The third day of THE Show is always touch-and-go. Exhibitors are tired, you're tired, the enthusiasm is waning and the great sound starts to blend together. There is a bit of dread that hangs over the show as the exhibitors know that they will have to pack all this heavy gear up and the visitors know that this is the end of the fun. That said, I was in great spirits Sunday morning and ready for some new discoveries.
Onto the Showrooms...
If I could make one recommendation to exhibitors: by the third day, A/B demos just don't have the impact that they did on the first day - you're better off just letting visitors hear the gear. This is a pitty, because there is some serious science behind the magnetism theory that High Fidelity Cables build their products on. I really wanted to hear something, but I could not make out the difference between the different configurations that were being demo'd. Now I had the same problem in a couple of other rooms, so it was probably my hearing that was getting tired. But if it affects me, does it also affect other visitors as well? I will have to return next year and make sure I visit the High Fidelity Cables room at the beginning of the show.
One of the rooms I really wanted to see & hear was the Wired4Sound room. I came back several times, but unfortunately they had WiFi problems all weekend and I was only able to get in on the third day. They were showing off their awesome Statement Amplifier: 750W of power into 8 ohms with that millenial-friendly LCD touchscreen. I had a chance to talk to the W4S guys a bit, and I explained that I've been a long time fan, that they helped me through several generations of Class-D pain (I was an early adopter of the tech), and that I was ready to buy a pair of their mono-blocks before the Statement amp crossed my radar. It was hooked up to a pair of copper & black KEF towers that matched the amp perfectly. Great modern design work - I think my iPhone cried when I left the room.
Aries Cerat is a new company from Cyprus (I hope I got that right). I was not familiar with them, but they have a pretty cool design that would fit right in with a Restoration Hardware decor. Their Diana Forte/Mezzo combination, which puts out a whopping 60W of SET power, was driving a pair of Vandersteen 5A Carbons, and I know these are hard to drive. So this caught my attention. I learned that these guys are serious about the signal path in their electronics. Here is a quote: "We only use transformer coupling throughout the signal chain, and give maximum attention to power supply design, using extensive choke regulation and polypropylene caps, removing every electrolytic cap from the signal chain." I'm not an engineer, but it drove the Vandersteens with aplomb, and the amp was barely warm. Oh, yes, their gear is all made by hand, in house, so there is some green cred there as well.
I had already covered Pearl Evolution on my report from last year's show, but I this year they showed a little bookshelf that was just beautiful to behold. While the smaller speakers weren't hooked up, the larger Minis with the integrated LFM bass modules were playing some string quartet with cello and it sounded so right to my ears. Granted these speakers are shaped like string instruments (that is by design, btw), so one would expect that, but the music just sounded airy and light-footed with the bass unit integrating without any dips or coloration that I could hear. While I don't know if the bookshelf speaker can be paired with the LFM units in the same way, I can imagine that if they put the same care into them as they did in the larger Minis, that it should sound just as impressive. Beautiful speakers to behold, too!
Angstrom Audio Lab was showing off an incredible looking amplifier, their Stella Power Amp. I'm a sucker for seeing the inside of gear, and this amplifier has some serious tubes inside of it. I also like the I-mean-business design with the lighted meters and four dials on the front. It also sounded very good, but when I sat down and looked at the way the window was blurred just above the amp, I realized that this thing was putting out some serious heat. That is probably why they had removed the cover. Obviously not an amp you want to hide away in a tight cabinet with a door on it. Then again, with such gorgeous looks, why would you want to?
I know there is very little that is green about tube-based gear, but it just has such a cool factor, so I can't stay away from them. Electra-Fidelity was playing their Silver 45SE integrated amplifier, but what caught my eye was that the transformers were painted in gloss red. It didn't quite match the wood-sides, but had these also been gloss-red, it really would have worked for me because I'm trying to put together an all gloss-red and black system. That said, they are still very nice looking amps, and have that antique look to them. The transformers on the monoblocks on either were painted in a more muted maroon-red, which suited the esthetic better and matched the wood sides and the gold-tone fronts. I know I'm rambling on about looks, here, but it does matter. Anyhow, check out their website. They assured me they can paint their transformers in any color you like and these amps look and sound great!
DEQX needs no introduction. They make a fantastic speaker & room calibration system and the gushing reviews are on point. Their A/B demo was done on PA speakers in one corner of the room (not the ones seen above) and that was really a pity. I think it would have had much greater impact on those beautifully matched electronics above, just from a presentation/psychological perspective. That said, the system above sounded perfectly flat and the midrange (where 80% of the music is, anyhow) was just right. The demo did make a very good point, though: if DEQX can improve the sound of PA speakers so much, just imagine what it can do for a mid-range system? It is eye-opening what software can do these days. Perhaps spending a few grand on their room calibration and a pittance on say, a pair of Elac Debut F6 towers, might actually give you a system that rivals the multi-kilo-buck ones here at the show. Hmmmm....
Speaking of multi-kilo-buck systems, Voss Audio certainly does not make inexpensive gear. That said, they do make an all-American amplifier and preamp that will turn some heads when people come over to your house. Wrapped in precision-machined carbon-fiber and solid OFC 101 grade pure copper, Voss Audio equipment is not going to be mistaken for another manufacturer. It is stunning gear and on their website they compare it to the passion that goes into Koenigsegg cars. But they aren't all about the bling. I had some time to speak with them about the gear and, just like Koenigsegg cars strive for break-neck speedy performance, Voss strives for "Pure Linearity" in their equipment, that could also be described as speedy. What I heard at the show was crisp, clear and extremely immediate - the kind of immediate sound you hear with Class-D amps, but without the suckout in the treble that is typical of Class-D. Voss claims a frequency range from zero to 2MHz! Yes, you read that right. This is way off the charts considering most amps are 20-20Khz. Their equipment was being demo'd with speakers that I wouldn't consider a good match, but it was still very impressive. Who knows what this equipment can do with a pair of Avalon Acoustics Tesseract Speakers? When they turned the volume up, I think bats in Australia fell out of the sky.
ESS Labs is a company that has been around for a long time. When I walked in, I was amazed at the clarity that I heard, almost as if I was back at one of those rock concerts I attended as a teen-ager (and which probably warped my hearing). It was like a trip down memory lane, and it turns out that is exactly the sound that ESS Labs is after. This is what Ricky "Rico" Caudillo of ESS told me. He said that ESS is well known to famous bands from The Grateful Dead to Carlos Santana - it is the speaker of choice in many recording studios who are after that live sound. As a matter of fact Ricky knows many of these artists personally. By the way, ESS Labs is nearby, in South El Monte. Not only do they make a fantastic reasonably-priced sounding speaker that brings back memories for me, but this is a company with a long glorious history behind it, and I think that is something that people, especially young people want in their products. Anyone with a little money can put together a system that sounds fantastic, that blings and makes their friends feel inadequate, but how many people can say: "my system has history, let me tell you a story...". I will definitely be looking to connect with Ricky again in the near future.
Other goodies found at the show
After the showrooms started to all sound alike (well aside from the ESS Labs one), I decided to wander back down to the Marketplace. I wasn't really looking to buy anything, but I did want to see if there was anything more I could learn.
AIX Records was one of the booths in the Marketplace that intrigued me. There I met Mark "Dr.AIX" Waldrep, and I figured with a nickname like Dr.AIX, this guy must know a thing or two. Since he was selling several different formats of high res audio, I asked him what he thought of the future of SACD, since I had quite an investment in the format. Wrong question to ask! Dr.AIX said that the future of DSD is dead. Ouch! But I admired the honesty, so I prodded some more. Dr.AIX was actually very well informed about the format and he actually writes a detailed blog on high res at realhd-audio.com (definitely worth a read). He explained that for a digital format, DSD has a real problem because while all the distortion is shifted up to a very high frequency that is outside of the typical range of human hearing, this is not outside of the range of most equipment. So while it may not be readily audible, your audio system is still forced to process it. I mentioned that I have a suspicion that high frequency sounds, while outside of our audible range, can still be perceived and that it is actually an irritating experience for our minds to process it. Dr. AIX seemed to agree with that assertion. In any case, it was a very interesting discussion and I do hope to write more about this in the future.
The Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD-M1 is the little brother to the larger, much more expensive and very well reviewed Eclipse speaker system (Stereophile has a very good article about them here). These little speakers share the same design philosophy but are intended for near-field listing. They sound incredible and the technology inside is astounding. Now they aren't exactly inexpensive at $999, but you get a pair of speakers that look like the they are from Star Trek, and that have some very useful features like airplay, Wi-Fi, touch volume sensors, LEDs, versatile angle adjustment, app-based control, and a whole lot more. Here's a picture of the base:
OK, so maybe the eclipse isn't all that green, but it is definitely a look that every millennial is going to want on their desk. Very cool. And what will those millennials want to use to play their music? iTunes? That is so 2015! No the application that they all want to play their music with is Amarra from Sonic Studio:
This is from the company that asked: "What can we do to improve iTunes? Well, since iTunes only sounds marginally good, let's process the music outside of iTunes!" What a concept. Now they've added all kinds of new & cool things like specific versions for specific music services like Tidal and Spotify, and also room correction. Now why am I including it here under other cool stuff? Because Sonic Studio is another company that is staying ahead of the technology curve. Making custom software for the latest music streaming services was a good start, but now that people, especially millennials, are living in smaller homes, room correction is almost a necessity. What's next? How about building on a strategic partnership with a company that can add configurations, like simulating specific brand-name speakers? Now where out of my head have I heard that before? In any case, Sonic Studio is an innovative company that is staying with current trends, and therefore they deserve our attention.
Conclusion & Final Thoughts
As always, the show ended with a long drawn-out raffle that in my opinion could have been done better. To the organizers, here are my suggestions for the raffle:
- Don't allow one person to win more than one prize
This defeats the purpose of spreading the word about the products - if the manufacturers donate stuff, it is as an advertisement and they want as many people to hear and experience them, so if one lucky ballot-stuffer walks away with three prizes, not only does it not spread the word, but it makes everyone else more bitter about the raffle.
- Offer more low-cost prizes
manufacturers are less adverse to offer up lower-cost prizes, so there will be more of them. This helps spread the advertising for the brands and allows more people to win something. It's also a lot easier to carry home than a 40 lb. amp.
- Have the most expensive items at the end of the raffle
While I'm sure the seat cushions are great, by the time they were handed out, most people had left the lobby. Again, the point is to spread the word about these great brands, so if people leave that defeats the purpose. Having the most expensive prizes at the end also makes the whole thing more exciting.
- Do the picture taking on the side, away from the main stage
The taking of the pictures, while important, takes time and the raffle is already very long. To speed things up, take the pictures to on one side of the stage and proceed with the raffle while the pictures are being taken.
- Manufacturers and people working the show should not be eligible to win prizes
I know this seems unfair, but manufacturers and people who work at the show already know the brands being distributed. this does not help advertise them. The prizes should really go to those people who pay for tickets to the show.
- Have mini-raffles at the end of the day on Friday and Saturday
I know it's a little bit of extra work, but this would help spread out the raffle prizes, would reduce the time needed for the final raffle, and would allow one-day visitors a chance to win something. These mini-raffles don't have to be a big lobby-filling affair either. They could even be done on the same stage as where the concerts are held (this would encourage people to stay for the concerts, too).
- Offer more prizes that young people would want
Headphones and headphone amps would be a good place to start, but also software, THE Show shirts (most shows always end up with left over shirts), posters, downloads, albums signed by the artists who are performing at the show, and how about some wine, cigars, or a luxury sports car rentals? Those exhibitors probably want to participate too.
All these suggestions revolve around the same theme: getting the word out about this show. I know that this show is always well attended, but was it just my impression that the attendance was a little lighter than last year, especially on Saturday? I will wait until I see the final figures, but I suspect there was a slight drop in numbers this year.
I am still amazed that with several world class universities right down the freeway (UC Irvine, Chapman, Fullerton, and Long Beach State), that there is nary an advertisement that reaches the students/faculty/staff at these institutions. I happen to frequent two of these universities and I see kids driving around in Maseratis and Panameras, so it's not like they couldn't afford some of the equipment seen at the shows. By the way, each of these schools also has at least one, if not more, student clubs dedicated to music recording, music production or headphones.
Certainly there must be some synergy there?
This was the Sunday (3rd) part of my report on THE Show Newport 2016. For part one, click here, and for part two click here. If you have any suggestions/comments, or would like to post this on social media, please don't hesitate to click below.