An Ode to Audio Shows

In these pandemic-riddled days, most of us long for the same sorts of things: the comfort of hugs, the camaraderie of a welcoming bar, the communal experience of going to movies in an actual theater. But recently I found myself yearning for something less general. I realized that I desperately missed audio shows. 

At first, I assumed this feeling was merely a wave of nostalgia, one that would fade like a winter flush on my cheeks. But this age of isolation has now hit the one-year mark, and my trade-show pangs haven’t abated in the least. Indeed, they grow more acute with each passing month. 

This longing for audio shows took me by complete surprise. After all, for the press those shows are a lot of work. They consist of non-stop days moving between rooms that all begin to look the same—mostly because they are pretty much all the same. Yet, each requires intense observational concentration and copious note-taking. Evenings, thankfully, are more social. But the omnipresence of industry reps requires that a reviewer must still be “on.” Fatigue, both physical and mental, quickly sets in. 

So, why on earth do I hunger for these shows? After mulling it over, I hit on several reasons. For one thing, there’s the travel. Obviously, you first have to get to the show, and that often means a journey. Even in normal times, I love journeys. Whether the destination is appealing or not, travel unfailingly provides a change of scene. Amid these days of unrelenting house-boundedness, what could be more tempting than that? 

 Another element of shows that I dearly miss, and which occurs approximately never when you’re in isolation, is the excitement of discovery. For an audiophile, the findings made at trade shows—an incredible value, a sonic triumph, a new technology that foreshadows improvements, or anything that makes high-end sound accessible to more people—are every bit as exciting as finding a good neighborhood restaurant that rocks or finding a new piece of music you adore.

Speaking of which, I now realize that trade shows have consistently been one of my best sources of exposure to new music. You see, not only do audiophiles love to listen to music; they also love to share music, none more so than the folks who make and sell hi-fi gear. Over the years, I’ve fallen for a lot of the music exhibitors have shared with me. Even in the Age of Covid, there are still many, worthy new music releases, but they lack the personal, often-eccentric element of a show recommendation. 

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