National Audio Show 2012 • Houston, We Have a Problem

by Roy Gregory | October 10, 2012

  • Absolute Sounds (Audio Research, Krell, Theta, Sonus Faber, Wilson Audio, Jadis, MartinLogan, Transparent, Magico, Metronome Technologie, Continuum, Prima Luna, EAT, Copland, Koetsu, DartZeel, D’Agostino, Micromega, Mimetism, et al.)
  • Audiofreaks (Conrad-Johnson, Kuzma, Muse, Zanden, Cardas, Karan Acoustics, HRT, Magnum Dynalab, Rogue Audio, et al.)
  • Audio Reference (Aesthetix, Acapella,Clearaudio, CAT, GamuT, Graham, Kubala-Sosna, Transfiguration, et al.)
  • Symmetry Systems (Ayre, Brinkmann, Kiseki, Lyra, Soundsmith, Stereolab, System Audio, Thiel, Trilogy, Wisdom Audio, et al.);
  • Naim Audio
  • Linn
  • B&W (Classé, Rotel)
  • Focal
  • GP Acoustics (KEF, Celestion)
  • AIG (Quad, Audiolab, Wharfdale)
  • Audio Partnership (Cambridge Audio)
  • Nordost
  • Chord Electronics
  • Creek Audio
  • Chord Company
  • Epos
  • Tannoy

These are just some of the companies not exhibiting at Whittlebury Hall this year. Take a look through that list and you’ll see some serious international players, let alone those who represent a major part of the UK scene. Can any show that fails to attract the support of such key brands and products really act as (or even call itself) the National Audio Show?

The organizers would doubtless point to the list of exhibitors who were there, but the absence of, in particular, Absolute Sounds, Naim Audio, B&W and Linn represents a hole below the waterline of Titanic proportions. Let’s put this in context; the dealer-organized Bristol Show runs for three days rather than two, attracts more exhibitors and a lot more visitors. Does that make it the de facto UK national event? No -- but it does put the NAS 2012 in perspective.

You can point to the economy and financial hard times, the fact that the UK retail segment is flat-lining and companies just don’t have the money to spend. You can point to the number of companies that placed product in dealer-run demonstrations, or that simply walked the corridors to meet and greet. You can mutter darkly about the choice of venue. But there’s no escaping the fact that there is a catastrophic breakdown in the relationship between the show organizers and the leading lights in the industry it is supposed to serve. The bottom line is that that’s not good for business or customers -- and something desperately needs to be done.

GPoint Audio was at NAS 2012.

I’m not here to apportion blame. There are so many sides to this particular convoluted tale that any such effort would constitute a novel in itself -- although I’m not sure the shambling saga of missed opportunity, egos, ineptitude, ever bigger fish flapping about in incredible shrinking ponds, mistrust, misdeeds and bad blood would make much of a page-turner. Indeed, it’s just another day in the audio business. But what is clear is that it is time for the UK hi-fi industry to put up or shut up -- in this case, perhaps permanently!

It is way past time for the powers that be to stop moaning, bickering and sulking about the state of the UK’s annual hi-fi show and do something about it. That means finding an organizer the industry is prepared to work with or, even better, doing the job themselves by collectively hiring an organizer to run the show for and on behalf of the industry. After all, that is how the High-End Society started in Germany, organizers of the phenomenally successful Frankfurt and now the Munich shows. Indeed, cast your eyes around the world and it’s not hard to find successful, vibrant events. The TAVES show in Toronto took place one week after the NAS 2012 and is only in its second year, yet it was packed with enthusiastic visitors on all three days -- enthusiastic because they were having a great time. It was well supported by the industry, superbly organized and really well promoted.

The show overviews that we write at The Audio Beat generally reflect the feel of and the trends that emerge at each event, singling out a few rooms or systems for special mention. When I write them I also get to hand out my special DFC (Duck For Cover) award. Normally, that goes to the most offensive sound at the show, but this time round I’m making an exception -- I’m offering it more in the spirit of advice: to the show organizers of NAS 2012. It wasn’t your fault, guys, but sure as eggs is eggs, you are going to get the blame. The inescapable conclusion is that, as enjoyable an event as the Whittlebury Hall show genuinely was, the numbers just don’t add up. The UK desperately needs a national event, with many more important and higher-profile exhibitors -- and a lot more visitors. And that will only happen if the whole industry -- manufacturers, distributors and dealers -- make a concerted effort to get behind it.

Meanwhile, Whittlebury Hall needs to decide what exactly it is -- because a National Audio Show it isn’t.

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