In my 25-plus years in the specialty AV business, I've been to my fair share of audio and AV shows. I've been on the exhibitor side, and I've been an attendee. Just a few weeks ago, I attended the Los Angeles Audio Show and saw a variety of demos that ranged from wonderful to "what?"
Regional audio shows are becoming increasingly important to the hobby. Even big-city dealers aren't showing as much equipment as they used to, especially the higher-end stuff. Those who live outside of major metropolitan areas have no choice but to make a trip to New York City, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Orange Country, and now Los Angeles if they want to actually see and hear the greatest in audio. Their reward is a treasure trove of audio demos and the opportunity to build community with like-minded audiophiles.
There's no denying the desperate need for newer, younger clients to buy specialty audio/video products, and these regional shows can be a valuable tool to reach a new audience, provided they can deliver high-quality, forward-thinking demos. I've done my fair share of demos at these shows, and I'd like to share some tips. (Feel free to chime in with what you want to see and hear at these shows in the Comment section below.)
Tip One: Only Play Popular, Relatable Music
Forget about playing obscure music, no matter how good it sounds or how well it was recorded. Stick with RIAA-certified platinum-selling music that appeals to the demographic to which you aspire to sell. One of my clients switched up their music at the recent Los Angeles Audio Show from singer-songwriter stuff to Led Zeppelin; by the time the track was over, the room was packed. I talked with another client about playing some Audioslave and Soundgarden out of respect for the recently departed Chris Cornell. It's great demo music (especially the Dual Disc of Audioslave if you can find it) that stands out from anything I've heard at any recent audiophile show. Unknown bluegrass jams and Don Ho tracks are cute, but I'll take "Show Me How to Live" or "Jesus Christ Pose" anytime. So will the predominantly male Gen-X audience that might be walking the show floor.
Tip Two: Standardize Your System
If you're a new high-end speaker company debuting product at a show, stick with mainstream, well-known electronics and other gear for your demo--to give the listener some frame of reference. Too often one walks into a room to find unknown speakers mated with completely out-there electronics. That's just too many unknown variables to make a meaningful judgment. Standardize some of the factors, and people can relate more easily to your demo.
Tip Three: Decorate Your Room and Use Acoustic Treatment
It's hard to make a hotel room sound like a recording studio, but room treatments go a long way. Bass traps always help when trying to make audio sound good in a hotel room. Treating the first-order reflections (about three feet in front of the main speakers, above and to the sides) also can be huge. But please, please, please use quality treatments (you can sell them on Audiogon or eBay after the show to save on shipping) and hide them. Plants are best for this, and believe it or not you can actually rent plants for this type of event. It's worth every penny.
Tip Four: Use Basic Lighting Control
Things just sound better in a darker room, perhaps because your eyes aren't so distracted by every detail of the room. Granted, most rooms aren't like the Aria in Vegas (a really nice spot, by the way) and The Hotel Bel Air, which are decked out with full Control4 systems. Don't fret: a trip to IKEA for a few up-lamps and one or two other lighting fixtures, plus a few simple dimmers from the local hardware or lighting supply store, can solve the issue for about $100. Just make sure your product is well lit--and add a sign with the product's model name.
Tip Five: Display Crazy-Colored Speakers
I've made hundreds of banner ads for clients over two decades of AV publishing, and one thing I've learned is that the products we write about are mainly silver, black, or white rectangles. They don't look that cool in most photos, especially press photos from a show. A little color can go a log way in catching people's attention. Displaying a pair of XYZ Audio's $10,000 speakers painted in Lamborghini "Fly Yellow" makes a statement. It pulls people in from the hallway. It gets the press to take photos and inspires posts on social media. These are all positive things.
Tip Six: Don't Be Afraid to Display a Nice UHD TV
Most audiophile demos omit the video display completely, and that's a shame. Many of our readers have or aspire to have a nice UHD TV between their speakers. There are so many great concert videos that sound fantastic and add a compelling video component to draw people in. You don't have to run video all the time; you can just turn off the set during the audio-only part. Either way, having an UHD TV on display says, "I understand how your living room works" versus, "Your wife is going to divorce you if you bring this system home." That's a big difference. Much like the plants, you can rent the TV for the weekend--sometimes from the hotel itself.
Tip Seven: Take Good Care of Your Guests
Before the show, go to Costco and buy 10 cases of small water bottles. Load them into the bathtub, ice them down, and offer them to visitors to your room. While you're at it, pick up a few bags of the good Halloween candy and put out a nice big bowl--many people have been walking between hotel floors for hours without anything to eat. A little boast to their blood sugar can change their mood for the better while in your room. I've even seen some companies (retailers) set up a small bar in their room. While this carries a higher cost, a Tito's on the rocks or a little Macallan 12 (even in a plastic cup) can hit the spot after a long day of listening to audio systems.
Tip Eight: Subwoofers Are Not Evil
Too many audiophile demos lack the subwoofer, and that costs in terms of performance on so many levels. It's okay to install a subwoofer that has been properly tuned to play along with speakers. It is. Really. Consumers do it, and demo rooms should embrace it.
Tip Nine: Don't Ever Hand Over the Mic
Don't allow some clown to come into your room, pull out his phone or case of CDs, and take control of your system while you have a room full of people. If it's a press person, close the room off for 10 or 15 minutes and make it a private demo. Likewise for a VIP client. For the most part, it's best to craft a good playlist of four to five tracks and stick with it.
While audiophile demos seem to have lost favor at major trade shows like CES (read our take here), it's pretty clear that regional and even international shows (Munich is becoming THE audiophile show) aren't going anywhere. Making the demo rooms sound better, look better, and be more relevant will help reach more of the right kind of consumers and inspire them to buy into the audiophile and home theater dream.
What are some of your best show experiences? What demos do you remember and why? Who did the best demos? Comment below.
• High-End Audio at CES: A Post Mortem at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• It's Time to Start Breaking Old-School Audiophile Rules at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Our Reviewers' Guide to Having More Fun with Your AV System at HomeTheaterReview.com.