Dave's Website - Music Show 2002

2002 Home Entertainment Show, May 30 - June 2, 2002


Overview:

The show was on several floors. The big exhibitors (14 rooms), the live music room, and 36 smaller selling booths (mostly music and accessories) were on the main (2nd) floor, with 8 other big exhibitors on the 4th floor. There were six exhibitors and the seminar room on the 1st basement level. On the 6th and 7th floors there were 55 rooms housing about 100 exhibitors. Often there were several exhibitors in a room because each provided part of the equipment. Movement was easier this year than last, as the floors were closer together and there were signs directing people to use the stairs.

The exhibits are primarily set up as demos to drum up interest in the products (they hand out a lot of literature), and to make initial contacts with potential consumers/suppliers/distributors. Most equipment ends up being purchased separately though dealers. The equipment is up and running, there are company reps (often engineers, and for the small exhibitors often the owner) in the room to answer questions. There are chairs for people to come in and listen, but people are free to walk around the room and examine the equipment. The exhibitors bring their own high-resolution music (CDs and LPs), and are very willing to play music brought in by visitors. The music is often unusual and by obscure artists, but it is all well-recorded.

The small sales booths on the main floor are the only place much money changes hands at the show. The booths are staffed by record companies selling high-resolution recordings, and various other accessories including chairs and cables.

The exhibits contain a lot of esoteric equipment. At the high end there still are a lot of tubes and LPs (vinyl records) in use. (Tubes distort in a more pleasing manner than transistors, so the exhibitors tend to use them to avoid offending anyone. The people with “golden ears” claim good vinyl sounds better than CD, so there are lots of record players. The upcoming high-resolution CD formats of SACD and DVD-A are going to put a dent in vinyl sales though). The rooms are full of bizarre record players, CD players, D/A converters, pre-amps, amplifiers (often big open glowing tube equipment), all on fancy stands, and fat cables, with acoustic panels on the walls. The TV/movie display devices were rear projection CRT, DLP and LCD, front projection CRT and DLP, and direct view CRT, LCD, and plasma. I didn’t see any LCOS displays. There were standard cone speakers, electrostatic speakers, and some that I have no idea how they worked. It was fascinating just to see all the strange looking stuff.

The prices of the equipment are incredibly high, as expected for absolute-top-performance nicely-finished low-volume equipment containing a lot of engineering. There were some low priced speakers for $500/pair, but most were over $1000/pair, with the majority over $4000/pair, up to $70000/pair (not a typo - seventy thousand for two JMLab Grand Utopia speakers – but they did sound great!). The movie projectors went up over $20K. Cables can run up to $1000/foot! There was a $16K CD player that only works when attached to the related $16K processor. I am deeply suspicious that some of the products are priced high for only for image reasons and that many of the claims of “advances on the state of the art” are pure techno-babble lies. This is a buyer-beware category for sure. At the Show, people get to cut through the marketing and find out which equipment really makes a difference as far as their own eyes and ears can tell.

The people at the show were very interesting. It was 95% male, with quite a mixture of consumers and industry people. Everyone in the building had a cell phone. I recognized several well-known people including retail owners and trade magazine writers.

Diary:

I had a great time. The weather cooperated, with nice sunny days and warm shirt-sleeve temperatures.

Thursday I took the train down to the City and checked into the Milford Plaza hotel. I was at the show by 2P. I spent the day seeing the highlights and touring half of the 7th floor. When the show closed at 6P I hopped on the subway to Queens to meet Ben for dinner. Ben, his wife Janice, and his son Derek met me at the subway station and drove me out to the incredible East Buffet on Long Island where we stuffed ourselves. Ben drove me back to my motel afterwards.

Friday I was at the show at 10A when it opened. Ben and Irv came in shortly after, and we saw the big exhibitors, the highlights of the 7th floor, and attended a very interesting seminar on the future of display screen formats. At the seminar the Sharp Electronics rep talked about the technology, the Mitsubishi rep talked about the industry, and the president of Harvey Electronics (retail) talked about the changing market impacts of the newer technologies. He said that the flat-panel screens are now being accepted by interior designers (the big projection TVs never have been), leading to more purchases by women, and that within two years his stores will no longer sell CRT-based televisions! Plasma screens are being installed on fireplace mantels, and LCD screens are going into kitchens! We ate lunch at the Marketplace restaurant in the Hilton to save time, where there just happened to be a buffet. So we stuffed ourselves again. In the afternoon we toured half the 6th floor until Irv had to leave. Ben and I continued wandering around until 6:45 when we went to a good blues concert in the music room. When the concert ended at 8:00P we went out looking for an Italian restaurant, which we found with perfect timing just as a thunderstorm broke.

On Saturday I was at the show by myself. I managed to get to the remainder of the exhibits, taking time out for a Japanese noodle lunch. In the afternoon I had time to revisit all the rooms I liked to get more in-depth auditions.

At 6:30P on Saturday it was time for the highlight of the day, the Star Wars Episode II movie! Texas Instruments was pushing their latest DLP chip at the show. Samsung was introducing their new line of DLP televisions. The Zeigfield movie theater across the street was one of only two theaters in Manhattan showing Star Wars Episode II with a DIGITAL picture, using a Texas Instruments DLP chip in a Samsung professional DLP projector. Texas Instruments and Samsung combined to buy out the entire 7P show, and gave out tickets at the Home Entertainment Show. Ben and I managed to score 5 tickets between us. So we were joined by my cousin Delphine, Ben’s son, and Ben’s niece. We had a good time. As we entered the theater everyone was handed a package containing boxes of various concession candies, glasses of soda, bags of popcorn, and a T-shirt. Everything was free, with free refills on the food. We were so loaded down we could barely move down the aisles to find seats! The movie itself was fun, with some great scenes, although the dialog and acting were lightweight. The picture was good, with absolutely no sign of pixelization! After the show we all went out to a local restaurant for dinner.

On Sunday morning after checking out of the hotel I met Ben, his wife, and his son, in Chinatown and they took me to an authentic Dim Sum brunch. We ate all sorts of strange things, and got totally stuffed, for a very reasonable price. Then I headed back up to the show, where Paul and Mike joined me. Paul and Mike have started a company to sell good but value-priced speakers (!), so they were very interested in seeing what their competition was up to. We ran all over the show checking out the highlights, and spent some time picking out CDs in the music booths, until the show closed (for this year!) at 5P. Then I followed Paul over to his apartment where he demonstrated his speakers (nice!), and then we went out for dinner, sitting outside at a trendy place on 3rd Avenue. After dinner I caught the train back home.

After four days, I was in a bit of a daze. I had done very little except exist in a netherworld of listening to great music and watching great pictures, and talking about those things. It actually was difficult coming back into the real world.

Highlights:

Samsung had a big exhibit containing televisions. They had CRT, LCD, DLP, and Plasma screens. The DLP screens blew away the plasma screens (cheaper and brighter). DLP is Digital Light Processing, done by shining a light through a spinning color wheel onto a semiconductor chip covered with (tiny) mirrors (one per pixel) which swivel to reflect the right amount of each color onto the screen. My current interest is LCD screens, and they were showing a nice 24 inch diagonal model at $5000, with a 30 incher coming this year and 40 inch models within 2 years. The displays are getting brighter, more accurate, and cheaper at an incredible rate.

The most expensive room was a two-channel stereo exhibit. Including cables, CD player, processors, amplifiers, and speakers the retail price was $170K. The speakers were JMLab Grand Utopias, bigger than me, at $70K/pair. From what I know of these speakers, they can legitimately claim to be one of the world’s greatest speakers. They did sound nice…

There was a big room with Pipedreams speakers. They have a big column of (15?) mid-range speakers and (20?) tweeters about 8 feet high per channel, with four separate subwoofers. Retail price is $52K. On organ music they sounded incredible. Again, a real claim to being the world’s best speakers.

One room was demonstrating DVD-Audio. It was carefully recorded at 192KHz, 24 bit samples, 5.1 channels. Nice.

The Tact room was showing their latest room correction system. It is a computer-driven device that does frequency- and time-based signal a djustment to compensate for speaker and room interactions (no more boomy bass). It does its work all in the digital domain to eliminate phase shift. They had little speakers mated seamlessly with big subwoofers. I voted it best sound of the show. Sound correction will become standard on all high end systems eventually.

There were several sets of electrostatic (thin Mylar sheets moved with high voltage) speakers, which are very smooth in the midrange. The Martin Logan ones sounded very nice. The best were new ones from Impact Technology that looked like vertical airplane wings, with an external crossover, at $35K.

Have you ever seen a $90K record player? I did, at the Rockport room.

The Sharp and Sim2 Seleco rooms had small front projection DLP units showing HDTV movies in stunning realism.

Dynaudio was showing their latest speakers. They were gorgeous, narrow (about 12 inches wide), about 2 feet deep, about 7 feet tall, and heavy. At around $65K, they looked nice and sounded wonderful in a very big room. And these are not their biggest and most expensive speakers!

One of the rooms was being run with a really nifty Creston universal remote control. It is a “tablet PC” type of thing with a touch screen. Cost is $5000, which does not include programming.

InFocus showed a complete surround-sound home theater for $10K. The picture was good but the audio was a bit lightweight. But still, for $10K it was quite a package.

Next year:

In the next few months the magazines will print their reports from the show, and hopefully it will have been successful enough to make everyone want to put the show on again next year. I’m already starting to make plans to attend!