THE Show Newport Beach, 2012:
My Audio Oasis! Awards
[All photographs and image processing by David W. Robinson, unless otherwise noted.]
Well, Richard Beers and Bob Levi said that they would do it—and they kept their promise.
The 2012 Newport Beach THE Show was noticeably bigger and better than 2011, with two hotels, large crowds (rumored at 7500 or so), constant traffic, and tons of food, drink, and music everywhere. Several hundred high-end audio companies converged on the Hilton and Atrium hotels, attracting thousands of show-goers. Just like last year, the weather was perfect, the vibe was strongly positive, and the good times rolled! Hard to beat it… you had to join it!
Michael Fremer and Bob Levi on Day 1 of The Show Newport Beach 2012
This year's THE Show NB had more rooms than last year. My schedule was very busy, since I was participating in the two "Meet the Press" seminars, and moderating two sessions of our "Super High Resolution: The New Download" seminar on downloadable DSD. (Great sets, by the way.)
The seminar panel on DSD: excellent turnout, and very substantive content… hard to beat!
This subtracted a number of hours from my days on Saturday and Sunday, cutting in on my coverage time in the rooms. This meant that I wasn't able to circulate nearly as much as I would have otherwise… apologies to all the rooms that I missed! (Yes, I've already heard from some of you.)
Lila Ritsema, Business Manager of PFO, with Wendell Diller of Magnepan
On the other hand, my focus at audio shows hasn't been in trying to compile a complete list of rooms—hasn't been for a long time now. Elsewhere in this issue, we have reports from other PFO members to help you get a feel for that. Instead, my concentration is on finding the rooms that demonstrated real synergy, audio coolosity, and the "Heck yeah!" factor when you sat down to listen. They pulled you in; they seduced you with their musical charms; they made you glad you came.
Bob Levi with Holger Stein of Stein Music… Bob and PFO are very keen on Holger's work.
Years ago, these special rooms were the ones that I called "audio oasis" places. I developed my PFO Audio Oasis! awards back in 2006 to tip my hat to the places that really brought things together and made some magic. As I noted in my inauguration of this prize in my CES 2006 report back in PFO Issue 23 (http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue23/ces06dr.htm):
True confessions time: I've given up on "seeing everything" at CES/T.H.E. Show. You just can't do it and maintain your sanity. In my opinion, the best person writing that kind of show report was PFO's Dave "Iron Man" Glackin, who finally hung up the proverbial towel a couple of years ago. He offered to transfer the title and function of "Iron Man" to some other worthy at PFO, but got no takers. (Knowing the work load, I wasn't surprised.)
And I can sympathize. If you haven't been to a large audio show with the responsibility of trying to do the whole thing—and report on same—well, brother, you just haven't lived. The pace is frantic, keeping the notes both straight and sufficient is a major pain, and photographing people/gear/settings is a feat in itself. Having attended many of these events since 1994, and having engaged in the pain of the long distance runner, I've reached the point of picking and choosing in order to avoid frustrating myself and jading my senses.
Yep… it's extremely important to "…avoid frustrating myself and jading my senses" while attending fine audio shows. Who needs burn-out? And many of the so-called "show reports" that I see (some published within a few hours of the end of that same day) aren't really "reports." They're simply a dump of a damned camera card, and very little else. It simply isn't possible to do show reporting without the time to sort out your impressions. Real journalism takes some time, you know.
Think of it as an inconvenient truth.
By the way, audio burn-out was definitely not true of the PFO Hospitality Room up on the third floor of the Hilton! Well stocked with single malt whiskey, bourbon, red wine (mainly!), and even bottled water for the less indulgent, I must say that things were definitely mellow and filled with music and fun for one and all! Tons of folks dropped by; I didn't see any disappointed faces.
One again Dave and Carol Clark did a great job in lining up our highly cool magical music machine! Featuring a Music Hall MMF2.1 turntable, the always over-performing Oppo Digital BDP-95 universal player, Macbook-based iTunes action, amplification by Bel Canto, two-way speakers by Marten, cables by Nordost, Cardas, Furutech, Oyaide, and WyWires, along with AC conditioning by Silver Circle… great sound, all day long.
And REAL MUSIC!
Dave and Carol Clark: My unindicted co-conspirators here at PFO
The night life was exceptional, too! Many friends, and many meetings. (People are what this is ultimately all about. If you think that fine audio is primarily about hardware… well, you have a few things to learn, amigo!) Out to dinner for some great food and drink, followed by sitting out and checking out Michael Mercer doing his DJ THING was excellenté!
PFO's Pete Davey next to DJ Michael Mercer, struttin' his technique! (Photo and fresco by a highly relaxed Robinson…)
…and even a bit more!
Even with all the DJing, Michael can still hang with the home boys at CEntrance the next day!
Ah well. Back to it.
Every year it is my pleasure to give my Audio Oasis! awards, and so it's what I do for our show reports now. This year I found some old friends whose rooms really touched the place of audio desire reliably once more, but also encountered some new rooms that made me very glad that I had discovered them. Remember that audio show conditions are always very tough for the production The winners are briefly profiled for you below.
On to the rooms! In no particular order…
In which Jonathan Tinn cues up another LP on the Wave Kinetics NVS turntable with Durand Telos Tonearm and Ortofon Anna MC…
Blue Light Audio/Playback Designs/Durand Tonearms/Ortofon/Evolution Acoustics/Wave Kinetics/darTZeel
Well, here's an old friend, and no surprise to find this room once again in Audio Oasis! land. Year after year, the combination of Playback Designs (DSD/SACD), Wave Kinetics (turntable) with its Durand Telos Tonearm and Ortofon Anna MC, darTZeel preamp and amp, and Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne speakers have set a standard for state-of-the-art audio performance that is reliably superb. I have praised the many excellencies of this extraordinarily synergistic system repeatedly: utter transparency, exceptional imaging and soundstaging, natural ease, musicality without compromise, harmonic and music richness, dynamic slam… whatever you're looking for, it's here!
Joel Durand of Durand Tonearms, Jonathan Tinn of Blue Light Audio, and Kevin Malmgren of Evolution Acoustics
Source files were DSD and 2x DSD prepared by Bruce Brown of Puget Sound Studios via the Playback Designs MPS-3, fed by a Windows 7-based computer. I would consider the 2x DSD to be true master-level reference caliber… if you heard these, then you know what I mean. The Wave Kinetics NVS turntable with the brilliant Durand Telos tonearm and the equally fine Ortofon Anna MC provided LP playback of the highest order.
For more information, contact Jonathan Tinn at Blue Light Audio: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once again, I spent a lot of time in this room, and for all the right reasons. Unless something changes drastically in the Blue Light room, I imagine that you'll see them continue to win awards from me… this is a very tough act to follow.
Another Audio Oasis! Award for Blue Light Audio and associated companies… and richly deserved once more.
Dan Meinwald of E.A.R. USA with his trusty Townshend Rock 7 turntable/Helius tonearm/Dynavector MC
The first room that I dropped in on in this space-time continuum was Dan Meinwald's E.A.R. USA setup. He was located right near the PFO Hospitality Room on the third floor of the Hilton. Dan is another person who knows great music, the real thing in audio gear, and terrific recordings. Just dropping in to spend time with him is always a pleasure, especially since he always brings along LPs that make it hard to leave! You'll always see a stack of LPs (or two… or three) leaning against something, somewhere in his room.
This year was no exception, since Dan was once again getting a ton of real music out of his E.A.R. gear, the Townshend Rock 7 turntable, and Marten loudspeakers. Even in show conditions, and right out of the gate, this room was intimate, warm, detailed, and always musical, qualities that I've come to expect from a Meinwald setup. And I have to say that the mating of the E.A.R. electronics and the Marten Django XL loudspeakers produced results that were truly amazing! I suspect that Marten (and Dan) are seeing quite a lot of interest in the Djangos… at their price point, this is a killer product.
AC line conditioner
So this is another room that you can count on for the real thing, year in, and year out. Once again, I found that I could just sit down, relax, and just take in the music. Dan Meinwald has got synergy going, in spades… go to his room with confidence! I do.
Another THE Show… another Audio Oasis! for Dan Meinwald and company!
Dan Wright of ModWright
Later in the show, I was able to drop by the ModWright/Daedalus Audio/WyWires room at the Hilton and spend some time listening to some fine results there. This combination of Dan Wright's price-performance electronics, plus a nicely refined input sound from the modded Oppo BDP-95, feeding the Daedalus Athenas via WyWires was a welcome relief from the "price-performance blues and blahs." The sound in this room was very musical, with the Oppo 95 definitely sounding better than the stock unit that I have in my office. Smoother, with more silk and a nicely enhanced elegance to the sound that I liked very much… SACDs will definitely benefit from this, if you own (or are thinking about purchasing) an Oppo 95! They're great universal players…which is why they won a Brutus Award from me!
Dan Wright of ModWright with Lou Hinkley of Daedalus Audio
I also got to chat briefly with Lou Hinkley of Daedalus Audio. Lou is a genuinely nice guy who makes speakers with very beautiful natural wood finishes…they sound very fine, and look great! Pleasing to listen to, for sure, and a fine match for the ModWright components, via the WyWires pipes that were running. Alex Sventitsky definitely has it together with his cabling, and it works and plays well with ModWright and Daedalus. Another synergistic match!
ModWright Instruments KWI 200 WPC integrated amp $4995 base price; up to $6495, depending on options.
After spending some time listening to the music and relaxing with Dan and Lou (didn't see Alex), it was clear to me that this room deserved another Audio Oasis! Award from me.
So let it be written; so let it be done!
One World Audio/Lindemann/Voce Audio/WyWires/Zesto Audio/Channel D
After hearing some rooms that were familiar to me, entering Jonathan Josephson's room was something different. Not that I wasn't aware of Lindemann; Dr. Sardonicus reviewed their 820 SACD player in past years quite favorably, and I liked it myself quite a lot. The Lindemann 830S balanced preamp and 855 balanced amplifier were here late last year, but I wasn't able to squeeze serious listening to them between RMAF 2011 and the time that they had to go back for CES 2012, and so didn't get to do anything significant with them. Nevertheless, I had been hopeful that I would get to hear Lindemann at THE Show NB 2012… and I did.
The combination of components here may have been unfamiliar to me, collectively, but the quality of the music was certainly not. As I listened to the Lindemann 825 Digital Player and Channel D sources playing through the Lindemann electronics, via WyWires (again!) to the Voce Audio VA-3 speakers, I found a sound that was unique: very detailed, but not grainy or harsh at all; dynamic, clean, and clear audio reproduction that strayed nowhere near analytical or tiring digital sound.
No stereotypes; just great stereo.
While I missed the Lindemann 820 SACD/CD player (a big mistake for Lindemann to abandon SACD, in my opinion), the rest of the sources played well, and produced a vibe that was inviting. Jonathan had assembled quite a good cast here… I admit that I was enjoying the results!
Lindemann 825 Digital Player $12,500
For more information: Jonathan Josephs at One World Audio at email@example.com.
PFO hopes to do a follow-up on the Lindemann system… I think my colleague Dave Clark would get a real kick out of the Lindemann lineup!
Anyways, real music here, in some reasonably compact form factors. Kudos to Jonathan and company for putting together a very nice vibe, and a combination that worked so nicely for me. This weary editor thanks them!
And an Audio Oasis! Award for the results….
M.A. Recordings/The Signal Collection/Bel Canto
In the MA Recordings/The Signal Collection room: amazin' ain't it?!
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings; Chris Sommovigo of The Signal Collection. Think of them as the dos amigos of high-end audio shows. I really love these guys! Todd is a recordist who has been producing exceptional discs for years… first in CD, and now in high-resolution DSD and PCM. His recordings have been haunting me for many years now. (In fact, I'm listening to his brilliant CD, Krushevo, right now.) And Chris has been doing exceptional cable design work for many years now, beginning with Illuminati. (Still have mine!)
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings and Chris Sommovigo of The Signal Collection (photograph and fresco by Robinson)
These two get along, and they have been putting together the most amazing compact systems for the past several years… usually a Korg DSD recorder/playback unit (MR2000 of late)… and playing back DSDs and 2x DSDs of Todd's recordings this time 'round via a Bel Canto integrated amplifier, and killer little Davone MOJO omnidirectional speakers. Pipelines are Chris' Black Cat Morpheus cables, which are over-performing slammer-jammers. (I ought to know; I'm using them right here, right now.)
Davone MOJO omni monitors $2300 per pair
The Wow! Moment happened just as soon as Todd played back his high resolution recording of Résonance, with Nima Ben David on viola da gamba.
A lightning bolt in the soul! I was transfixed by the beauty of Ben David's performance, and the pure and transparent way that Todd had captured this extraordinary music. If you do not have this recording, you simply MUST go to http://www.marecordings.com/main/product_info.php?cPath=49&products_id=165 and purchase it now!
Do NOT pass go! Do not collect $200!
You can thank me later…
And these marvelous recordings, with no frills and no ultra-buck six-figure gear, was touching me in a very moving way.
No doubt about it: an Audio Oasis! again for Todd and Chris! Many thanks for the musical passion and audio beauty that you sheltered there….
mbl North America
At the upper end of the spectrum was the mbl reference room, where the pleasant and urbane Jeremy Bryan was shoveling listeners in and out to accommodate the lines that were always forming outside of his door. As always, the mbl suite was an elegant, seductive experience, with a sumptuous sense of aesthetics and a more formal beauty than is found in many a room.
Within seconds, it was clear that nothing has changed for the worse since my last show (RMAF 2011) with the mbl reference gear: it is supreme in every category. The white finish with chrome logo and accents simply underlined the fact that I was relaxing, listening to an effortless, detailed, presentation of a digital recording that I had never heard before. (No, still don't know what it was.) It didn't matter; the sense of real authority, of dynamic power, of nuance, and of holographic presentation echoed my prior experience with an earlier generation of the mbl line in my own listening room in 2008, which was a PFO Brutus Award winner for that year.
You have to have a budget to get serious about mbl. But there's no question that you receive a huge return on that investment, and the lust factor is very high on this kit.
Check with mbl for dealers and current pricing: firstname.lastname@example.org
In fact, sitting, relaxing, and listening to this mbl reference system once more confirmed my decision to review it. Believe it or not, I've been working since 2009 for a return trip of mbl to my listening room, and now it looks like the new gen mbl reference system will arrive here in July. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, chalk up another Audio Oasis! Award; the mbl room deserved it, without a doubt in my mind….
SonoruS Audio/Yarlung Records
In the SonoruS Audio/Yarlung Records room
Something very different here!
As you've noticed elsewhere in this issue, with my RTR Movement column (see http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue61/tape.htm), I've been networking busily to develop a profile on what's happening in open reel recording. I've connected with a lot of fine folks, and will be sharing more about them in the near future.
One of my RTR connections is Arian Jansen of SonoruS Audio. He was brought to my attention by a mutual friend, Bob Attiyeh of Yarlung Records. Bob told me about Arian's fine work in producing a new RTR machine based upon the Revox PR99. Having owned one of these back in the early 1990s, I was intrigued. After contacting Arian, he agreed to ship one of his SonoruS ATR 10 RTR machines. This spent a couple of months with me, before returning to him just before THE Show Newport Beach.
So far, so good.
What I didn't know was that Arian was developing a complete audio chain under the SonoruS brand. Until I arrived at his room at THE Show NB, I had no idea. When I came in, I could see the ATR 10 in place, but I didn't recognize the electrostatic speakers, nor the electronics in the room. Turns out, Arian is getting ready to release a total solution to audiophiles.
Check with Arian Jansen of SonoruS for prices and availability: email@example.com.
To show off the lovely synergy of his SonoruS designs, Arian Jansen first queued up his SonoruS ATR 10 RTR machine with a 15 ips half-track recording of Ruekert Lieder from Mahler, performed by Sasha Cooke, and remarkably well recorded by Bob Attiyeh of Yarlung Records (http://www.yarlungrecords.com). Yarlung has produced a series of new open reel analogue masters, all of which are simply stellar, both for performance and for production. On the SonoruS system, the sound in that room was extraordinary: harmonically rich and true, transparent, with natural ease and a three-dimensional presentation of the tape. To say that I was taken by the music would be a serious understatement… I could have stayed in this room for quite a long time!
The second piece that Arian played for us was an excerpt from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro that he tells me was "…originally recorded in multi-channel DSD, but remastered by me in 2 channel using the SonoruS Holographic Imaging Process." (For more on that process, see Arian's guest article elsewhere in this issue.) I was knocked out by the sense of envelopment of this recording: it truly seemed to be a real soundstage, rather than some phasey phony-sound surround process.
Excellent! I enjoyed every minute of these magnificent demos from open reel tape via the SonoruS system, which mated OTLs and electrostatic speakers in a very winning way. It made me wish that I had another hour or two there, just to listen!
And that's definitely a sign of a PFO Audio Oasis! Award room.
Von Schweikert/Jolida/United Home Audio
The view in the Von Schweikert Research/Jolida Audio/United Home Audio room
Eureka, all over again!
This was a combination that I had encountered at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2011. It had surprised me there…an audio ambush!
Not Von Schweikert Research, of course. I've had tons of experience with the VSR line since the days of the breakthrough VR-4 and VR-4 Silver back in the '90s. I have personally reviewed them, owned some of them, and have heard most of the rest at shows for many years now.
Greg Beron of United Home Audio with his brilliant UHA RTR machine, outfitted with Reel-Tronix take-up (left reel).
No, what had surprised me was the combination of the VSR-44 speakers (a re-visiting of the classic VR-4) with the reasonably-priced over-performing Jolida tubed electronics, being fed by a United Home Audio reel-to-reel machine, spinning a pile of nice titles from The Tape Project, Opus3, and others.
Bruce Brown of Puget Sound Studios and Greg Beron of United Home Audio
We were playing Master Tape Copies from:
The Tape Project
Just like last October at RMAF 2011, the sound in this room was arresting: superior RTR recordings from The Tape Project, Opus3, and others. ¼" half-track tapes in abundance… unmistakable reference-grade elegance on the source side, of a certainty! Once you've spent some time with open reel tapes, you're not easily fooled by so many of the digital standards that claim to be exceptional (all PCM, by the way), but are not. Only DSD and Double-DSD, and the very finest turntables, give us the sort of experience to be found with source tapes and RTR playback of this caliber.
Kudos to all here! And an Audio Oasis! award to all…
The YG Acoustics/Kubala-Sosna/Luxman/Brinkmann lair...
Another homecoming! In this room, my outstanding audio buds Joe Kubala of Kubala-Sosna and Bill Parish of GTT Audio bid me a welcoming return to a room with a ton of vinyl and some unforgettable sound.
Joe Kubala of Kubala-Sosna and Bill Parish of GTT Audio with the YG Acoustics Anat III Studio Signature loudspeaker
I have heard the YG Acoustics Anat III's with the K-S Elation! cables many times, and am quite familiar with the sound with darTZeel and Tenor amplifiers. This was my first time to hear them with Luxman electronics, however. The combination was very friendly, it seems; the sound in this room was detailed, quick, and nicely controlled, with the YG's doing their usual best to present a very convincing soundstage. The bass was tight, not lean, in this rather large room, and harmonics were nailed. You couldn't miss the effortless musicality, and you wouldn't want to. I hadn't heard the Brinkmann turntable before, and liked what I was hearing. Nice work…the Luxman phono amp must be quite solid.
Acoustics Anat III Studio Signature Speakers $82,000/pair
Bill and Joe were piling on the great vinyl, with some terrific real music! You know: the stuff that most of us really listen to. I particularly dug the Eagles as they were queued up on the Brinkmann… Joe, Bill and I rockin' out to the tunes!
Vinyl sounded especially good on this system, and since it was going on, album after album, and since my soul was telling my body, "Don't you be a-goin' nowhere!", I stayed. For quite a while.
I don't need any other evidence… once again, an Audio Oasis! Award for these gents!
Burmester North America/Genesis/Oracle
The Burmester/Oracle stack: great beauty and marvelous performance meet…
Finally, there is a room that was quite special for several reasons. First, I have spent some time with the current generation of Burmester components, and find that they are in the top flight of audio electronics. In fact, their 100 phono amp is one of the very best I've ever heard; see my Brutus Award for it at the end of 2011 (http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue58/brutusdr2.htm). I naturally made it over to Robb Niemann's Burmester/Genesis/Oracle Audio room, to say hello again. Robb is always an extremely congenial host… a great fellow in every way… and I was really looking forward to seeing and hearing his room once more.
Anne Bisson: a passion for the music… it doesn't get more live than this! In the background, the Genesis 5.3 loudspeaker…
And amigos, I'm glad that I did! As I got close, I thought, "Wow! That's some bloody realistic sound! The voice is live!" Upon walking into the room, I saw why: the lovely and talented singer, Anne Bisson, was actually singing and dancing in the room, right along with one of her albums that was spinning on the Oracle Delphi TT. I sat down, entranced. Anne has a sparkling presence, and her music delighted me. Being able to hear how nicely the Burmester/Genesis/Oracle/Absolute Fidelity system matched with the actual voice of the singer herself was pretty gratifying!
Jacques Riendeau of Oracle, Anne Bisson, and Robb Niemann of Burmester North America
Jacques Riendeau of Oracle spent some time demonstrating the Oracle Micro Vibration Stabilizer System, which really did a fine job of isolating the Delphi, and of tuning the level of damping applied to playback isolation. Pretty impressive stuff. And Anne's LPs certainly sounded terrific via the Oracle system, though the Burmester electronics and Genesis speakers figured very large in what I was hearing.
Burmester Phono 100 $16,995 as configured, can be
from $16,955 to $ 22,995
What's to say?! This room was full of music, life, and great beauty everywhere I looked. I spent a while here, just sitting back late in the show, enjoying what I was seeing and hearing. I have got to get a complete Burmester reference system to Portland sometime soon!
Splendid in every way… a very highly recommended system.
And a true Audio Oasis!
…another THE Show gone, and many fine memories it left with me. All of the creative community here at PFO get a real blast out of attending these great events, and sharing our impressions with you. It's a ton of work, believe me… you wouldn't believe the time that goes into show preparation, logistics, costs/accounting, tracking events, preparing for seminars, taking notes, photographing, and all the production work that follows a major audio event. This ain't for weenies, folks!
But we do manage to have a terrific time, and host as many friends and attendees at the PFO Hospitality Room as we can! If you can't enjoy life, and a wonderful passion like fine audio, what's the point, eh?
So, along with Carol, we all raise our glasses in a toast to all our PFO friends around the world, and hope that we see you sooner or later at one of these audio shows! If you're not here, you're missing out…!