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Impressions: My Audio Oasis! Awards for THE Show Newport Beach 2015

07-12-2015 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 80

THE Show Newport Beach 2015, held on May 28-31, is in the books now…and what a show it was! Upwards of 9,000 people were in attendance…crowds everywhere…a terrific time for audiophiles from all over.

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Looking back on all of the audio shows that I've attended over the past 26 years, I'd say that this year's THE Show Newport Beach was the best that I've ever been to. Why? Let me count the ways: A great setting, fantastic weather, the Irvine Hotel with its enormous and high-quality facilities, solid audio rooms, great live music at all hours, excellent service, really good food and drink at reasonable prices, first-rate displays of related lifestyle exhibits (loved the cars!)…and let's not forget an excellent fire-pit for cigars in the evenings.

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One major change for this year, beside the new venue:  A shift from a three-day, all-consumer show, to a four-day show, with the first day (from 2:00 – 8:00 p.m.).

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Richard Beers promised that this would be a huge step upwards, and he wasn't kidding. Kudos to him, to Bob Levi, and to the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society (LAOC) for a fantastic effort in putting together the best US audio gathering that I've ever experienced. And that wasn't just my impression; every attendee or industry representative that I spoke with during this event said pretty much the same thing: the best ever! If you weren't there, you definitely missed it.

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Hajime Sato of Eastwind Import

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Just as in the past several years, the Positive Feedback gang hosted a hospitality suite for showgoers. On hand this year was an excellent audio system, featuring the following components: 

The NADAC 8-channel Quad-DSD DAC, with Ethernet connectivity, from Merging Technologies

The darTZeel LHC-208 Danalogue Integrated Amp with Double DSD DAC

Evolution Acoustics MMMicro One Loudspeakers with floor stands

Stillpoints ESS Rack with vinyl shelving

Wave Kinetics power cables, interconnects, and speaker cables

Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit

Kubala-Sosna Realization USB cable

exaSound e28 Mk. II DSD DAC

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The PF Hospitality Room:  We just can't figure out why folks drop by!

Our hospitality room is just that:  A place for audiophiles to hang out, enjoy our great fresh-ground coffee (Ristretto Roasters PF DSD Blend), our fine single malt whisky, some great bourbons, and even the occasional cup of water (!). Incredible traffic throughout the four days of the show…but this was also the main reason that I ended up spending about three out of the four days in the PF room.

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Thom Moore of Five/Four Productions, with the Merging Technologies NADAC DSD DAC (silver face, on the second shelf of our Stillpoints ESS rack) and the darTZeel LHB-208 Danalogue Integrated Amp with DSD DAC (gold face) to the right.

That's great…I really enjoy hosting our guests, listening to the music, and answering a lot of questions about DSD (especially Quad DSD), but it really crimped my room-visiting and show-reporting style. That's not the end of the world…we have some other great reports, photo essays, and summaries in our "Show Reports" section in this issue…but it meant that I really didn't get around much. The equivalent of the single day that was out did allow me to get to some rooms, however, and it's from those that I present my Positive Feedback Audio Oasis! Awards for THE Show Newport Beach 2015.

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I was able to make it to the PF DSD Panel Discussion, always a great time, and informative for our audience. Pictured here, left-to-right, are Jonathan Tinn of Wave Kinetics, Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds and SuperHirez.com, Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records and Downloads NOW!, Dominique Brulhart of Merging Technologies, Bob Attiyeh of Yarlung Records, and Thom Moore of Five/Four Productions.

Note that I won't be able to comment as much as I usually do. This is due to several things:  The brevity of the time that I had to wander about; the rather strange lack of system lists in many of the rooms (bad idea…if you want your room to be mentioned, make it easy for audio journalists to look up components and prices); and the fact that I am completing this belated report while on vacation in Maui. Some of my notes aren't here, unfortunately. Them's the breaks. You'll have to go with my less-detailed impressions.

In no particular order:

E.A.R. USA, Marten, Helius, and Jorma Design

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No surprise at all here. Dan Meinwald is a long-time veteran of high-end audio, has excellent product lines, a very large record collection that he knows extremely well, and knows how to get the most out of a room.

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Once again, LPs ruled here, and Dan's room with the Marten speakers, E.A.R. electronics, Helius, and Jorma Design cables, made magic happen. Yet again. (You are paying attention over the years, right?)

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I always relax in Dan's rooms…always. And he's a regular winner of my Audio Oasis! Awards. If you'd like to do the same, spend some time in Dan's room.

 Sources

 EAR Acute 4/DACute 4 CD/SACD player: $13,000

 Helius Alexia turntable: $5000

 Helius Omega Silver Ruby 10-inch tonearm: $5225

*Kiseki Purpleheart phono cartridge: $3200

 Electronics

 EAR V12 integrated amplifier: $9795

 EAR 324 solid-state phono stage: $6095

 Loudspeakers

 Marten Duke 2: $8500 per pair/stands $1250

 Cables

 Jorma Prime interconnects: $9900 per 1-meter pair/additional meters $4950

 Jorma Origo interconnects: $5250 per 1-meter pair/additional meters $1875

 Jorma Origo speaker cables: $7000 per 1-meter pair/additional meters $2200

 Jorma Origo power cords: $3200

 Waveform Fidelity power cords: $1495

 Stands

 Marten M.furniture

 AC line conditioner

*World Power Power Wing: $2850

*Product not distributed by E.A.R. U.SA.

GamuT and Pear Audio Blue

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Michael Vamos of Audio Skies is an up-and-coming audio distributor who has added some very fine product lines to his card. He's shown some real sharps in what he handles, and has become very effective as a presence at audio shows.

His GamuT room was a surprise to me, though. PF has reviewed GamuT in the past, but I hadn't had experience with them before. Sitting in on this room, I was treated to compact monitors and a dynamic, music presentation of the music that went beyond the space involved. I listened for a while, but the very favorable impression of the GamuT system stayed with me. I had to run, but decided that I would have to give GamuT its due recognition.

Done!

Von Schweikert Audio and Constellation

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On the other hand, the Von Schweikert/Constellation room was no surprise at all. Albert was demonstrating his VR-55 active speakers, which were kicking ass all over the room. I've known Albert's work for many years, and have been following him since the days of his Vortex speakers, and especially since the VR-4's, VR-4 Silvers, and the VR-6's, all of which I've owned. His work is always superior, with deep bass, well-balanced midrange, and nicely extended highs…very important for the best results with DSD, LPs, and SACDs.

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These VR-55's…well, with the right electronics, they have the slam to knock you into a wall! And the Constellation Virgo II preamplifer ($25,000) and the Centaur stereo amplifer ($32,000) seemed to be able to feed the VR-55's superbly. This is a product line that I don't know…wouldn't mind getting these into PF for review some time.

Great stuff…a definite Audio Oasis! Award-winning room.

Gingko Audio, Wells Audio, Lampizator, Salk Sound, and DanaCables

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Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio paired up with Wells Audio, Lampizator, Salk Sound, and DanaCables to provide a dose of real high-end synergy in this room. Normally, combining this many different companies and components into a room is a real challenge, and an invitation to exhibitor frustration. There are a lot of cooks working on the broth, and many possibilities for ugly mojo.

Not in this case, though. The combination worked some real magic, with the Lampizator Lite 7 DAC with preamp providing a world-class source feed to the Wells Audio stereo amp, supported by Wells Audio power conditioning and connected by DanaCables. I think that this is the best that I've heard one of Vinh Vu's rooms ever sound…a wonderfully transparent, dynamic, and detailed audio presentation, one that was a pleasant interlude for me.

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(Image by Dave Clark)

The equipment in this room included:

Speakers:  Salk Sound Exotica 3 In Std Finish $11,995/Pair

Amp:  Wells Audio Innamorata Signature $15,000

Preamp/Dac:  Lampizator Big 7 $13,500

Dac:  Lampizator Lite 7 $5,250

Source:  Salk Stream Player $1,495

Speaker Cables:  Danacable Ultra Summa $8,900

Interconnects: Danacable Diamond Reference $2,100

Usb: Danacable Usb $895

Power Conditioner: Wells Audio

Rack:  Gingko Audio Platformula $1,500

 

My Audio Oasis! Award detector went off very quickly…I jotted the note to myself.

Done!

The Lotus Group, PranaWire, Hanss Acoustics, Marten, Durand Tonearms, Ortofon, and KR Audio

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Joe Cohen's The Lotus Group, with PranaWire, Hanss Acoustics, Marten, Durand Tonearms, Ortofon, and KR Audio was another non-surprise for me. Like Dan Meinwald, Joe has a marvelous facility for sourcing top-notch components, and then fusing them into something well beyond the sum of their parts. Synergy had become symbiosis in this room, as the Hanss Acoustics turntable, armed with Durand and Ortofon (Durand tonearms always love Ortofon MCs!) proceeded to smite my soul with tons of luscious audio art via the Marten loudspeakers.

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Ten seconds was more than enough to know that Joe had once more done the right thing…in spades!

High praise for Joe Cohen…this room was seriously righteous.

An Audio Oasis! Award, for sure….

ModWright, TAD, Stillpoints, and Dynamic Design

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Damn me eyes and ears! Here was another scarred veteran of the fine audio scene, this time from the great Pacific Northwest…none other than Dan Wright, with another great showing. This time, instead of showing off his exceptional electronics with his stalward, Lou Hinkey of Daedalus Audio (speakers), Dan exhibited with TAD for speakers, Stillpoints (always a brilliant choice for stands and isolation products!), and Dynamic Design cables. I was so used to seeing ModWright with Daedalus that I had to pause a moment to take in the different presentation, especially since Dynamic Design cables were also newer to me.

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The results were, after adjustment, quite compelling. I've heard TAD speakers in other settings, and have always been rather impressed by them. The ModWright gear brought a terrific musicality to the TADs, with great power and dynamics, and yet a nuanced detail that grew on me as I listened. While I will always love the ModWright-Daedalus synergy…it's as though these two were made for one another…TAD works well with the rest of this system.

This room was a winner; I just wish that I had more time to kick back here.

An Audio Oasis! Award for these folks….

These last three award winners should be familiar to any of my readers who have been following my show reporting over time. This is no coincidence, no accidental dovetailing here. These last three groups have shown world-class performance under the hell of show conditions and tight timetables to produce top-of-the-heap sound.

At THE Show 2015, each of these three took very large suites on the main floor, just off the lobby area. Taking large rooms not only indicates a goodly budget, but significant confidence in your ability to overcome the big audio challenges that come with big spaces. In each case, each of these groups did not merely meet the problems, but they overcame them magnificently.

Which particular group moved you the most would depend on your tastes in music, your preferences in audio, and your favorite design approaches, since each is formidable and unique.

But all are outstanding. Here they are in no particular order:

GTT Audio, Audionet, YG Acoustics, Kubala-Sosna Cables, and KRONOS turntables

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Bill Parish of GTT Audio

This room combined a set of products that Bill Parish of GTT Audio has carefully added to his line card over the years. Audionet I have already praised in the highest terms in Issue 77. YG Acoustics and Kubala-Sosna are well-known world-class references for me. But newer to the mix was the KRONOS Pro Limited Edition turntable system, with the AirTight PC-1 Supreme MC cartridge. I had heard this at AXPONA 2015, but with the smaller Carmel II loudspeakers and a single pair of the Audionet MAX amplifiers in a smaller space (Issue 79).

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This time around, with a bigger room and plenty of elbow room, Bill Parish pulled out the stops. We had the big YG's, no less than four MAX amps, tri-cabled with Kubala-Sosna Elation! and an XPander power distribution unit. LPs courtesy of the KRONOS Pro LE.

Zounds!

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A powerful, compelling system, able to provide massive dynamics, great transparency, and excellent tonal integration. I'd never heard the big-boy YG's sound so good at any show…they were absolutely killer! Very convincing in every way…very satisfying at every level.

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Bill Parish of GTT Audio, Thomas Gessler and company at Audionet, Joe Kubala of Kubala-Sosna, Yoav Geva of YG Acoustics, and Louis Desjardins of KRONOS are to be complimented…this was definitely one of three true world-class rooms that I heard at THE Show 2015.

MBL North America and United Home Audio

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Jeremy Bryan of MBL North America

Once again MBL North America and UHA hooked up to provide one of the top rooms at THE Show 2015. MBL's Jeremy Bryan teamed up with Greg Beron and his United Home Audio Phase12S two-box reel-to-reel tape machines to feed a reference system of MBL gear.

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Greg Beron of United Home Audio with his exceptional Phase12S reel-to-reel tape recorder

This included a quad set of 9011 monoblock amplifiers, the 6010D preamplifier, and the 1611F DAC and 1621A transport, feeding a pair of Radialstrahler 101F loudspeakers.

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This was all known ground to me; I had reviewed the MBL Reference System back in Issue 73.

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During the all too brief time that I was there, we listened to the Phase12S exclusively.

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As usual with the UHA tape decks, it provided marvelous analog playback, allowing the MBL reference system to strut its stuff. Considering the show conditions, it was phenomenal:  The MBL Holodeck was in operation once more, with enveloping soundfield, great dynamics, and full-range sound, of the sort that I know very well.

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Group portrait! Left-to-right, Tara Bryan, Greg Beron, Jonathan Moffett, and Jeremy Bryan, demonstrating the load-bearing capacity of the mighty MBL 9011 monoblocks.

A clear PF Audio Oasis! Award winner from the get-go…so ordered!

Audio Association, Evolution Acoustics, darTZeel, Wave Kinetics, Durand Tonearms, ATR Services, KLAudio, and Ortofon

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Last, but definitely not least, was Ed Sudario's Audio Association room, filled with a collection of components sourced by Jonathan Tinn of Blue Light Audio. On display were the Evolution Acoustics MM2 loudspeakers, only this time they were supplemented by a new component from the brilliant Kevin Malmgren of Evolution Acoustics:  The EXACT, an external crossover and filter network that took the MM2's to a whole new world of performance!

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The Evolution Acoustics MM2 loudspeaker, with its new EXACT external crossover and filter system to the right

I know the MM2 sound intimately well, having lived with them for several years in my own reference room. But the standard MM2's don't sound like these MM2's. The external crossover and filter system raised the sound to nearly the level of an MM7 system, in the minds of some, at least in the midrange and high frequencies. Certainly the EXACT is a major step forward for Evolution Acoustics.

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darTZeel is always top-of-the-heap in my book, and Hervé Delétraz, the genius behind darTZeel, had provided a full set of great components:  The NHB-108 Model B stereo amplifier, version 2 of his NHB-18NS reference preamplifier, and the LHC-208 Danalogue integrated amplifier with DSD 2x DAC (supporting Ethernet). The turntable was the Wave Kinetics NVS with Durand Kairos tonearm and Ortofon Anna MC cartridge, with all cabling by Evolution Acoustics. All vibration control and isolation for the components was provided by the Wave Kinetics A10-U8 Component Control System, while loudspeaker isolation and vibration control was the Wave Kinetics 2NS Loudspeaker Interface System. 

The sonic results were extraordinary, simply extraordinary. The soundstaging and imaging of this system in such a large room was very impressive, with boundaries well beyond the speakers in all directions…left, right, up, down, and way back. The dynamics were enormous. I had no sense of this system ever working up a sweat as it delivered everything from whisper-quiet to wham-slam. Transparency, that king of audio virtues for me, was stellar. Detail in spades, at all volume levels.

Sitting in this room was a relaxing pleasure, whether we were listening to LPs or DSD.

Phenomenal.

And a definite Audio Oasis! Award winner, without any doubts at all.

All good things come to an end…

…and so did THE Show Newport Beach 2015. I have to say that I was sorry to see this one end; it was as good a combination of audio show, party, and productive time as I've ever seen. I hope that Richard Beers, Bob Levi, and the LAOC are able to meet and exceed this year's experience with mo' bettah! next year.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

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[All photographs by David W. Robinson, except the portrait above, which is by John W. Robinson]

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