T.H.E Show 2014: Day 2 Continued

Ever the audio expert, and always the music lover, Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note distribution managed to produce enough top end in his smaller, mood-lit room to go a long way toward compensating for the ground floor's acoustically-generated grayness. Baritone Matthias Goerne's voice sounded very warm and simply gorgeous, as did a cut from Illinois Jacquet's fabulous Birthday Party LP. Images were huge and deep, with surprisingly profound bass.

"Very, very musical," I wrote in my notes of an extraordinary playlist that, during my short time in the room, also included a 24/96 download from ProStudioMasters of Nina Simone's "Porgy I Loves You So," soprano Carolyn Sampson and chorus singing a bit of Poulenc's Stabat Mater from a Harmonia Mundi CD sampler, and Malcolm Arnold's Tam O Shanter from Reference Recordings' 45rpm vinyl release of Mephisto.

Doing the honors were a Luxman PD-171 turntable ($6,400) and new Luxman D-08tu SACD player/USB DAC ($17,990, and due in stores September 14), new Mola Mola Makua preamp ($13,450), Optimal phono stage ($2500), new Mola Mola Kaluga monoblocks ($18,000/pair), Vivid B1 loudspeakers ($14,990/pair), Eclipse TD-520SW subwoofer, SonoruS Proximity Sub Controller ($9900) and ATR10 open-reel ($13,000), and, no surprise given the superior control of the room, Synergistic Research cables, rack, and room tuning.

MBL North America chose T.H.E. Show Newport Beach to stage the second multi-channel demo they've ever done. Tremendously impressive—fantastic, really—and well worth standing in line for a ticket for, the room used a Sony VPL-VW1100ES Ultra HD 4k projector ($27,999), 14'-wide Stewart Filmscreen in 16:9 configuration, DataSat RS 20i Digital audio processor with Dirac Live room optimization software in 7-channel configuration ($18,000), Kaleidescape Premiere media server ($18,000 in special configuration), seven channels of MBL Corona C15 monoblock amps ($12,500 each), MBL 111 F main left and right speakers ($42,000/pair), MBL 120 RC (radial center) THX-spec center Radialstrahler hybrid speaker ($11,300), MBL 116 F pairs as sides and rears ($29,000/pair), two JL Audio Gotham subwoofers ($14,000 each), and a ton of Kimber Select copper cabling.

"This room is a sonic disaster," MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan told the full house. Hence he put his fabled tuning expertise to use, invoking nine Shun Mook Concert Hall Resonators (which operate on the principle of sympathetic resonance), eight SMT Wing diffusor panels, and eight 8' tall Areca palm trees to get the room under control.

Besides the sheer impact of remarkably clear sound and video, the video transitions were delicious. In awesome high-definition, we went from Roy Orbison in black and white to Anne Sophie Mutter completing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Ozawa, to a fabulous scene from the movie of Chicago. I especially loved the hilarious journey from Villazón/Domingo/Netrebko singing "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata to a shirtless Freddie Mercury to classical ballerinas in white tutus. Dimensionality was quite fine and timbres laudably neutral. This room was a major achievement.

There were lots of systems in the Ayon Audio room, including this one that included, courtesy of Charles Harrison, the very first pair of new, made in the USA Tube Audio Labs Tineo Horn loudspeakers in J Horn configuration ($35,000/pair). Together with the subwoofers you see behind them, the system can go as low as 20Hz.

Paired with Ayon Audio's brand new SET, class-A 75Wpc Titan monoblocks ($68,900/pair) and equally new CD-3sx CD player DAC/streamer/DSD ($10,500), which has both streaming capabilities and optional upsampling, music sounded a bit washed out, but quite pleasant, with no sharpness whatsoever.

IsoMike's DSD recordings also suffered from the washed out sound that affected many of the systems on the ground floor of the Hilton. I'm afraid those air walls can wreak havoc with high frequencies, because I know from experience how wonderful the combination of Pass electronics and Sony loudspeakers can sound. In this case, that combo included four Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers, two Pass Labs 350.5x class-A/B amplifiers, two EMMLabs Pre2 preamps, an EMMLabs DAC6e SE and a Sonoma DSD DAW (digital audio workstation), and, of course, four Kimber Kable 3038 speaker cables and four pair 1138 balanced interconnects.

Sony's own room on the ground floor of the sonically unfortunate Hilton was very special, because it paired Sony's SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) and highly regarded multi-everything, 2x DSD upsampling HAP-Z1ES file player ($2000) with Pass Labs' VFET commemorative 40th Anniversary power amplifiers (priceless, and not for sale, because they are Nelson Pass' gift to Sony, and built with the NOS Sony devices ca 1973 that gave many people their first taste of high fidelity) and XP-20 preamp ($8600), EMMLabs' XDS1 SACD player ($24,000), and Kimber Kable's KS-1111 balanced interconnects ($750/3ft pair, $2150/10ft pair), KS-3033 speaker cables ($3400/9ft pair), and PK-10 Gold power cables ($350/4 ft).

Hats off to Sony's Yuki Sugiura, who may have been one of the only people at T.H.E. Show to dare play something as room-clearing esoteric as "Al capricci della sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian in Algiers). Conducted by Claudia Abbado, the file sounded so wonderful that no one ran. Bass was exemplary on a track by a Canadian jazz singer, and a DSD file sounded gorgeous.

I was really eager to take another listen to the Polymer Audio Research MKS-X loudspeakers ($60,000/pair) that turned so many heads at AXPONA 2014. Despite the gray sound that characterized most of the Hilton's ballrooms, and what may very well be their tendency to over-emphasize the midrange, the Polymers threw a wonderful, big soundstage. Myung Whun Chung's piano sounded all of one piece on his new recording for ECM New Series, which, having played this CD on multiple systems at T.H.E. Show, I consider no small achievement. There was also really nice dimensionality on a cut by Ben Webster. All this was also due in no small part to the not-exactly-modestly priced FM Acoustics 115 monoblocks ($130,000/pair) and 245 preamp ($25,500), Thrax Maximinus DAC ($33,000), Weiss MAN 301 music server ($9505) and wonderfully named Jason transport ($23,762), Krolo Design rack ($6400), and Enklein David and T-Rex cables.

Our own Michael Fremer somehow managed to speak on three seminars on Saturday—Meet the Editors, The Vinyl Experience: VINYL is groovy again!, and Turntable Set-up with Michael Fremer—plus deliver a repeat performance of turntable set-up shtick on Sunday. Oh, and cover all things analog for both Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com. Mikey's ability to segue between VTA guru and stand-up comedian is legendary. Here he is in action.

Tyll Hertsens was on hand to report on all things headphones in our sister publication, InnerFidelity.com. Here, he moderates the second of Saturday's headphone seminars, "When Headphones Get Smart: Future Directions for Active Headphones."

LS35A's picture

For comments/pics on the new G.A.S. gear I was told would be at the show, but nothing.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

a. There are four long blogs to go.
b. While I was hardly able to get to every room, G.A.S. is not listed in the program guide.


prerich45's picture

Jason, I'm confused at your descriptor the sound was"washed out, but quite pleasant" - I've heard quite a few descriptors in my day but "washed out" is brand new for me. What does that mean?

prerich45's picture

Jason, I'm confused at your descriptor the sound was"washed out, but quite pleasant" - I've heard quite a few descriptors in my day but "washed out" is brand new for me. What does that mean?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Perhaps "bleached out" would be a more potent descriptor. Colors were muted rather than vibrant. To get right down to it, the presentations were rather blah. While this phenomenon manifested in far more than one room, prior experience with some components leads me to, at times, point to the room as the cause, and, in other cases, to components themselves.

eugovector's picture

And what is the definition of "colors" with relation to sound? Perhaps you could define it using actual audio terms: Accuracy, dynamics, linearity (or lack there of)?

mlb1's picture

Spot on... the Tineo Horns were exquisite, quite pleasant indeed and no sharpness whatsoever.
I found the music as close to live as it gets. For sure the room had acoustical problems, but the Tineo Horns did not sound like a horn at all, which makes it the perfect Horn Loudspeaker, no honk. I asked them to play my Beethoven Symphony #9 CD, WOW, perfect. Then they player Pink Floyd, The wall, breathtaking. I purchased the speakers - had to have them.

jim wilson 993's picture

The Tineo Horn speakers were drop dead gorgeous. The notes just flowed in the air, the mids were front row center, in a really good way. The bass, forget about it, you have never heard bass this good.
Kudos to the designer!