Home Entertainment 2003 returned the "Stereophile Show" to San Francisco's classy Westin St. Francis hotel, on downtown's posh Union Square. With floors 2, 4-6, 12 and 31 booked for noise, fun and solid attendance, the establishment's elevators -- as usual -- were hopelessly overwhelmed with the onslaught of non-sleeping, day-time-only patrons. Show pros took the elevator to the top floor, then slowly worked their way downhill via the staircases.

Capitalism was in full swing on Saturday. Unsuspecting exhibitors found consignment bills slipped under their doors. With all blood drained from his face, a San Jose dealer on the 4th floor stared at his in utter disbelief: $4,000 - for some illiterate Union lackeys moving 6 boxes of equipment up from the ground floor while taking approximately 20 minutes, dollies and the elevator. Common sense looks at box moving as unskilled labor. Call it $6/hr plus generous tip. Using said math, the specific San Francisco Union regulating transportation here not only exceeded heart surgery pay scale. It operated on a "x 2000" mark-up scheme - an hourly rate of $12,000. This made even the most callous of cable profit margins look saintly by comparison. One hopes this dealer will sue show management or whoever was responsible for this mindless outrage. One also expects and roots for boycott of future Home Entertainment events if more manufacturers were equally wallet-raped.

At $10,000 for standard-sized exhibit rooms ($190/day for regular snoozing hotel guests), this show became painfully expensive for exhibitors. By comparison, the Montreal consumer show this year charged $1,200 Canadian for equivalent spaces (roughly $800 US) and allowed occupants to personally deliver their equipment to and fro. Behind many a smiling courteous face shown to the public, there was a different version in private - one that questioned the sanity of exhibiting in the first place, of putting up with highway robbery, with poor service rectifying missing or wrong signage, all along speculating whose private coffers were lined with such princely sums of exhibit space and box moving fees.

Why a downbeat note to open our show report? It's not by way of raining on anyone's parade - except to pray for well-loaded pigeons raining on these perpetrators. It's by way of commending all exhibitors who did show up, braved the challenging expense regardless and put on a great show. And by way of pleading with the authorities. Rethink your motivation behind hosting this event. It shouldn't be abused to bleed manufacturers already suffering from sleepless nights and irritated bowels, facing a ruthlessly tough economy. It should promote the wonderful world that is quality audio & video, to the widest possible audience while making attendance for hosts and guest alike as affordable and fun as possible. Keep the doors open for the little guys. They especially need to attend and display their wares to gain visibility. As it stands, even the deep-pocket established makers had to pool their considerable resources and share rooms three- or more-ways. Which, incidentally, poses a challenge for our alphabetical show report format. How to mention everyone visited fairly, without undue duplication of entries? With apologies for possible redundancies, here's my take on what was of particular interest in San Francisco this past weekend. Video displays were overlooked nearly by design, the assumption being that other magazines more hip to the videophile status quo would do a better job than yours truly, diehard two-channel fossil of the 14-inch television and Sears-special $99 VCR.

The entrance of the hotel hosting the show.

On Friday night, neighboring Union Square hosted the suave Carl Saunders Sextet, compliments of Jim Merod and Steve McCormack of BluePort Jazz and Bay Area dealer Mountain View Stereo. It proved to one and all that regardless of cost, complexity or setup cunning, no stereo system -- or multi-channel music rig -- yet manages to sound like the real thing. However, some feel exactly like live music - more on that apparent paradox later. By Saturday, this outdoor scene had changed to celebrate the Fine Arts via the eyes, courtesy of the San Francisco Artists Council.

Music being the raison d'être, foundation and sweet fruit of the entire enterprise called High-End audio, the 2nd floor's software exhibit became the secret nexus of HE2003 - for those who'd gotten their priorities straight. Top honors here go to Todd Garfinkle of m.a recordings. His dare-devil offering of eclectic world music, one-point production values and sophisticated art work belong in a class all their own - if you share my sense of warped aural taste.

A resident of Japan, Todd's US operations are based out of Encino/CA. As I'm writing this, my $50 show-special splurge of five m.a albums [see right] has already netted its first no-brainer Blue Moon awardist - Sera una Noche's La Segunda. It's playing in the background and is as good if not better than its nuevo tango predecessor, reviewed for The Audiophile Voice a while back.

Seeing that Todd always has Stax headphones on hand/ear whereby to sample any of his discs, I know all of my new ones to be right "up yours" - er, my narrow alley. Stay tuned for music reviews - and an interview with the maestro in an upcoming industry features.

Speaking of music, the city's Dr. Jim Langham worked the hallways. In generous passing, he gifted me with his latest compilation of to-die-for female vocalists, a stunning follow-up to his Vol. 15 of Scandinavian singers he'd handed me at the last CES [see new track listing at lower left]. I'd earlier traded one of my CES samplers. Now I owe him one. With my latest crop of faves, I'll burn him a latest-greatest - on a black Memorex, of course.

To avoid insider snobbery, Dr. Langham is one of the county's pre-eminent eye surgeons. A very serious wine collector, he calculated one day that if he and his wife were to consume three bottles a day, he'd have to live to 147 to empty his collection. High-End audio became his next passion. He's pursued it since with the same rare combination of resources, curiosity and refined taste to become famous in certain circles for a no-holds-barred SOTA rig that morphs through routine changes. Having owned Avantgarde TRIOS and AUDIOPAX Model 88s, his latest acquisition?

A pair of Intuitive Design Denalis. This mention promptly sent me into their exhibit. If Jim owns something, it tends to be top-notch. And his taste in music is absolutely impeccable as well, making him a perfectly balanced audiophile-cum- music-lover.

The M.A character. An ear & a heart? A secret Japanese pun? No matter what, this outfit is serious about sound and music, something which occasionally seems to elude the so-called "audiophile" labels.
The musical benediction continued. Dr. Marja Vanderloo and Dr. Henk "Longbeard" Boot of The Netherlands [three micro pix above] are longtime 6moons readers and fellow Avantgarde DUO enthusiasts. They made a point of meeting and gifted me with fadista Cristina Branco's glorious new Sensus release as well as a studio production of the live music played at the Lente HiFi Show in Holland earlier this year.

Turns out this couple writes for some of the Dutch audio magazines. In the guise of the Benelux Triode Guild, they carry on the torch of Harvey Rosenberg's heroic efforts, to maintain a spirit of fearless exploration, wacky experimentation and unrepentant enthusiasm in the audio arts. I invited Marja and Henk to contribute to our 'zine at their leisure. With some luck
-- and the requisite spare time on their side -- we might soon enjoy some reports from the underground Euro scene. With thanks to all these "music docs" for much-needed vitamins & live enzymes and a bright cheers to all fellow reporters diligently working the same rooms (I spotted JA, Robert Deutsch, Sam Tellig, Paul Bolin, Kalman Rubinson, John Marks, Wes Phillips, Steve Rochlin, Ian White and Constantine Soo and will peruse their reports once mine is on-line), let's explore HE2003 from yet another very personal perspective.