High-End Audio Exhibiting

An Inside Look At The “Other Side”

Jon Gale

21 June 2002

What follows is a somewhat linear account of exhibiting at a major consumer electronics/high performance audio show. Specifically, the Stereophile sponsored Home Electronics Expo 2002.

One of my graphics clients, FPS, was to launch a new loudspeaker, the F1. After creating the signage and handouts to be used at the show, they invited me along for the ride if I’d lend a helping hand. (They didn’t have to ask me twice!). This came about so quickly; my flight tickets were rushed delivered just the afternoon before the trip. Properly sleep deprived from creating the graphics, and anxiety prone over the tickets, I was off.

Day 1: Uh Oh, It’s Gonna Be a Long One

Awoke at 4:00am to make my morning flight to NYC. Double-checking my tickets and stash of Atavan, (Atavan is an anti-psychotic I take before flying. I REALLY do not like to fly!), I’m off. Arriving at the Hilton and finding our exhibit room, Bradley and I take my bags to our personal room and we are back to the exhibit. Nothing but boxes at this point and we all charge in. Immediately evident is the fact that we just may have a wonderful “crew” of guys. All egos were in check, feverishly working on putting on a good show.

Problems arose immediately unfortunately. Cable problems. The speaker cables supplied, a generous loan of a system worth of Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference, were single wired, with the F1 loudspeaker being bi-wire. We got the system up and running by shot gunning two lengths from the amp, while Bradley tracked down Acoustic Zen President Robert Lee to see what could be done. Mr. Lee quickly came to the rescue with a nice set of jumpers, and one problem solved. Next, more cable problems. You see, we had made a conscious decision to exhibit the F1 with commensurately priced equipment and not front load the speaker with $50k of esoteric electronics upstream. Long term, this really paid off, as the comments from show goers were uniformly positive. Short term was another story entirely. You see, the surround receiver we brought did not have provisions for spade OR banana connections. So there I was, wincing each time I cut off the beautifully finished spade connectors on the cables used for the surround. (I actually took this worse than Mr. Lee, who just smiled and said, “No problem! I fix later!).

It is now around noon and we break for lunch while the speakers and equipment break in. Returning, John Lacow and I start the speaker dial-in process. This went relatively quickly as the speaker/listener room modes were established quite easily and the F1 proved to be rather undemanding in placement. Sidewall reflections were now mapped out and Sonex was to be applied. Problem: as per Hilton Hotel mandate, nothing was to be affixed to walls or ceiling, and Sonex does not support itself! This time it was John “McGiver” Lacow to the rescue, fashioning support frames from some small diameter PVC pipe and his trusty parachute chord. (If there is ever a version of Audio Junkyard Wars, I want this guy on my team!).

Late afternoon now and the dialing in proceeds in earnest. One decision that was to be properly second-guessed the next day was: where to align the sweet spot? Having room for three rows of chairs, three wide, I made the decision to have the middle seat of the second row the established sweet spot, thus allowing the F1 to be placed a bit further into the room for less mode excitation. Time was now running out, and a dinner break was planned for 8:00pm. During dinner we established our play list and delivery, and we called it a night. I returned to the room to check the equipment and play a bit more before hitting the lounge for a much needed, and very large, rum’n’coke. I returned once more to the room and tweaked just a bit more, listening to some of the material I had brought, and in general “put the room to bed”. Returning to my room to sleep, a quick glance at the bedside clock told the story. It was now 3:22am, and I had had almost a 24hr day. And I could not have been happier in this moment…

Day Two: Reviewer Day and Oh, Am I Embarrassed!

Awaken at 7:50, a bit bleary eyed but none the worse for wear. First orders of the day: coffee, shower, coffee, breakfast and coffee, return to the room. Some final clean-ups, tweaking and arranging of handout material performed and we are open for business!

This day, the so-called “Industry Day”, went smoothly, with only one major hiccup the whole day. It seems that during the initial speaker set-up and dial in, I was concentrating so hard on imaging, transparency and dynamics; I did not see the forest for the trees. I’ll admit it here: I screwed up the right and left channels on the amp inputs!!!! And of course, adding insult to injury, it was none other than Clement Perry, Publisher of the Stereo Times that mentioned it first. Problem solved, albeit with an extremely red face on my part!

We ended this day on a high note, the “team” of Bradley Smith, John Lacow and myself proving to be a formidable factor in what was to become a very successful exhibition. Once again, all egos were in check with never a misstep, we proved to have totally disparate demonstration styles and patter. This kept the demo from getting overly stale for the MANY repeat visitors to the room. I do question the placement of this “Industry Day” however. As the set-up was still not perfectly to my liking, and the speakers just getting “on song” late in the day, I wonder if this day should be moved to the last. This point is moot however, as the most important public days were now at hand.

Dinner again, more talk of refining the play list and patter, and the decision to pull the right and left channel surround speakers from the set-up. As they were crowding the main F1’s both physically and acoustically, they had to go. We decided to use just center, and L/R P1 surround speakers for the duration. Bradley and I returned to the room after dinner to get this done, and called it a night. I returned to the hotel lounge, VERY large rum’n’coke awaiting, and found a new best friend, David Schiavone of Acoustic Zen. We spent the next hour talking things audio and not, agreeing to meet up later, as I had just a bit more work to do. You see, earlier in the day, the designer of the F1, Albert Von Schweikert, voiced his displeasure in the set-up. (He was listening from the front row seat). After accepting my explanation as to why I choose this particular positioning, we decided to try another. Back at the room, I moved the speakers back 1’ and the three rows of chairs into the room another 2’. While this did put the speakers in a position to hit the room modes a bit harder, coherency was now greatly improved (the sweet spot now being the center front row). My day being done, I returned to the lounge to find Dave. One VERY large rum’n’coke later, we decided to stretch our legs and HEY, we accidentally found ourselves inside one of the premiere “Gentleman’s Clubs” in New York. WOW! How’d THAT happen?

Returning to my room, the day at its end, the bedside clock read well after 3:00am. Mental note: I gotta stop looking at this clock…

Day Three: Now it Gets FUN!

Friday, and the show is now open to the public. Repeat previous morning ritual, with behavior centered on coffee intake. Relatively good foot traffic with the elevators starting to get crowded, one can feel the buzz building and a different vibe taking over. As I had surmised, the show is a completely different animal than an industry only CES. These are MY people walking in the door now, the difference being that they brought and we played…MUSIC. It was a very intangible mood swing really, but sometime during the afternoon it became “about the music”, with the actual hardware being a mere afterthought. Possibly it was because the “team” was really starting to gel. (For my part, I can say once I found a “center” to operate from, this public speaking thing became effortless). Possibly the F1 was finally breaking-in, it was FAR more dynamic today. Possibly it was the show goers themselves that brought the much needed energy and playfulness to the show. Whatever, this day gave no hint as to the riotous fun that was to be had the following day.

A single moment, a brief ten seconds of ones life. Funny how certain moments burn into your psyche in such a way as to last a lifetime. Fueled by the “playfulness” of the visitors and vibe in our room, I simply cannot remember being this happy in years. In one of the all-too-long waits for an elevator, I catch a glimpse of one of the most stunning outfits on a woman I have ever seen. A wildly colored crepe’ blouse with a subdued, layered crepe’ mid-calf length skirt. PERFECT shoes, PERFECT nails, PERFECT hair…and she was walking toward me. I don’t know quite what it was, but something told me -- her gate, or the way she carried her shoulders -- that she simply had no idea how stunning she was at this little moment in time. She stopped next to me and turned to face the opposing bank of elevator doors, and I simply could not stop myself. I gently touched her shoulder and exclaimed, “Miss? GREAT outfit”, while gesturing to her clothes. And the smile she returned to me, frozen in my mind, was simply breathtaking. Complete with an ever so slight wrinkle of the nose at the end, CLICK, frozen, forever. There are times when the simple act of making ones day is worth a week of my life. This was one.

This day finished, we decide to lone wolf it tonight for dinner. I meet up with Clement and the gang for dinner, and generally shoot the breeze with the assembled gang. I return to the hotel, and not ready to retire just yet, saunter again into the lounge, one VERY large rum’n’coke, thank you, in hand. And there’s David again, sitting with an assortment of exhibitors in which I join. Many hours later finds David and I telling our woes and wants to each other while the cleaning crew is buzzing around us, removing the signifiers of merriment this fine night had deposited.

Off to bed and no don’t you do it! Ohhhhh I looked at the clock: 3:25am and I’m going to bed.

Day Four: Oh Yeah, THAT’S What I’m Talkin’ About!

I rise at 7:00am, shower, and head for the hotel restaurant for coffee. “Excuse me sir? Just plug the pot into this vein right here. Yes, yes, this is a much quicker delivery system, thank you.”

MANY repeat visitors today, most asking to play even more music they had brought from home. This day ramped up like no other, in mood, in smoothness of delivery, everything. Brad had appointments all morning and evening that effectively removed him from action, so it was left to John and I to man the reins for the day. And ohhhh did we take advantage! We loosened up the play list and took more attendees discs than the previous days. The room was rollicking so well at one point, John and I high five’d as we passed each other in the room. The fun reached a point where we were basically playing “top this cool tune,” one after the other. I remember one wonderful middle-aged African-American gentleman bringing in a very nice female jazz vocalist to a cool version of over the rainbow.

When the cut ended, I said, “I can go one better”. He replied, “Naw, you can’t top that!” I said, “Oh yeah, I’m all over that”. Reaching for the disc in mind, I said, “How about a 300 pound, ukulele-playing Samoan doing a medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “It’s a Wonderful World?” He replied, “You gots me man… you gots me.”

Now isn’t this what this whole crazy audio thing is supposed to be about? Sharing wonderful music in the highest fidelity possible? Jeez this day went well. I genuinely feel we created a good buzz around the show this day. After seven straight hours exhibiting, followed by a couple more and general room shut down, I simply did not want it to end.

We eat Italian that night, with food-challenged me actually trying out some squid appetizer. (It won’t happen again I assure you…). I learned the ramifications of the Japanese “Compie!” -- what we call “cheers” with rules attached -- with John and I vying for highest honors, still flying high from toady’s exhibit.

Fully expecting to leave the next morning, I decide to do some last minute midnight shopping. Walking the streets of New York, I was surprised to find I was not all that impressed with the city. Being from a major city myself, Detroit, I found it not too different, only New York has moving pictures on some of the larger buildings. Big deal. But the PEOPLE! WOW! The people! What a wonderfully huge mix of races, cultures, and languages! Oh yeah, I could definitely hang here for a while!

I had to do it. I check the clock before going to bed and see that it is only 1:30am. Whew! A good night’s sleep at last.

Day Five: WHAT? How Could I Screw This Up?

I rise at 7:00am, shower, and consume copious amounts of coffee before shoving off to the airport. I go to the airport and get in the baggage claim line. I wait. Finally, it is my turn, and I approach the desk and hand my tickets over. The man says, “Mr. Gale, did you make any changes to your flight schedule?” “No,” I say, wondering just what the problem may be. The man says, “Well, it says here you are flying out… tomorrow.”

Yes indeed, I thoroughly screwed this one up! I swear I had read my ticket earlier and read Sunday departure! I just looked at the man sheepishly and said, “Good! That means I get to play some more!” With that, I turned and hailed a taxi and made my way back to the Hilton. Boy, were they surprised to see me walk back in!

The rest of the day went, well, pretty much as a continuation of Saturday, with many people returning with more music to share and wonderful enthusiasm. As the show wound down, and the crowd began to thin, people were still trying to come in and get just one more fix, which I completely understood. Soon, the halls were filled with shipping boxes and a flurry of activity inside each room. Our breakdown went well, as Bradley had expertly planned the box storage and packing hierarchy. Our job finished, I twice went looking down the hall for my new buddy David in the Acoustic Zen room. On both trips I saw a shirtless man in one room, making a futile effort in trying to pack some rather large electrostatic speakers. On the third pass of his room, I had to ask, “Hey buddy, you need a hand?” He looked up, paused, and said, “Really could use one…”

With that, I followed Roger Sanders directions on how to properly pack his Inner Sound Eros loudspeakers. It was only then that I realized that I had not taken any time off to actually have a look around the show myself. I had always wanted to hear this speaker, and many more, but failed to take advantage. Well, no matter, there will always be another show. More importantly, there will always be other music lovers in which to share this wonderful thing we call High Performance Audio.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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