Do enjoy the music you hear at audio shows? In the main, I do not. My tastes are more closely aligned with FactMag and The Quietus than Just Jazz Guitar or Gramophone. Not every audiophile subsists on a diet of Jazz At The Pawnshop or Harry Belafonte but you wouldn’t know that from wandering the halls of the average hi-fi show.
Compounding the problem of same-same choices is the paucity of CD players with which guests could once bring their own. Insisting on a factory-pressed CD was one way for the exhibitor to prevent home-baked discs burnt from lossy sources making it into the tray.
Digital audio has brought with it considerable convenience to the average listener but computer-based front ends in audio show rooms hold attendees at arms length. The restaurant is licensed but BYO isn’t too commonly accommodated.
For attendees holding USB keys full of tunes aloft the file provenance issue presents. I can certainly sympathise with exhibitors refusing on grounds of doubt. Some politely sidestep that awkward conversation by lamenting that they don’t have the required software to transcode FLAC to ALAC (necessary for iTunes library loading).
The manufacturer or dealer’s tendency to play it safe with the tried and true cuts of years gone by sees many a showgoer stuck in a Groundhog Day of Nils Lofgren and “The Great Gig in the Sky”.
A few exceptions aside, the majority of music heard at shows is clearly aimed at the dominant demographic: middle-aged white men who savour the familiarity of Diana Krall and Hotel California. Having already detailed my complaint some two years ago, I’ve no wish to repeat myself here. I’m not advocating that we all start listening to A Place To Bury Strangers or The Haxan Cloak, just that there’s a hidden thirst among a (mostly) silent minority for greater musical variety.
Thankfully, the advent of lossless streaming provides us with an opportunity to share CD-quality streams with fellow audiophiles. Show exhibitors with sufficiently robust Internet connections can pipe Tidal or Qobuz direct into their rooms.
For those without the luxury of bandwidth, there’s an opportunity to hear fresh music without feeling encumbered by the lossy encoding of Spotfy or Rdio.
Putting myself in the shoes of a hi-fi demonstrator, I asked myself what I might play at an audio show. The answer arrived in the form of ten-song playlist comprising mainly mid-pace numbers – tunes that could easily be slipstreamed into the usual programming of Norah Jones without causing too many frowning foreheads or turned-up noses.
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