Field of dreams. “We need local partners,” says Liverpudlian Roy Bird whilst manning the press badge desk on the first day of New Tech ‘15. Bird was talking the possibility of a new show in Europe that cannot proceed until he finds a (media) partner.
For The Chester Group’s Australian audio presence Bird has hooked up with Jim Preece, who by day works as national advertising sales manager for Next Media, publishers of Australia’s only remaining print-based hifi magazine: Australian Hifi.
For the last four years, Bird and Preece’s team have put on the Australian Audio and AV Show (AAAV). First in Melbourne (2011), then Sydney (2012), then back to Melbourne (2013). The yo-yo-ing trend was bucked in 2014 with a second successive year at the Intercontinental Rialto in Melbourne’s CBD for which attendee numbers were good but not amazing. I went. There was enough on show to maintain a steady flow of audiophiles across its three-day run time but complaints of “Where was Company X?” were never too far away.
On the exhibitor side of the fence, it’s been a similar story each year: only a smattering of the bigger guys show up to complement a handful of smaller distributors and manufacturers. A regular sticking point for most, especially the smaller players of which there are many in this part of the world, is the cost of showing. With rooms selling for well north of AU$5K and staff accommodation and hardware freight likely doubling the investment to AU$10K+, a would-be exhibitor must keep a sharp eye on the possibility of a financial return. I’m being conservative with my estimates.
That’s the perennial challenge for Preece and Bird: to snag exhibitors in sufficient numbers to make the show attractive to the paying punter.
For 2015’s Sydney event, the previous years’ hotel venues were ditched in favour of an exhibition hall at Olympic Park – some thirty minutes by train or car from the centre of Sydney. The vibe was to be more CES and less RMAF with the show’s remit broadened beyond the hitherto favoured audiophile niche. The likes of Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Canon, Pentax et al would cover the larger proportion of the cost base so that the comparatively smaller audiophile distributors and manufacturers didn’t have to. Hence New Tech ‘15. Hats off to The Chester Group and Preece for trying something new!
Sadly, the build-it-and-they-will-come approach didn’t pay off. Very few (if any) of the afore listed tech giants signed on the dotted line. Perhaps reflecting Australia’s double-whammy of small population (24m) and sky-high property prices, the cost of entry to exhibitors was higher than the AAAVs of yore. I heard rumours of AU$200/sqm. Is this why so many (bigger) distributors stayed away?
MIA were: Interdyn (Pro-Ject, OPPO, Rotel), Convoy International (Harman, JBL), Sennheiser Australia (who also look after Dynaudio), Amber Technology (Onkyo, AudioQuest), Radiance AV (Chord Electronics, m2Tech), Reference AV (Esoteric, Shunyata, Aurender, Furutech), N.A. (Focal, Naim), and Absolute High-end (Magico, Vitus, Boulder, CH Precision, Goldmund).
One look at the final list of exhibitors showed New Tech ‘15 to be a glass half empty. That’s no biggie in its own right. However…
Despite the show’s rechristening, to these eyes, the ‘tech’ component barely registered: two cars (including a Tesla on Sunday), the far wall dedicated to camera exhibitors and a 3D printing company, opposite them Next Media’s own stand, Parrot’s (very fun) mini drones and a sumptuous looking LG flat panel.
Audio hardware remained the dominant force at New Tech ‘15 and that’s a problem when, like the Las Vegas convention centre that no doubt inspired this fresh approach, the majority of stands are open plan.
At CES, audiophile-centric companies looking for quiet opt for a room at the Venetian. In Sydney, the only pre-emptive measures possible were a prefabricated room in the hall – which were smaller than those seen in Munich High-End’s downstairs ‘Halles’ – or pick up one of three of four side rooms. Of course, premium spaces come with premium pricing.
The guys from Bose set the music volume bar high from outset causing an obvious knock-on effect: in-hall SPLs rarely dipped below 80db.
For those who didn’t go prefab, the ambient noise must have been an impossible situation to manage in an open hall. For example, I know not how Perth-based Audiofly managed to successfully demo their headphones. A real shame given they took the time and money to build a most visually appealing stand. Ditto Yamaha.
I took my own SPL measurements again on Sunday morning around 11 am – same as Friday afternoon. One prefab-housed exhibitor complained that despite powering off all equipment and then closing the door to his room, he still saw background levels top 80db. “Waste of time,” he said, frustrated…
…a sentiment echoed by an audiophile buddy who aborted his attempt to demo the Krell/Triangle system brought by Audio Marketing whose room just wasn’t sufficiently well insulated from the cacophony. Moreover, their prefab room’s long glass wall was probably good for attracting punters but less so for in-room acoustics. This only reaffirms my belief that iRC software is a must at any audio show and failing that, taking a show-and-tell approach with static displays is the smarter move.
That’s cold comfort for the visiting audiophile arriving with expectations of proper auditions and stumping up the AU$25+/day entry fee for the privilege. Expectations that were sharply readjusted upon entering the Olympic Park exhibition hall…for those who did show up.
Reporting on New Tech’s ‘15 threadbare attendance isn’t something I particularly relish. More tightly cropped photos (like the three above) are one way of preventing proper exposure of the uncomfortable truth: that despite the very occasional flurry of punters the exhibition hall sat ninety-percent empty throughout most of the weekend.
One waggish distributor quipped that three quarters of those in attendance that very (Friday) afternoon were themselves industry folk. His sigh of relief in deciding not to take part was palpable; relief that would be worn as barely disguised churlish glee by less charitable faces.
You gotta feel for the smaller newcomers, high on optimism, who went all out with a (unconfirmed) AU$6.5K spend on a full room only to endure heavy noise pollution from the neighbouring suite on top of poor attendance. They’ll not likely see a return on their investment any time soon. Once bitten, twice shy will no doubt be the lesson learnt there.
Speaking directly to another of the more established (read: monied) distributors, their attitude on Sunday afternoon was one of chalking up the misstep of taking part to that of experience. No doubt they can afford to do so.
I won’t comment on the show’s promotion. Just because I didn’t see any doesn’t imply its non-existence. Such arguments are tenuous at best. On Sunday afternoon, I did witness Jim Preece’s wife and Roy Bird flyering attendees drifting to and from a travel expo taking place in a nearby exhibition hall. Too little, too late perhaps? With the travel expo offering free entry, any fee for a nearby event show is gonna to be a tough sell.
Of course, none of this means that there weren’t a few choice moments to be plucked for show coverage proper. That will follow. My aim here is to separate the bad from the good.
As for what will happen next year to The Chester Group and Jim Preece’s show – who knows? Speaking to another (unnamed) distributor yesterday, he believes there to be so little collegiality among the bigger players of the Australian scene that a self-organised show is but a pipe dream and that, for all their weaknesses, it’s still best to see Bird and Preece as the devils you know.
Time, as always, will tell.
Further information: The Chester Group
New Tech ’15 coverage brought you by Aurender: