Speakers

Is This the End of High-Performance Audio at CES?

High-performance audio section of CES might have seen its last gasp in 2018 with paltry attendance at the Venetian.

Is This the End of High-Performance Audio at CES?
Fewer international attendees and the disappearance of audiophiles is hurting the high-performance audio area at CES.

Jason Knott · January 12, 2018

The good news for integrators visiting the high-performance audio area at CES 2018 is that they got to spend plenty of quality time with each vendor. The bad news is that the number of high-performance audio vendors at the show has dwindled remarkably. Unfortunately, this set up a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: If the vendors don’t exhibit, the integrators won’t come, and if the integrators won’t come, the vendors won’t exhibit.

This year, the high-performance audio rooms, which are located at the Venetian Suites venue, were down to just one floor. In past years, it has been three floors plus. Many of the key players were there, including:

Lenbrook, Emotiva, Straight Wire, Onkyo, SVS, Klipsch, Paradigm, Harman, Sound United, Totem, AudioControl, and GoldenEar. Many of those companies shared space. On the video side, Elite Screens and Wolf Cinema had a presence.

Of the suites I was able to visit, only one—Lenbrook’s—was filled with activity. The rest of the suites had dealers trickling in sporadically during my visit. Most of the manufacturers I spoke with mentioned, unsolicited, that they would not likely be exhibiting at CES 2019. It was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle, elbow-to-elbow activity at the Sands Expo and Las Vegas Convention Center venues. 

So What Happened?

Maybe the writing was on the wall last year at CES 2017 when two of the suites in the high-performance area were occupied by AARP and Serta Mattress. The running joke among attendees was the elderly audiophiles there could take a nap and check in on their retirement status while listening to audio.

But unfortunately, that joke might be ringing true. Audiophiles are diminishing in number as the earbud generation takes front and center.

The other circumstance that has affected the audio area is the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) show in Amsterdam. That show comes up just one month later in early February. Most of the European distributors are now opting to meet with their manufacturer partners at that event, according to several vendors. One told me that in previous years he had 22 international distributors at CES, from Australia to Latin America to Europe and the Far East. This year, he said only his distributors from Mexico, Russia and Australia showed up. 

The international attendance is also being hampered by the rise of the Munich Audio Show. At the consumer level, that end-user event is where the vendors are meeting their high-end audiophile clients these days.

For the U.S. dealers, cost has become a factor. Hotel room rates in Las Vegas during CES have risen astronomically. In some cases, hotels within walking distance run $800 per night during the show. The other factor is that integrators are busy, and breaking away from their businesses for even a few days is more difficult than ever right now.

“This is the end of high-performance audio at CES,” said one exhibitor bluntly. 



  About the Author

Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at [email protected]

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  Article Topics


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Comments

Posted by Chuck Schneider on January 16, 2018

Jason, don’t forget Alexis Park, a quiet non-casino hotel that was high-end audio’s CES home for a number of years ending in.2006. A Day Three CES tradition for me & a few friends was an afternoonn CES shuttle to “AP” to check out everything there, then a walk next door to the St. Tropez to hear what the “rogue” high-enders were offering at T.H.E. Show. We ended up at the (then) new Hard Rock across the street for a long late lunch, Always my best and favorite day in Vegas. Sadly I could see the end coming even back then. Face it, audiophiles are largely aging hobbyists just like most amateur photographers, stamp collectors, gardeners and bird watchers. The “vinyl resurgence” is/was an unusual yet unsustainable blip. For all the hoopla surrounding shows like Rocky Mountain, they draw far far fewer people than the average summer outdoor antique show. And as you recall, I’m in a unique position to ascertain that.

Posted by bobrapoport on January 15, 2018

Its been over for 10 years already, I stopped going after 2004.  Its a waste of time and money for high end specialty audio and video vendors. I miss seeing all my friends but they dont go anymore either. Its just a different business now.

Posted by Joe McCollough on January 14, 2018

Is This the End of High-Performance Audio at CES?
No, High End Audio dead is not dead. It’s no longer the driving force of the audio business. The business model for a successful A/V dealer has changed dramatically, And, those companies that have survived the last decade or two have also changed. The industry started with the windup Victrola, which in its day was remarkable. A person could enjoy recorded music in their parlor, “How convenient”
Now over the years the industry grew and most of the growth was in the improvement of sound quality.  The real market place for the industry was to the Audio-file. Someone sitting in a room critically listening and enjoying the quality of the art. Along with the invention of better methods to store and play back recorded sound came added convenience.  A CD is much more convenient than a vinyl disc. An MP3 file is even more convenient. Yes, an analog vinyl album has a sound quality that is hard to beat. But they are cumbersome, hard to manage, easy to damage. The friction between the needle and the record will degrade the grooves in an album over time. Where digital recorded content can be replayed infinitely without degrading the quality. Additionally, to experience the difference between an analog record and a digital recording the music needs to be played through high end electronics. So, I do not see vinyl making the big comeback to the mass market. My point is Convenience / Quality.
The high, end retail market has grown exponentially over the years. So much so that it requires two additional shows, CEDIA for residential and INFOCOMM for commercial markets. The successful business model has gone from selling TV’s, Bookshelf speakers, and Transistor radios. To installing Home Theaters, Whole house Audio, and Automation systems.  The consumer no longer needs bookshelves of LP’s, but a library of 2,000 songs stored on their phone. There is no longer that exchange of placing an album on a turntable every 20 minutes. And you no longer need to be in the same room. For years advancement in the industry was driven by quality. Today it’s convenience. 

Posted by paul greatreps.com on January 14, 2018

This trade event still has some relevance as it encompasses technologies that many integrators need to be familiar with. High end audio is one of them although as you state, interest in it is waning a high quality audio and video is now assumed. The finer hobbyist points of high resolution are of little interest to the mass marketers as the niche in that market narrows. But consumers still want great looking, great sounding products so knowing how to deliver that is essential. I would think that with “consumer electronics” being right in the name of the event that the entertainment aspects of the category would be addressed. They represent what many people spend the most time with and get the most enjoyment from.

I once heard it said at a trade conference I attended “CEDIA is the planet we live on but CES is the universe it is in.”

Posted by highfigh on January 14, 2018

High end displays need isolation, if they want their products to sound great, so this isn’t really surprising. The real reason may be cost- if a hotel room can cost $800, how much is the display space? Sony stopped going to CES in the early/mid-‘80s (I think it was ‘83) because their booth (a double) cost $2M an they weren’t seeing the results they wanted, so they started going to various cities and having a ‘pre-show’, where they could meet with dealers without going deaf and spending so much.

I went to CES in Chicago from ‘78 until it moved and hated being blasted by the exhibitors who tried to get attention via SPL. It was a long, grueling day and if anyone remembers, the high end brands were usually off-site, in hotels.

If anyone is to blame, it’s the hospitality industry, gouging people when they could just charge a more normal rate and ensure occupancy. If they keep charging too much, CES may have to move. RMAF and Axpona may be where the high end companies show their products, as long as they aren’t inundated by people who want to bend the ears of people who are trying to communicate with dealers.

Posted by Drvideoinc on January 14, 2018

I have attended CES for the last 25+ years, and the high end exhibits were always a strange mix, off in a distant building (used to be in the Sahara before the Venetian.) It was always a lot of time spent to see a just a few manufacturers. I quit going to the High end exhibits probably 15 years ago. However, I think if they could display in a single area or two by the convention center, where we could walk by and stop in when needed, the high end exhibitors would have much, much better attendance, and maybe make it worth their time and $$ to be there. (I understand it would be harder to demo, but thats the tradeoff at this point IMO.)

Posted by Drvideoinc on January 14, 2018

I have attended CES for the last 25+ years, and the high end exhibits were always a strange mix, off in a distant building (used to be in the Sahara before the Venetian.) It was always a lot of time spent to see a just a few manufacturers. I quit going to the High end exhibits probably 15 years ago. However, I think if they could display in a single area or two by the convention center, where we could walk by and stop in when needed, the high end exhibitors would have much, much better attendance, and maybe make it worth their time and $$ to be there. (I understand it would be harder to demo, but thats the tradeoff at this point IMO.)

Posted by highfigh on January 14, 2018

High end displays need isolation, if they want their products to sound great, so this isn’t really surprising. The real reason may be cost- if a hotel room can cost $800, how much is the display space? Sony stopped going to CES in the early/mid-‘80s (I think it was ‘83) because their booth (a double) cost $2M an they weren’t seeing the results they wanted, so they started going to various cities and having a ‘pre-show’, where they could meet with dealers without going deaf and spending so much.

I went to CES in Chicago from ‘78 until it moved and hated being blasted by the exhibitors who tried to get attention via SPL. It was a long, grueling day and if anyone remembers, the high end brands were usually off-site, in hotels.

If anyone is to blame, it’s the hospitality industry, gouging people when they could just charge a more normal rate and ensure occupancy. If they keep charging too much, CES may have to move. RMAF and Axpona may be where the high end companies show their products, as long as they aren’t inundated by people who want to bend the ears of people who are trying to communicate with dealers.

Posted by paul greatreps.com on January 14, 2018

This trade event still has some relevance as it encompasses technologies that many integrators need to be familiar with. High end audio is one of them although as you state, interest in it is waning a high quality audio and video is now assumed. The finer hobbyist points of high resolution are of little interest to the mass marketers as the niche in that market narrows. But consumers still want great looking, great sounding products so knowing how to deliver that is essential. I would think that with “consumer electronics” being right in the name of the event that the entertainment aspects of the category would be addressed. They represent what many people spend the most time with and get the most enjoyment from.

I once heard it said at a trade conference I attended “CEDIA is the planet we live on but CES is the universe it is in.”

Posted by Joe McCollough on January 14, 2018

Is This the End of High-Performance Audio at CES?
No, High End Audio dead is not dead. It’s no longer the driving force of the audio business. The business model for a successful A/V dealer has changed dramatically, And, those companies that have survived the last decade or two have also changed. The industry started with the windup Victrola, which in its day was remarkable. A person could enjoy recorded music in their parlor, “How convenient”
Now over the years the industry grew and most of the growth was in the improvement of sound quality.  The real market place for the industry was to the Audio-file. Someone sitting in a room critically listening and enjoying the quality of the art. Along with the invention of better methods to store and play back recorded sound came added convenience.  A CD is much more convenient than a vinyl disc. An MP3 file is even more convenient. Yes, an analog vinyl album has a sound quality that is hard to beat. But they are cumbersome, hard to manage, easy to damage. The friction between the needle and the record will degrade the grooves in an album over time. Where digital recorded content can be replayed infinitely without degrading the quality. Additionally, to experience the difference between an analog record and a digital recording the music needs to be played through high end electronics. So, I do not see vinyl making the big comeback to the mass market. My point is Convenience / Quality.
The high, end retail market has grown exponentially over the years. So much so that it requires two additional shows, CEDIA for residential and INFOCOMM for commercial markets. The successful business model has gone from selling TV’s, Bookshelf speakers, and Transistor radios. To installing Home Theaters, Whole house Audio, and Automation systems.  The consumer no longer needs bookshelves of LP’s, but a library of 2,000 songs stored on their phone. There is no longer that exchange of placing an album on a turntable every 20 minutes. And you no longer need to be in the same room. For years advancement in the industry was driven by quality. Today it’s convenience. 

Posted by bobrapoport on January 15, 2018

Its been over for 10 years already, I stopped going after 2004.  Its a waste of time and money for high end specialty audio and video vendors. I miss seeing all my friends but they dont go anymore either. Its just a different business now.

Posted by Chuck Schneider on January 16, 2018

Jason, don’t forget Alexis Park, a quiet non-casino hotel that was high-end audio’s CES home for a number of years ending in.2006. A Day Three CES tradition for me & a few friends was an afternoonn CES shuttle to “AP” to check out everything there, then a walk next door to the St. Tropez to hear what the “rogue” high-enders were offering at T.H.E. Show. We ended up at the (then) new Hard Rock across the street for a long late lunch, Always my best and favorite day in Vegas. Sadly I could see the end coming even back then. Face it, audiophiles are largely aging hobbyists just like most amateur photographers, stamp collectors, gardeners and bird watchers. The “vinyl resurgence” is/was an unusual yet unsustainable blip. For all the hoopla surrounding shows like Rocky Mountain, they draw far far fewer people than the average summer outdoor antique show. And as you recall, I’m in a unique position to ascertain that.