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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a challenge to squeeze into the Positive Feedback Hospitality Suite, where visitors competed for space with liquor bottles. Not even co-host Carol Clark could reach the liquor table when I said “yes” to her offer to a touch of red wine. But somehow I was able to make it far enough into the room to discover, in the midst of the positive spirits, the Extreme Guitar Duo.
Hearing this duo unamplified, even in a small room, came as a shock . . .
This non-tobacco smoker can’t attest to the quality of the merchandise, but the fabulously bedecked “cigar woman” on T.H.E. Shows’ specialty cigar booth, hosted by Havana Cigars of Tustin, CA was a joy to speak with.
When I judged a whistling contest in China a few years back, I got severely criticized by an unsmiling judge for favoring one little girl because she was so damn cute. I wonder what he would have thought about my reaction to the adorable little components from Napa Acoustics. You’ll have to check previous show blogs for their pictures, because this time, I focused on some of Napa Acoustics’ Chinese-manufactured larger offerings. The MT-34 35Wpc integrated amp ($1199), Bow-A3 loudspeakers ($1699/pair), and NA-208 CD player ($399), powered and connected with stock cables, did a fine job of depicting the organ on Ray Charles and Norah Jones’ “Here We Go Again.”
All that and more found a home in room 417 of the Hilton, where Fritz Heiler’s Rev 7 towers ($3500/pair) produced some fine sounds on a Chesky LP of Rosa Passos and Ron Carter singing Bossa Nova. On the major plus side, the midrange excelled; the midrange timbre of the guitar sounded just right, and Passos’ voice was ideally smooth. But despite GIK Acoustics room treatments and Custom Audio rack and amp stands, bass was unfocused, and Passos’ voice lacked ultimate clarity.
The Music First Audio system, which included the Music First Audio Step-up and Music First Audio Baby Reference preamplifier (in front, in red), helped create a midrange-strong system that, on a recording by Eva Cassidy, sounded very smooth indeed. Favoring the midrange over brilliance in orchestral fare, the system transmitted the natural resonance of horns, and credibly communicated the full and meaty sounds of violins.