T.H.E. Show Newport 2011

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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Oceanside, CA-based retailer The Home Theater Experience was, counterintuitive to their name, showing the old–school style Tannoy Yorkminster SE loudspeakers paired with Cary CAD 805 Anniversary Edition monoblock amplifiers and the Cary SLP 98L preamplifier. Front-end duties were handled either by a Cary CD 303T SACD Professional Version player or a Krell Kid iPod Dock. All cables and room tuning were from Synergistic Research. Yes, another room using the ART acoustic treatments. Hmm. Unfortunately pricing information was not available on a one-sheet and time did not allow for note-taking. Basically it was after the 5:00pm closing time of the show.

This system was also very easy to enjoy and Oscar Peterson sounded like the Maharaja of the keyboard to quote Duke Ellington. You can see in the picture that one very discriminating listener approves of the sound but appears to disapprove of my camera clicks: "Excuse me, we're listening here."

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 2 comments
Next up was Digital Ear's MartinLogan and McIntosh room. While I was there, the new MartinLogan ElectroMotion EM-ESL loudspeaker ($1995/pair), which "features both electrostatic and compact Folded Motion™ thin-film transducer technologies," was playing very nicely with a McIntosh MC452 amplifier ($6000), McIntosh C50 preamplifier ($5000), which includes a USB DAC and phono stage, a Cambridge Audio id100 iPod/iPad dock ($1299), all tied together with Transparent Audio Reference Series cables.

While this room sounded very inviting and was doing all those things MartinLogans are known to do, I almost wished they'd used a less expensive amp/pre combo to show off a sleek, relatively affordable system. One of the McIntosh integrated amps comes to mind—less muss, less fuss.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
I can remember visiting a NJ hi-fi dealer with my father, back before I was old enough to drive, to hear Vandersteen speakers and enjoying them then. The diminutive Vandersteen VLR ($1195/pair) sports a coax driver with a 6.5” woofer and 1” alloy dome tweeter for a claimed frequency response—are you going to question what Richard Vandersteen says? Not me, brother!—of 64Hz–21kHz ±3dB. Associated equipment included the Audio Research DSI200 integrated amplifier ($6000), Audio Research DAC8 ($5000), and an Audio Research CD5 as transport. Source material was also streamed from a MacBook Pro using iTunes/Pure Music. Cable included the AudioQuest Sky interconnect, Diamond USB cable and Meteor speaker cable, and there was a Furman line conditioner in use.

We listened to Greg Brown's hysterically sleepy yet gripping "Rain & Snow" from his CD Freak Flag and it held us on the edge of our seats with smiles on our faces.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Speaker designer Roger Sanders has been at this for a long time and he has a very specific idea/vision that is illustrated in his system and direct-sales approach. It is also illustrated in the room setup which you can't really see in this photo but in addition to that single chair sitting fairly close to the Model 10 electrostatic speakers, there was a single row of chairs, not side to side, but one behind the other.

The configuration we’re looking at and to which I listened was the Model 10c which includes a digital electronic crossover and the Magtech monoblock amplifiers (1600W into an 8 ohm load) for a system price of $13,000. Cables are from Sanders Sound as well, which I believe are included in the system price since there was no pricing information on the sort-of informative brochure I picked up in the room. I say "sort-of" because it doesn't include any information on the source we listened to and I neglected to make a note of it. . .

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
On A Higher Note is the US distributor for Audioaero, Luxman, Brinkmann, and Vivid Loudspeakers, and Philip O'Hanlon is its founder and president. Philip is also another guy that gets it. Music that is. Actually Philip O'Hanlon has seemingly mastered the art of music presentation and is one of hi-fi's more endearing characters. You really don’t want to leave while the bow-tied and nimble-footed Mr. O'Hanlon is spinning the tunes or telling stories.

To make matters better, the system we listened to was absolutely musically engaging to the extreme. It included the Vivid Audio G2Giya loudspeakers ($50,000/pair), Luxman M-800A class-A stereo amplifier ($19,000), Luxman E-1 phono stage ($4000), Brinkmann Oasis direct-drive turntable ($13,400), Brinkmann 9.6 tonearm ($4000), Brinkmann Pi cartridge ($2700), Audioaero La Source CD/SACD player also used as preamp ($44,000), with Crystal Cable in use throughout.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
San Pedro, CA-based retailer Audio Summa brought along a bunch of gear from Silverline Audio, Conrad-Johnson, Parasound, Brown Electronic Labs (BEL), Blue Circle Audio, and Analysis Plus. While I was in-room, we listened to the Silverline Audio Bolero Supreme loudspeakers ($12,000/pair standing on the inside in the picture), BEL 1001 MkIV class-A solid-state amplifier (not for sale), a tube-based preamp designed and built by Alan Yun of Silverline Audio ($20,000) and the Ecstasy Model 20 tube CD player also from the mind and hands of Alan Yun ($12,000). Cables were from Analysis Plus and BEL "The Wire." The sound in the Audio Summa room was fast and a bit furious, leaving little time for decay. "Pace-y" read my notes.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
These brands were located in the California Room, which oddly enough was in the opposite direction of everything else at T.H.E. Show. I very much enjoyed my brief time with the 90dB Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers ($7995/pair), which carry on Reference 3A-s tradition of relatively easy-to-drive loudspeakers, the brand-new Concert Fidelity ZL-120V2 monoblock power amplifiers ($28,000/pair), Concert Fidelity CF-080LSX line-stage preamplifier ($20,000), Concert Fidelity DAC-040 D/A converter ($10,000), and the Concert Fidelity SPA-4C phono stage ($14,000). The turntable was the Perpetual Technology TT 1 ($2500); a Copland CCDA 825 CD player ($6500) was also in use; and all cable was from Cable Research Lab.

We listened to Aimee Mann and Leonard Cohen on CD and it sounded lovely.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Precision Audio Video is both a retailer and the US distributor for Venture and Weiss products. They were exhibiting the Venture Encore Loudspeakers ($46,000/pair), Venture V100A+ Reference monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), Venture VP100 Reference full-function preamplifier ($28,000), Venture VP100P phono preamplifier ($26,000)—"which provides substantial higher quality for the vinyl analogue play back—a Spiral Groove SG1 turntable, with a Spiral Groove tonearm and London Decca cartridge. The Weiss Jason CD Transport ($24,000) fed a Weiss Medea DAC ($20,000) and all cabling was from Venture.

We listened to Eric Clapton’s "Tears in Heaven" unplugged on vinyl and the very nice guy from Precision A/V kept asking his associate to turn it up. One of the issues with demoing hi-fi in a huge ballroom is that it's difficult, or damn near impossible, to energize the room and fully engage the listener.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Have you seen the film The Mole People? In brief, a few hapless archaeologists accidentally find a race of Sumerian albinos living deep underground. At first the Sumerian albinos believe the hapless archaeologists are Gods because they have a flashlight and sunlight, which kills your average Sumerian albino who lives deep underground—it literally burns them up. They are worshiped as Gods. But eventually they realize the hapless archaeologists are not Gods and what tips them off is the fact that the archaeologists show emotion and pain. Sumerian albinos living deep underground do not.

I spoke to Richard Beers, T.H.E. Show’s President about attendance at the first ever T.H.E. Show Newport Beach and he scientifically deduced over 4000. This estimate was based on the fact that he’d ordered over 4000 lanyards, the thing every attendee uses to hang their badge around their neck, and they were nearly gone on Saturday afternoon. I heard people talking even higher numbers but I’ve got no way to verify their enthusiasm.

In any event, this event was a complete, 100%, slam-dunk. . .

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 3 comments
Retailer Digital Ear from Tustin, CA was all over this show. I had to keep checking my notes since I began to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day—"I'm in the Digital Ear room, again? But I just left." Room 1 was the Revel/Levinson room—Revel Ultima Salon2 speakers ($21,998/pair), Mark Levinson No.53 monoblock amplifiers ($25,000, the first-ever switching amp from Levinson), Mark Levinson No.326S preamplifier ($10,000), the No.512 CD/SACD Player ($15,000), with cabling from Transparent Audio. I felt this tiny room did not allow you to fully appreciate what you might hear if you were in a more appropriately sized room with this kind of gear. As is, I would not recommend the Revel Salon 2s—a JA favorite—for near-field listening.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
The bigger rig from the MBL Reference line: Radialstrahler 101E MkII loudspeakers ($70,500/pair), the world premier of the piano-white lacquer with chrome finish, 9011 monoblock amplifiers ($53,000/each), 6010D preamplifier ($26,500), 1611F D/A converter with MBLMCMi asynchronous USB input ($28,700), and 1621A CD transport ($28,000). Additional equipment included a Linux-based vortexbox computer by Simple Design, Wireworld Eclipse 6 cabling, Locus design cynosure USB cable, and SRA Scuttle rack.

Fortune smiled upon me again, as I got to spend time in the MBL room with none other than Michael Fremer. If you don’t already know, Michael is very quick-witted and very funny, seemingly always on the lookout for a zing here or a gaff there. He’s also very serious about music, in a very non-serious way, and we were treated to some greatest hits from a CD he’d brought along for the show including “La Bamba” (the original), Irma Thomas singing “Time Is On My Side” (the original), and lots of other varied and equally wonderful and some wonderfully whacky music. I would also add that Michael Fremer’s informative introductions to each track added to the experience. . .

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 2 comments
The big room. Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($100,000/pair) standing at over 6' tall, dominated the room, looking like Transformers ready to devour us with music. The Burmester 911 Mk3 amplifier ($29,995) managed the Grand Utopias, the Burmester 089 CD ($28,995) and a Burmester preamplifer (I did not note the model but I bet it costs $xx,995) took care of rest, with Transparent Opus and Reference cables.

It's very difficult to ignore the pair of 573.2 lb speakers in the room but my note, just one, read "Jack be nimble." Of course, anyone interested in auditioning hi-fi for potential purchase, especially when spending this kind of money, will take their time listening and not base their judgment on a few minutes. Jack don’t be quick.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
The only negative I heard from exhibitors came from those whose rooms abutted the outdoor live entertainment area. When I arrived in the M•A Recording and The Signal Collection room, the band outside was in full boogie at full volume. While Chris Sommovigo from the Signal Collection did his best to overcome, the live music overcame our demo.

The promising-looking and, from what little I could deduce from listening through the live music, promising-sounding Transmission Audio MI1I loudspeakers ($4500/pair) were designed by none other than Bo Bengtsson. The speakers were coupled to a Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier, with a Korg MR 2000 playing digital files from an laptop.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
The Ayon Audio room used a pair of gracefully curved LumenWhite Artisan speakers ($35,000/pair) with the Ayon Orthos II monoblock amplifiers ($24,000/pair) and the Ayon CD-5 CD Player with integrated preamplifier ($11,380). The CD-5 features USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, i2S and Toslink inputs and S/PDIF (RCA), i2S, and AES/EBU digital outputs. Cable was from Synergistic Research and the equipment rack was the Bassocontinuo ($10,000) from Italy, shown here with German Plexiglas shelves. Around the room you’ll also notice the Synergistic Research Art devices inviting comment.

I noted a very strong center image, lots of body/weight, and a physical yet nimble presentation.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Retailer Affordable Audio was showing off the very intriguing Zingali Zero Otto loudspeakers ($5999/pair) from Italy. This was the Zero Otto's US debut and I’d say they did better than fine. With its 93dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the low-powered crowd should be pleased to have another option.

Associated equipment included the Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary integrated amplifier ($3995), a Bel Canto CD2 Transport ($4999), and Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB ($3495), with cable from Cable Research Lab’s Bronze Series.

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