The annual ALMA International Symposium & Expo (AISE) 2019, took place June 9–10 at the DoubleTree by Hilton at Universal Orlando, just prior to InfoComm 2019. Once again, it was the strongest event ever for anyone in the loudspeaker and electroacoustic development in general. This was the first event since the association decided to move away from Las Vegas and CES, and leverage the opportunities of working closer with the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA) and its annual trade show, InfoComm.
Altius, Citius, Fortius, is the Olympic Latin motto proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894, and it translates to “Higher, Faster, Stronger.” AISE 2019 was supposed to live up to a similar motto, signaling a crucial step forward in the association's evolution and growth, while looking to promote activities in Europe in the future.
Unfortunately, the move to June and just prior to InfoComm didn’t awarded the synergies and growth that was expected. Not that AISE 2019 was worse than previous years. There were 22 exhibitors at AISE 2019, including Loudsoft, Ferrotec, HEAD acoustics, PCB Piezotronics, Audio Precision, Eminence, Hernon, Menlo Scientific, Prism Sound, Bomatec International, GRAS Sound & Vibration, Listen, TeXtreme, CrySound, Tectonic, SB Acoustics, COMSOL, NTi Audio, Knowles, Materion, Dr. Kurt Mueller, Misco Speakers, and Warkwyn–Klippel. And knowing that content is king at AISE, this year's edition included one of the best schedules ever, with three rooms constantly offering something for the attendees, during the two days.
In the promotion for AISE 2019, I called it “the audio industry's best kept secret,” and this year it remained exactly that. Attendance didn't grow as expected, even if the sessions schedule and the exhibits were the strongest ever. At the end of the two days, there was some feeling of frustration when it became clear that InfoComm attendees were not coming, and that much more needs to be done to actually realize the synergies between the shows. And in 2020, AISE will be held in Las Vegas, where InfoComm takes place on even years, creating the challenge of a location even further away from InfoComm - the South Point Hotel, modern, affordable, but a good 30-minute drive (at least) from the Las Vegas Convention Center.
And other aspects also need to be revised, such as the earlier sessions (8:30!) that had lower attendances. It would be a good idea to start around 9:30 AM next year. Attendees would have at least the chance to grab a cup of (free) coffee and greet colleagues, and maybe quickly look at some of the exhibits before the first session. And speaking of coffee, the catering in general at the DoubleTree was of very good quality and it is nice to have breakfast and lunch buffets in the adjoining spaces, making the whole experience extremely convenient, and the networking time even more enjoyable.
With all the good and not so good things, among ALMA members and exhibitors there was still a spirit of determination to keep working and keep up with the association's mission “to learn, to teach, to grow, and to get business done!” After all, nearly all exhibitors reported that the few visitors were of the highest quality, that business was done anyway, and that nearly everyone felt proud of what was promoted in general. Certainly, the pleasantly surprised attendees enjoyed extra-quality time with all the top-notch professionals and the extremely high-quality of the presentations and sessions, and they can help spread the word.
In the spirit of change, there was also the news, enthusiastically confirmed by Dan Foley, the association’s president, that something else was evolving: its own mission and identity. To better reflect the present-day association, ALMA has changed its designation to ALTI, an acronym for Audio and Loudspeaker Technologies International. As Dan Foley explained, "The name change is more than just a new name and a new logo. It is a statement to current, past, and future members that this is not the ‘good ole boys’ network.
“Since 1964, ALMA was founded by and developed for Engineers by Engineers. The association has enjoyed an important niche in the audio universe. But times change and technology leaps forward.” This means that ALTI will embrace and promote the evolving industry, reflecting more than just the loudspeaker industry but the whole audio industry ecosystem, just as reflected in recent years by the diversity of presentations and exhibitors at AISE.
“To be clear, ALTI will always be focused upon the electroacoustic industry while including related and connected technologies. Dedicated to the technical side of the industry and fully embracing the business side of the industry,” Foley added.
And moving AISE to June and the association’s involvement with InfoComm is one way to do that, looking to attract Pro Audio participants and more diverse audio related segments. We discussed those challenges and the plans for the association with Barry Vogel, Executive Director of ALTI. From Vogel, we also learned that the decision to change the name of the association was actually taken during the previous edition of AISE 2019, in Las Vegas, a year and half ago.
"We've been talking about this for probably over three years. We were treading water. The show wasn't shrinking, but we never seemed to be able to grow it. And in the surveys that we took, when we asked things like ‘Do you like the show prior to CES?’ people said yes, but when we asked them ‘Do you go to CES,’ only 10% actually attended CES. On balance, at our registration here, we asked every person that checked-in ‘Are you going to InfoComm?’ Roughly half of them were. That to me says that there is greater affinity between our show and InfoComm, versus our show and CES.”
Of course we discussed with Vogel the arrangements with AVIXA and we asked him about the need for more proximity to the actual InfoComm show, being less of a gap between the events. “We were looking at that. We decided that the only way that we could do this for now was to overlap some of InfoComm's education days, but not overlap their exhibition. It’s the same kind of flow as with CES.” Vogel said.
“We are seeing the greatest opportunity in the crossover with InfoComm... Dave Labuskes (AVIXA’s CEO) is just excited about the opportunity to offer a level of training that they don't get right now at InfoComm, and their education people are anxious to work with us about developing things together. We are even discussing a possible certification program, which the industry has been asking for, something that on our own we were just not able to do. Of course, we would like to get even closer, physically, to the actual show, but when we started looking at the options, we would have to raise our prices substantially to cover the cost - that would be a problem.”
“What I am hoping for is that the bonding and the cross-pollination between the two events becomes strong enough that the value proposition on our side builds. When that happens, there’s all kinds of conversations under way... Bringing us physically closer, without a doubt is the goal. We know that what we have is not optimum. It’s better than what we had, but it’s not optimum.”
“This relationship is new, and the communication was still not what we hoped it would be, and some things that we had planned on doing this year just didn’t come together. But it is the first year and we have things happening. We are working at building a relationship,” Vogel explained.
And after all, AISE continues to be, above all, about building partnerships and doing business. That much was reflected in some of the topics discussed in the sessions, where everyone agrees that the industry needs to work closer than ever. One of the reasons being the challenges of the nearly 6,000 Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) item classifications that have been identified for the imposition of a 25% penalty tariff on US imports from China, and the fact that China has retaliated with tariffs of their own. The trade wars and the tariffs are certainly the largest challenge ahead and the strongest reason for companies to expand and consolidate their supplier networks.
A final word about the annual ALMA Banquet and Awards, at the end of the day, June 9, which was again another highlight of AISE. The Beryllium Driver Award for Lifetime Achievement for 2019 was awarded to Gunnar Rasmussen, the founder of GRAS Sound & Vibration and a pioneer in the construction of acoustic instrumentation, particularly of microphones, transducers, and vibration-related devices. A deserving award for a 70-year veteran of the audio industry with many ground breaking innovations, which was signaled that night by Jacob Soendergaard, member of the board of the ALTI association and his grandson.
The Titanium Driver Award for Lifetime Contributions to the Audio and Loudspeaker Technologies Industry for 2019 went to Gary Church of MISCO, and a 40-plus year veteran of companies such as Electro-Voice, Utah Electronics and Rockford, among others. With many groundbreaking innovations to his credit, his work and industry’s contribution were highlighted in the occasion by Dan Digre, President at MISCO Speakers, Oaktron Aerospace, and Warkwyn Labs.
This year, the association awarded a Gold Driver Award for Service to Spiro Iraclianos, who served as President of ALMA and chairman of the Education Committee from 2011 through 2015 and was instrumental in beginning the process of advancing and modernizing the association’s mission. The association also awarded a plaque, recognizing MISCO’s 70 years in business and the company’s service to the loudspeaker industry as well as their longstanding support to the association.
AISE 2020 will take place at the South Point Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV, June 14-15, prior to InfoComm 2020, which happens from June 13-19. Help spread the word.