Ken KesslerSoundStage! UKThough hi-fi shows have never been seasonal, there does seem to be a cluster of them in the autumn. January has the trade-only CES plus the "outboard" T.H.E. Show, which allows the public to attend. The UK has a show in the spring held by a powerful retailer. Munich’s High End show -- deemed by some to be the world’s most important event of all for pure audio -- takes place any time from March to May depending on a German holiday, and one or two others slip in during the first half of the year, too.

Despite this, the autumn seems to be the preferred time of year to attract visitors for ogling the appurtenances of what is entirely an indoor pursuit. Just look at the run, in under five weeks, that takes place from mid-September to mid-October: Milan’s Top Audio, the Paris Salon, the Tonbridge Audiojumble in England, and the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver.

Those are just the ones I attended; I simply haven’t enough free time (nor the inclination) to attend regional shows that do not muster enough product launches to justify the show reports that cover my costs.

What’s that? Aren’t these freebies? Err, no, at least not for some of us. At best, the shows may provide rooms for the press, but travel comes out of our/my pockets because, unlike many journalists, some of us do not want to be the "guests" of a brand, which means having to give undue and disproportionate attention to their new wares. The killer is CES, nearly a week of Las Vegas convention-rate hotel bills and a London-Las Vegas round trip from the UK, which has (I believe) the highest "green" taxes in the world. They effectively double the cost of an economy flight.

This spiel, however, is not about eliciting your pity for a journalist, merely to awaken you to the realities that affect my colleagues and me, or, that is, those who have neither wealthy parents nor a penchant for sucking on the teat of a manufacturer. What it does is make us selective about the shows we do attend.

Any audio website or magazine will do its utmost to cover every show on the planet. The print magazine to which I contribute as a freelance, the UK’s Hi-Fi News & Record Review, uses me for the six shows a year that I attend, while local journalists attend others so that it can claim coverage of any and every event from Cracow to Cancun. It’s an eye-opener when you see what is available elsewhere.

Perhaps the most exciting shows nowadays are those I do not attend, simply because I have no desire ever to set foot in Eastern Europe, for reasons I will not elucidate here. Suffice it to say, the word "pogrom" springs to mind. Anyway, these countries, now that the Iron Curtain (when did you last hear that phrase?) has well and truly come down, are proving to be a veritable mine of outré tube amplifiers, thanks to the surfeit of Russian military glassware available to the inventive.

And "inventive" is the key word here, because, when such amplifiers do appear in the West, they often contain tubes so exotic that even the myriad valve mavens that populate this hobby of ours are mystified. I mean, do you honestly know, without reverting to Google, what a Philips QB 5/1750 tetrode or a TB4/800 direct-heated triode does, let alone looks like?

Perhaps a mere handful of oddities such as Serbian single-ended triode tube amps or horn speakers from Macedonia justify a trip to a show in Vilna or Bialystok. But I’m not eager find out: the big-ass milspec tube on the last amp I tried from one of the former Soviet satellites exploded and nearly took out my eye. Then again, my grandparents had to deal with armed Cossacks, so I got off lightly.

. . . Ken Kessler