Displeasure at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been building over the years by those involved in high-end audio. High-end's presence has dwindled to about 1 floor, while at the same time the show has been expanded to include everything ‘consumer’ from gaming to self-driving cars and robots. When one peruses the ‘About’ section on the 2018 CES website, there is not one mention of high-end audio (e.g. speakers, amplifiers, turntables, DACs, etc.).
The cost for a manufacturer to display its wares has skyrocketed—same for hotel rooms, among other things. I have heard of room prices as high as $500 per night! Distributors and dealers of high-end audio have for the most part abandoned CES, and thus, so have most high-end audio companies. Even the high-end audio media has pulled back its participation. For example, in a January 9 article in Stereophile, written by Jon Iverson, it is stated that this year, ‘we are running a skeleton crew ....Where in the past we’ve focused mainly on new product announcements, this year we’ll try to cover everyone who made the effort to show up.’
Other more colorful complaints include the fact that in ‘the old days’ CES took place at the same dates and close in proximity to the annual Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) in Las Vegas; the largest pornography industry trade show in the United States. (Lot’s of fun sounding stories are told...). Nowadays, AEE is scheduled several weeks later, so even the fun-factor and attraction of CES have been lowered to new depths—unacceptable, of course.
Enter amiable and energetic Mat Weisfeld, President of VPI Industries, who acted on CES displeasure in a new way: On a (drunken?) whim he boldly went where no man has gone before: he organized an alternative show/party at the new VPI showroom in New Jersey for high-end audio lovers.
Weisfeld passionately explained to me his frustration with CES as shared by many in the high-end audio industry; he has been attending for over 10 years—but not this year. He also thinks its irrelevance is due partly to a self-fulfilling prophesy: By our industry trashing CES for years, and predicting its demise, distributors and dealers took them at their word and headed elsewhere (Munich, Denver, Asia, etc.).
Given that neither I nor any of my Audiophilia colleagues planned to attend CES, I happily agreed to attend the VPI event, and rounded up my local Audiophilia colleagues to join. How could one resist? As described by Weisfeld, we could expect a ‘fun listening party’, ‘food, drinks’, ‘meet/demo some of the finest brands in the industry’. ‘Four listening rooms’. Slam dunk. I quickly started to put together a small collection of LPs to bring along.
I was picked up by car in Manhattan by Michael Levy, CEO and Founder of Alta Audio, and was accompanied by my Audiophilia colleagues Martin Appel and Henry Wilkenson; they too brought along some of their fine LPs. We arrived at about 1:45 p.m. (Note: If you would like to know what it is like to be in a racing car, catch a ride with Levy!)
Upon arrival, dozens of cars filled the driveway and the street. But we found a good spot.
Main room equipment: Nordost Cables, KEF Blades, IsoAcoustics, Ortofon A-95, McIntosh Laboratory Inc. electronics, and Stillpoints room treatment. Source is the VPI Avenger Plus and VPI Voyager Phono.
Roger Gibboni showing his Rogers High Fidelity ware: 34S-1 Integrated Amplifier and PA-1A Phono Preamplifier.
Just as Barron's new LP was about to be played, an `Intermission' was forced upon us—a power failure. It lasted over an hour, but no fear, we spent it in a truly analog way: talking and hanging out, eating, drinking, and meeting in small groups. When the power came back on, it made the listening in all the rooms all the better.
The backbone of the VPI factory crew all attended and were very social, friendly and fun: Marc Boyle, Jan Kulyk , Rich Walker, Leonel Polanco, and Michael and Lynn Bettinger.
This was a fun and attractive homey alternative to CES; many thanks to Weisfeld and VPI for hosting it; perhaps next year it will be repeated.