T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2016: Chris Martens’ Best in Show
T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, California is perhaps the best example of how to make a friendly, professional audio show. It might not be the biggest event in the calendar – and coming soon after Munich High-End the sense of it being a much smaller scale show is patently clear – and is in essence a high-end show where SoCal audiophiles and their dealers can meet on a level playing field, but none of that detracts from this being a show with a bit of a buzz to it.
That buzz, however, was dimmed slightly by the passing of Richard Beers, for many years the linchpin of T.H.E. Show. At the end of the first public day, there was a moving tribute to Beers conducted by family, friends, and the audio industry, culminating in an honor guard as befitted an ex-military man.
The show itself, a combination of exhibition space and hotel rooms inside the Hotel Irvine, with exterior displays of luxury and classic cars fitted with state-of-the-art in car audio, and even with food trucks and audio tents for seminars. Naturally, following so shortly after Munich, you might expect new product launches would be almost non-existent. In fact, several key products were shown for the first time at Newport Beach, and many more were seen for the first time on US soil. But the number of new products launched at the show means we have divided the report into new products, and some of the best rooms at the show.
Some of the best sound at Newport came from a pair of Rockport Atria loudspeakers driven by Vitus Class A electronics and fed from a Brinkmann Bardo turntable or an Esoteric K01 disc player; Nordost cables help the system sing.
Magnepan’s engaging three-channel stereo system, consisting of three Magnepan MMG speakers ($600 each) driven by an Oppo disc player and Bryston electronics, yielded huge soundstages and remarkably focused imaging. Magnepan’s point: “We hope our dealers will focus first on entertaining customers with great sound before they attempt to close sales.”
Nola premiered its brilliant Brio Trio satellite/subwoofer system ($2,700) at CES this past January, but we felt the system sounded markedly better as demonstrated at Newport, possibly because an impressive VAC amplifier and DAC were used to drive the system. (Sadly, however, the terrific sounding VAC DAC is a model that is no longer in production.)
Synergistic Research and Scott Walker Audio joined forces to show how Synergistic’s ingenious UEF panels (the small black panels on the walls and ceiling) transformed a cavernous ballroom into an intimate listening space. Synergistic’s Ted Denney (left) answers .
Few systems deliver ‘power music’ as convincingly as this MBL system does; the system comprises a pair of MBL’s 101-series omnidirectional speakers driven by the firm’s new Noble-series N21 stereo amplifiers ($16,500/each) as fed either from N31 DAC/CD player ($15,400) or a United Home Audio tape deck.
It seems that whenever VTL’s Luke Manley and Wilson’s Peter McGrath team up to create demo systems great sound is the inevitable result. So it was with this spectacular system consisting of Wilson’s new ALEXX floorstanders driven by a VTL TL-7.5 Series III preamp and Siegfried Series II monoblocks, which in turn are fed from a dCS Vivaldi 2.0 CD transport and DAC. Transparent Cables help bring the system to life.
One of the most graceful and effortlessly natural-sounding systems at THE Show was this one, which combine a pair of Kharma Elegance dB7 speakers with a Zesto Audio Andros 1.2 phono stage, Leto 1.5 preamp, and a pair of EROS 300 Class A monoblock amps. Feeding the system is a Merrill-William REAL 101.2 turntable fitted with a Tri-Planar U2 arm and Dynavector XX2 MKII cartridge. WyWires cables help tie the system components together, giving them a wonderfully open sound.
Sonja 1.2 floorstanding speakers figured prominently in several rooms, but in our view they sounded best of all—elegant, refined, and supremely natural—in this system as fed by an MSB Select DAC and a pair of MSB M204 monoblock amplifiers (yes, MSB makes amps in addition to world-class DACs).
One system that strongly emphasized value for money was this one, featuring Spatial M3 Turbo S dipolar loudspeakers ($2,595/pair), a Torgual LDR3 preamp ($1,195), a Red Dragon S500 amplifier ($1,995), and—as perhaps the most exotic component in the system—a Lampizator Lite 7 DAC ($6,000). Pushing the value-orientated theme further still, the system was wired with excellent (but decidedly minimalist) ANTICABLES.
Paul and Judy Speltz displayed their fascinating ANTICABLES, which are based on the premise that cables should include only those elements necessary for good sound—and absolutely nothing more (meaning ANTICABLES forego thick, cumbersome cable jackets, or cable plugs designed more for good looks than for great sound). These cables take the “less is more” approach to new heights.
A universal-fit earphone that has rightly garnered a lot of favourable reactions of late is 1More’s prosaically named Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones. What’s the buzz? In simple terms, the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone offers the sound quality and internal driver technologies typically associated with $300 to $400 earphones, yet sells for an astonishing $99.
Finally, as part of the continuing roll-out of the revitalised Peachtree Audio 2.0, the firm demonstrated its upcoming Nova 300 integrated amplifier capably driving a set of Wilson Sabrina loudspeakers. The ultra quiet Nova 300 promises a signal/noise ratio of 107dB, delivers a stonking 300 Wpc, and is the first amplifier on the market to use the newest generation of ICEpower Class D amplification modules. The Nova 300 is expected to sell for $2300.
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