January / February 2021
Editor's Lead In
Normally in this issue we'd bring you a round-up of CES, held in Las Vegas every year in the first week of January, but this year, just like last year, there's no such thing as 'normal' thanks to Covid-19. So of course CES wasn't held this year. Or, rather, it wasn't held as a physical event. In true "the show must go on" spirit, the show's organisers decided that they couldn't forgo all that lovely exhibitor revenue and turned the CES into a 'virtual' event, proudly proclaiming on the opening day "The first-ever, all-digital CES 2021, owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association, opened its full digital experience to audiences around the world. This transformational event provides audiences with a front-row seat to the innovation and technologies that will move the world forward. CES 2021 will feature more than 1900 exhibitors representing the entire tech spectrum ... (and) attendees will experience a highly personalised show where they can see the latest product launches, hear insights from global visionaries, engage with global brands and startups, chat and meet with attendees from around the globe and receive recommendations based on personal preferences."
This might have been all well and good for some exhibitors and potential attendees, except that 'virtual' really doesn't work where high-fidelity components are concerned, because most of the newsworthiness of a hi-fi product revolves around how it sounds, and this can't be determined via a 'virtual' event. So Australian Hi-Fi didn't go to CES this year, nor are we publishing our usual CES Report.
Truth be told, we weren't planning to go to CES this year anyway, even before Covid-19. Firstly CES is enormously expensive to cover, Vegas hotels being at least five times more expensive during CES than they are at other times, not to mention the cost of flights from Australia to the US even during a normal holiday season. But secondly (and mostly) we didn't plan to go because very few audio companies now exhibit at CES. It's too expensive for them too. So whereas once it took several journalists an entire week to cover all the rooms with audio exhibits, the last time we went, we covered the entire show in just two days. Plus CES has lost its relevance for audio manufacturers. They now head for the Munich Audio Fair for their 'big' releases and announcements, and also exhibit at the multiple smaller national shows across Europe and the USA, (Milan and the Rocky Mountain Fair being two of the best-known of these).
Why are manufacturers bothering with smaller national shows? Mostly, it's because there are fewer hi-fi stores around the world than ever before, and fewer stores that can afford to stock high-end audio equipment. Just take the components we've reviewed in this issue, for example. Any dealer who demonstrated a system comprised of the Pilium Elektra DAC, Gryphon amplification and Harbeth speakers would be expecting a customer to pay $126,490. And since it's likely that far more expensive speakers would be paired with an Elektra/Essence combo, all-up cost would be more like $200,000. Sure the dealer would be getting the equipment wholesale, but that's still a whole lot of money invested in one single system. It's not just dealers who are affected by the spiralling cost of hi-fi components.
We recently asked a very large distributor for a loan of a product for review only to be told that it was an 'indent only' model. That is, they didn't bring it into the country and wouldn't do so unless they had a firm order for it. It's lucky that the great majority of Australian distributors are more far-sighted, otherwise even more Australian audiophiles would be travelling to overseas hi-fi shows (and dealers!) to audition components they're interested in purchasing.
On the bright side, it means that hi-fi shows in Australia will benefit from increased numbers of exhibitors, which is great for audiophiles because the shows will (mostly) be within driving distance. Well it might be a bright side except that the only show that had been announced for this year (the Stereonet show, at the Pullman Convention and Events Centre, Albert Park, Melbourne) has now been postponed due to a scheduling conflict with the Australian Grand Prix. First Covid-19, then Formula 1. Sigh.
Subscribe To Australian Hi-Fi Magazine