After a gap of over eighteen months since the Bristol Show of 2020, we can once again take the opportunity to visit a HiFi Show in October 2021.
Your view of Hi-Fi shows depends upon your view of your hi-fi hobby.
If you view your hi-fi hobby as a loving relationship, (see I’m in love with my Hifi System) then a hi-fi show may be considered as a speed dating event.The chance to explore lots of new potential relationships in a short period.
If on the other hand, you view it as an addiction, (see Is Hifi a hobby or an addiction?) then you will be like a child in a sweet shop, exposed to lots of temptation to satisfy your urge for new experiences and new sounds. Hint: if money is tight, leave your credit cards at home!
In general, the venues are not ideal to gain a true impression of the equipment on show.
Exhibitors are faced with the challenge of either getting maximum footfall by allowing a constant stream of visitors into their exhibition rooms at the expense of a listening experience, or they may choose to run timed demonstrations and for the most popular exhibitors, these are usually ticketed affairs. These definitely offer a better chance to hear the equipment on show, but even then the demonstration rooms are not acoustically ideal and you may be disturbed by loud bass coming through the walls from the next-door room.
As a long time visitor to hi-fi shows, my general experience is that many rooms simply fade into one another and these experiences are not memorable.
However, at any show, there are a few rooms that manage to show you something interesting that stands out from the crowd. My view would be that just because you’re not impressed with equipment in this setting, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make a good sound at home.
On the other hand, if equipment manages to make an impression even in the surroundings then it probably has a sound that you will like. There are a few manufacturers whose rooms I always make a beeline for because generally they always manage to produce a good sound.
Often these are manufacturers of equipment well beyond my budget, and ATC loudspeakers deserve an honourable mention. However, there is also a sense of satisfaction when hearing very expensive equipment sounding really rather ordinary and even sometimes a recognition that your more humble system at home sounds much better to you.
There are individual experiences from past shows that I treasure. In the early days, I met Peter Walker of Quad demonstrating the ESL-63 loudspeaker shortly after it was launched. The demonstration was impressive but I remember mostly this benign beaming grandfather-like figure explaining to a Japanese visitor that there was a six month waiting list for the ESL-63. “Not good!” said the visitor. “Very good for business” said a beaming Peter Walker.
Too often, the music itself is not memorable but designed to show off the system. However, because of that, the exceptions can make some music very memorable. Once in an Arcam room, I heard Faure’s Requiem sounding sublime. I didn’t buy the system but I did buy the CD! On another occasion, I heard Dynaudio speakers driven by Naim amplifiers banging out Led Zeppelin at high volumes and that was very impressive.
So I will be back at a HiFi Show soon, because while most of the experiences are forgettable, the memorable experiences are fabulous!