Audio Advice Live: A Single-Dealer Audio Show in Raleigh

Since 2007, Audio Advice Live has been an annual, one-night event, drawing enthusiastic audiophiles to the Audio Advice showrooms in Raleigh's Glenwood Avenue, next to Virgin Cigars, or to their location in Charlotte. But this year, Audio Advice Live was different: It was a fully fledged audio show, held like most such events at a conference hotel: the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, in that North Carolina city, with rooms sponsored and presented by a wide range of hi-fi (and home-theater) companies. The show's website listed 70 brands—58 home audio brands, the others video-related—followed by a graphic saying "+ MANY MORE!"

But Audio Advice Live wasn't a typical hi-fi show, either. What differentiates it from others is that it was put together by a single dealer (Audio Advice, which also has a store in Charlotte), with assistance from a logistics company. What's more, the show was put together in just four months, according to the organizers, an astonishingly short time for such an event. Although enough ultra-fi products were shown to draw a crowd (including the Piega Master Line Source Mk2 LTD loudspeakers, offered by MoFi at $350,000/pair), the show's emphasis—and its strength—was excellent, affordable, real-world hi-fi systems.

My first show experiences, though, didn't match that description. First I heard—very briefly—a system featuring the excellent KEF Blade Metas (or should that be KEF Blades Meta? Either way, $35,000/pair) and Parasound JC 1+ monoblocks, which I heard briefly on my way to the MoFi room. I returned to the KEF system several times during the show. This system occupied one of the most challenging acoustical spaces I've ever seen and heard at a show, underneath a brick archway; Still, at least at lower volumes, the system managed to sound quite nice, and anyway, we know how good these speakers and amplifiers are.


One very cool thing about the KEF display: In a demonstration of the cabinets' stability—their lack of vibration—each speaker had a nickel balanced on its highest edge; no matter how loud the music got, the nickel didn't budge.


In the Capital Room, occupied by MoFi, the shows big-ticket draw( those big Piegas) were playing, supported by BAT electronics including the new Rex 500 Stereo amplifier ($22,500) and the Rex 3 preamplifier ($30,000). The Rex 500 is BAT's first solid state Rex. With its top off, it looked almost as good as it sounded.


A lovely Dr. Feikert Blackbird turntable ($7495) was in the room, with two available tonearms, a12" Stogi ($3095) and a 12" EMT 912-HI (price $TBD), which I'm thinking must be the replacement for the classic, now regrettably discontinued EMT 997 "banana" tonearm. Mounted to the Stogi was a Blue Lace Onyx ($15,995) cartridge, and on the EMT was a JAS Novel Gold ($7995). Phono preamplification duties were carried out by the $12,995 BAT VK-P90

When I was in the room, though, the music was from Qobuz via the HiFi Rose RS150B network streamer ($4995).

Those big Piega speakers produced realistic scale with a big, deep soundstage and abundant, bottomless bass.


The Piegas weren't the only pricey products at the show. The Martin-Logan Neoliths ($118,000/pair), driven by Parasound JC 1+ monoblocks, sounded ethereal and pure on Sarah McClachlan's "Angel," a song I've gained more sympathy for since I adopted a puppy a few weeks ago. And during the keynote on the first day and at other show events, a monumental pair of Klipsch Jubilees ($36,000/pair) did PA duties, driven by Michi amplification—the M8 monoblocks I think, though I'm not sure. When not doing events, the Jubilees played music in that big room, but I only heard a few brief demo passages from Qobuz during the Day One keynote.


Upstairs on the 16th floor, the tall, elegant Sonus Faber Liliums (Lillia? Anyway, $75,000/pair) were presented by Will Kline, Sonus Faber's global training manager, biamped by two Michi stereo amplifiers with a HiFi Rose streamer as source. I'm not sure I can remember a hi-fi brand that became established as fast as Hi-Fi Rose has done, but they were everywhere at this show. My brief notes say "abundant, high-quality bass." My memory says the music sounded good—with abundant, high-quality bass.


What most impressed me at this show, though, was the lower-priced stuff I heard—just what's needed at a show aimed, as this one clearly was, at presenting hi-fi (plus home cinema) to the broader public. And in Sonus Faber's other room, the Lumina V ($2799/pair) were making lovely sounds with Rotel's new, handsome, relatively affordable, EISA Award–winning Diamond Anniversary components, the RA-6000 integrated amplifier ($4499) and DT-6000 DAC/Transport ($2299), underneath a Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable on a very nice, simple Basso Continuo rack (about $1000 per shelf). Seems to me that Rotel electronics have significantly improved since the Michi revival, and they were already a great value.

Across the hall in the Monitor Audio room, the Monitor Silver 300s ($2850/pair) sounded very good and full with a Roksan Attessa streaming integrated amplifier ($3199) and CD transport ($1099). Based on this audition and a Zoom EISA presentation I witnessed, I'd say the Roksan pair are especially well-sorted. In any case, this circa $7000 system sounded great.

In the Lenbrook room—PSB, NAD, Bluesound—I heard more good sound. Regrettably, my notes about this room were as blank as my memory. So I asked Lenbrook to tell me what they showed in Raleigh. Answer: NAD M10v2 integrated amplifier ($2,999), which incorporates BluOS and Dirac room correction. The NAD was streaming tracks in MQA and hi-rez from Tidal and Qobuz and sending it on to a pair of PSB Synchrony T600 Tower Speakers ($8,999), which I'm seeing everywhere these days. Also in the room: DALI Oberon 7 tower speakers, although I didn't hear them.

I've written this slightly out of order. I visited the Lenbrook room immediately after the high-end Sonus Faber room, with the $75,000 Lillium speakers. With no disrespect to the SFs—that system sounded very fine—I recall noting upon entering the NAD room that the fall-off was much less than you might expect given the price difference. To put it another way: This $12,000 NAD/PSB system wasn't just good for the money; it was a very pleasing system in absolute terms.


Elac brought its A game, with its bottom-of-the-top-line Concentro S507 loudspeakers ($15,000/pair) and Elac electronics. The Concentro speakers are the only ones I know to use an AMT tweeter in a coaxial configuration, in combination with a 5" upper-midrange driver. These are paired with a 7" lower midrange driver and two side-firing pairs of 6.5" woofers. With a –3dB point of 24Hz, this is a true full-range speaker, and the quantity of bass in this small room was generous without being excessive.


The S507s weren't the only speakers in the ELAC room. Also present was something new: the tiny-but-powerful ELAC DCB-41 powered speaker system, with built-in 50W class-D amp, DAC, aptX Bluetooth, a built-in phono preamp, and good connectivity including HDMI. The system will sell for $599/pair, and soon ELAC (or is it Audio Advice? I'm not sure) will offer a package deal where, for $200 more, they'll throw in a turntable or a subwoofer: You choose.


On a printer-paper sign outside the Sound Organisation room, someone had scrawled, in blue pen, "Warning Do Not Enter If You Spend a Fortune on Your HiFi."


Inside was what was surely the simplest system at the show and probably the cheapest: a Rega P1 turntable, the 2-way Rega Kyte loudspeakers, and the Rega Io integrated amplifier with phono stage. Total cost: a little more than $2000, not including the oversized stands. This is a system you shouldn't hesitate to put on a credenza or a plank supported by concrete blocks. I enjoyed this systems simplicity—the room was blissfully uncluttered—and its smooth sound.


Next door, a similarly simple system—this one digitally sourced—based on the Piega Classic 3.0 loudspeakers ($1495/pair but on sale now for $895/pair) and the forthcoming HiFi Rose RS520 integrated amplifier ($3695). The RS520 resembles HiFi Rose's media servers, with a big, front-panel touch display. Another great-sounding sub-$5000 system.

An unusual aspect of this show is that it mixed audio with video. I partook of several video-oriented rooms, including a surround system with JBL speakers, Mark Levinson and Arcam electronics; if I heard correctly, the speakers were being sold during the show for 30% off the regular $30,000 price. I lost count of how many speakers that price included, but it was a lot of speaker(s) for the money. Through this system, a cringeworthy scene from a musical movie with Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman, maybe?) gave me serious goosebumps. That's a compliment.


More video, sort of: Early on, I visited Devialet's room, which had both the big and the small Phantoms set up—but I've already heard those, so I listened instead to the new, 17-driver Dione soundbar ($2400), which does Dolby Atmos, emulating 5.1.2 (two height speakers), is capable of 101dB SPL, and packs a total of 950W of amplification. One cool thing about this soundbar is that you can use it with equal effectiveness on top of your console or mounted on your wall—a clever design lets you to rotate "the orb," a little ball in the center of the soundbar that Devialet describes as "the central channel" but that obviously has much more going on than just one driver—to adapt it to either configuration. Connectivity is thorough, but it does not have a subwoofer output, since Devialet is adamant that it doesn't need one—that this as an all-in-one solution. (Specs specify a frequency range as 24Hz–21kHz.) The Dione was set up below a very nice LG television playing short nature videos. They may be demos, but I would watch them for pleasure. In a rainstorm video, the Dione convincingly reproduced the sound of raindrop-patter, and deep-bass thunder belied its small size. I found this all so relaxing that I was reluctant to give up my seat and move on. While it's not a perfectionist music system, it does emulate 2-channel stereo, and on stereo music it sounded good. Based on this brief audition, I think it would be okay for all but critical listening, fine for most music in the video room.

Not all the home-theater systems I listened to fared as well. A clip of King Kong destroying a city while chasing CGI people driving a car and a motorcycle, in a big room with a superb high-end JVC projector, was just noisy. Good for explosions I guess.


Sound United, the company behind many hi-fi brands including Marantz, Polk Audio, Definitive Technology, Classé, Bowers & Wilkins, and others, had several rooms at the show. I regret not hearing the Polks or the B&Ws; I spent the most time in the Definitive Technology/Marantz room. Supported by a Marantz CD 60 CD player ($999), the Marantz 40n streaming integrated amplifier ($2499) drove a pair of Definitive Technology Demand Series D17 loudspeakers ($2798/pair). At just over $6000 for the system, it sounded very fine indeed.


The SVS room offered my first experience of the forthcoming SVS Prime Wireless Pro loudspeaker system (review forthcoming; price TBD), which sounded very good. Also present was the SVS Ultra Bookshelf loudspeaker ($1199.98/pair) and a 3000 Micro subwoofer ($899.99), which sounded even better. Whichever speakers were playing, the core of the system was the versatile SVS Prime Wireless Pro SoundBase Smart Wireless Integrated Amplifier ($499.99). Integration with the subwoofer wasn't optimal—I think that's what I was hearing—but upright bass sounded natural, and when Miles Davis's trumpet kicked in on "Some Day My Prince Will Come," his horn was in the room. The presentation was relatively dry—not electronicky—a very good thing and unusual in this price range.

GoldenEar showed their BRX standmounts ($1598/pair) with two ForceField 30 subwoofers ($899 each), the former much favored by Herb Reichert. On the Oscar Peterson Trio's "You Look Good to Me," from We Get Requests, I was impressed by the BRX/subwoofer integration until I realized we were actually listening to the GoldenEar Triton One.Rs, which were also in the room. Oops. Switching to the BRX–subwoofer combo, Ray Brown's bass lost a touch of the magic coherence it had before, and there was an overall loss of detail, but the sound was still very good: a nice, dry, acoustic-sounding presentation.

The Paradigm-Anthem system featured the Paradigm Founder's Series 120H loudspeakers ($9999.80/pair; review forthcoming) and the new Anthem AVM90 pre/pro ($7499.99). Though capable of up to 15.4 operation, the Anthem was here being used in stereo, with full ARC room correction. (The 120H loudspeakers also have ARC room correction.) This system was optimized to a degree that no other system I head at the show was, with bass that, while ample, was well-controlled (in a too-small room) and in good proportion to the rest of the audible range. Bass was also even, with no apparent resonances or bass notes standing out—all despite the fact that I sat in a non-central seat.

This system made the strongest possible argument (if any is needed) for high-quality room correction. Despite the crucial involvement of a component that will probably find a home in many home theater systems, it may have been the best sound I heard today. Well, except:


Around lunchtime, I wandered outside to find lunch in downtown Raleigh. I didn't have to look far: In front of the hotel, I discovered a festival, with several food trucks. I heard distant music: a parade coming down the street. It turned out to be CarribMask, Raleigh's annual (in non-COVID times) festival of Afro-Caribbean culture. The parade was small but wild, raucous, Mardi Gras–style, complete with demons, floats with sound systems putting out far more bass than any system inside the hotel, and powerful dancing by people of many colors and all shapes and sizes. I walked around with a huge smile for the rest of the afternoon, partly due to the music and dancing and the profound bass emanating from those floats, and partly due to a delicious lunch of fish and fried okra.

What else is there to say about this surprising show? A couple of observations:

* According to sources at the show, shipping, which should be getting better, instead is still getting worse. Big shipments arrived late or went missing. And remember those big Piegas I mentioned at the beginning of my report? Both were damaged on the way to the show, one with gouged aluminum, the other with what looks like a footprint on the back—if that's what it is, it must be an intentional act of defilement.


Still, after some creative cabling, that big system made beautiful music.

* The Sheraton Raleigh was a comfortable venue, but the small size of many of the rooms—smaller than most rooms I've seen at other shows—limited what was possible. It was mostly fine for the smaller systems, and overall, the sound, as I've said, was very good.

Audio Advice Live could turn out to be an important experiment in that it was put together quickly by a well-respected local dealership, with good representation by key people from important manufacturers and distributors (presumably because the dealership has good industry connections). It was big enough to fill a busy day or a laid-back weekend, yet small enough that even in a smaller city, it always seemed busy: I never entered a room that wasn't at least half-full, and many rooms were crowded, a few with people waiting to get in. Its focus on real-world systems seems right to me for a community event.

Bottom line: If Audio Advice could do it, other dealers can, too. This experiment could be replicated all across the country, to the benefit of the industry.

Gort's picture

Audio Advice is NOT next to Virgin Cigars. They are about 3/5's of a mile west on the same side of the street.