T.H.E Show 2014: Bringing it All Home

There I was, making my way room-to-room toward the end of the show when suddenly Jeffrey Catalano of New York City's "2 channel with attitude" High Water Sound appears.

"Aren't you coming to my room on the 10th floor?" asks a man who clearly has been hounding the hallways, asking everyone he knows if they've seen Jason Victor Serinus.

"OMG," says I. "I've already covered all the rooms I had time to cover on the 10th floor. Yours must have been so full that I gave up and skipped it."

Well, you know what happened next. Jeffrey's reputation for luring man and beast to his room with unusual musical finds is legendary. So off I went to hear, first, an EMI LP of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, whose all-enveloping soundstage and thrilling transparency were marred only by wiry sound.

Next Jeffrey played an extremely rare LP of Electric Satie on the Moog. Somehow Jeffrey thought it was Satie himself who introduced the transcriptions, but moi, who makes reading liner notes a priority, discovered it was the composer/arranger channeling the spirit of Satie (who died in 1925, right before the advent of electrical recording). Once again loving everything except the wiry top, I questioned Jeffrey, and learned that he purposely brought a tipped-up Ortofon phono cartridge to the show because sound in rooms is usually so dark. (For confirmation, you need only read my blogs on the dark-sounding rooms with Pass Labs amplification, whose beauty, as John Atkinson has mentioned in his January 2014 review of the XA-60.5, is anything but dark.)

Jeffrey Catalano in séance with Erik Satie

Once I understood why things sounded as they did, I could forgive the system's very top, and enjoy Gabor Szabo playing the 1928 Martin guitar formerly owned by Gene Autry. Perhaps the biggest treat was listening to the mesmerizing detail on a track from the LP version of the great Cecilia Bartoli's Mission album. With each successive note, my guilt over spending so much time actually ENJOYING MYSELF and having a transcendent experience with La Bartoli dissipated. Jeffrey Catalano assembled one helluva system.

Doing the honors, in addition to the TW-Acustic GT SE turntable with two 10.5 tonearms ($23,500 total) and "there must be an alternative" Ortofon Windfeld cartridge ($4200): the world premiere of TW-Acustic 1.5W 45 SE Monos, Horning Hybrid Systems Eufrodite Mark IV Ellipse loudspeakers ($30,000/pair), Tron-Electric Syren II GT and Seven Phono/Mono preamplifiers ($55,000 and $15,000), Silver Circle Audio's TCHAIK 6 ($10.50), and supports, cabling, and room tuning from Symposium Acoustics, Teo Audio, and Shun Mook Acoustics.

In the PBN room, very transparent, beautiful, and clean sound distinguished LP playback of a baroque ensemble featuring occasionally stiff-voiced soprano Elisabeth Norberg-Shulz. The natural-sounding warmth of cello was especially excellent. Welcome to the world of PBN of El Cajon's Sammy loudspeakers($30,000/pair), Groovemaster direct-drive turntable ($35,000), EB-SA2 all-FET amplifier ($34,995), Olympia LXi preamplifier ($22,000) and PX phono preamplifier ($22,000). Oh yes, and ZenSati cabling, without which all would have come to naught.

"Come see my new speakers!" begged the email from Santy Oropel of Twin Audio Video in Loma Linda. See and hear I did. Playing a recording by pianist Murray Perahia, I enjoyed the captivatingly spacious presentation. Highs were very beautiful, although different sounding than notes lower in the range. A Strauss track by the irreplaceable Beverly Sills further confirmed that the very nice top was not balanced by richness in the bottom end. But perhaps that had to do more with the room's challenging acoustics than the capabilities of the all-Japanese system's MLC XSeed single-driver loudspeakers ($18,000/pair), Black Ravioli supports, and Triode Corporation-Japan's tubed TRV DAC1.0 DAC ($2500), TRV-CD5SE CD player ($3200), TRX-2 preamp ($5000), and TRX-M300 300B 8W SET amplifier ($14,000).

More good sound awaited in the Nola room, where Nola's Metro Grand Reference Gold loudspeakers ($33,000/pair) mated with Audio Research electronics and maximally transparent Nordost Odin cabling to reveal the wonderful timbres the Fines captured on their Mercury Living Presence recording of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. I loved the openness of the sound, as well as the clarity. I've heard richer systems, but few have captured the dynamic shifts and subtle expressive turns of soprano Eileen Farrell's huge voice with such breathtaking accuracy and perfect control.

While this was yet another system where the quality of the piano's lowest notes seemed different from its treble—was this a crossover issue, or more a reflection of room anomalies?—midrange reproduction was exemplary. These are very fine loudspeakers.

I don't have the strength to write up every piece of equipment in the room sponsored by highend-electronics of Apple Valley. But I must point out the very open sound on Hans Theesink & Terry Evans' Delta Time LP, which I've heard before, as well as some booming bass. The system included, on one end, the new Voxativ PI loudspeakers ($14,000/pair), a new Wall Audio Opus 88 preamp ($6000), highend-electronics Music Server I ($99), KR Audio VA320 amplifier ($11,500), Synergistic Research's new PowerCell 10 SE Mk.III ($5500) and Tranquility Bases ($1999 each), Shakti Hallographs, and High Fidelity and Voxativ cabling. Overall presentation from a man who really cares about sound: very, very good.

I confess. Having mistakenly thought T.H.E. Show ended at 4pm on Sunday, I had trouble psyching myself up when I discovered the majority of exhibitors sticking it out until 6. Hence I went slowly, lingering in rooms I liked and ignoring cries for attention as one tends to ignore the cries of blades of grass that we so often cluelessly clomp through. But when I saw the room from The Audio Association of Gardena that offered the familiar and so often satisfying pairing of Evolution Acoustics MMMiniTwo loudspeakers ($39,000/pair with integrated subs) and cabling, and, in this case, the North American premieres of darTZeel's LHC-208 "DAnalogue Streaming Ethernet DAC with integrated amplifier ($13,000) and NHB-18NS Reference preamplifier with integrated reference phonostage ($TBD), I thought gold and red a good way to bid adieu.

Perhaps it was the nature Ortofon Anna MC cartridge ($8500), but as much as I admired the extremely well-controlled sound on an LP of Gerry Mulligan meets Ben Webster—well, I was so tired by then that I'm not certain if perhaps I was listening to a file on the LHC-208—the warmth was a bit too much for my taste. I did, however, enjoy being pulled around in my overstuffed chair as if I were Cleopatra in her carriage being led to the sweetest spot on the Nile.

The show is over and here's Kurt Hopke of the San Diego Audio & Music Guild helping his friends at Audio Revelation pack up their gear. As I made my way back to the Atrium Hotel where superb musician William Artope Jr. was wishing us all adieu...

I was already reflecting on the fact that, as Stereophile's sole reporter at the show, I had no choice but to arbitrarily skip a bunch of rooms, some of which, to my deep regret, premiered new equipment. My apologies to everyone whose accomplishments I passed over.

I was also reflecting on the past, present, and future of T.H.E. Show Newport Beach.

As you read my room reports, you will discover, over and over, reference to booming bass, and sound that was variously too hot or, far more often, either too dark or bleached-out for my taste. I also note, on many occasions, the difference in quality between a system's top, where timbres may have sounded quite natural, and its bottom, where bass may have either lacked focus or simply had a different sonic quality.

At show's end, as I was heading back to my room, I had a very brief exchange with Mikey Fremer about the sound in many of the rooms I visited. His response, which mirrors my own thoughts, was that no matter what the venue, there will always be problems. Yet, due to a combination of superior design, set-up savvy, and system synergy, certain loudspeaker brands, including Wilson, Magico, and YG Acoustics, almost always excel. Starting with their design and materials, these companies know what works. Their success enables them to secure superior rooms, and they do everything in their power to put on a good show.

Ultimately, my feeling is that any distributor, dealer, or manufacturer who succeeds in delivering good sound and/or playing good music in a hotel environment deserves our support. I urge you to take note, not just of the loudspeakers, but also of everything in the equipment chain that precedes them, including cabling, power and room treatment, racks, and equipment supports. In the best exhibits, you'll discover that virtually everything was chosen with intention, and set up with extreme care.

Ted Denney of Synergistic Research, for example, got such good sound from his repeat dance with Magico and VAC because he began setting up a day before most other exhibitors, thus allowing his cables an extra day to settle in, and more time for speaker positioning. Wilson has loudspeakers with multiple adjustment positions and, positioning them, Peter McGrath. Using Spectral gear, Peter was even able to produce good sound in an impossible room at the 2013 California Audio Show in which most of the wall behind the speakers was glass.

Hours before I tackled the last of these eight show blogs, Richard Beers, aka Mr. T.H.E. Show, opined that the quality of Atrium entertainment plus additions to the various Headphoniums—thank you, Michael Mercer and friends—seemed to attract new blood to this year's show. Although Richard's attendance guesstimate was admittedly off the top of his head, without benefit of computer verification, he estimates 6700 attendees plus 400 exhibitors. Note, however, that the 6700 figure includes all audio-society discount tickets, as well as VIP and exhibitor guests.

While the actual number of paying attendees was had yet to be determined when I wrote this report, I have a hunch that attendance at T.H.E. Show Newport Beach actually peaked two years ago. Regardless, it's clear that Sunday's $25,000 giveaway and increased passes offered to local colleges and music institutions noticeably increased last-day attendance over last year. Which is a very good thing.

Richard submits the following important announcement for publication:

While The Show Newport continues to build its audience and the attendance figures increase annually, we further recognize that the uniqueness of being in two hotels is a logistically nightmare for us—and some exhibitors may be overlooked with the current configuration. And, while some enjoy the way the lay-out works, with every turn of every corner presenting new, interesting items to see and hear, some "corners" may be overlooked.

At this time, The Show management is looking for good, solid answers to help the show layout overall—plus eliminate some of the parking and freight logistic problems. Stay tuned. Some exciting changes will happen in 2015.

That's the official word. But if you talk to any number of exhibitors in the know, they'll share their belief, anonymously of course, that T.H.E. Show hopes to head to the nearby Hotel Irvine. Everyone I've spoken with says it is a much finer hotel with bigger rooms (and hopefully better food). Whether that means that the room will actually sound better, or simply measure bigger and look better while presenting a whole new slew of acoustic problems, has YTBD. But isn't that the case with almost any piece of equipment you bring into your own listening space and move to a different location?

I for one look forward to the change of venue(s), which will undoubtedly bring with it a shift of energy and additional enticement for folks to exhibit and attend. Perhaps the new venue will allow more systems to fulfill their promise.

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COMMENTS
spinsLPs's picture

I'm sure you'll hear this a thousand times over, but you missed out on the best sounding room. Venice Audio put together an excellent system that had my friends an I going back to their room a number of times.

Front end consisted of the Naim NDS/555 PS and a SuperNait 2 driving the fabulous Harbeth P3ER. Wow! That was the room we talked about on the way home.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I covered this room.

spinsLPs's picture

I need to clean my glasses.

hnipen's picture

I probably need glasses too, just can't find it .-)

remlab's picture

You really kept your composure under the circumstances. Tough position you were in. Hopefully next year there will be more than one guy covering the show.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I really appreciate that you've taken the time to say this. Thank you.

remlab's picture

You deserve a raise!

ken mac's picture

Not only do Jeff's rooms always sound wonderful, he is a gentleman and an all round blast! I love the music he plays.

zimmer74's picture

Thank you, Jason, for your comprehensive and thoughtful coverage of the show. Certainly worth waiting for! My apologies for being so impatient...

eriks's picture

Hi guys,

I always appreciate your show coverage, but your pictures are a little inconsistent. I'd like to offer some advice.

Take a look at your composition, and try to keep the percentage of your image that is curtain, carpet and hotel wall to under 30%. Even if you are showing the most expensive bit of kit at the show, it's not a very interesting picture when most of the picture is the hotel room. It's much better to be too close than too far. Feel free to cut off a loudspeaker to make this happen! There are too many pictures with composition that looks like Speaker<---->Equipment<---->Speaker in the world already. Every time another one is taken another bad vinyl reissue is sold.

Also, please keep us in mind. We look at your show coverage pretty regularly so looking at full system spreads of the brands covered in the past year already are yawners. "Yawner" is (C) 2014 by me. :)

Thanks!

Erik

eriks's picture

Just wanted to clarify. It's not that you shouldn't take a picture of Wilson at each show. It's just that seeing Wilson's in the same spread but in a different hotel room isn't as interesting as say, looking at the massive binding posts used by cable X hooked up to the upper speaker assembly. New details of an old subject are really interesting.

Best,

Erik

John Atkinson's picture
ericks wrote:

I always appreciate your show coverage...

Thank you.

ericks wrote:

but your pictures are a little inconsistent. I'd like to offer some advice. Take a look at your composition, and try to keep the percentage of your image that is curtain, carpet and hotel wall to under 30%.

It is my preference that our coverage concentrate on system and room photographs. Jason is doing exactly what he is asked to do. I want as editor for our reports primarily to convey what attending the show was like, with detailed information on specific products taking a lower priority.

With our alternate show report format, where we devote one blog to each exhibit, we do also occasionally include detail photographs, but with this multi-room format, to do so would be impractical, I am afraid.

Thanks for your feedback.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

remlab's picture

If I was covering a show, I would, as a rule, not criticize bad sounding rooms. I would take pictures, list the equipment, and go to the next room. By not stating the obvious, I could save a huge amount of time. I think that readers know that the rooms sound bad most of the time and would feel fine about just seeing pictures with an equipment list for each room. If allowed, I would also not wear a press badge so I could focus on the task at hand without being pestered as much.

eriks's picture

John,

But when we go to a room, we remember the details, not the backdrop. Having more focused images would be closer to the memory than the reality, and for me at least, would be more interesting to look at.

I remember in a biopic about Kurosawa I believe his daughter talked about filming at an active volcano. Kurosawa was struck by the fact that on film, the palpable heat he felt coming off the volcano would not transfer to the film so he made up for it by adding smoke generators. I'm not suggesting you add steam that isn't there, just take pity on us who can't attend and let us in closer. That or take 30 megapixel pics please. :) That this would be more exciting as well I hope won't be a negative.

Best,

Erik

volvic's picture

Appreciate your honesty and thoroughness covering these shows. Well done.
Nick.

hnipen's picture

I want to have the Hørning Hybrid Eufrodite loudspeakers !!!!
And so does my wife too, she just doesn't know yet :-D

hnipen's picture

Where can we find info about the MLC XSeed single-driver loudspeakers?, googling leaves no reasonable results, and Twin Audio Video doesn't even have any speakers listed on their webpage...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Santy's Twin Audio Video does have email and phone.

hnipen's picture

I told you.... I can't find my glasses :-D

audioengr's picture

I actually found it refreshing to hear an honest reaction to each room. This is in fact what most readers want IMO. We always go to shows with the goal of making our system sound as good as it does back home. I would recommend even to take it to the next level: compare exactly the same track in every room. I know, I know, its really boring and tiring, but it would give you more apples-to-apples comparison, less subjective. You could carry an LP, the CD and a thumb drive all with the same track. Then you could certainly request other tracks from the exhibitors to highlight their systems strengths.

This was the first time in the Hilton for us, having exhibited in the Atrium in previous years. I have to admit that the bass resonances were more difficult to deal with in these particular standard rooms than any other show I have exhibited at in 15 years. It helped systems with poor bass response, but put those with good response were over the top. If the hotel changes, I hope the next one is better. We will have more tools next time anyway, ala DSP and treatments.

Great coverage for just one guy BTW. Lots of other press only went into their "favorite" rooms. However, two guys doing this would be less rushed IMO.

Nice job Jason.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hi Steve,

While I do not carry expensive LPs room-to-room, and, given what has happened to a few of my favorite CDs in various rooms, am not at all excited by the thought of doing so, I do carry CDs, hybrid SACDs, and two baggies filled with USB sticks. Here, however, is what I've discovered.

The problem with SACDs on which I'm accustomed to hearing the hi-res two-channel mix is many rooms only have CD players. Hence, I never hear the recording as I'm accustomed to hearing it at home.

As for those rooms that also (or only) only have computers or music servers, shall I tell you the number of times I've offered up my drive, and discovered that folks variously don't know how to copy files, don't know how to find the files they've copied, want to grab everything from my drive, or can do the ripping only if I wait 5 or 10 minutes. As you and I learned in your room, in many systems, trying to listen to other material while ripping is going on doesn't work, because sound quality is compromised due to mechanical multi-tasking. (This is why people who listen via computer often turn everything unnecessary off, thereby freeing up more processing power for music playback.)

Then there's the issue of how the CD and LP were created from the (digital or analog) master, and the resolution of the file. It's rarely apples and oranges between the three mediums.

Finally, you were kind enough to mention boredom. If I wanted to engage in consistently repetitive tasks, I'd work in a factory or restaurant. There is no way I would listen to the same track in every room. I couldn't stand it. Nor, I pray, would many exhibitors put up with it. "Oh no, here comes Serinus with his three different versions of the same room-clearing music." "Stereophile, the magazine of rigorous testing and tedious listening." Etc. etc. Bye-bye, welcome mat.

Having said all that, I thank you immensely for the strokes. I really strove to call them as I heard them.

jason
Demonstrable Audio

Utopianemo's picture

Thank you sir, for your detailed coverage. I know going to shows can be draining, even if it is something one loves.

Did you make it to the Seaton Sound room? I'd heard elsewhere it was one of the better experiences at T.H.E. Show, so I was surprised about not finding it here.

High Water Sound's picture

Hi Jason, I just want to express my heart felt thanks for the kind words you wrote about the High Water Sound room. After such an monumental and somewhat overwhelming task you had nearly completed reviewing "The Show", it brings me great joy that you were able to chill and just enjoy the music in our room. Best wishes, Jeffrey

PBNAUDIO's picture

Jason,

Thanks so much for taking the time to visit our room at THE Show, greatly appreciated.

Good Listening

Peter Noerbaek

President

PBN Audio

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