As Robert Harley suggested in TAS 214, regional audio shows in the age of the Internet are quickly supplanting a dwindling number of local dealers as places where consumers can actually listen to components. Sponsored jointly by several magazines, including this one, and organized by the Orange County and Los Angeles Audio Society, T.H.E. Show Newport, this past 3‑5 June, was the first of an intended annual event, thus gladdening the hearts of audiophiles like myself who live in Southern California. Apposite to its locale, it was a relaxed, convivial, almost familial affair, especially by comparison to the ever‑expanding Consumer Electronics Show of our neighbor to the northeast (though attendance was similarly distinctly skewed toward an older, mostly male demographic). Unlike CES, the exhibitions here were mostly dealer oriented with several brands and products featured in each, which my report reflects. Before specifics, three general observations: First, perhaps owing to the small rooms at the Newport Hilton, I heard very few exhibitions without serious bottom‑end anomalies and discontinuities. Second, analog, specifically vinyl, was omnipresent, rare the room that didn’t feature a high‑end turntable. Third, I noticed few new products, new, that is, since CES.
Audio Revelations, in tandem with Philip O’Hanlon’s On a Higher Note, featured the Vivid Giya2 speakers ($50k/pr.), driven by Luxman electronics and a Brinkmann Oasis direct-drive turntable ($13.4k) playing a 45rpm German pressing of Lou Reed singing “A Walk on the Wild Side”—eye-poppingly lifelike and, well, vivid. Always an oasis of musicality, the Fidelis Room, shared by Gene Rubin Audio and Venice Audio, featured an integrated turntable by Palmer Audio ($9k): lovely sound here, delivered by Harbeth Compact 7ES3s. Among several striking turntables, I was impressed by Hanns’s T‑60 ($7k ‘table only), with its 43‑pound platter, due chez moi for a forthcoming review; the Townshend Rock 7 ($3.2k w/o arm), beloved of REG and sounding superb in EAR’s Dan Meinwald’s room, over Marten’s Coltrane exceptionally clean, transparent speakers ($70k/pr) and di Paravicini electronics; and A.J. Conti’s magnificent Inspiration ($47k), in Randall Cooley’s Optimal Enchantment room, playing through Vandersteen Model 5 A Carbon ($24k/pr) and Audio Research electronics, with notably seductive reproduction of vintage vinyl.
The Townshend Rock 7 turntable as part of the E.A.R./Marten exhibit.
Unquestionably some of the most neutral, natural, and authentically dynamic (as opposed to hyped) reproduction was to be heard in Ray Kimber’s room, where Sony’s new flagship the SS‑AR1 ($27k/pr) essayed my trusty Bernstein Carmen with an ease and authority such as I have rarely heard it rendered. “This is seriously, seriously good,” I told REG afterward (hardly surprised he, given his enthusiastic review in issue 214). Sunny Components featured a pair of Wilson Sashas ($27k/pr.), meticulously set up by Peter McGrath and playing Peter’s own glorious master recordings: in the opening of Mahler’s Fifth, Tilson Thomas conducting Miami’s New World Symphony, the rendition of the sheer size and scale of a Mahlerian orchestra were in a class of their own. Third in the orchestral sweepstakes, Tim Ryan’s SimpliFiAudio room, Gradient Revolutions, with the active Gradient subwoofers and DSP to correct the bass, presented the most accurate replication of a full orchestra with respect to timbral accuracy and tonal weight, and it was certainly no sluggard in the dynamics department, if without the Wilsons’ scale and jaw‑dropping slam. But Ryan’s room had among the truest, most accurate bass at the show.
The DSP'd Gradient Revolution produced one of the show's best orchestral sounds.
As most readers know, I’m an electrostatic man, so I was happy to find three ‘stats at the show that I liked. Digital Ear featured the smallest Martin Logan, the ElectroMotion‑ESL, retailing for $2k/pair (yes, two grand—no misprint) and acquitting itself startlingly well, even right next to its larger sibling the Summit X. The necessity to place the speakers rather close to the wall resulted in a certain thickening around the highish crossover (500Hz) that I suspect would be ameliorated in a typical installation. But the speaker that really knocked this ‘stat veteran for a loop was the Sanders Sound Systems Model 10c ($13k/pr., including crossover and a Sanders amplifier for the integral woofer). Harry Pearson already gave it a rave preview (TAS 203), which I heartily second. The 10c is without question the most coherent ‘stat/subwoofer hybrid (perhaps because the latter are transmission lines?) in my experience, and the reproduction evinced the lowest coloration and the highest coherence I heard at the show, in addition to being superbly neutral, natural, and transparent. I couldn’t audition any of my usual sources, as the exhibition was set up for a hard‑drive selection only. But I returned twice times and left more impressed after each one. Best of the show? The Sony and Gradient rooms were tempting, but in the end Sanders gets my vote.