I'm currently trying to work things out so that I can attend this. I've had to cancel just about every other trip I had planned this summer for one reason or another and would like to get out of CO at least once this summer! (I had to cancel 4 trips which was really annoying!)
Have you ever attended a 2-channel audio show before, or even a regular Head-Fi meet? I'm just going to assume the answer is no, because it sounds like you haven't.
First, as warrenpchi pointed out, hotel facilities aren't free to reserve, so why should attendance be free? A hotel in the SF Bay Area has had its meeting rooms booked out completely for 3 consecutive days - do you have any idea how much that might cost? As someone who's organized meets before (mostly in CO, but also one in the SF Bay Area), I'm guessing that it cost around $100K (or higher) for the show organizers to book out the Westin SFO. They have to make that money back, and hopefully profit as well, in order to continue to run the CA Audio Show year after year. They're already charging the audio manufacturers thousands of dollars for their own demo rooms, and they need to also charge regular people some sort of entrance fee too, to make up the rest.
Second, the vendors aren't showing off their products to "sell" per se. They're showing products for demonstration first and foremost. It's an opportunity to hear all sorts of gear, headphone- and speaker-related, all in one place, with no pressure to buy anything. No one at an audio show will pressure you to buy anything. Granted, you'll still see salespeople there, and they'll still be making pitches about how great something is, but usually the equipment at audio shows is not for sale and no one will be pushing product on you. The point of an audio show is for consumers to get to know the manufacturers and demo their equipment in an environment that mimicks the at-home experience as closely as possible. The manufacturers do this to persuade you to buy their products later, after the show (though there might be vendors who offer show-special pricing).
Third, Frank I is organizing a Head-Fi meet that will take place at the same time (well, just on Saturday 8/10 that is). The Head-Fi meet will be completely separate from the 2-channel audio show and will be full of your fellow Head-Fiers who will be bringing their own equipment setups to share with each other. Even if you skip the rest of the audio show, the Head-Fi meet will have a wide variety of headphone-related gear that you can demo for yourself with absolutely no pressure from anyone. At the same time you'll get to meet your fellow Head-Fiers who will happily socialize with you, if you're so inclined. And have you seen the equipment list in post #2 of this thread? All of that will be there. The Head-Fi meet will also be guaranteed to have a completely different atmosphere & energy than the rest of the show, as it'll be full of hobbyists. Surely that would catch some of your interest?
Even if you attended only the Head-Fi meet part of the show, the $30 would still be worth it for the knowledge that you can gain for the listening experience with a wide variety of headphones & amps, and for being able to talk to your fellow Head-Fiers in-person. Head-Fiers are also generally some of the coolest, friendliest people that I've met - and you'll probably have a great time just chatting it up with people. I know that I always do every time I attend a meet anywhere in the country, and I've been to a lot around the country over the past several years!
$30 really isn't that much either, so I don't get the price complaint especially from someone in the SF Bay Area. That whole area has a high cost of living from rent to food to gas and all sorts of other things. I know because I used to live in Silicon Valley.
Well said !