In Search of the Perfect Audio Demo

In May I had an opportunity to attend High End in Munich, Germany, an event considered by many to be the world’s leading hi-fi show. It was the second consecutive Munich show I had attended, and this one was even more bustling with activity than the last. While the show does provide trade-only days, it’s primarily a consumer-focused event — audiophiles from all over Europe flock in to look at and listen to the latest gear, much of it on active display in rooms that pump out nonstop music.

There’s something special about getting the chance to actually sit down and demo equipment at a hi-fi show. Many of the experiences I’ve had at High End and some other events have been truly ear-opening and involved exotic and expensive gear that I otherwise would never have had a chance to listen with. These experiences have gone far to restore my enthusiasm for the vinyl LP as a primary music source, and they’ve also turned me on to the sound quality potential of reel-to-reel tape, another vintage format now enjoying something of a resurgence in the high-end scene.

Of course, checking out the latest AV components, projectors, and TVs is something myself and my colleagues at Sound & Vision routinely get to do at home theater and video-oriented shows like CEDIA Expo and CES. Unlike High End, however, those events are trade-only — an enthusiast lacking legit industry affiliation usually needs to work some angle to gain access. While I do understand the need for CEDIA management to restrict attendance — manufacturers, industry pros, and media alike uniformly appreciate the show’s sane, uncluttered, well-organized format — I feel sympathy for home theater enthusiasts who don’t get the opportunity to see the latest tech developments in video and immersive audio that are routinely unveiled at the show.

Unfortunately, while there are numerous small consumer-based hi-fi shows in North America such as Axpona, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and the Montreal Audio Fest, there’s no equivalent event for home theater. CEDIA Expo is more or less where’s it’s at.

Are there other options for an AV-phile seeking to experience the lifelike images delivered by the latest 4K projectors, the explosive sonic realism conveyed by a high-end subwoofer, or the seamless theater-like surround that new audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X easily achieve? Yes — your local AV shop.

It’s true, of course, that the number of specialty AV dealers has dwindled over the years, and that finding a “local” one can be a challenge for many who live outside of major metropolitan areas. But it’s also true that better dealers will have demo rooms that showcase much of the latest, greatest gear that industry folks get to regularly check out, and chances are you’ll be able to experience it in an even more relaxed and quiet setting than CEDIA Expo. For the truly AV-curious, it’s a trek worth making.