouraging to see younger consumers and more female listeners attend over the course of the three days.

All of that being said, I still see (having attended and covered shows going back to 1998) the same people attending and manufacturers making the same mistakes; which is increasingly frustrating for a number of reasons.

The Skinny

The region has a number of very successful dealers and it makes sense that they represented the vast majority of the rooms at the show.

But I have a sincere question for all of them.

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Do none of you sell anything that is affordable for potential new customers to experience at a show?

I understand that dealers want to show off the “best” that they sell, but how does it attract new business if you run a pair of $8,500 loudspeakers with electronics and cables that run over $100,000 USD?

Boenicke W8 Loudspeaker in Walnut Finish at T.H.E. Show
Boenicke W8

The Boenicke W8 were one of the best loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show 2022; I might even nominate it for the “Best Room” when we vote.

The $85,000 worth of electronics driving them seems like a lost opportunity.

Most of the show attendees who are seasoned audiophiles are not dumping their existing systems for this one, and the younger people who attended their first high-end audio show are probably leaving that room both impressed with what they heard but also discouraged that they can’t afford anything.

This same scenario played out in so many rooms. Far too many.

If the industry doesn’t kick the habit and let the 25-45 crowd who are new to all of this experience systems in the $2,500 to $20,000 range — the current generation of audiophiles will die off in the next two decades and that will be it.

The other issue involves the inability of vendors to properly sell the experience.

You’re selling the world’s best music listening experience. Create a listening experience that resonates with people. Hotel rooms and ballrooms lack any real sense of intimacy or the look and feel of a living room or den.

Invest in rugs, art, lighting, and furniture that creates some actual ambience.

Devore Fidelity O/baby Loudspeaker right angle at T.H.E. Show
Devore Fidelity O/baby

Common Wave Hi-Fi did that in their DeVore Fidelity/Audio Hungary/Merason room that actually felt like a real room. I wanted to go back because it felt like my den; albeit just slightly smaller.

You want someone to pony up $120,000 for the system you are demonstrating?

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Earn it. Seduce them. Make them want to stay and listen all weekend and think about which kid they are selling to pay for it all.

Related reading: Show reports about T.H.E. Show 2022.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Ostap Nakoneczny

    June 13, 2022 at 1:17 pm

    The Boenicke W8 room would serve me as a bellweather of the industry. My question to the room organizer would be – how crappy are these speakers if it takes 850K of equipment to make them sound good? If we follow some recommendations for system spending the speakers should be about 25% of the total budget. In the case of the Boenicke W8, the electronics should total about 25K. Not 85K. The industry will not die but it will morph into an industry strictly focused on those with deep pockets. Like todays’ exotic cars, watches, cigars etc.

    • Ian White

      June 13, 2022 at 1:41 pm

      Ostap,

      My sense is that the system could have been done for $30K and it would have still impressed everyone. They’re very good speakers.

      Ian

  2. BobPM

    June 13, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    I get tired of reading some review cites for the same reason — I don’t really want to read about another $12,000 DAC connected with $2,000 apiece cables.

    One of the reasons I come to ecoustics is the equipment is rational. I’m a 60 something lawyer that can probably spend much more than I do, but to me the art of the audiophile is finding equipment, like the topping D90SE DAC, that makes the overpriced equipment have to justify itself.

  3. Michael King

    June 13, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Good article, thank you. You are far from alone in making these deserved criticisms of the industry. Younger readers may have missed this gem from ten years ago by the late Art Dudley.
    https://www.stereophile.com/content/skin-deep

  4. Mike Cornell

    June 13, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    I passed on reading much if not all of the online reports of the Munich show. Pretty much everything was unobtainium, price-wise.

    • Ian White

      June 13, 2022 at 10:43 pm

      Mike,

      I don’t have an issue with things being expensive — minus $14,000 power cords which are absurd.

      I take issue when manufacturers don’t see how only showing $100K systems is not helping them. How it might generate a few sales but it’s not bringing anyone new into the fold for life.

      Do you know who gets it? Gary Y. at SVS Subwoofers.

      I was present when a young couple came over to him very early on Saturday morning and the wife asked him what he had that she could buy her husband for his birthday. She gave him a budget. He showed her options — because he had them.

      They will be SVS customers for a long time.

      I loved the Boenicke W8 speakers. But give me some options below $30K or $20K with them. For an entire system.

      The cable loom in the room cost more than a fancy car. Dumb.

      Best,
      Ian White

      • Mike Cornell

        June 14, 2022 at 2:10 pm

        Ian…speaking of ‘affordable’….are we ever going to see Erik’s review of the KLH Model 5’s? First mentioned in Feb, then March, then April and then most recently ‘by the end of May’….I know he’s going ‘in depth’ but just wondering if/when we are going to see it, or is it just Pye in the Skye? šŸ˜‰

        • Ian White

          June 14, 2022 at 5:23 pm

          Mike,

          He’s working on it right now. We discussed it in California. Tick tock.

          Ian

  5. ORT

    June 13, 2022 at 10:24 pm

    Fit and finish are important and so many of the offerings at the show were exemplary in that respect, especially so the speakers.

    But that does not adequately explain the usurious pricing of a great many things audio. And in general. I hold no grievance, real or imagined, against those who build or buy such goods. I am old enough to remember “penny candy” and buying a SNICKERS for five cents. Gas for 20 cents a gallon and less depending upon if the station (all were full serve) was having a “gas war” with another nearby station. Movies (with a cartoon!) for 25 cents. And more.

    On Saturday a friend took his wife and young son to a Padres game. It was a double header and he told me that parking cost $50.00 but that was for only one game. If you stayed for the second one, it cost you another $50.00 for parking.

    And the reason given? None. No one was performing the role of attendant at the lot when he parked their car, so it could not have been the argument of having to pay a “living wage”. I suppose it was just a matter of they could ask what ever they wanted and then see what the market would bear that day and tow those that did not deposit their money in the appropriate slot.

    In Audio, I doubt that would work. I like some thing enough to want it, I have to work and save for it. But if it becomes beyond reason for me to do so, e.g., I could get some thing for my family for the same about or less or we need some thing that is essential to our well being, then I will look else where for a similar albeit more affordable product or just hold off until I can once again save up.

    The equipment I have more than suffices, if not for the “soul” then at the least for my ears, eyes and ego. Hey! EĀ³!

    I think, not feeeeeel, that it does no real good to really complain to folk at shows about the cost of their wares. I think it does nothing but harm the vender into not wanting to take on the cost of doing another show.

    There was a man in one of the rooms that told the gentlemen in charge of the room (and in a distinctively loud enough manner to be heard by all) that he should NOT play a particular song on a particular piece of equipment again as it “was soooooo turribly, turrrrribly BRIGHT that it hurted” him. He was announcing his frAudiophilian Credentials to all present. Sheesh.

    And then he just sat there. I told my son I had to leave as the song had not bothered me but the whine coming from the frAudiophile in the front row was akin to having tinnitus from bees making a hive in my normally empty head.

    The best thing one can do to make the point that some thing you like is too expensive for you is to not buy it. There may come a day when economy of scale allows the sale but until then, buy what you like within your limits. An audio enthusiast’s reach can (easily) exceed their grasp or what’s a credit limit for?

    Nah.

    As in relationships, it is best to not make more of some thing until it has proven it self worthy of doing so. In our case, Buyer’s Remorse is looking at and listening to what you thought would be Audio Heaven and instead turns out to be more Detroit or Chicago. Ugh…

    ORT

  6. BG

    June 14, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    Agreed. If you can’t make your speakers or other gear sound decent with modest ancillaries, you don’t sell great speakers or gear. Maybe it won’t show it’s full capabilities, but everybody knows that, right? I appreciated the Graham Audio room, which had expensive (25k) speakers sounding amazing with a modest Moonriver integrated amp behind it. Sources might have been pricier, but at least you know you don’t need Nagra amps to hear them shine!

    • Ian White

      June 14, 2022 at 8:41 pm

      I agree.

      We already reviewed the Moonriver and it was my first chance to hear it live. I was very impressed.

      The Boenicke W8 are really good speakers. But $120K to make them sound like that? I need $5,000 to $8,000 options to make it sing.

      Best,
      Ian

      • ORT

        June 15, 2022 at 1:33 am

        Ian, for $5,000 to $8,000 I will come sing. It won’t be pretty but it will be in earnest… šŸ˜‰

        ORT

        • Ian White

          June 15, 2022 at 1:39 am

          ORT,

          That made me laugh.

          Ian

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