I'm late for the party:
Many have already posted their thoughts on Irvine's, er Newport Beach's "THE Show" from early June. I intended to post earlier but my pictures turned out poorly and I have been too busy.
The first thing every intelligent or at least conscious reviewer should say is... it's hard to draw conclusions.
Having said that, if a system sounded bad, it could be component mismatching, too much speaker for a room or... myriad other responses. But, it doesn't mean any or even every component in that room sucks.
If a system sounded good, maybe you can draw conclusions from that. If someone writes that "the Humdinger supertweeter Mk XIV doesn't accurately reproduce Patricia Barber on August 20, 1999" you should disregard their opinion, completely.
First, if the listener wasn't at that particular show, they have no memory to compare it to. Second, aural memory doesn't last days, let alone years; my recollection is aural memory lasts a fraction of a second. What's probably happening is that person is writing about how they like that piece to sound. If that's their statement, I have no problem with preference; I have a big problem with pretending to find "failure."
My comments here are not intended to sort "best" or "most realistic" from the dross but to share stuff that caught my ear. I did not make an effort to see every room because my work load did not really permit the 1+ day I eked out. My clients would have preferred I didn't go.
Fun but generally unnoticed speaker: Tonian Labs.
A rather expensive (~$17,000) +/- , though comparatively affordable, wide band single driver coupled to a tweeter to extend the treble region. It's still a lot of money. Tony Minasian's designs are always at least interesting and usually very musical. Power was provided by a massive Denon integrated amplifier and an unmodified, 1980's vintage Magnavox CD player. The sound was open, fast, detailed and had a lot of the characteristics I think are part of a realistic reproduction of music. Should not have sounded as good as it did. In fairness, Tony used mostly his own recordings. He has an excellent microphone/technique that might be "cheating" to get great sound, but the sound was delightful, so Cheers!
Larsen Model 8. Coupled with Gamut Integrated amplifier, as well as Pear Audio Blue's phono stage, turntable and tonearm, the sound was sweet, with treble extension and detail that does not mean the sweetness is arrived at with a lacquer coating. Fine filigree treble was easily distinguished. If you are looking for pinpoint imaging... that's not a Larsen speaker characteristic. The Larsens do, to my ears, conjure up how I hear live music. Just sayin'.
Tidal speakers, amplifier, preamplifier, and LampizatOr Golden Gate DAC. Very nice sound, did the unthinkable by making a bad recording sound bad, at an audio show no less... and made beautiful music sound... beautiful. Also nice to hear that my entry level LampizatOr Euforia was pretty darned close to the $15,000+ Golden Gate.
Schiit, Schiit and Salk. Lots of good Schiit here. Schiit's Ragnorak integrated amplifier (1,699) and Schiit Yggdrasil DAC ($2,299) and Salk Song3 ($2,895) speakers were amongst the least expensive systems that had me think... would have bought this and stopped my trek toward nirvana - I'd have said "close enough." So close in performance to systems whose cost will bankrupt most. This system could be an inexpensive starter system that morphs into a "done!" system. By "done!" I mean out of audio stores and off to record stores/downloaded media. I had read about Salk speakers, but hadn't heard them before, but they, too, were good Schiit or is it good s... ?
ATC and Prism Audio DAC/Pre. I recently had the ATC 40A (active) speakers in for review. The 40A with the new tweeter was sweeter sounding than my "pro specification" ATC 20-2a speakers (again, active) at my house. The 40A at my house were somewhat sweet, but not quite beautiful. With the Prism DAC/Pre, I heard some beauty. Funny thing about ATC speakers is that they don't accost you with tons of cleavage between performers and instruments at first blush. They're way more engaging and easy to forget about long term. So, they're not a great experience at a show, but are disarming long term.
Riva. Bluetooth speaker, small guy $249, bigger guy $299. Each smaller than a box of tissues! Very nice. Friends who want "no foot print" from their stereo should consider these. Virtually no financial footprint, very small space demands, buy and forget.
There were other worthy systems, but... I can't remember them as I write. And, I never intended to provide exhaustive coverage—this is more like exhausted coverage from too much real life work for me. Surely, this note is insufficient to satisfy anyone. My intention is not to satisfy the insatiable, but to put some crumbs out there for systems that others overlooked. And to share my opinion with people who might value it.
I did not go to any "mega system" rooms. At one time I enjoyed hearing what was possible, but it seems incremental improvement is now coupled to price doubling. Not interested. People in the industry tell me that expensive gear is what's moving right now. Manufacturers have to eat, pay their mortgage and maybe have a bit of fun, so sell to whomever is buying. But, I'm not buckled into the premium ride. My "paltry" $30,000+ home system is already six or seven time more than I ever intended to spend when I went looking for a stereo. Cheers.