The Remarkable Triumph of T.H.E. Show

T.H.E. Show was near its end, and some exhibitors were already packing up before the metaphorical closing bell had rung. But that didn't mean that Show Manager Marine Presson wasn't still hard at work. Standing by the hotel check-in counter, next to T.H.E. Show's registration table, Marine was in overdrive to ensure everything was going smoothly.

Five days later, as I write these words, Interim Show President Maurice Jung is still assembling final attendance figures. While he is certain that T.H.E. Show did not break 9000 aggregate visits—that's the total whereby a person who attends all three days counts as three—Jung believes that they attracted perhaps 350 over last year's total of 8500. Which, for a show that was on hold six months ago and was pulled together in record time, is nothing short of a miracle.

Well, maybe not a miracle. Rather, it is living testimony to the extraordinary devotion of T.H.E. Show Newport's co-creator, the late Richard Beers, the esteem in which he was held, and the dedication of those who have carried on. Together with Bob Levi, President of the Los Angeles Orange County Audiophile Society, Richard conceived the very Southern California mix of audio, audio-outfitted automobiles, cigars (MIA this year, I think), seminars, entertainment, and wine that has become the signature of T.H.E. Show Newport.

When Richard's death was announced in late March, Marine, her husband Wess, Maurice, and Executive Assistant Joseph Castellanos went into overdrive, ensuring T.H.E. Show would go on. There may have been slightly fewer exhibitors, fewer headphone exhibitors, fewer seminars, and a surprising consistency of entertainers. But with so many systems to see and hear, and a huge number of attendees, T.H.E. Show Newport 2016 was as much a vindication of inspiration and vision as it was of dedication and faith.

There were, of course, a few missteps. Moving the cars to a more visible location near the food trucks may have increased their traffic, but it denied show-goers tables and chairs for sitting. With the pool area closed by the hotel in an effort to drive people into their tented food area, outdoor eaters had precious few places to sit. And those who braved the hot sun to stand in line at the food trucks discovered that the only truck with non-heart-attack food, which served rice bowls with genuine vegetables and a choice of protein—but not tofu, alas—was there only on Friday.

While moving the live entertainment out of the noisy show lounge was, IMHO, a good idea, the shift to the tented outdoor pavilion seems to have had an out of sight, out of mind effect on attendance. I'm not sure there's an easy fix for either of these issues, but they, the low profile of the Magic Bus (which I missed entirely, even if it may have been right in front of me at on time or another), and the astounding absence of hotel room service for those who wish to eat in their rooms rather than in the hotel's noisy restaurant, are issues nonetheless.

Be that as it may, it was a fabulous show. The signs were in place, the show guide easy to use, and spirits high. Very high. Without question, the beautiful planning and execution of Richard's memorial celebration enabled people to both weep and play on the same day.

There was certainly a LOT of remarkable sound. Of the something like 19 active exhibit rooms on floor 2, there were only a few clunkers. That record-winning streak didn't hold for other floors, but that's par for the course. Not everyone is equally gifted with set up acumen and good power treatment, let alone stellar equipment.

Best Of(s)

Each of us had our favorite systems, of course. John Atkinson, who attended the show for one extremely jet-lagged day, only visited 12 rooms before attending Richard's memorial. Of those, he says:

"The two rooms that knocked me out with the sound were:

1) the Wilson Alexx/VTL Siegfried/dCS room, where I thought that two Bach fugues for organ, from CD, could not sound any better—I was transported into the churches where the recordings had been made—and:

2) the On A Higher Note/Joseph Cali room, where a new Channel Classics recording of Mahler's Symphony 3, performed by Iván Fisher conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra and recorded in multichannel DSD256, may well have been the finest recorded orchestral sound I have experienced."

[Note to self: Get a hold of that download in double DSD—the current limit of DSD playback on the dCS Rossini—and consider it for review.]

Composer Sasha Matson, who together with John had been recording material for his forthcoming CD before the show, and who, I might add, has rebounded from an initial poor showing in the photography department to take superior photos from exciting vantage points, writes:

"I heard a lot of great sound. Here goes, in numerical order of rooms:

1) Quail Room—Blue Light/Evolution…For the great detail and emotion wrung from Garcia/Grisman vinyl. See blog.

2) Room 311—Dantax Raidho…What can I say? I'm a Lars Kristensen/Raidho fan now. His new large speakers sound amazing—so do the small ones.

3) Room 332—Vinnie Rossi. Ella & Louis sounded magical from huge horn cabinets and Vinnie's electronics.

4) Room 339—Stein…Was captivated by Wayne Shorter personally addressing me.

5) Room 1008—GTT/Kii…Designer Bruno Putzeys' brilliance shone through, even with another chance to hear "Dance of the Tumblers"!

6) Room 1147/49—PBN/Allnic…Peter Noerbaek rocked me with the White Album and his GrooveMaster restored 'tables.

7) Room 1018—Kyron…The Boys from Down Under were an ear-opener: both partner and designer are musicians, and it shows.

8) Room 1025—Voss/David Shreve…Combination of hi-fi turntable veteran and startup amp company from Santa Barbara really worked for me. Memorable vinyl playback."

Tom Norton has a lot to say about his whirlwind days at T.H.E. Show:

"When I cover a show, I realize I'm listening to speakers, and any judgment of the contribution of the remainder of the system is close to impossible. In addition, show setups are dicey at best, as Jason has already noted elsewhere. So it's very likely that I heard more than a few exceptional products at less than their best.

"I also missed quite a few rooms, since our assignments didn't free up a lot of time to wander elsewhere. Thursday was press day, and most rooms weren't yet ready for prime time. I had to leave early Sunday.

"Since program material is such a large factor in the sound of a system, I'll restrict my comments to rooms that were equipped to play back the selections I had brought with me on a CD-R. Many (it seemed most) rooms lacked a disc player of any sort. Many rooms were vinyl only. Quite a few had computer digital sources, and while I had brought a music-loaded flash drive, it wasn't convenient to use. [Note from Jason: Ditto. I only used a USB stick once, on the immediate-access Aurender. Who has the time for people to copy material onto their hard drive, especially when their eyes widen at what you've got, and they try to take it all?]

"With that in mind, I'll give pride of place, at the higher end of the scale, to Ryan Acoustics' Tempus III. I had heard this speaker at CES last January as well, and had been equally impressed by it then. I also would have liked to spend more time with the Focal Sopra No2s in the Micromega room, driven by Micromega's new, appealing integrated amplifier.

"At the budget end, kudos to both Elac and Revel. For the former, Andrew Jones was showing off his new Elac Uni-fi lineup; for the latter, the Revel Performa2s ($2000/pair) impressed many show-goers, not just me.

"The big floorstanders in the PranaFidelity room also caught my ear. I hope this small company is able to make inroads with this product and keep its price down to the $6995 announced at the show. For those who can accommodate a large speaker, it's certainly worth a look."

Thanks, guys—and that leaves little old me. I have already expounded upon my approach to show coverage at the start of my blog.

I found myself in the slightly vulnerable position of discovering that all the rooms with Wilson Audio loudspeakers were on my turf. Since every single one of them offered exceptional sound—I am totally with John in praising the sound in the VTL/Wilson/dCS system, which also included Transparent cabling—and most of the other exceptional speakers I'm accustomed to hearing were on others' turf, I risk coming off as a shill for Wilson.

I'm not. It's just that all the exhibits that paired the Wilson Sabrina, Sasha 2, and Alexx with amps from VTL, Einstein, Dan D'Agostino, and Audio Research; DACs from dCS and Meridian; cabling from Transparent, Nordost, and AudioQuest; and vinyl front ends that I invite you to check out, deserve Best of Show recognition. Other rooms nearly as good were from Upscale Audio, Natural Sound Europe, Ocean Way/Viola, and High Water Sound. For the most amazing triumph over adversity system with lower priced electronics, Wyred 4 Sound with KEF. (Our search engine ain't flawless but it does display results by date, which makes it fairly simple to find those reports.) Frankly, there were sufficient "nearly greats" to warrant reading my blogs. As you may have noticed, I don't sugar coat.

Looking Ahead The one US show slated for the summer is the Capital Audio Fest outside D.C. Fall brings, amongst others, the great Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Although the rumor mill has been buzzing with reports that renovations at the Denver Marriott Tech Center have left exhibitors stuck with unmovable desks and beds, the main issues only seem to involve larger luxury and hospitality suites. (There's an unmovable credenza in standard size rooms, but every exhibitor worth their salt knows how to deal with that.) Plus, we now have new large rooms on the lobby level to compensate. There is great hope that Marjorie Baumert will be able to work things out, and that RMAF will remain the premiere US show between Chicago and CA.

With the reframed, industry-run Montreal Show revitalized by the return of Michel Plante and Sarah Tremblay, all that remains is for the East Coast to finally come up with a major show that will satisfy the desires of countless audiophiles. Please see the July issue of Stereophile and my As We See It piece ("What if They Gave a CES and Nobody Came?") for thoughts on how the industry can come together to make that possible.

Putting it all together, things are looking good. There's lots of happy listening ahead, girls and boys. I look forward to sharing the joy with you again soon.

SteveG's picture

I was very excited to read about this recording, given the stellar track record of Fisher and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. But I can find no other mention of it anywhere, including the Channel Classics website. Do you know when it might be released?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

More to come. It may take until Monday.

Thanks for letting us know about the right wing Hungarian government's attempt to suppress criticism, Steve.

SteveG's picture

Thanks! We just heard Dudamel and the LA Phil do the 3rd at Disney Hall. It was wonderful, the best live performance of the work we've heard.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I do not know about Tom Caulfield's recording of Fischer's Mahler 3, or for what label it has been recorded. I also didn't know that Fischer can record Mahler for labels other than Channel Classics. Kal, could you explain what Tom's recording is about, and if it's slated for commercial release? The earliest the Channel Classics recording of Fischer's Mahler 3 will be released is spring 2017.

On a Mahler note, I plan to audition Seattle Symphony's new Mahler 10 next week for possible review.

SteveG's picture

We had tickets to the Seaatle Mahler 10, but had to cancel because our cat was attacked by a dog a few days earlier. King FM played the performance a few days ago.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I am loath to do this here since there are rights and privacy issues involved but I will inquire about what I can say.

Kal Rubinson's picture

AFAIK, the M3 recording in question is one made by Tom Caulfield at the same time that Jared Sacks made his for Channel Classics. I have not heard the commercial release (as you say, it is not yet available) but Tom's is quite extraordinary.

SteveG's picture

Is there any way for the average audiophile to obtain the Caulfield recording?

Kal Rubinson's picture

Comments from Tom Caulfield:

This BFO Mahler 3 was a Channel Classics recording session using two parallel recording systems, microphone selections and alignments. The objective was to continue with the proven DSD64 Channel Classics/BFO recording kit and technique, while also yielding a surround optimized DSD256 recording that could potentially be offered as an additional Channel Classics product.

The Channel Classics DSD64 recording is a multi-mic, analog mixed, stereo and surround compatible recording, using the proven Channel Classics BFO DPA/Sennheiser/Schoeps mic arrangement, analog mixer, and Grimm AD-1 DSD64/Pyramix converter recording system. The second was a purest ITU alignment five channel surround optimized recording using three DPA 4041SP (front) plus two DPA 4006A (surround) microphones and Horus/Pyramix recording system operating at DSD256. Jared did the session producing, and with Tom Peters, the engineering for the multi mic, and I did the engineering for the surround. The parallel recordings protected the enormous investment in the session, yet produced session takes that offered different engineering approaches in recording the music. We did the same parallel recording process with the earlier Mahler 7 sessions, with somewhat different results due to microphone placement.

What's not apparent to people hearing the surround recording, is both the nature of a orchestra recording session (as opposed to a orchestra concert recording), and this surround recording in particular. An orchestra recording session is a complex creative choreography between more than one hundred musicians, the conductor (Ivan Fischer) and the producer (Jared Sacks). Like all BFO/Ivan Fischer recordings, even though they're simultaneously performing in concert in the same time period, the piece itself, phrasing, and timing are reinvestigated in the minutest detail, then painstakingly executed in multiple takes. That process is not complete until the final editing, review, and re editing are finished. This surround recording is unedited, and not commercially releasable. It does not represent either Ivan's or Jared's artistic judgements of the finished Mahler 3 recording project. In its present form, it's simply the best takes (judged by me, a non musician) of the three passes of each movement, stitched together to form the complete piece. It's like recording a concert, mistakes and all.

It remains to be seen what Jared decides to do with this surround optimized version, which Channel Classics owns. His original thinking was to do a rough edit, to at least preserve the conductors artistic wishes, and offer it as a download. It is special sounding, primarily due to the DPA4041SP mics and their closer placement to the orchestra. It works in surround due to the spaciousness cues that the five channels present, enhancing the depth of the orchestra, rather than being hindered by it when collapsed to stereo.

SteveG's picture

Mr. Caulfield's comments are fascinating. I'd love to be able to download this mix.

SteveG's picture

On an unhappy note, it seems that Budapest has cut the Orchestra's budget by two thirds, apparently because of Fisher's criticism of the government.

Kal Rubinson's picture

All the more reason to buy his wonderful recordings.

SteveG's picture

I have all of the Fisher/Budapest Mahler recordings extant, as far as I know.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Try the Dvorak! (I'll be here all week.)

SteveG's picture

Will do.

Allen Fant's picture

Not sure what you mean Kal?
This is an open forum to discuss all things. One does not need worry about (possible) sharing of intel...

Kal Rubinson's picture

If the intel is proprietary, there is concern. I have had this recording from Tom for a while but did not think it proper to talk about it without his explicit consent.

Allen Fant's picture

great as always! Happy Listening!