The first-ever Toronto Audiofest, held by the organizers of the popular Montreal Audio Fest, was a roaring success, bringing together retailers, manufacturers, and distributors of hifi products with audiophiles and audio enthusiasts from all walks of life.
The event took place over the three-day weekend from October 19-21, 2018 at the Westin Toronto Airport hotel in the west end of the city. In addition to beautiful demo rooms throughout the lobby area and first four floors of the hotel, the penthouse suite was set up for various musical performances. Products on display ranged from speakers to AV receivers and amplifiers, turntables, and other audio gear to whet the appetites of those who appreciate "better audio." Pricing ranged from $2,000 up to $200,000, and those attending who were interested in buying had the opportunity to talk directly with retailers like Kennedy HiFi, Audio Eden, and American Sound of Canada.
Show organizers Michel Plante, Sarah Tremblay, and new partner Benjamin Scarcelli, launched the show in response to industry requests. "We had a lot of dealers from Toronto coming to Montreal," Plante told WiFi HiFi when we talked earlier this year after the show was announced, "and they started to request that we create the same kind of atmosphere in Toronto."
The square-shaped rooms, each emptied of their furniture and set up for ideal acoustics, were perfectly conducive to the demos. Walk through the halls of any floor, and you'd hear everything from classical to blues, jazz, and even rock tunes flowing from within. Some doors remained open, while others were closed for each immersive demo. Other brands, such as Kanta and Totem Acoustic, took to larger open spaces to demo their products. Littered throughout the two main floors were smaller kiosks and tables in hallways showcasing gear like vinyl, headphones, and other smaller audio accessories. But make no mistake, they all fall into the "better sound" category, such as the $1,200 Focal Elegia headphones. Put on a pair, and you'd escape from the hustle and bustle of the show and into the immersive sounds of Daft Punk, or whatever music genre you chose for the demo.
Totem Acoustic wowed visitors with its gorgeous booth, which occupied a large room on the main level of the hotel, showcasing how small speakers can create big, enveloping sound.
Exhibitors Weigh In
In all, there were more than 90 exhibitors showcasing more than 300 brands, including manufacturers like Yamaha, Totem Acoustic, and AudioQuest, distributors like Plurison, Motet, and Audio Group (Grado), and local Ontario retailers. That exceeded the initial goal of 70. "Around 100 new products were launched at the show," adds Plante. In addition to local Canadian companies, record cleaner company Kirmuss Audio traveled from Denver to showcase its offering at the show.
"We felt the show was a big success," Paul Bawcutt, Key Accounts Manager & Product Specialist, AV Group, Yamaha Canada Music Ltd., tells WiFi HiFi. "A lot of the warmth that is associated with the Montreal Audio Fest was brought to the Toronto event. The vibe of the show was extremely personable, and it was presented as one entity versus a bunch of competing vendors. I saw a lot of smiles at this show. People were having fun, including vendors, attendees, and the organizers."
Bawcutt says the success Yamaha experienced at the last two Montreal Audio Fests led the company to sign up for the Toronto show. "I'm quite confident," he adds, "that business will be done after the show. Sarah and Michel are pros. They give vendors an enormous sense of confidence."
Sheldon Ginn, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Kevro International, which showcased products from Roksan and Monitor Audio at the event, says the event exceeded the distributor's expectations for attendance.
"We were busy Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being spotty, which is typical for a three-day show," he says. "The fact that Friday was busy is a testament to the show's organizers, Sarah and Michel, and their efforts in getting the word out.
"I like working with Sarah and Michel," he adds. "They are very proactive in their efforts to work with exhibitors. They also do a great job of engaging attendees through ‘meet the maker events,' live concerts, and various other things."
Along with dedicated demo rooms, the hallways of the main two floors of the hotel lobby were filled with plenty of small audio gear, from headphones to portable DACs, vinyl, and more.
If he could change one thing about the show, Ginn says he'd love to see an opportunity for attendees to vote on different products and categories, which could further engage them and give additional kudos to exhibitors. He also suggested a shuttle service to bring people from downtown Toronto to the show site, which could help get city folks who don't drive down to the show.
Jason Zidle, Brand Manager for Totem Acoustic, was pleased to find that clients were generally more committed and ready to buy at this show than they were at the Montreal Audio Fest. "Many more," he says, "asked where they could buy, where they could see the whole line, versus just asking for brochures, never to be seen again. There was a good quality of attendees."
Changes? He found the venue difficult to navigate, wished there was more accessible food versus just the hotel restaurant for those in a hurry, and was slightly disappointed by the lack of support from local retailers, noting that some were noticeably absent. "We were doing our best to support the industry in their backyard," he says, "[so] it would have been nice to see the same dedication."
But overall, Zidle felt the show was a big positive for attendees and exhibitors. "I'm confident it will grow, and that Michel will work out some small growing pains."
Canadian Sales Manager Jerome Fragman poses beside the exhibit for record cleaner company Kirmuss Audio, which traveled from Denver to showcase its offering at the show.
Who Was There?
About 3,300 people pre-registered for the event on the Website, but many others showed up without registering, says Plante, bringing the final count closer to 3,500-4,000. The target demographic was people between the ages of 30 and 40. Observations on the Friday would suggest that it skewed much older than that, and was more frequented by men than women.
Brian Russell, President of Bryston, agrees that the Friday crowd skewed older, but was pleasantly surprised by the number of fathers who came in with their sons on the subsequent days. "I shook all of the dads' hands," he says "and thanked them for the early education on high-end audio." One group of young men, he noted, were excited to see the brand, mentioning that their parents, neighbours, friends, and relatives, all have 40-year-old Bryston amplifiers, so the company is a legend, as far as they are concerned. "They went away very happy."
Attendees of all ages gather for an audio demo during the show
Russell admits there weren't as many younger people, nor women, at the Toronto event compared to Montreal. But the turnout was solid, and buzzing with excitement through all three days. "Saturday," adds Plante, "was almost twice the traffic than Friday. Sunday was soft, but consistent."