Back at the Atrium, T.H.E. Marketplace was home to Audeze headphones, Eddie Current headphone amplifiers, Elusive Disc, Impex Records, Kim Wilson Photography, May Audio, and Music Direct. Here we see Music Direct’s Besflores Nievera, Jr., happily manning the vinyl. I get up, and nothing gets me down.
Episode Audio's Ira Pazandeh had one of the few home theater displays at T.H.E. Show. Arrayed before and around me were Episode Audio loudspeakers: Model EP-V front for two-channel and home theater front ($12,500/pair), Model EP-C for center channel ($6500), BASSY subwoofer ($2300), and, in the rear, two KOBRA surrounds ($4800/pair). Giving them juice were an Onkyo TX-NR 809 receiver ($995), Sony BDP-S580 CD/Blu-ray player ($149.99), AudioQuest speaker wire (approx. $50), and Monster interconnects. Playing Marta Gomez's "Maria Mulatta," I was struck with the nice depiction of air and space around the flute, as well as overwhelming bass (a problem shared by more set-ups in the Hilton sleeping rooms than I wish to count). I'd like to hear the system again, next time with adequate room treatment.
This system is worth learning about, because it nailed tonalities spot-on. After going room-to-room for three days, I assure you that getting tonality and timbre spot-on is no mean feat. In fact, it's a pretty elusive goal for most components.
So said the flyer drawing attention to Room 1022 at the Hilton. Intrigued, I went in, to see two pairs of Acoustic Zen Adagio mounted side-by-side, driven by an inexpensive Samsung DVD player and a Rotel amplifier. The sound was good rather than great, but considering the sub-optimal arrangement side-by-side speakers with widely spaced pairs of tweeter, no acoustic treatment, very inexpensive ancillaries, etc the sound was very much better than I was expecting, with precise stereo imaging. It turned out that the speakers' interaction with the room was optimized with a digital-signal processing unit, but no further details were forthcoming.
I have always greatly admired the match of Robert Lee's Acoustic Zen loudspeakersin this case the wonderful Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,000/pair), a 3-way transmission line design with a horn-loaded ribbon tweeterwith the Triode Corporation electronics imported by Santy Oropel of TWIN Audio Video. Here, the Crescendos formed an especially sonorous alliance with the TRV-CD5SE CD player ($3250), TRX-1 remote controlled tube preamplifier ($3200), and TRX-M845SE monoblock power amplifiers ($22,500/pair).
Using as his source a MacBook Pro playing iTunes/Pure Music, Dusty Vawter of Channel Islands was using his Transient MK II asynchronous USB converter ($699) with the VDC-5 Mk.II upgrade power supply ($399), PLC-1 Mk.II preamp ($899), D-500 Mk.II monoblock amplifiers ($5000/pair), and speaker prototypes that, perhaps a year from now, will yield Channel Islands loudspeakers. Playing a cover of "Sounds of Silence" on an Usher sampler, the sound was invitingly warm. The system also did a beautiful job of transmitting the natural sound of cymbals, which is no easy task.
The Magnepan room in the Atrium hotel had no fewer than three Californian retailers listed on its sign: Shelley's Stereo of Woodland Hills, Hi5 Stereo of La Habra, and Inland Sound of San Bernardino. But the sound in this room was not a case of too many cooks, the sidewall-mounted, motorized Magnepan MMC2 panels being reinforced by panel subs hidden in the room furnishings and a center-channel panel to give a presentation that sounded better than the total system costs of $4700 would suggest.
Oh, Santa. Santa Baby. Dear Santa Baby. Please make that a Reference Line Combination D ($259,700 total). I won't even ask you to sit on my lap, if only you and Rudolph bring me a pair of MBL 101E Mk.II Radialstrahler speakers, along with an MBL 1621 A CD transport, 1611 F D/A converter, 6010 D preamplifier, and 9011 power amplifier. In snow white, please, just as in the photo. This same Combo platter received my hands up and down "Best of Show" at AXPONA 2012 in Jacksonville. Here it sounded almost as good.
Because it was housed in a protective plastic case, which was allergic to my flash, my photo cannot possibly do full justice to the US pre-debut of the gorgeous Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp (price not yet announced, probably under $40,000, hopefully to be demonstrated in full form at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in October and available for purchase at the end of the year). This 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier with an integrated atomic clock and gold-plated relay volume control utilizes the 10M Rubidium atomic clock, which is said to be 100,000 times more stable than a traditional crystal oscillator. Coupled with Antelope's 64-bit "Acoustically Focused Clocking technology" the Rubidium purportedly manages jitter superbly. Already boasting an award from Japan, the unit is one of several from the company that uses DACs endorsed by Morten Lindberg, founder and chief engineer of audiophile label 2L.
My very favorite gear of T.H.E. Show Newport was presented by Ross Blomgren of RJB Electronic Services. Blomgren specializes in the repair and restoration of antique jukeboxes, radios, and hi-fi, and the products he had on display were, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful to be found at the show.
John McDonald’s Audience company has developed a range of speakers using a proprietary 3” cone driver to cover the complete audio range. The flagship Clairaudient 16+16 ($72,000/pair) made its debut at the Newport Beach Show. Each Clairaudient 16+16 uses 16 of the latest-generation drivers firing to the front and another 16 to the back, and is specified to be flat to 30Hz.
John Atkinson reported on Don Keele’s unusual constant-directivity CBT36 loudspeaker from last year’s Rocky Mountain Audiofest. At T.H.E. Show Newport, Keele and Marshall Kay, president of Audio Artistry, purposefully created an “economy system” (an iPad running Media Monkey, Benchmark DAC1, Crown preamp, ATI amplifier, Behringer DSP processor) to show how well the speaker could perform under sub-optimal conditions.
Audio Note’s Dave Cope was unusually glum: The E/SPe HE loudspeakers ($9650/pair; seen in a lovely Russian birch plywood) are designed to be positioned in the corners of a room, but doing so here, in the small Atrium suite, meant that they’d be tucked beneath a strange overhang that seemed to rob the speakers of their charm. The effect, however, was largely music-dependent and I nevertheless heard glimpses of Audio Note’s characteristic drama, tone color, and texture, albeit on a smaller scale. I have no reason to believe that this impressive system wouldn’t sound wonderful under better conditions.