For us, this synergy of the big and small, the rigidly set and fluidly adaptive makes the Warsaw show so interesting. It caters to our preference of things being done different, of the creative and occasionally even ludicrous which we then enjoy to subsequently report on in a review. Perhaps we're arrogant but we prefer niche over the mainstream whenever possible.
Okay, so we think like that but how does the Audio Video Show visitor or exhibitor think? To get an idea, we asked several for their opinion. The language was a barrier here and there but since music and love of music are universal, we managed. It turned out that many local smaller brands are quite happy with just their domestic market. Being at the show is their way of demonstrating that they are still alive and kicking. They meet loyal customers whom they treat as friends whilst showing off the latest model to plant seeds for future sales. When asked if they would like exposure abroad, many of them were reluctant. Crossing the Polish border means distributors, dealers, conformity with diverse regulations, more work, more worries. Production numbers must go up, services be added as all gear can break down. This means investments in more personnel and equipment, more expenditures, more risks. So no, this type of operator is quite happy with the status quo. Even when we discussed a review opportunity, we had our fair share of polite refusals since a positive international review can have undesirable consequences if one really intends not to export.
Other Polish exhibitors more limited in number cater directly to the audiophile. They exhibit to find new customers and will ship, even deliver and set up in a direct-sales model without middle men. The obvious focus is on a small niche market which an outfit of one or two people can cover by car with personal investments mostly from private savings. But it's fun they said. When asked what exactly they enjoy about it, it was the hobbyist lifestyle tilted towards pro but not to the extent of giving up one's steady paying job. How many would leave that behind and risk free entrepreneurship? Not many.
Attendees we spoke to also came in sundry flavors. There was the diehard aficionado who showed up early on day one to queue up in the long line extending around the hotel. He—most were male and roughly 35-45 years old—had carefully mapped his visit with a list of rooms to visit. He was early to sit front row (not always the sweet spot of course) while the room was still quiet. He brought some of his favorite music, often jazz or metal. His preparation deposited him at two types of rooms. One were rooms with gear for potential purchase some day but just then used to compare against what he uses at home by way of confirmation. If he hears a clear difference, some accessory in the form of a cable or footers might get purchased. The other type of room is the Über room with the unaffordable price tags and behemoth sizes. Here he sits in awe impressed by looks and SPL. This experience will linger to become the subject of many subsequent discussions with friends and family. Though we used 'he' quite a lot, we actually noticed the attendance of a large female contingent not only accompanying their males but solo, on their own. Eureka!
That Über room also became attractive to another category of attendee, the whole family. It was great to see entire families set out to visit this show. Man, woman, small child and older child roamed the corridors and usually the man explained the sights and sounds to his family. Here we only guess of course due to the language barrier but gestures and enthusiastic lights in the eyes are universal. Again here the oversized systems scored big and their rooms were constantly crowded. We heard a nice expression for this kind of gear. Droolware.
Another category was the mini tribe. Two or more men—mostly men—operate as a group. They enter a room together, sit next to each other and leave collectively after a few minutes. That's how they work the show, collecting scores of leaflets and folders like trophies in plastic bags. Later we saw them sitting at a catering spot comparing catalogues and impressions. For them the shared appeal takes the lead and audio is simply a convenient but interesting excuse.
We met two other kinds as well. One were the headphone lovers. At the Warsaw show and particularly the National Stadium, a large percentage of floor space is reserved for headfi. Rows of tables with all manner of headphones, matching amplifiers of all types and sources galore welcome the masses for an intimate listening session. And the overt enthusiasm for this type music appreciation is not predicated upon supposed affordability. Today's prices of headfi can get as high as room-fi kit yet still it only caters to the solo listener.
Lastly there were the software hunters and gatherers. With plenty of vinyl vendors located across the various show venues, there was lots to pick from, be it vintage vinyl at affordable prices, overpriced 'audiophile' re-re-re-releases or high-quality Polish recordings with matching pressings. Here we saw plenty of buyers with their precious loot and matching smiles.
We again had a great time in Warsaw meeting old friends, getting interesting opinions from total strangers and discovering new music. We also gained more insight into the workings of this show in relation to exhibitors and attendees. Just like any other such show, there were rooms that did not score for us due to high-pitched noise that apparently only we heard as everybody else in the room nodded to the good sound or flutter of a turntable. And of course there were rooms that from the first tone on nailed it, saying more about the one who set up that room than anything else.
So… thank you once more, Adam!
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