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.
Las Vegas? Why bother to fly across the country or around the world when you can visit New York City, Venice’s Grand Canal, and Egypt’s Great Pyramid in one easy, smoke-filled, retail therapy-rich, constantly stimulating stop? Why search out music on the net when, in Las Vegas, it constantly bombards you in elevators, from outdoor loudspeakers, and at your free lunch at T.H.E. Show?
Ah, Las Vegas. In his wrap to CES 2012, Stephen Mejias did a beautiful job of asking the simple but profound question, “Why?” Why, of all the god-forsaken places on Planet Earth, has the Consumer Electronics Association chosen this compulsion-driven, ecologically devastating, one-stop tourist and gambling destination as the site for the largest industry trade show in the US?
Antelope Audio, long respected in pro circles, showed two important products: the finally available Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp ($40,000), an all-in-one beauty that combines a 10M Rubidium atomic clock with a 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier; and the due-this-fall Zodiac Platinum DSD-capable DAC/headphone amplifier ($4895) with optional Voltikus power supply ($995). Paired with ATC SCM100-AT active loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), the Rubicon produced supremely beautiful sound with exceptionally refined highs. And that was from a computer source equipped with a stock USB cable. Those who have experimented with aftermarket USB cables know how much more color and life the system would have produced had a better USB cable been in the chain.
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.
Handsome Vapor Audio Cirrus Black loudspeakers ($3995/pair)I don't have a clue as to why speakers of blond wood are named "black," unless it’s a Harry Potter referencemated with exotically named Arte Forma Due Volta monoblock amplifiers ($5500/pair) and Thalia preamplifier ($2250), a B.M.C. DAC1 ($5690), Antipodes DV2 music server ($3299), Antipodes Reference speaker cables ($2200/set) and interconnects ($1900), Balanced Power Technologies PC-9LN power cables ($499) and BP-3.5 power conditioner ($2399), and ATS Acoustics room treatments to produce sound that I found nicely illumined, albeit a little hard and unyielding. The system may not have penetrated to the heart of the music, but the sound was very attractive, solid, and well-controlled.
I’ve eagerly awaited the opportunity to hear APL Hi-FI’s NOW-2.5, the no-hold-barred, top-of-the line model in their frighteningly named New World Order series of Universal Players. A redesigned Esoteric UX-1, featuring a 6H30 dual-tube output stage, the $21,000 unit threw an exceptionally three-dimensional soundstage mated with the ESP Concert Grand S1 speakers and Shoreline 300 monoblocks. My sense, however, is that the unit is capable of offering far more than what I was able to hear in the Show setting. With the assistance of Alex Peychev’s new Service Manager, Brent Rainwater, I look forward to eventually auditioning the NOW-2.5 in my reference system.
April Music's tremendous achievement deserves two blog entries. In one room at the Alexis Park, the Korean-based company demmed an absolutely amazing for the price Stello stack of low-cost, truly high-end mini components: the Stello CDT-100 transport ($695), DA100 Signature ($895), HP100 headphone amp/preamp ($595), and S100 50W/channel power amplifier ($745). Auditioning Harmonia Mundi's beautiful recording of Schubert's Arppeggione Sonata, this diminutive set-up (complete with B&W 805 loudspeakers and Red Rose cabling) created an amazingly deep, involving soundstage that would make many a manufacturer of components costing 10 times the Stello price envious. The system also did a fine job of capturing the complex harmonics of the piano. An I2S bus connection between components—shades of Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies—sure helps matters. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this set-up fully captured the soul of every piece of music I auditioned, or that its solid-state pedigree wasn't apparent, but it blew the socks off most mass-market doo-doo and a helluva lot of supposedly audiophile-grade components.
After a break of too many years, it was great to again encounter the fine sound of April Music. This time, the company was showcasing three premiers: the April Music Stello Ai700 integrated amplifier ($6500), Eximus S1 stereo amplifier ($2500), and Eximus DP1 192/24 DACPreamplifier ($3200). Together with a MacBook Pro running Amarra 2.4.2, Marten’s Coltrane soprano loudspeaker and Verrastar cabling, the system sounded gorgeous on soprano Renée Fleming’s rendition of Dvorák’s “Song to the Silver Moon.” Bass was impressively solid. The speaker needed more room to shine on the very top, but the midrange and bass produced by this chain were excellent.
After four years of virtual inactivity, new and updated Aragon and Acurus high-end amplifiers, preamplifiers, and processors are slated to return to the marketplace. The long-established brands, which have been the property of Klipsch since 2001, are now in the hands of two enthusiastic veteran Klipsch electronics engineers, Rick Santiago and Ted Moore of Indy Audio Labs, LLC.
Many, many moons ago, in the days when Stereophile was a small digest rather than a full-sized magazine and lively website, I owned an Aragon 4004 dual-monoblock amplifier. Oh how I wish I had never sold my 4004, with circuitry designed by Dan d'Agostino, and instead mated it with a front end, speakers, and cabling that could have revealed all that it had to offer.
You, thankfully, have an opportunity to find out just how good the circuitry is. The just-introduced Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc dual monoblock amplifier ($4999) with dual, symmetrical power supply and ethernet-based control and status monitoring, is now produced by Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009.