Southern California’s O.C. is many things—home to cool sea breezes, Ferrari convertibles, and, of course, the Real Wives. Audiophiles, however, will remember it for what turned out to be an unusually successful high-end event, T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach. True, the rooms at the Hilton were a little boomy and the hotel staff a bit green, but this show holds great promise and deserves to be an annual event. I was tasked with keeping my eyes and ears on loudspeakers. Here’s my snapshot of the highlights I enjoyed.
From the hallway I heard Diana Krall’s cover of “Lets Fall In Love” and was lured into the room as if by the suggestive title of the song itself. The reason was the electrostatic/hybrid Martin Logan ElectroMotion EM-ESL ($1995) driven by a suite of McIntosh electronics. The sound was present and buoyed by waves of air and harmonics with solid bass reinforcement.
At this year’s CES, the Lotus Group teased us with the possibility of a lower-cost sibling to the $125k Granada, designer Manny Lacarrubba’s sweet bipolar floorstander, the $75K G2. As I listened to the new G2 I noted that, even though a midrange and tweeter substitute for the Granada’s concentric mid/tweet, the G2 is still a magical effort. Specifically, wonderful clarity and a breathtaking rendition of Lyle Lovett’s “Church” made this a speaker to be reckoned with.
Further on, the TAD demo made full use of the large 10th floor room as a pair of CR-1s and References Ones were alternately being driven by TAD’s own electronics. Rumor has it that a small floorstander priced well beneath the $37k Compact Reference will soon appear. Also very likely to appear sometime next year is a small but burly compact monitor using a new 5** woofer and all-new concentric mid/tweet. Watch out, Magico Q1.
Next was the Ayon room and one of the show’s more gorgeous speakers, visually and sonically, the transparent, high-resolution Lumen White Artisan in stunning Tineo Brazilian veneer($35k). The sound was fast and, well, luminous. (pictured below)
The Revel Ultima Salon2/Mark Levinson system continues to do justice to the high end without fanfare. It’s bold, defined, resolved with a rock-solid foundation. In comparison to so many systems that seem to favor a lit-up treble the Revels almost sounded dark, but to my ears this was the more honest sound—excellence that plays well after hours of intense listening.
Silverline Audio testified to the fact that value and performance still go hand in hand in 2011. It’s latest Mk IV version of the Sonatino ($6k) shares the sweet tweeter and midrange driver of the Minuet Monitor that TAS’ Steve Stone praised recently and adds a powerful paper-cone woofer. Alan Yun the peripatetic designer feels that this speaker is primed for tubes. Listening through conrad-johnson valve electronics I couldn’t have agreed more.
Brooks Berdan is one of the elegant old school high-end retailers in SoCal, and the retailer did a tasteful job of controlling the pernicious Hilton bass boom in a spacious room that housed a superb system—dCS Puccini/ VTL 7.5 pre/ M450 monos powering Wilson Audio Sashas. There was excellent presence, speed, and dynamics to be enjoyed—hallmarks of these components.
An interesting prospect is Germany’s Lindemann BL-10 compact, a two-way ceramic-driver system with an unconventional composite cabinet, a sandwich of cork lining over birch ply and furniture (huh?) linoleum veneer. Beautifully crafted, it includes its own “controlled decoupling” stands (as it should have for $11,000).
At the other extreme was the teeny cube loudspeaker, The One ClairAudient from Audience ($995). With just a single A3 full-range driver in a cube enclosure it requires some wall reinforcement to achieve its low-frequency potential, but there was no denying its musical appeal. The Marten Getz loudspeaker was in top form in the Harmonic Technology room. Driven by HT’s INEX electronics (Pre A200 and Amp A100 monoblocks), which incorporate innovative fiber-optic technology, the Getz sounded as vivid and smooth as I can remember from this fine speaker.
Last but not least, ARC and Vandersteen partnered up and, sure enough, Vandy’s 5A Carbon ($24k) was nothing short of gorgeous, especially when the Basis Inspiration table/Vector M4 arm/ Air Tight PC1 Supreme fired up the classic Dire Straits noir-rock track “Private Investigations.” In the “call-me-clueless” department ARC’s Dave Gordon pointed me toward a small compact playing in the corner of the adjoining room. Until that moment I had no idea that the Vandersteen VLR ($1195) even existed. Richard Vandersteen admitted it’s on the Web site, but he’s never really gotten around to aggressively marketing this monitor with a single 6.5** coincident driver, driven here by a Mac running Channel D Pure Music software into an ARC DAC8 and DSI200 integrated. All I can say is sign me up. Look for a companion small subwoofer from Vandersteen later this year—a potentially formidable and affordable 2.1-channel rig.
Neil Gader’s Best Sound
Whenever my ears and spirit needed refreshing I often end up finding a Harbeth to enjoy for a few minutes. At Newport it was no different only this time it was the Compact 7ES3 ($3650)
One of the most appealing new sounds of the show was the new MBL 120 ($21,400). With twice the cabinet volume of its predecessor, the 121, the 120 has the bass extension and drive that may vault compact Radialstrahler performance into a new league. Look for the full review soon.
Overall Best Sound:
The Audio Salon room housed a stellar lineup in the Magico/Spectral/MIT/ASC/Finite Element system–definitely hard to beat, but for my money the TAD powered/TAD Ref One’s still narrowly edged out the rest of the talent under these show conditions.