THE Show Newport 2015 pt.3 – Time to Rock n Roll

Focal Sopra Speaker – PBN Audio Speakers and Components – Whammerdyne Amplifyer – LH Labs Vi DAC – The JansZen zA2.1A Floor-Standing Speakers – A Laser-Light Show to End the Day

This is part 3 of my report on T.H.E Show. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here:
The Home Entertainment Show – A Tale of Two Cities
The Home Entertainment Show – Hotel Quagmire

OK, my last post was a tad harsh about the Hotel Irvine. While I still can’t say whether the decision to move to a new hotel was a good one, I do think that the hotel is not conducive to people wandering through the halls. That said, I don’t want to keep dwelling on the hotel. At the show today, I saw some really cool gear and while most of it isn’t very green, it sounded very good.

So let’s take a look at some awesome new products.

Focal Sopra Speaker

Focal is a well known name, and I was impressed when they came out with a dark red pair of their flagship Grand Utopia speaker several years back. But at a whopping $180K and over 500 lbs. each, this wasn’t a speaker many people would ever hear. Well Focal decided to offer something a bit more manageable: the Sopra speaker, with much of the bigger model’s design and technology. It’s only $14,000, which is still up there in price. To sweeten the deal, it’s available in the standard gloss white, black and red, but also in orange. The pair they showed at the show were stunning in both sound and looks. A beautiful speaker that could appeal to millennials.

PBN Audio Speakers and Components

Another manufacturer that builds ‘em big is PBN. While the speakers at the show were not the biggest Peter Noerback makes, they were large enough, and heavy. Of course, this makes for a very inert package, so there’s a silver lining here. Of course, to drive such speakers requires big amps, and PBN makes their own, equally massive and heavy amps, and there was even one of his Olympia flagship models on display at the show. In addition, PBN sells the speakers as a kit for a substantial discount, too. Of particular interest was the new (also large & heavy) chasis that PBN makes for what looked like an old Denon direct drive turntable – with beautifully finished sides that seem to wrap like a branket around the platter and the feet, it was stunningly beautiful to behold. OK, so this stuff isn’t exactly green, but it is beautiful and sound large and capable; a fantastic achievement.

Whammerdyne Amplifyer

Another large but worthy design was the Whammerdyne amplifier. Whammer who? Yes, it’s a new US company that makes a truly unique amplifier. The 50+ lbs behemoth puts out just 6.5 watts per channel using large 2A3 tubes in a “non-inverting, zero feedback, single-ended pure class A design.” The amp looks like no other, with a retro-cool look and an aluminum case in a gloss-white coat. Think of it as a vintage-table-radio-meets-Apple design philosophy. By the way, it sounded incredibly good driving a pair of very efficient Zu Audio Essence speakers. So why am I including it in my list? Well it’s made almost entirely in Portland, Oregon, it looks totally cool, and it is quality construction. Perhaps not green in other respects, but darn, it sure looks and sounds good. And with a name like Whammerdyne, including a retro-cool wolf’s head-like logo, this thing could easily find a home with a rich millennial.

LH Labs Vi DAC

As I mentioned in my tweets, THE Show had a few Lamborghinis on display in the lobby. That car is just a curiosity magnet and likely one of the most desired automobiles for millennials. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see a component that immediately reminded me of this iconic car. The LH Labs Vi DAC is one of those components that will never be confused with any other. And the one they were playing music through at the show was a limited edition gold-plated model. It sports some amazing tech as well, including completely dual mono design, native DSD support, and balanced outputs. By the way, that design isn’t just audio jewelry extravagance; it has a purpose beyond setting the bar for design: the avoidance of parallel surfaces helps reduce noise and interference as well. Truly an amazing product to behold, and considering the comparatively low price of under $6K, it’s a bargain to boot. As a matter of fact I was so taken by it that I will ask if I can write a complete article about it later.

The JansZen zA2.1A Floor-Standing Speakers

Before the show ended I stopped off in the JansZen room. JansZen is a company that has been around for some time and many shows, I am still amazed at how good that electrostatic panel sounds and how well it blends with the bass drivers inside the cabinet. While we also listened to the bookshelf speakers connected in parallel with a sub, I really felt that this didn’t blend very well. The floor-standers, however, had plenty of bass, sounded open & airy, and presented a more full-bodied sound all-around. Now these aren’t inexpensive at $13,000 and up, depending on options, but they can do what Magnepan speakers can do without the hassle of having to purchase amps that could heat the whole room. One more plus is that this speaker isn't a behemoth and while rear-ported, I'm guessing it would still sound excellent near a wall. With those looks it fits very well in a modern household.

A Laser-Light Show to End the Day

So I rocked and I rolled and forgot all about the trouble with the hotel. But as I was leaving the 13th floor to go home, a laser light caught my eye. It was in the NFS room, which I found out later means “Nothing For Sale”. This is because the gear in that room belongs to individuals who make it a habit to set up a room complete with laser show, rebuilt and repaired vintage gear and a completely relaxed atmosphere. They also have snacks and serve drinks. Yes, there are hospitality suites for all the major audio groups, but this is a totally different vibe. Speaking of vibes, this is the first year that they did this at the Newport show (they usually only do this at the Vegas THE show), and having this rom is certainly a welcome antidote to the Irvine vibe.

I’ll be Tweeting (@MichaelGJK) from tomorrow’s show again, so make sure to check my posts throughout the remainder of the show.