THE Show Newport 2013 - The GreenHiFi Report, Pt.2

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More Green finds from The Home Entertainment Show in Newport: WireWorld greens up their packaging, Audiowood merges audio and art in an eco-friendly way, class-d amplification returns, and Coffman Labs uses recycled airplane parts from the Cold War.

I always enjoy going to THE Show - it's right in my backyard, it's inexpensive to attend, and the weather is well, just perfect. RMAF, Axpona, and the other shows, including the Summer shows, just can't pull that off. Newport Beach is also just minutes from the beach, not to mention some great restaurants, and lots of other things to do here in Orange County. This show is also one of the largest audio shows this side of the Atlantic, with plenty to see and hear. While I have yet to go to one of the monster shows in Germany that I keep hearing about, this show suits me just fine. It is also an opportunity to explore what new green things I can find in this hobby of ours, even from ...a cable manufacturer? OK, well then let's see about that.

 

WireWorld Wraps its Cables Around Green Initiatives 

 

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At the show, I had the good fortune to talk to Larry Smith from WireWorld Cable. Now I realize that talking about cables isn't exactly all that thrilling. Also, with the hundreds of choices out there for cables, most audio folks just pick one of the big names like AudioQuest, find something in their price range and move on to sexier items like speakers and amps. More often than not, even audiophiles settle when it comes to cables, so for a company like WireWorld to compete in that space, it isn't always so easy. That is why I think they have really hit on something that will resonate with young people.

To begin with, they hit all the targets when it comes to competing head-on with the competition: the prices are competitive, they look different enough so as not to be mistaken for the others, and they are solidly built. The cables that I saw at the show definitely met those criteria. All-in all, this is a no-nonsense cable that I would buy on those criteria alone. As a matter of fact, I own some very nice WW cables I use to connect the 7.1 outs of my Oppo universal player to my pre/pro. Now before I get called out as being biased because I’m an owner, I will say in my defense that I bought them some time ago, on discount, without knowing anything about WW. It turns out that I was pleasantly surprised and they sounded just right and so I've left them there ever since.

Of course, I could not hear the WW cables Larry was showcasing since they were simply on display and not hooked up, but I noticed that a large number of rooms throughout the show were using WW cables. So not only did a lot of dealers and manufacturers trust WW with their gear, but it also gave me plenty of opportunity to hear the cables in use. Everything I heard was without reproach. Of course, with all the different gear, the room setup challenges, and too many other variables to name, I couldn't really say that the cables were better or even different sounding. That said, I heard nothing objectionable.

But what Mr. Smith told me, ought to at least put another check in the “buy” category for us folks who are looking to be green. WW has some great green incentives in place, as he put it in an email to me after the show:

  1. Our packaging has always had very high recyclability and recently we've transitioned some products into reusable packages.
  2. Our cardboard waste is minimized by extensive reuse and the remaining amount is recycled.
  3. We reuse much of our scrap directly and the remains are reprocessed instead of becoming landfill.
  4. We've stopped using Teflon in our cables, partly because of the environmental contamination caused by the factories that produce Teflon resins.

Now Teflon is one of those sore point for green folks, and it’s refreshing to hear that a company is finding ways to minimize its use, despite the popularity of the material in cable manufacturing. I hope to write a more thorough article about WW and their incentives, but for now, kudos to this company for taking the initiative.

 

Audiowood: Yes, They Use Wood, But Sparingly…

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 Another room I stumbled into was the Audiowood room where I met Joel Scilley. He rebuilds turntables from Rega and ProJect into beautiful works of art by replacing the plinths with natural wood pieces that give these ‘tables a fresh new look. His projects are also up on Etsy, which  shows a few more of his designs. But Joel is also an audiophile, and his turntable mods are made with very high precision. When I looked at them up close, I could see that this wasn't some hack-job with a pretty veneer.

An interesting side note, is that just because it’s wood, doesn't mean it has to look antique. We've all seen some of those manufacturers that create gorgeous wooden cabinets for little boutique speakers that would be right at home on a mantle under a Rococo-styled picture frame around the family patriarch in his hunting regalia. No, that is not what Audiowood is about. Joel also makes classy  modern designs, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright and Art Deco styles, the kind that would fit right in with the home décor of millennials. As a matter of fact, an all-black version of Joel’s stylish Bachelor turntable:

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is making an appearance in the new StarTrek: Into Darkness film, as he explains on his facebook page. Very nice turntable, indeed.

But Joel is also passionate about using the right materials. He told me that he hand-selects the woods, making sure they are not from endangered trees. He searches for recyclable alternatives such as bamboo whenever possible, and he uses manufacturing and finishing products that minimize pollution into the environment. This is definitely worthy of a follow-up article and I certainly plan to write one soon. For those who want precision hand-built gear with a conscience, then Audiowood is definitely worth a closer look – highly recommended.

 

Class-D Makes a Splash in Newport Beach, or Rather a Bang… 

First a confession: I’ve had a love-hate relationship with class-D amps. The green specs are fantastic, and so I’ve always wanted to like them. The sound, however, to my ears at least, has always left something to be desired. I can’t put my finger on why this is, but in my home Class-D has always lacked in the mid-range and treble – almost as if it was veiled. I have stopped using Class-D amps as a result, but I am wondering if times have changed and the sound has improved.

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Now I had some great conversations with class-D manufacturers and Engineers at the show. One of these was Ryan Tew from Red Dragon Audio. In addition to cables and accessories, they make 250W and 500W monoblock amplifiers – the clean lines as well as the fit & finish are exemplary. They didn't sound as I remember them sounding  either, and considering that they double their specs into 4 ohms, they should be able to drive most speakers out there. I emailed Ryan after the show and he was quick to respond. I hope to follow that up with an interview about class-D amplification and the sound that these amps produce. 

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Channels Islands Audio, or CIAudio as they prefer, is an established brand and I've always been fond of their designs. They embody most of what it means to be green and I've always been impressed with the quality of their amplifiers. They have also been around for some time now and seem to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many reviewers. One thing that is also commendable is that there aren't new revisions of their designed every six months. The D-100 monoblock, with the exception of a minor update, designated by the “D-100B” name change is essentially the same design that they have been selling for nearly a decade. This is definitely a green value.

At the show I spoke briefly with Dusty Vawter of CIAudio, and then I reached out to him via email after the show. I hope to go visit their showroom in the near future with some of the music I know well – I might scare him a bit with my techno and house selections, but from what I've read, the amps can handle just about anything. Maybe I should also schlep my Maggies along and see what these bad boys can really do, lol. Hmmm, maybe a little TMI… I hope that invitation still stands.

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No conversation of class-D can be complete without mentioning Wyred4Sound. They are practically an institution in this sector. Ever since PS Audio threw in the towel on class-D and started focusing their energies elsewhere, W4S stepped in and filled that void with aplomb. Their amps have received glowing reviews and I was pleasantly surprised to see their little 100W Mini-Integrated powering a Mini Maggie System. No need to make an appointment in front of the Magnepan room; I could hear what this little combination could do right here and it sounded very good. I don’t think there is a desktop/computer speaker system that could come close to sounding this good – heck, it could easily stand on its own as a dedicated 2-channel system.

I got the chance to speak with Clint Hartman from W4S and he had an very good sounding system in the adjacent room. Those were not Magnepans or similar panels speakers, though, and I really wonder how that would have sounded. That said, Clint was glad to answer all my questions and encouraged me to follow up after the show, which I did and he responded quickly. W4S has an excellent reputation for customer service and this was certainly evident here. I will be following up that conversation with a more complete article in the near future.

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 Now my interest with class-D is primarily centered around my 7.1 Magnepan home theater system that just isn’t doing it for me. My suspicion is that I need more power to drive the speakers and, well,  class-D is really the only realistic way to do this. Buying 1000W class A/B amps will not only cost a small mint, but will also drill a hole in my energy bill. Yet, it’s class-D and my experience has been rather poor. Can I make the transition to class-D without compromising the mid-range and treble that I get from conventional amps? That is the million-dollar question for this technology. I will be reaching out to these manufacturers with that specific question, and hopefully the amplification has improved somewhat.

 

Coffman Labs: Recycling Old Airplane Parts – Could There Be Anything Greener?

 

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It’s not often you hear of a company actually admitting to using parts that are not new, much less parts that are half a century old. Yes, we’ve heard that tubes from yesteryear are supposed to sound fantastic, but that is likely more because of nostalgia for a long-lost sound that is simply not going to compare with today’s standards.

 At the show I had a good opportunity to talk to Rob Johnson, of Echo Audio, the distributor for the Coffman Labs preamps and headphone amps that use these parts. They not only re-use actual knobs and internals salvaged from airplanes from the 1950’s and 60’s, but they are built like tanks that could easily last another 50 years, not to mention that they look like nothing else out there. Here is a picture:

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Can you say Retro-Cool? Check out those sides: definitely millennial-worthy.  Did I mention it's built to last? Anyhow...

Damon Coffman is the designer behind this preamplifier; being a musician himself, he designed the perfect sounding amp, but it took some careful thinking to come up with a final product such as this one. That his thinking was based in large part on green concepts is more vindication that thinking green can lead to some great products. I followed up with the distributor, Rob, via email after the show. He was more than willing to answer my questions and, this being a product that is so uniquely green, I certainly intend to write a follow-up article about this ground-breaking product. 

A Few Final Suggestions About THE Show:

I've been to many shows, expositions, and showcases and while THE Show is certainly one that I enjoy attending each year, it isn't without flaws. Here are a few more things that I think they could do to improve the show for next year:

  1. Create an app. I know it sounds cliché, but let’s be honest, walking around with a booklet is so outdated. People want to travel light, so make the show easy to navigate with a well-designed app about where things are.

  2. Rethink parking. When I arrived on Friday, I was directed to three different lots all with different prices. To top it off, directions and signage were non-existent.

  3. Don’t separate the 10th floor part of the show at the Hilton from the rest of the rooms on the 2nd to the 6th floor. I’m going to guess that not too many people made the trek to the top floor. Keep the show together.

  4. OK, I know that cars, babes, booze and cigars appeal to a certain demographic, but it’s not really a good fit for the show. Find better alternatives to the car show, the wine tasting, the cigars, and the bikini-clad models on the signage. To me, it appears tacky and desperate, and I think that young professionals think the same. A much better fit would be a show next door about video and home-theater equipment. Or how about something about home security? Certainly folks with $50K in their listening room would want to secure that gear.

  5. Have a dealers-only day the day before the show. It is imperative that dealers, especially local ones, get re-acquainted with the manufacturers. They need an unencumbered day to build new relationships.

  6. Have a large conference room dedicated to young people (teenagers to college students) with gear that meets their needs.

  7. Have at least one day where you have a concert for a younger crowd – maybe hire a DJ instead of a band. Jazz and blues are great, but let’s be honest, that’s for an aging demographic.

  8. Get a professional designer to make the website. That is not a website that is going to appeal to millennials. You are practically telling them to stay away.

  9. I know I've said it before, but advertise locally and get that professional designer who’s doing the website to also do the ad.

  10. Finally, don’t do the rope-cutting ceremony in the lobby where folks are trying to register. Instead, do it in one of the large conference rooms with a backdrop of some fantastic gear. As a matter of fact, following the rope-cutting with Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra playing on that gear, with the organs blaring at full volume... now that would be an opening worth attending. Doesn't it seem self-evident that a show like this should open with a glorious musical presentation? 

Conclusion

OK, That’s the GreenHiFi report on THE Show 2013 Newport. There were many other products, manufacturers, and dealers there that I would have liked to cover, some also with green ideas and incentives, but I would never finish this. Some of them have also been covered on other sites so poke around online for more.

In upcoming post I want to ask what happened to HiFi in Orange County. I will also be covering some of the manufacturers I met at THE Show and who have responded to my questions about green ideas in HiFi.

Stay tuned.

- Michael GJK