The Home Entertainment Show, NYC

T.H.E. Show in Manhattan this past weekend featured many big name manufacturers and well known local dealers—Wilson, MBL, KEF, YG Acoustics, Wes Bender Studio, Innovative Audio, Sound by Singer, High Water Sound, to name a few. Judging from the attendance, hobbyists eat this stuff up—big time. Judging from my ears, there’s another story to tell.

First disappointment : Having to wait in line to get into some rooms, then finding them over crowded and smelly. It was like going to an amusement park only to spend hours standing in line for rides that last a minute or two—’t’snot amusing. There was only one vendor with the smarts to take control by allowing a limited, and comfortable, number of people in the room at a time. That room was also nicely arranged to make listening possible and pleasant. (And by the way, that room was Best of Show.)

Second disappointment : Too much noise, talking, shuffling. It was impossible to really listen carefully or critically. This may be advantageous for the venders with half-baked goods. They don’t want you to hear how mediocre their products are, but smart vendors of respectable gear would take measures to mitigate the distractions.

Third disappointment. Poor selection of recordings. Oh, they played lots of stirring, popular music that everyone recognizes, but old, hissy, flawed recordings make it impossible to critically judge and compare sound quality. It’s hard to tell whether you’re hearing the quality of the recording or the playback. Smart vendors would show off their equipment by playing the highest quality recordings.

Fourth disappointment : Inappropriate volume levels, and it wasn’t always too loud. I’ll give you a few examples. Small rooms with small bookshelf speakers playing, or rather, trying to play a recording of a symphony orchestra. Little boxes with little drivers can’t reproduce the weight of 60+ musicians at a realistic volume—it wasn’t loud enough, and if it had been, it’d have been even worse, distorted. Another example was solo cello playing a Bach partita. It sounded excellent, clean and undistorted, but if a cellist were in the room playing right in front of you, it would have been a fraction as loud. And then there’s the inappropriate volume because the speakers can’t handle it, such as an operatic soprano, convincingly portrayed, until, she hits her peak, then OOOOUCH! Twenty-eight thousand US dollar speakers with tweeters that can’t handle it. Smart vendors would turn it down a few dB.

Fifth disappointment : Overblown bass. I’m tired of having my ears boxed by booming bass. This wasn’t across the board, but too, too common. Some attendees blame it on small rooms. I blame it on the manufacturer and the vendor. Know your equipment, set it up properly, adjust for the lowest room mode. Smart vendors would demo their product in ways that highlight their strengths and show that they work well under ordinary, average conditions, just like ordinary, average hotel rooms; just like your ordinary, average room at home.

Most of the products demoed were not MMM items (Moderate price, Middle of the road, Mass market). They were PEH products (Premium, Exclusive, High priced). As producers of PEH products they have no right to make excuses or peddle merchandise that is plainly over compromised and/or only marginally better than the MMM goods they profess to leave in the dust. They are superior in some ways. Their build and finishing is superlative. Those 28k speakers are tanks on spikes. Their massive enclosures really do significantly reduce to a minimum the cabinet resonances, and they do use higher quality parts which should produce lower distortion than cheaper parts, but twenty-eight thousand USD is not justified for a shiny box with three drivers and a handful of electronics. The same job can be done for much, much, much less (and done better). This wasn’t the only example. Nearly every room was packed full of overpriced, over compromised, over promising and under delivering audio gear. Why aren’t we incensed? We’ve gotten far too polite. When are we going to lay it on the line and speak up? It’s not about ranting and raving. There’s no need to be mean or rude, let’s just start being candid.

All told, smart vendors would. . .

Why bother? It’s too obvious, they are not smart.

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