This was my first time at Newport Beach. It’s almost half a day’s travelling across nine time zones from London to LA, but strangely there seems to be something oh, so very attractive about visiting a show in Orange County when you are sitting in a country that currently has the all the rain but none of the heat of a rainforest.
I had been told it’s a friendly, well attended show – not Munich well-attended, but neither was it ‘waking up alone after the zombie apocalypse’ empty as some shows seem to be today. And it was certainly friendly, with none of the snobbery or the politics that sometimes adds a sour taste to an otherwise sweet event. The Hotel Irvine is an excellent venue for the exhibition, too.
I’ll definitely be coming back for more!
This time, however, because of the show’s schedule, coming hot on the heels of Munich High-End, I didn’t expect many new products. In fact, there were a few. But here instead I decided to include my personal favourites at the event, in no particular order to match the laid-back mood!
Not every product at the show was about audio. This trio of extraordinarily fine pieces of classic automotive art were there more for eye candy, basking quietly in theSoCal sunshine.
Always one of the best sounding rooms at a show, the combination of Pear Audio turntable and phono stage with GamuT amplifiers and loudspeakers is a sure fire success.
From the famed studio of the same name, Ocean Way Audio showed its $6,000 HR4 two way active monitor with 100° dispersion. Designed for the studio, the Californian company thinks this near-field monitor has a place in the home, too. Judging by the sound it makes, they have a point. It might not be the prettiest loudspeaker at the show, but it’s one that comes with a hell of a studio heritage.
The combination of VPI’s new Avenger turntable and digital files running through an EMM labs DAC, Merrill Audio phono stage, preamp and power amplifiers, and German Physics loudspeakers were making a careful balance between filling a small room with sound, and overdriving it. This was one of the few that got that task mostly right.
Well, it was ‘Orange’ County… The colour-coded French combination of Micromega’s M-One and Focal’s Sopra #2 floorstander was minimalist, sophisticated, cost less than $20,000, and sounded more upbeat than many more expensive systems at the show. This was one of a number of excellent Audio Plus rooms featuring Cambridge, Focal, Naim, and more, but this was the one Audio Plus’ John Bevier was perhaps happiest with… as it was his room!
Always a highlight of any show, the NFS Audio boys rocked up just to play some music, mix some cocktails, and chill out. The initials stand for ‘Not For Sale’, and started when a troupe of audiophiles went to Las Vegas… if that sounds like The Hangover with triodes, you are probably right. A great bunch of guys and they keep the true spirit of good audio alive!
One of the nicest sound amps in one of the nicest sounding rooms… eventually. The Jadis Orchestra Reference integrated amplifier was playing a Roksan Radius turntable and streaming from an unnamed source into Spendor SP3/1R2 standmount loudspeakers. On the first day, it sounded pretty good, but it sounded even better after a quick retube!
It’s the West Coast way; a lot of the rooms sounded very laid-back. A few of them sounded extremely bright. And a few managed to tread the fine line between those two extremes. This Burmester room (complete with matching chrome Thorens turntable) was one of the best, managing to add a bit of energy without ever sounding overbright.
Alongside its final samples of MIT’s Vero headphone break-out tuning boxes, the company showed prototypes of its desktop, battery powered HC-AB-29 Class A/B headphone amp. They were in the open section and using very open backed Audeze headphones so close investigation remains to be heard, but they sound promising…
The David Berning designed ZOTL amplifiers from Linear Tube Audio have been making friends in the headphone world for some time, but at Newport, the company used one of its 40W stereo power amplifiers to show what they can do for stereo, too. The results are impressive!
The Sunny Components room was given over in part to demonstrations of Meridian’s new Ultra DAC, at other times AudioQuest’s new Viagra 7000 power conditioner. It’s real name is Niagra 7000, but given designer Garth Powell’s stamina in demonstrating the conditioner, and what it does to a system, I think the name is apt.
Many shows seem to have adopted the audiophile music vibe, but in SoCal you quickly discover that playing West Coast Jazz and Rock is not simply to make the systems sound good; the audio enthusiasts that visit these shows really know and love those genres, and unlike many places where the choice in music seems ‘bolted on’, here it’s really experience-led. Nevertheless, kudos to Meridian Audio for playing everything from Britney Spears to Metallica through their 800 System. OK, this was to help showcase MQA and its new catalogue, but it was still good to hear something a little out of the ordinary.
The room was always packed, and usually full of some of the younger people at the show. Maybe that says something!