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T.H.E Show Newport 2016 (Part 1)

07-03-2016 | By Steve Lefkowicz | Issue 86

I know I always start my show report with some kind of a rant about the state of the high-end audio as both an industry and a hobby. Not this time. After spending four full days at T.H.E Show Newport 2016 (if you include the "press and VIP" day on Thursday), I can say this was one of the most enjoyable times I've had at an audio show in many years. There were more good sounding rooms than usual, far fewer rooms that made you wonder "What were they thinking?" and exhibitors generally seemed to be more receptive to playing music that people brought with them.

More importantly, more companies showed reasonably and sensibly priced systems. Sure there were plenty of ultra-high-end (and ultra-high-priced) systems, as one would expect, but there actually seemed to be a larger number of systems and products on display that, though certainly not cheap, were at least not outrageously priced.

And many of these lower priced systems exhibited remarkably good sound.

However the first thing that needs to be mentioned with regards to the show, is the fantastic job that Marine Presson did as T.H.E Show's new General Manager. With the sad passing of founder Richard Beers, the face of T.H.E Show Las Vegas and Newport since the beginning, there were concerns about the viability and future of T.H.E. Show. As well as this show went from virtually every aspect under Marine's guidance, I think we can all say the future of T.H.E Show is safe and in good hands. Congratulations to Marine!

With all that said and done, this show report will focus on a handful of rooms that really impressed with what would have to be considered (in this industry at least) lower cost, high value products. Maybe some of the complete systems were still pretty pricey, but at least some of the products on display in these rooms were definite over-achievers. One thing you might notice if you remember my past show reports, a lot of the same names turn up here as in my favorite high value rooms from the past, though there are also plenty of new names, too.

So, in somewhat alphabetical order.

Audiophile Direct - Aurum Cantus - Wells Audio

Audiophile Direct - Aurum Cantus - Wells Audio - 1

What a wonderful place to start if you are looking for great sound at an understandable price. The system consisted of the Sound Science Music Vault Diamond music server with 16 GB Ram and 500GB SS Drive ($4995); Wells Audio Majestic 150 wpc integrated amp ($3499) and the Aurum Cantus Melody M-102SE 3-way speakers ($2500/pair), and all wired up with various offering from Dana Cable.

Audiophile Direct - Aurum Cantus - Wells Audio - 2

It was especially nice to see Wells Audio, who over the past few years seems to have been working towards more expensive, higher end products, showcase their excellent moderately priced integrated amp. This room was sounding rich, full, powerful and just generally beautiful.

Auralic – Ryan Speakers

Auralic - Ryan

Last year, the combination of Auralic's electronics and Ryan Speakers was one of my favorite rooms. Same again this year. Ryan R630 speakers ($5000), Auralic Altair Streamer ($1899) and Merak mono amps ($5000/pair). It's still surprising how big, dynamic and powerful the Ryan's can sound given the right amplification, and clearly they work very nicely with Auralic amps.

Brooks Berdan - Spendor - Jadis - Roksan

Brooks Berdan - Spendor - Jadis - Roksan -1

SoCal based dealer Brooks Berdan Ltd. had a few rooms, but this one fit my criteria for this report. Classic Spendor SP3/1R2 speakers ($3195/pair) sounded every bit what one would expect from a classic Spendor design. Beautiful tone, flow and overall presentation.

Brooks Berdan - Spendor - Jadis - Roksan -2

The rest of the system included a Jadis Orchestra 40 wpc integrated amp ($4795, or $5195 with remote), a Roksan Radius 7 turntable with a Nima arm and Radius cartridge ($4000) and a Thorens 302 Phono Pre Amp ($2195). This room was the real deal.

Colleen Cardas Imports - Redgum - Axis Voicebox

Colleen Cardas Imports - Redgum - Axis Voicebox - 1

As part of their Audio Down Under theme showcasing all Australian made gear, Colleen Cardas Imports had two rooms and both sounded extremely good, but this one was the one that fit my budgetary constraints. The small Axis Voicebox speakers ($2500) are pretty spectacular for such a small speaker, especially situated so close to the wall. We played a variety of files I brought, and they really got to the heart of the music in all cases.

Under the notebook is the Redgum RGCD5ENR DAC/Transport ($3500). The system sounded way better than the lousy photo I ended up with…

SONY DSC

The Redgum Black Series RGi35ENR integrated amp ($2500) is rated at 65 wpc into 8 ohms, and looks really cool with the heat sinks creating a wave pattern with their underside location. This might turn out to be a killer product at its price point. Hoping to get one for review soon.

ELAC

Elac - 1

Just like last year when Andrew Jones' new ELAC Debut series stunned the industry with unbelievable sound for hardly any cash, they upped the ante even more this year, though at a slightly higher price. The small Uni-Fi UB5 ($499/pair) simply sounded like a speaker that could compete at several times its own remarkably low price. The little 3-way speaker with its coaxial mid/tweeter and small woofer brings the sound of Jones' much more expensive past designs to a price point where almost anyone could buy them. He had to say, "No, the subwoofers are not playing…" every time someone new walked into the room. Unreal performance…

Elac - 1a

Then again, for twice the price the Uni-Fi UF5 ($999) is basically the UB5 with two more woofers in a floor standing cabinet. Same basic sound, but with substantially greater power and air-moving capability. Companies making speakers up to even a few thousand dollars have to be shaking their heads over this one.

Audio Alchemy electronics were used to drive the systems. Not everyone will team up $5K worth of electronics with the $500 to $1000 speakers, but (and something I experienced with my review set of the Debut F5) the ELAC speakers simply are good enough to show off every improvement in the upstream components.

Elac - 2

On static display in their other room, ELAC was showing a return of the ELAC/Miracord name on a new turntable. I remember as a kid the Benjamin Miracord tables being sold. The new Miracord 90 Anniversary table should sell for about $2500, and certainly looks the part. They build it, too. It's not just a rebranded table from someone else.

Evoke Audio - NuPrime - WyWires

Evoke Audio - NuPrime - WyWyres 1

Evoke Audio's Eddie speakers ($3695/pair, introductory price $2995) driven by all NuPrime electronics was really putting on a show of how good cost-effective audio can get. The speakers are very reminiscent of the older VMPS 626 speaker, which is a very good thing, though they use completely different drivers. They play way bigger than one would expect based on their size and driver complement. They are internally wired with a custom internal wiring harness by WyWires. A real solid debut from this new company.

Evoke Audio - NuPrime - WyWyres 2

The NuPrime electronics consisted of the MCH-K38 Multi Channel Amplifier ($2995) and the HD-AVP "All-digital HT preamp/processor, Media Server, DAC" ($2250). They also used an Oppo disk player, though I didn't note what model.

The Power Broker and all the cables were from WyWires, a name we've certainly come to associate with great sounding systems.

Larsen – GamuT – Pear Audio Blue

Larsen -  Gamut - Pear Audio Blue

I realize I've shown almost this exact same image in every show report I've done over the past few years. That's mainly because every year, the demo of the Larsen 8 speakers ($6995/pair), GamuT electronics and Pear Audio Blue turntable has always deserved a spot due to its overall excellent sound. The Larsen speakers are designed to go up against the wall and use the wall and floor boundaries to great effect. I've been promised a set of some smaller Larsens for review later this year. I look forward to seeing how they sound in my room. 

Lounge Audio

Lounge Audio

Though limited by displaying in the Marketplace part of the show, Lounge Audio's little LCR MKIII moving magnet phono stage ($300) and Copla moving coil step-up amplifier ($270) seemed very promising in both the design and sound it offered through a pair of headphones. Instead of a step-up transformer, the Copla is an active head amp, and has a cool, continuously variable "transimpedance" knob to adjust between 300 ohms/9dB of gain at one end to 40 ohms / 27 dB of gain at the other.

Odyssey - VPI - Symphonic Line

Oddeysey - VPI - Symphonic Line -1

As we've come to expect from previous shows, Odyssey Audio had an excellent sounding demo after a little necessary tweaking to remedy a serious problem with their room. Due to some unfortunate rattles from the vents (seen on the wall in the back left of the room) they had to disconnect the woofers in the speakers (effectively turning them into a set of $2900 Lorelei's). They still played surprisingly low and loud.

Oddeysey - VPI - Symphonic Line -2

Odyssey Candela tube line stage ($1600), Stratos 180 wpc mono amps ($2700/pair). Symphonic Line disk player (much more expensive!). They also used a VPI Avenger turntable, which really sounded powerful yet sweet on my Samantha Crain LP.

Odyssey Massive Racks start at $950 depending on configuration, and are designed to both sound good and support pretty much anything you want to put on them. Very customizable.

If you look at the Odyssey components and not those from other brands, this was a very reasonably priced system.

Prana Fidelity

Prana Fidelity 1

I almost didn't put the Prana Fidelity room in this article, mostly because the total cost of the system (including the R2R and turntable) was quite pricey. But, for as great as this room sounded, to get that level of performance with speakers that sell at this price deserves recognition.

Prana Fidelity 3

Prana Fidelity Vayu/fs ($6950) have been recognized in my past few show articles, also. They continue to come across as one of the best deals in a true, high-end loudspeaker. Seemingly unlimited in power, depth, dynamics and energy, yet with all the tone and musicality you could ask for.

Prana Fidelity 2

The electronics included Prana Fidelity's Purna 400 wpc amplifier ($8950) and preamp ($4500 to $9500 depending on options), Basis Audio 2200 Signature turntable fitted with their Superarm and a My Sonic Labs Ultra Eminent cartridge, Ampex ATR-102 tape deck, Luxman D-08 CD/SACD player, and Kubala-Sosna cables.

Profundo – Heed Audio

Profundo - heed audio -1

Stopping by the Profundo room at audio shows is always a treat. As importers of the brands Heed, Viva, Trenner & Friedl, Transfiguration and Silent Source, there is always some great sound to hear. In this room was an almost all Heed system that, as in past shows, really got the music across nicely. I love the way the small Heed speakers, in this case the Grand Enigma ($7500) fill the room.

Profundo - heed audio -2

The rest of the system included: Funk Firm Vector V turntable with Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6000), Heed Obelisk DT CD transport ($1900) Heed Obelisk DA DAC ($2100), Heed thesis phi phono stage ($2400), Heed thesis pi power supply ($2200), Heed thesis lambda linestage ($3000), Heed thesis gamma stereo power amp ($3300).

Schiit Audio - Salk Sound

Schiit Audio - Salk Sound -1

This room was a special treat. We normally see Schiit Audio in the headphone section showing off their DACs and headphone amps. Instead, this time they showed in a room playing digital from a Salk Sound Stream Player ($1695) through their Yggdrasil DAC ($2299) and Ragnarok integrated amp ($1699) through Salk Sound Song Tower3 speakers ($2895).

Schiit Audio - Salk Sound -2

I had never heard any Salk Sound speakers before, and can now understand why they have such a dedicated following for their line of direct sales offerings. This room was one that you just wanted to hang out and listen to music in. They were quite proud, and justifiably so, of how good this sounded for a total system price of $8588.

Schiit has indicated they will have a line of preamps and amplifiers for "2-channel" (i.e., speaker based) systems soon that they expect to shake things up a little. They have shown an extreme price/performance ratio with all their products so far, so I look forward to seeing and hearing the new products when they become available.

Spatial Audio - Red Dragon - Anticables

Spatial Audio - Red Dragon - Anticables - 1

I've been enjoying Spatial Audio/Red Dragon's room at shows since Spatial hit the market a few years ago. They always sound really musical, but every year sound better than the year before. Here we see the new Spatial M3Turbo S 2-way open baffle speakers ($2595/pair, standard M3 is $1995). The upper 15 inch driver has a coaxial compression driver, the lower one doesn't. Close your eyes and you have no idea how big the speakers are or even where they are. All you hear is wonderful sounding music.

Spatial Audio - Red Dragon - Anticables - 2

The electronics were dominated by the Lampizator Lite7 DAC ($6000), a brand that turned up in a lot of the better sounding rooms, including Positive Feedback's hospitality suite. Also used were; Tortuga LDR3 passive linestage ($1195), Red Dragon S500 amplifier ($1995) and a "full loom" of cables from Anticables ($1500).

Technics

Technics - 1

For a lot of people, hearing the Technics name in this context might be in for a bit of a surprise. However, be certain, the Technics being shown here has more in common with the high end Technics from the Japanese market in the 1970s than the mid-fi Technics products sold here at that time. This was a seriously good sounding system.

Technics - 2

Starting off with the SL-1200GAE 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Turntable ($4000), the three LPs I had with me sounded spot on in terms of speed and dynamics.

Technics - 4

The centerpiece of the system was the SU-G30 "Network Audio Amplifier" ($4000) that is both a 50 wpc integrated amp (with phono input) and a full network streamer/DAC with both 32/384 and Quad-DSD capability.

Technics - 3

What really set the tone here were the SB-C700 speakers ($1699). Due to their small size and coaxial driver, I heard a lot of people comparing them to the KEF LS-50. To my ears (and my admittedly limited experience with the LS-50) I'd say I prefer these. Very rich, full sound with a surprising bit of depth and weight in the lower frequencies. Samantha Crain's cut "Elk City" (180 gram all analog LP) got everyone in the room to stop talking and just listen. Wonderful…

Zu Audio

Zu Audio Soul Supreme

Well, when you list things alphabetically, you are pretty sure that Zu Audio will be last on your list. I took numerous photos to try to show how deep and three-dimensional the metal flake automotive finish on these Soul Supreme speakers ($4500 in standard colors, $5850 or more for gloss or other custom colors) looked. Just didn't have the proper lighting to get it done. Have to say, though, it wasn't the cool finish that made these speakers special. Either you like Zu's high-energy sound or you don't, not much middle ground on opinions with these. I'm in the "I usually love them" side of things. No matter what you listen to through these, it will likely be more fun than through most other speakers.

Well that's it for now. As usual, I will say if a room you wanted to read about isn't in this report, it most likely means it was priced too high for me to cover this time, or I just didn't get enough of a listen to comment on it. A few I ignored due to extremely limited playlists with nothing I wanted to hear, and a few just because they ignored me, or had scheduled demonstrations that never seemed to fit my schedule. There were simply too many rooms, and too many good people I wanted time to hang out with to see them all. If I'm motivated for it, I'll post another update with more rooms that I found interesting.

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