T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2016
This report is dedicated to the memory of Richard Beers, a pioneer and good friend to many inside and outside the audio world. Gone, but not forgotten, his legacy lives on.
and the listenin’ is easy
Music is jumpin’
And the volume is high
This writer ain’t rich
but he is good lookin’
Who needs to pound the cold, hard sidewalks and brave the bitter January desert winds of CES or the equally frosty stares of The Venetian hotel security? Not me, because the sun is shining and surfs up. Newport Beach is the place to be.
With 150 exhibit rooms plus the marketplace and headphone areas there was something for everyone. From minimalist to extremist, there was equipment for every preference and wallet. My personal bias is if I can’t lift it or can’t afford it then fuggedaboudit. My interest in systems that only the 1%ers can afford to purchase and house barely rises to idle curiosity. I give more attention to affordable and practical products and manufacturers. But audio shows are about more than practicality. They are about dreaming and seeing and hearing what can be accomplished when egos run wild and budgets be damned. Those generally turn me of but I confess I am sometimes attracted to bright and shiny objects.
When I enter a show the size of Newport I feel like I am standing in line at the largest buffet in the world but only holding a dessert plate. Obviously I can’t cover every room. Amid the excesses that abound at large audio shows I searched for the gems, those items that make it a wonderful time to be an audiophile. They won’t necessarily be inexpensive but based on performance they have earned at least some consideration by potential owners. I was not able to do extensive listening in every room so sometimes a pretty face was all it took to be included in the photos section. Rooms with chocolate had a better chance of being included.
Biggest Trend: The lack of ability to play attendees music from a digital format. CD players were all but extinct and too many exhibitors using music servers could not figure out how to incorporate music from a USB memory stick into the music management program they were using. I ask exhibitors to consider this. If you had a brick-and-mortar store and a customer came in to audition equipment would you expect them to make a purchase based solely on your music selections? This is especially true since so many of the exhibitor’s selections resembled coma-inducing elevator music.
Too much wine, not enough chocolate.
Too many mega rooms with equipment the cost, size, and weight that only a precious few could hope to own.
The large number of exhibitors with closed doors on Thursday, the industry preview day. That made it hard for me to do my job. I am not insensitive to the difficult task involved in prepping for a show but it is not impossible. Some exhibitors get it right every year.
Both this year and last year there was a conspicuous absence of manufacturers of entry and mid-level turntables. With the resurgence of vinyl I expected companies like Music Hall, Pro-Ject, and Rega to have an active presence but they were absent. I am in the market for something affordable but respectable to revisit the 7’ of vinyl saved from my misspent youth but the Show was no help in making a decision.
On to the rooms and music.
Many Thanks to the High End Zone from Gila, NM for bringing the Acoustic Zen flagship Maestro loudspeakers ($43,000). As many times as I have heard and admired the finish and performance of the Adagio and Crescendo loudspeakers, I had never heard the Maestro. The Maestro sounds every bit as good as it looks and put bigger name brands to shame for pure musicality. Coupled with Aurender (W20 Reference Music Server $17,600), mulitple Verastarr Grand Illusion power cords and cables, and the always excellent Ypsilon electronics, this room was my show favorite. This was the world premiere of the Ypsilon Aelius MKII push-pull monoblock amplifiers ($40,000). While well out of my personal comfort range for cost I can’t deny the beauty of the Maestro speakers or the total system performance.
Also sounding as good as it looked was the Focal No2/Micromega room. While I don’t agree with Thomas Marshall that "What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar," I agree with the sentiment concerning audio equipment. Audio shows are a mix of sensible and over-the-top equipment. Speaking from my heart and wallet, I feel the industry should put more effort into meeting the needs of more music lovers with affordable and easy to use equipment. That is why I found the Micromega M-One 100 ($3,999) paired with the Focal Sopra No2 ($13,999)attractive for both performance, price and features.
The infinite horn loading beryllium tweeter design of the Sopras made me think of good panels but without the instrument and vocal size exaggeration. There was an openness not usually associated with box speakers. The two M-One models (100 and 150) have a full range of digital and analog inputs including MM and MC phono and a wickedly cool remote. At a size and price point this could be the perfect product for many music lovers who don’t want to get mired in equipment-matching quicksand. With an M-One, all a user would need would be a music source and speakers resulting in an elegant solution with excellent performance. And it is available in 188 decorator colors including my favorite, beige! I am excited to be on the short list to receive a review unit of the more powerful and more featured Micromega M-One 150 as soon as they are available. Stay tuned to Stereo Times for a full review.
As I promised at the end of my Trio10 Mundorf AMT review (here) PureAudioProject is a company with interesting projects in development. Three have come to fruition and made their North American debut at Newport Beach. Operational were their flagship Stellar12 and the Trio15 Voxativ. To convert a Trio15 Voxativ to a Trio15 A5000 Field Coil model, swap the full-range driver with baffle, crossover, add a power supply, and presto/chango a new model. Unfortunately problems with the power supply prevented the A5000 Field Coil from being played at the show.
Both 15” models use the Leonidas crossover design that lets users swap parts using only a screwdriver. This allows tuning the crossover to individual tastes and upstream component changes. The Trio15 is also available with a stock crossover using Mundorf components. Electronics used were the Spread Spectrum Technologies’ Thoebe II preamplifier and Ampzilla 2000 monoblock amplifiers. Both speakers gave a performance that exceeded much more costly speakers for openness and dynamics.
Spatial Audio impressed me last year with their Hologram M3. This year they returned with an even more impressive upgraded model, the M3 Turbo S ($2,595/pair) with a compression driver and upgraded crossover components. Support was by Anticables, Lampizator (Lite 7), and Red Dragon Audio. Every component in this system offers performance well above its price and puts higher cost systems to shame.
The Energizer Bunny is a banana slug compared to Charles Harrison of USA Tube Audio. On Thursday, the industry preview day, when over 90% of the other rooms were locked and exhibitors toiled frantically to get operational; Charles had four complex systems ready to play in one room. He probably would have had five but he ran out of walls. Systems were Ayon Audio with Lumenwhite, Acoustic Arts with KEF Reference 5 speakers, Revel with Mark Levinson, and KEF Blade 2 with Mastersound.
Voxativ has an interesting full-range system that does not use any crossovers and has an amazing efficiency of 105dB. The 9.87 System loudspeakers ($34,900) use two enclosures. The top enclosure houses a single AC-4X wideband driver in a stand-alone loudspeaker called the Pi. The bottom enclosure houses an active bass extension unit. The bass unit uses two drivers facing each other with the front and rear of the enclosure being open. Electronics used were the Totaldac D1 server ($5,000), a Toataldac D1 tube DAC ($10,000), Voxativ Ampeggio preamplifier ($11,900), and Voxativ 845 monoblock amplifiers ($17,500).
Another speaker I heard for the first time is the Sanders Sound System Model 10e. I have heard other models of Sanders speakers many times but the newest model with an aluminum bass driver and revised transmission line now incorporates a digital crossover, room correction, digital signal processing, and a real time analyser using a DBX 360 unit. I believe the room correction is only used below 500Hz. I was astounded by the amount of additional clarity and focus over the already exceptional performance of previous models. The package retails for $17,000 including one Sanders Sound Systems Magtech amplifier, one of my personal reference amplifiers because it is extremely versatile and works very well with everything I have tried it on.
Audio Note debuted their TT3 prototype turntable ($8,000 turntable only) with their prototype COBRA integrated amplifier and AZ Two D speakers. Based on prior information, I believe the Cobra case was temporary for the show and not the final version. I was not able to talk to any representative at the show to confirm that. The turntable plays speeds of 45 and 33.3 RPM. The chassis is mass balanced to match Audio Note Arms in the 1/2/3 series but the suspension is adjustable to accommodate tonearms of different weights.
Perhaps the larger Wilson Audio loudspeakers are more articulate and scale more impressively. I wouldn’t know because the exhibitors were playing the aforementioned coma-inducing elevator music. But the Sabrinas with Peachtree Audio were one sweet sounding system in a user-friendly size. I much preferred the intimacy of the Sabrinas to the majesty of their larger kin. Elegant in its simplicity, the system demonstrated once again that it doesn’t require a showroom full of equipment to have great sound.
Focal had had an impressive North American debut of their Sopra No3 paired with Naim in a separate building near the live music venue.
Speakers naturally immediately capture the attention when entering a room. Frequently that is to the detriment of noticing other gems in the room. Fortunately my wandering eye (just one eye wanders, the other one does what I tell it to do) found two isolation devices that intrigued me. IsoAcoustics makes a variety of platforms to fit speakers and electronics. They isolate, elevate, and they can be adjusted for rake. Note the unit under the Micromega M-one pictured above.
Another isolation product line that caught my attention due to its beauty and relative affordability (starting as low as $33 each) were the products from Amcan Audio. The design is based on the concept known as constant natural frequency isolation (CNF). My understanding is rudimentary and I won’t attempt to describe it here. Made from stainless steel, brass, or copper and polished to a mirror finish they are filled with a proprietary silicone compound. Available in two sizes with each part sold separately. Start with the stand-alone base unit and add optional threaded studs and levelers (flat or cones) to fit your needs. The footers are offered with a thirty-day full money back satisfaction guarantee.
Note the Amcan Audio footers in the Liberty Audio and PBN room under the electronics and the PBN Hadley speakers ($5,500) which were very musical and definitely worthy of consideration for those shopping in the $5K price range and above. I say above because the Hadley’s outperform more expensive speakers. The Liberty Audio components in use obviously contributed to the excellent performance and totaled only $9500 for the B2B-1 phono preamplifier ($2,000), B2B-2 preamplifier/DAC ($4,500), and the B2B-100 bridgeable mono/stereo amplifier ($3,000).
I had an enjoyable afterhours listening session with Shane and Stacy Duffy from Perla Audio. Perla Audio is a family operated company located in Sparks, Nevada. They make a full range of electronics and some speakers with the focus on performance at a reasonable cost and above all, ease of use. Everything is designed to be plug and play. They do all their own design and manufacturing and are some of the most passionate people about their products of anyone I have met.
They shanghaied me in front of the elevators while I was waiting to go up to the NFS (Not For Sale) hospitality suite and asked me if I wanted to come to their room to listen. I was not wearing my name tag so they thought I was a civilian instead of VIP (Very Important Press). They wanted to share their accomplishments with anyone they thought might enjoy them.
With a full chain of Perla Audio electronics in front of them the PRS-2 ($7,800) speakers rivaled much larger ones for imaging and clarity. Bass quality was especially impressive and vocals were spot on. The planar magnetic columns in the picture are part of a speaker in development. As planned it will have three columns per side (bass, midrange, and tweeter). Shane hopes to have it at the show next year. The speaker will be scalable with the number of sections adjusted. Layer by layer, Shane set the pieces for just one section in my lap and my feet sunk into the carpet. Did I mention that everything they build has massive aluminum employed as part of the case work, not just the faceplates? Inside no effort is spared either. Every component is hand soldered on custom made 24k gold-plated PCB boards using Cardas ultra-pure quad eutectic solder.
The new speaker by Perla Audio is the antithesis to their stated core philosophy and mine as well but it was fun seeing the creative process happening and Shane’s enthusiasm is infectious. And therein lays the best part of any show, the people and their passion. The brave hearts who turn their dreams into reality and those who step beyond safe and sane to build the best product they can because they can. It is not the destination that impresses me as much as spirit of the journey.
This spirit is behind the creation of every product at T.H.E. Show and the same spirit that caused Richard Beers to create T.H.E. Show beginning in Las Vegas so many years ago. If a person’s spirit lives on in their accomplishments, do they ever really leave us? I don’t think so. I know I will never forget Richard or the other friends and memories T.H.E. Show has brought me.