BLOG #77. CanJam NYC-2020: Newton’s First Law In Action


BLOG #77. CanJam NYC-2020: Newton’s First Law In Action

Having barely recovered from a bout of a mysterious cold, in the second week of February, I had to embark on an excruciating weeklong trip to CanJam NYC-2020 in New York via a short stop in Amsterdam to have a glimpse at the Integrated Systems Europe “Custom Installation” show.

The only purpose to visit that huge ISE show was (alas, a cancelled at a very short notice) business meeting. Otherwise, the show has nothing to do with my current interests (except that I still want to point out a moment in history when we would see a show demo of a custom-install gadget to flush the toilet via Internet).

CanJam NYC-2020 happened to be at the very onset of the international coronavirus hysteria. Due to which out of 80 original exhibitors 11 didn’t show up.

My general impression form this event is that each CanJam is getting more and more the same: the same group of manufacturers are going through the motions mostly demonstrating, basically, the same products.

I came to the show as a visitor; the last time StereoPravda exhibited at the CanJam was in 2018. We stopped doing it due to various reasons; the main one is explained and illustrated below.

Although, this time, there were a few new faces. For instance, HEDD from Germany premiered their “Full-Range Air Motion Transformer” headphones. Despite all the hoopla about the technology, I was not too impressed with the headphones’ “light weighted” having a, sort of, “plastic” aftertaste to it.

What did impressed me a lot at the show was the demos of another (new to me) German manufacturer: Meier-Audio. Their sophisticated headamp/DAC/DSP table top units called “CORDA SOUL” and “CORDA COUNTRY” are some very powerful tools to get rid of the most harmful headphones/earphones sonic problems, and from what I heard at the their demo table at the show, their technology is a very efficient one. Its general idea is very similar to the technology that we use in our own StereoPravda “DACCA” unit, except that DACCA, first, implements all its adjustments in the analog domain, second, DACCA is a portable unit, and, last, but not least, with its two completely independent sections DACCA provides an opportunity for active two way amplification.  

Regarding the old camp at the show, time after time, I am hugely impressed with Benchmark’s DAC and headamp combination’s sound: pristinely clean, vivid and dynamic, which obviously represents a pedigree of an exceptionally solid technical background.

The worst part of the high performance portable audio’s stagnation, which is obvious at the show, is that while all the players imply a bad want of genuinely new solutions that would provide a foundation for a decisive step in reaching a new plateau in sound quality (a la Sennheiser HD800), nobody does anything unorthodox enough to put their words where their mouth is. While it seems that all the orthodox means obviously fully exploited their complete potential and already reached their saturation point.

The other side of the inertia’s coin is that anything truly original and unique is met by both the main players and the “educated” by them core customer base with a high level of suspicion, and, in the long run, with the potential customer base’ ignorance or even rejection towards such unique solutions.

A publisher of a prominent local portable audio Internet site, when I pointed him to a Meier-Audio exhibit, told me that their gear is too technically challenging for their audience. What?! You just read a brief User’s Manual and go ahead. But for the current generation of portable audio enthusiasts, as I was very surprised to find out, that kind of effort already happened to be “too challenging”. That is probably why, while the tables of all sorts of headphones’ and earphones’ manufactures, let alone, some exotic cables’ ones, required to wait in lines to hear the demo, chairs at the Meier-Audio table were almost constantly empty of visitors.

And as the result of striking this past of the least resistance, that is, catering to the lowest common denominator of unwilling to spend some additional effort customers, the industry as a whole is still trying to squeeze the last drops of demand from “the old and beaten up horses”. I mean, instead of developing and implementing some new (yes, possibly “challenging” in one way or the other) technologies and approaches, the industry’s inertia makes it to continue to spin around the same proven solutions.

The media and social media tools are adjusted in exactly the same way.

For instance, three years ago when I approached Steve Guttenberg of CNet (on the attached to the title of the blog picture is on the right, interviewing head honcho, Jude Mansilla, pictured on the left) – one of the most powerful media personalities coming to the CanJam events – to listen to our “SB-7”, he asked me if that was a prototype. Even if I told him that no, that was a production sample, he refused to audition them and walked away.

Two years ago at our demo table at the show in New York, I again approached him with the same request, and he – visibly irritated - reluctantly surrendered. After about ten minutes of auditioning our ear monitors, he stood up and left without saying a word.

Now, I am aware, that I would look vulnerable, if I would imply by this example that I have a chip on my shoulder because Steve demonstrated by his behavior that he (possibly, and possibly not) didn’t like what he heard, so now I am pissed off at him.

No, absolutely not. I don’t really care about what an isolated member of a journalist community thinks about our products. However powerful he is.

But what I do care is that such opinion forming figures, like Guttenberg, are happened to be so narrow minded (in terms of the scope of the issues and products they are willing to present both to the general public and to the enthusiast community) that they would offhandedly reject an opportunity to even briefly hear the results of – let’s presume it here for the sake of the argument – a very promising new technology.

So, in the end, the whole industry, with all its middlemen, is ripening what it sowed: in return, it fully relies upon (brought up by them accordingly) a very narrow minded customer base, whose development in this hobby is driven by perception of relatively small increments of change in the products’ sound quality as The Third Coming. And this is the customer base, which claims, allegedly, having the highest sonic aspirations.

While truly revolutionary (and I agree, sometimes, but not always, quite “challenging”) products like, for instance, Smyth-Research “Realizer”, or even, without fake modesty, our own StereoPravda’s ear monitors - which provide leaps and bounds in advancement of audio art, and which were part of the CanJam show for a few years, one by one, disappear from its exhibitor’s list.

The most unfortunate news is that, under current speed of constant changes in Consumer Electronics, in the long run, the most of the “unchallenging” audio products’ demands are not really sustainable and, let alone, proactively scalable for their manufacturers. And that’s why it seems to me that each successive CanJam show (at least in the US) is getting smaller than the previous one (and, obviously, the fact that eleven Chinese companies that were not able to come to New York this year has nothing to do with the statement).

I came to New York this time with a well to do Russian friend who had no previous exposure to high performance audio. As my stories about High End Audio started to gain a momentum in his head, he asked me to take him to the show. He was eager to spend thousands of dollars if he would find anything that would “stir his mojo”.

He would never buy a pair of “open” headphones (as he needs them for travelling, as he flies a lot). However, he was also not sufficiently impressed with the sound quality of all the “closed” ones to buy a pair at the show (although he’s been evaluating them according to his “uneducated” perception of price/performance ratio).

Also, all sorts of IEMs he heard at the show were not AS comfortable as their touting there would imply.

So, he left the show barehanded.

After the show hours, we went to a world famous cigar shop to recuperate from a day of hard work via having a great smoking experience.

As I frequent the place for the last 20 years, the general manager of the store greeted me and took us downstairs to an exclusive smoking lounge. In the process of chitchat about this and that, he asked me what I do. I told him about my StereoPravda earphone project, and he’s got very excited as he happened to be a portable audio enthusiast and his collection of IEMs includes 16 pieces.

He asked me if I have a sample with me so he could listen to the IEMs, and I did happen to have my own pair of “SB-7” on me.

After just a ten seconds demo, he told me that he wants to buy a pair.

Nothing like that has ever happened to us at the CanJam shows.

During our initial conversation, I mentioned to the gentleman that I came to the city for the CanJam show.

- “Is CanJam taking place in the city at the moment?” – he asked me.
-  “Yes”.
- “Oh, I stopped going there a long time ago anyway”.

Actually, these two occurrences – my friend’s inability to find himself an appropriate pair of headphones at the dedicated portable audio show and my successful sales opportunity via a random encounter – which coincided in time, lead me to some of the following conclusions.

To be fair, CanJam chief organizer Jude Mansilla has been always providing some support to unconventional – StereoPravda’s included – efforts. But that kind of limited support is not enough now to continue to attract visitors to the show.

I’ve seen a lot of audio shows’ demises in the last 30 years: The Stereophile Show, T.H.E. Show, even CES stopped to be a high performance audio related show.

So, if I were a CanJam organizer then if I wanted this show to continue for, at least, another, let’s say, ten years, do you know what would I have done?

For each show, I would seek out several new off the beaten tracks companies, and, instead of trying to make them to pay for exhibiting at the show, I would pay them to come, and I would heavily promote them at the event.

In my humble opinion, suchlike “dog and pony” element (in the fully mobilized positive sense of the expression) would probably continue to keep the show attracting both in the eyes of its jaded crowd, and in the eyes of the “new blood” visitors.

Otherwise, the law of inertia would completely stop the interest to the “beaten up horses” of the stagnating show rather sooner than later (from both side of the “sales barricades” – exactly like it happened a few years ago at the CES).

Nevertheless, even if my utopian dream would have come true and if – out of blue – let’s say, StereoPravda would have gotten such an invitation, I would have seriously think about it, but… Considering the stagnant state of mind of the current visitors to the show, brought up through the years to reject “no pain, no gain” dictum - I am afraid it is already too late now.

P.S. For a while, I hesitated to conclude the blog with an act of self-promotion, but, first, it’s a true story, and then – “It’s my party, and I cry if I want to…”.

My aforementioned friend eventually asked me to accommodate him with a pair of “SB-7”.

I didn’t ask him about what made him to decide on them. Was it because he had zero previous experience in audio? So that he is not indoctrinated in one way or another by either the industry players, or by hanging out long enough with the community members at the specialized forums to gain all sorts of permanent prejudices, which means that he is still like a blank sheet of paper.

Or, was it because after his first CanJam exposure, my «SB-7» demo to him became much more convincing?

I didn’t ask him because, really, to me it was obvious: it was both.

And, of course, I did accommodate him with a good price.

09.03.2020 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  1540

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