A Postcard From Warsaw

Warsaw at first blush seems a typical European city, but the infrastructure is much younger than even cities nearby within Poland.
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Frank Wells
fwells@nbmedia.com Warsaw at first blush seems a typical European city, but the infrastructure is much younger than even cities nearby within Poland. Warsaw suffered near universal devastation during World War II and has been rebuilt with care, retaining a charm and character that is a tribute to its past. The 136th Audio Engineering Society International Convention in Berlin in 2014 coincided with the beginning of a year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year, the 138th AES International Convention, held in Warsaw, also corresponded with an auspicious event—the 70th anniversary of VE day. Celebrations and remembrances were in abundance during the early May Convention. Both occasions were welcome experiences.

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The official AES attendance numbers were also up from what was a strong 136th Convention in Berlin. The total registration was slated at 1,597 registrants—51 percent of those for the exhibits and free special events available with an Exhibits Plus badge. 49 percent were registered for the full technical program—an exhaustive cornucopia of papers, poster sessions, workshops, tutorials and special events. 24 percent of the total registration was made up of student and volunteer participants.

Having observed the attendee blend at European AES Conventions for more than a decade-and-a-half, the selection of Poland as a convention location did not seem to be a gamble in terms of attendance. Polish students are consistently a strong, if not the strongest, contingent among student attendees. Polish audio professionals participate in the Society at the highest levels and Poland is a stronghold of academic research in audio.

Poland represented a new market for many of the exhibitors at the 138th, evidenced by a stronger exhibition than at the 136th, and significantly stronger than in the several years immediately previous to the 136th. A full 30-plus exhibitors showed wares from more than 70 brands. Polish distributors rallied to fill the exhibition space to capacity, eager for the opportunity to reach the assembled attendees.

The Polish people were universally welcoming and gracious in my short experience. The currently strong dollar meant that money went a long way in the shops and restaurants. The counter to that is that US imports face a currency exchange-induced price penalty. This can hurt solely US-based companies, but for large pro-audio companies, the issue is somewhat mitigated by their international nature. European-based manufacturers are in a generally better position, though that can vary by country. Poland is not a rich country, but it is currently benefitting from EU investment, I’m told.

While the decision to invest in participating in the Convention did not come easy for many exhibitors, satisfaction at having made the decision was consistently evident. Several of those who opted-out of exhibiting came along to check out the event, and it was reported that regret was being expressed over not participating. Also in attendance were a number of European marketing managers for companies that did not participate. Near the Convention’s end, a common query was heard from both exhibitors and attendees, the latter group including representatives of non-exhibiting manufacturers, asking, “When are you coming back?”

For a final summation of the Warsaw convention experience, and the evolution of AES conventions in Europe and the USA, I share post-convention comments from AES executive director Bob Moses: “It’s not about trying to match what the larger commercial trade shows are doing in the retail sector; rather, it’s about incubating innovation that fuels growth in our market, supporting a professional community that is struggling to keep up with the changes, and making sure audio quality is not forgotten in an age of disposable products.”