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The sound of business being done

  • The sound of business. The David Byrne song of the same name made it to the first 6moonbeams playlist for a reason. Diana Krall, Patricia Barber, Jazz at the Pawnshop, “Keith Don’t Go” and Dark Side Of The Moon – they’re the sound of business at audio shows.

    Let us not forget, shows are not a public service: the average manufacturers or dealer exhibitor is in it for a return on their investment. At the very least, breaking even is desirable. Our manufacturer can easily find himself US$10K or more in the hole once time travel/freight and staff costs are factored in. He therefore want his room to sound as good as possible for as long as possible. This more than likely means he’ll set the playlist for the entire weekend.

    Visitor-supplied music will more than likely not be permitted – and that’s fair enough. Accepting a USB key or CD-R from a stranger is risky business. Literally. Hit play on a dynamically compressed song and an attendee on the cusp of signing a cheque might leave. A song selection too out there might send a reviewer off in the wrong direction.

    Perhaps mis-placed entitlement is to blame? Do attendees think it their right to play their own songs on the equipment being demonstrated? I do not. Our exhibitor must surely play that which makes his assembled system sound optimal. Tunes should be selected that play to its strengths.

    Exhibitors letting attendees know of their ‘BYO tunes’ policy upon entering the room might help to assuage the situation. John “Fritz” Heiler of Fritz Loudspeakers had this sign blu-tak-d to his doorway at last year’s THE Show in Newport Beach.


    Fritz’s poster serves as both clarification and warning. Like the majority of exhibitors and (probably) attendees, Fritz knows that Messrs Krall and Lofgren are flogged to death at shows. And there’s nothing wrong with that per se. Demonstrators are free to compile room playlists anyway they see fit. It’s their business. Literally.

    Several thoughts spring to mind though: why is the music selection, typified by Krall and Lofgren, collectively so darn narrow? And will it always be like this? Will we always witness white, middle-aged dudes playing the same songs to white, middle-aged dudes? Won’t somebody please think of the children?

    The intention behind my new 6moonbeams column is to broaden the conversation in the hope that old dogs might pick up on new tricks. Perhaps I’m being hopelessly naïve here (?) but what the heck, I like writing about music as much as I do about the hardware that reproduces it.

    Think pieces on the impending death of high-end audio are ten a penny. Personally, I see many high-end manufacturers in rude health. It’s audio shows that are in real danger of collapsing under the weight of their own cliché, particularly in Australia where the hi-fi market is a mere 10% the size of the USA’s. Unless show music evolves beyond the baby-boomer-centred playlists currently heard, unless we see more rooms mainline garage rock and electronica (like Zu Audio) or funk and soul (like KEF America), the very notion of the audio show it set to die out with the baby-boomer demographic to which it endlessly panders. They have the money now, yes, but what about Gen X/Y? Show organisers must think about cultivating future generations or within ten or twenty years their game will surely be up. As an aside, it’s also one of the reasons I reckon a $100 system and a $500 system are needed at shows.

    Hope for the future? Munich High-End 2014 attracts a broader mix of attendees.

    With playlist risk aversion being seemingly pivotal to proper financial return and show organisers seemingly unable to attract a younger demographic, our baby-boomer exhibitor plays endlessly to his baby-boomer room visitors. Don’t believe me? Go look at the artists booked to play live at some of this year’s regional shows in the USA.

    Unless points of musical difference are noisily celebrated in the hope that they infect fellow exhibitors, the average audio show has its controls firmly set for future obsolescence.

    Love it or leave it? Not a chance. Mark Twain says it better than I ever could: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”

    Further information: RMAF 2015 | THE Newport Show 2015 | New York Audio Show 2015

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Good article! I love my HiFi but you’d have to drag me to one of those shows…. eeek…grumpy old men clinging to records they don’t even like and sneering at each other.

      I think *everyone* would love a cheap system or two at shows, not just the young guys, but the poor middle agers with a family too!

      Question with no notice – what are your (brief) thoughts in adding a subwoofer to a 2 channel system? Sacrilege?

    2. John,

      I applaud Fritz’s BYO Music invitation but I also see the potential risk for an audio vendor, especially if someone brings a poorly recorded or compressed piece of music. It could empty the listening room pretty quickly.

      Perhaps vendors should have a couple hours during the day when people can listen to a few minutes of their own songs. I know when I audition equipment, I have a few selected songs that I bring with me and within 5-10 minutes I know if the system or component I’m listening to qualifies as something that interests me.

      Over the years I’ve learned that even a mediocre system can sound magical playing certain albums from Shelby Lynn, Diana Krall, Rebecca Pidgeon or Dave’s True Story.

    3. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree here. I think that listening to very familiar music is key to evaluating a system, and this is something that I want to do at a show for any system I am seriously considering. As a younger attendee with little patience for Krall and some of the other show favorites, I am not always likely to find recordings I know intimately among the selection that exhibitors have available. But more than that, I’d like to be evaluating each speaker I am interested in on the same song, to better assess their relative strengths and weaknesses.

      That said, this should be handled appropriately by both the exhibitor and the attendee. I would propose the following for listening to tracks brought by attendees to a show:

      1) Limit the time for listening, particularly if you get the impression that the music brought isn’t being appreciated by others in the room or is a poor recording that obscures the capabilities of the system. Exhibitors can be clear that an attendee will only get so much time for the music that they bring, satisfying the attendee with music and reassuring other folks that they should stick around a few min to hear other music.

      2) The attendee needs to be considerate of others in the music chosen to audition. Bring something that will likely be broadly pleasing to a general audience. So maybe not death metal. I use the Fleet Foxes, and many other attendees have asked me for the name of the band because they enjoyed my audition piece so much. Additionally, attendees should pay attention to the quality of the recording/mastering so that systems can be heard in the best light, and so other attendees aren’t turned off by a system when the poor recording/mastering is the real culprit.

      3) Try to do listening to music brought by attendees at off-times, especially if it is multiple tracks or less widely appreciated musical genres. Try to find a time when the room of interest isn’t packed with people (yes, this can be difficult in popular rooms). Head to rooms of interest first thing in the day when they may be less crowded, and if necessary maybe arrange a time to come back to listen to tracks you want to hear. Many exhibitors will also happily arrange after hours listening opportunities for interested parties.

      4) Attendees need to be respectful of other attendees in the room, in particular other serious potential buyers and reviewers. Positive reviews mean a ton for exhibitors, so I always try to defer when reviewers are in the room. And if I get the vibe that another serious buyer is in an exhibitor’s room, I’ll come back or wait until that potential customer is satisfied.

      5) Attendees need to have the music that they want to listen to available in as many formats as possible. CD, USB stick, vinyl. And for those digital files, maybe just have the most important snippets you want to listen to, instead of an entire track.

      6) Attendees might also want to strive to bring tracks (esp. if bringing vinyl) or a collection of snippets from tracks that showcase a variety of characteristics of a system. This is why I like to bring the Fleet Foxes. In a short span of time you can hear dynamic swings, solo voices, vocal harmonies, decays from strings, and the thwack of a tympani to gauge bass impact.

      7) Attendees should also limit the number of rooms that they ask to hear their own tracks in to those that have systems that they are seriously considering. It should be possible to determine from what an exhibitor is playing whether or not you want to hear more familiar music.

      8) Lastly, attendees need to respect the wishes of exhibitors if the exhibitor feels that the music they brought needs to be cut short for any reason.

      Anyway, food for thought. If done well by attendees and exhibitors, attendee tracks need not spell doom for the exhibitor and will allow attendees to much better evaluate the systems of interest at an audio show.

      • While I agree that familiar music might well be an advantage, I would have thought thatw as an argument for BYO.
        At only 63 I am still yet to be familarised with the joys of Diana Krall and haven’t listened to Nils Lofgren since the last time a track popped up on random play.

    4. It’s funny how differently the traditional “audiophile” brands operate compared to the traditional studio/pro market brands, in my experience at least. While the audiophile companies do the whole Krall/Lofgren thing, the monitor companies seem to want people to put their own stuff on. It’s like they enjoy hearing their equipment brutally expose mastering deficiencies of our favourite records. I suppose that’s what sells them. Of course you’d still get some git walking in to a PMC booth and asking “can I run my own amp with these?”

    Climbing Pikes Peak with the PS Audio DirectStream

    UPDATED! Testing the PonoPlayer/Kickstarter returns process