Dusty Vawter’s CIAudio, which stands for Channel Islands Audio rather than a governmental overseas espionage agency, was making really nice sound on a recording by Ben Harper. Doing the honors in this reasonably priced system were CIAudio’s Transient Mk.II asynchronous USB DAC ($699), VDC5 Mk.II 5V upgraded power supply ($329), PLC1 MKk.II passive line controller ($899), and D200 Mk.II 200W monoblocks ($3500/pair). Von Schweikert VR-22 loudspeakers ($2895/pair) completed a chain that began with a MacBook Pro equipped with Pure Music software, and also included a PS Audio P10 power regenerator, Billy Bags equipment rack, and GIK room treatments.
From an engineering standpoint, Emerald Physic’s CS2.3 Mk.II loudspeaker ($5950/pair in gloss black with outboard DSP crossover), appears to do many things wrongthat large-diameter midrange unit, the coaxial tweeter with no apparent attempt at dealing with the symmetrical acoustic environment, the cavities between the 15" woofer cones and the front bafflebut I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. The speakers sounded better than I was expecting on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley,” producing a big, easy-on-the-ear balance.
EAR USA’s Dan Meinwald had more to share than two new products from Tim de Paravicini; he also opened the door on lovely tube warmth. Thanks to two new sources, the EAR Acute 4/DACute 4 CD/SACD player ($13,000) and Helius Alexia turntable ($5500), the latter equipped with the Helius Omega 10” tonearm ($3100) and Dynavector KX-1s cartridge ($5450), an LP of doo-wop, and a CD of The Persuasions singing the Beatles had great height and exemplary center imaging. A Chad Kassem test pressing of the Ray Brown Trio’s Soular Energy further exhibited lovely and warm tube sound.
PBN’s Peter Noerback always gets a good sound at shows and Newport Beach was no exception. The KAS2 speakers ($38,000/pair) might have thought to be too big for the room, but driven by the 200Wpc Olympia-AX amplifiers, bridged for mono operation when they deliver 800W into 8 ohms ($22,000 each), they produced a delicious full-range sound, even one that was a touch too mellow, on Madeleine Peyroux’s rendering of “Bye Bye Love.”
Dexter Gordon was in the midst of turning head over heels, or vice versa, over the sound of his LP, Dexter Blows Hot and Cool, in the Venice Audio room. He may have blown a bit cool over the out-of-control bass, but he surely found the beauty of his tenor sax, and the clarity of the cymbals hot indeed.
Winner of my “Tied for Best Sound on the Hilton’s 3rd Floor Award,” which must count for something in someone’s bookthe other was the Perfect8 and BAlabo room, Veloce Audio’s LS-1 battery-powered tube preamp ($18,000) and Saetta battery-powered hybrid monoblock amplifiers ($18,000/pair) were producing their customary luscious, warm, clean, and ultra-smooth sound. Using a PC source equipped with J River Media Player, a Stahl-Tek Ariaa DAC ($12,000), Purist Audio Design Corvus cables and Ultimate USB, and YG Acoustic Kipod II Signature loudspeakers ($38,800), the system sounded great on George Benson’s “Paper Moon” and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass’ “Moonlight in Vermont.” I especially enjoyed the copious amount of air surrounding Byron Janis’ piano. Color this system maximally seductive.
At $12,600/pair, the two-way S1 is the least-expensive speaker to come from Magico. Nevertheless, in a relatively large room at the Atrium, driven by the Constellation monoblocks ($54,000/pair) that Mickey Fremer will be reviewing in the October issue, and the Constellation Virgo preamp ($29,000) had an ease to its sound, coupled with an almost full-range balance with palpable imaging. Source was Constellation’s new
Cygnus server ($29,000), controlled by an iPad app, and cables were all Kubala-Sosna. Expensive electronics but this system was one of my best sounds at the Show. (And I’m not just saying that because Constellation’s Peter Madnick played one of my favorite Cantus tracks, an acapella treatment of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright,” which I recorded live at Minneapolis’s Southern Theater in 2008.
The second Audio Element room was one of my best-sounding systems at the show: Sonus Faber Elipsa speakers were being driven by Ayre’s new VX-5 power amplifier and KX-5 preamplifier, with source the latest version of the QB-9 USB DAC, which can handle DSD data. The sound was more open, less dark than in the other Audio Element room, with more space around the instruments. The new Ayre preamp and power amp have much in common with the new AX-5 integrated amplifier, which Art Dudley will be reviewing in the August 2013 issue of Stereophile.
Following the death of his father in July 2011, Brian Berdan had been running Brooks Berdan Ltd, the well-regarded retailer in Monrovia, the suburb east of Los Angeles. But T.H.E. Show saw the debut of Brian’s new venture, Audio Element, which will open in Pasadena in August. Many of the brands that used to be sold by Brooks Berdan Ltd. are going with Brian to the new store. Many were exhibiting in Brian’s two rooms at the Atrium. In the first room, Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers ($36,000/pair), which I loved when I reviewed them in March 2012, were being driven by VTL’s MB-450 Series III Signature tube monoblocks ($18,000/pair), VTL’s TL-7.5 Series II Reference line preamplifier ($20,000), VTL’s TP-6.5 Signature phono stage ($8500), and the fully loaded, four-chassis dCS Vivaldi SACD playback system ($108,496). Analog playback was with a Grand Prix Monaco turntable ($23,500) fitted with a Tri-Planar tonearm ($5800) and Lyra Skala cartridge ($3995). Cables were all Cardas Clear and Clear Beyond and racks were all from Grand Prix Audio.
Location, location, location . . . and, from Richard Beers and Bob Levi, a generous helping of brilliant organizing acumen. That winning combination means that, in just its third year, T.H.E. Show Newport Beach has already laid claim to the title of the top consumer “fine audio” show in the U.S.
What exactly No.1 means is another question entirely. While T.H.E. Show Newport Beach may have been spread over multiple floors in two adjacent hotels, as was T.H.E. Show Las Vegas of old, and offered, in addition to almost 140 exhibit rooms and an invaluable number of seminars, a corridor-long “cigar show,” a glitzy car show, wine show, gourmet food trucks, and multiple entertainment stages and markets, it’s hard to know if all that = “best.” And while attendance is claimed to be very high, it’s hard to know how many of the estimated 7500 attendees actually paid to get in, and how many took advantage of either generously distributed comps or membership in the Los Angeles-Orange County Audio Society.
What is certain is that, despite what JA told me was a surprisingly slow Sunday, there were people everywhere on Friday and Saturday. Everywhere, as in all over the place. And that means more than physically. People ran the gamut age-wise as well as interest wise, if less so in terms of the male-female ratio.
Because the show was too big for one person to see it all, Jason Serinus and I split our responsibilities: he would cover the Hilton and I would cover the Atrium Hotel, plus some of the rooms at the Hilton that he failed to visit. The first room I visited at the Atrium was the large ballroom on the mezzanine featuring Dynaudio’s new Evidence Platinum loudspeaker ($85,000/pair). Did I say “large”? I meant to write “enormous”! The room was way too big, but with acoustic treatment from Vicoustic, the system produced much better sound than I was anticipating. I listened to Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” (from Grace), Bill Evans in hi-rez, and a live Dutch recording from David Crosby with an electric band performing a song called “Morrison”; with all three recordings, the imaging was solid and tangible, the low frequencies rich but well-defined, and the midrange uncolored.
Chicago retailer Tweak Studio has been a fixture at the 2013 shows, and proprietor Arnold Martinez was demming a system featuring Elac 249 Black Edition speakers ($8000/pair) driven by a Burmester 911 amplifier ($31,000), Esoteric C-03X preamplifier, Burmester A/D phono preamplifier ($26,500), and Music Hall MMF-11 turntable fitted with a Goldring Legacy cartridge ($600). Wiring was all WireWorld Platinum series and the racks was a Stillpoints. The L-shaped lobby-level room had problematic acoustics, which Martinez had addressed by firing the Elac speakers, with their AMT tweeter and distinctive faceted lower-frequency drivers, across a diagonal, A dub version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain,” played from LP, was musically convincing.
That was the message on the poster in Magnepan’s room. Wendell Diller, celebrating his 40th anniversary with the Minnesota company, explained that Magneplanar speakers use 90% US-sourced parts and demmed the new, 48”-tall, two-way-plus-woofer Super MMG ($1199/pair with one bass panel, $1750 /pair with two) with an Ati amplifier and a Theta Casablanca preamplifier. The sound on a varied program was sweet, almost full-range. I couldn’t see the bass panels; Wendell pointed to the end tables on the outside edges of the speakers. To increase the Spouse Acceptance Factor, he had disguised the planar woofers.
I still remember how much I enjoyed the sound of hi-rez files decoded by MSB’s DAC, when it resided briefly in my system after I performed the measurements to accompany Jon Iverson’s review last October. So MSB’s room at the Atrium was one of my first stops. A pair of YG Anat 3 Signature speakers with Billet-Core midrange units and woofers was being driven by MSB’s S200 200Wpc, zero-feedback, class-A amplifier ($17,995) and source was the Platinum Data CD IV transport. However, the bits were being converted to analog not with the Diamond DAC but MSB’s new “entry-level” Analog DAC ($6995 with standard outboard power supply, $9990 with upgraded Analog Power Supply, which shares the same form factor and is shown sitting underneath the DAC), which is said to offer “a generous percentage of MSB’s technology.”
I was familiar with the glass-cabinet Waterfall speakers in Room 239, but not the brightly colored speakers flanking them, from Arizonan company Emme Speakers. The white speakers are the New Gamma ($30,000/pair), the red ones the New Beta ($12,000/pair). Offering “Fashion and Passion,” the Emme speakers are available in 24 designer colors from two retailers, in Arizona and Malibu, CA.