Early June marked the arrival of the second annual Home Entertainment Show, also known as T.H.E. Show, at the Hilton Tower in Newport Beach. Last year, the show made a few waves, but now, in its second year, it seems T.H.E. Show has begun to hit its stride, as attendance and excitement seemed to be up. I went on Saturday and got there early to find a rather large crowd already forming. I also discovered that, in only its second year, T.H.E. Show had grown, spreading its wings to an adjacent hotel where it occupied three floors. Is T.H.E. Show poised to become Southern California's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest? Perhaps - it sure seems like it could happen. For the time being, it's the better of the two venues T.H.E. Show calls home, with Las Vegas' Flamingo hotel being its second.
Despite being short for The Home Entertainment Show, T.H.E. Show is pretty much an audiophile affair, as there were only two home theater-esque displays that I came across: MartinLogan with their new soundbar and, surprisingly McIntosh, who for some reason was promoting Wolf Cinema along with their own wares. The other thing that I noticed about T.H.E. Show was that a lot of the manufacturers were being represented by their local dealers, rather than participating themselves. This no doubt helps keep costs down while promoting local dealers, but it also means T.H.E. Show isn't the venue for new product launches. The flipside to this approach, however, is that T.H.E. Show is open to the general public, meaning many enthusiasts will get to hear products like Wisdom Audio's LS4, or Legacy's Whisper XD for the first (perhaps only) time. Still, that didn't stop me from taking a few notes and pictures of a couple of standout rooms that were open to the public at this year's T.H.E. Show. Please note: for those who were missed (we looked for you, Wendell), there was no way to see and hear everything in every room in one day. T.H.E. Show was big, as were the crowds. Unlike at CES or CEDIA, a press badge doesn't part the seas at a consumer show when people are getting groovy with some exotic tube amps.
Legacy Audio was demoing a variety of speakers, including the massive Whisper XD floor-standing loudspeakers. However, it was Legacy's newer Signature SE that was getting the lion's share of attention. I walked in midway through a demo of the Signature SEs and it was standing room only. Clearly, Legacy has struck a chord with consumers with the unveiling of the Signature SE. From my vantage point, the Signature SEs sounded quite good and, despite being far off-axis, the dispersion was impressive, as I still was treated to stereo imaging. We'll be having a full feature review of these speakers soon, so be sure to stay tuned.
Wisdom Audio made the trip to Newport with a pair of their reference statement LS4s in tow, powered by a stack of Burmester electronics. I've heard the LS4s before, so there isn't much new to report, except to say that I just love listening to them. For consumers, getting to hear the LS4s was a new thing. The LS4s hung in there nicely with the big Wilsons, Rockports, Focals, MartinLogans, MBLs and other reference speakers on display for consumers to experience.
Kimber Kable had their usual static wall of cables on display. However, they took things a step further by also having an isoMike demo going down in the next room. isoMike, for those who may not be aware, is Kimber's proprietary multi-channel recording technique, whereby they capture four-channel surround sound via a custom-built microphone and then later write said sound or performance to SACD, free of compression, filtering, etc. While I generally don't like a lot of the music that finds its way onto the available multi-channel audio formats, I have to admit that few, if any, sound better than Kimber's isoMike recordings. They were selling discs at the show, and I understand they can be purchased online as well. The isoMike demo consisted of Sony's new flagship speakers and a host of Pass Labs amplifiers, both of which seemed to compliment each other quite well. Then again, when doesn't Pass Labs sound good on speakers?
Headphones, Headphones and More Headphones
Everywhere I turned, I could find headphones at T.H.E. Show, leading me to believe that the next frontier for audiophiles may not be the living room but their own heads. Everyone who could was displaying headphones and/or devices designed to enhance the headphone experience and, judging by the sheer volume of people "ponying up to the bar" for a listen, you could make the argument that headphones were the story of T.H.E. Show. Hell, I watched a guy pop for a $1,000 pair based on a sixty-second demo. How often does that happen with a pair of Wilson Sasha W/Ps? Not nearly as often at $28,000 per pair.
MBL was possibly the most surprising and satisfying experience I had at the show. This was not because MBL is another of my lust-worthy products or that I'm biased to that type of sound. They earned points with me because they were playing real music. You know, the type of music we actually listen to when NOT trying to appeal to our audiophile friends or senses. Oh, and MBL was playing said music loud, another no-no at trade shows. I walked into a demo of Tool being played back at around 105dB and, from the
moment I stepped foot into the small suite, I was grinning from ear to ear. Not only did it sound good, I wanted to hang around, because for once, I could actually identify and compare and contrast what I was hearing with what I have in my own home. Novel idea - other manufacturers, take note.
Audio Research was demoing their latest flagship monos with their Fortieth Anniversary preamp and digital music player via a pair of Vandersteens, which sounded very good. As with MBL, I was also able to compare and contrast their system to my own thanks to their choice in music, which was Diana Krall's Live in Paris, though I must give MBL more credit, for Tool is an outright ballsy move. Still, the combo between Audio Research and Vandersteen was one of the highlights of my time at T.H.E. Show.
Zu Audio threw convention into the dirt again by playing back sweet, sweet music via a myriad of affordable components, all of which were set on the floor. With nary a room treatment in sight, nor any bloated audiophile snake oil like the small ceramic cups that seemed to be stuck all over everyone's walls, Zu's Sean Casey was more interested in fun. Judging by my face and the faces of the other listeners in attendance, I'd say it was mission accomplished.
That's all I have to say about that. In room 425 of the Hilton, you could listen to some truly Schiit Audio. I kid. Inside was a host of some pretty innovative headphone amps that you had to wait in line to hear. Clearly, they weren't schiitty.
Read more about T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2012 on Page 2.
Rockport Speakers and Nordost
Rockport speakers are a quiet
alternative to the Bowers & Wilkins, Wilsons and Magicos of the
world. They were making a fine sound at T.H.E. Show, using Nordost
cables. The room was jam-packed with people with big smiles on their
faces. That's a good sign.
Magico needed a bigger room, as they have a lot of buzz for their high-end speakers. Their small room was literally packed with people listening to their new S5 speakers,
which sounded fantastic as they always do, dynamic, crisp and tight.
They showed more speakers in flat black paint, but they can paint them
in car colors if you like.
Wyred 4 Sound
W4S had a few
prototypes on static display, most of which were variations on the
small DAC headphone amp craze. All will be affordably priced, sold
direct and should be available very, very soon. The mINT integrated amp
was also on static display, which we'll be getting in for review very
soon. T.H.E Show offers a chance for people to hear a brand like Wyred 4
Sound in ways that an Internet direct brand (mostly) can't provide.
Are You Kidding Me Audio
not the real name of the company in question, but I was so floored by
their seemingly complete disregard for today's economic climate that I
couldn't write anything down except, "Are you kidding me?" The company,
who has no dealers, nor any sales channel at present, online or
otherwise, was attempting to sell a pair of electrostatic loudspeakers
connected to a pair of Definitive Technology Super Towers (as bass
backfill drivers?), a four-pack of mono amplifiers, two-channel preamp
and, of course, a reel to reel player. Total system price, minus the
reel to reel player and Def Tech speakers? $100,000 to start - no Def
Techs, no amps, preamps, cables, etc. The reel to reel player was an
additional $30,000 if memory serves me, which lead me to proclaim,
again, "Are you kidding me?"
Brooks Berdan LTD
the late, great Brooks Berdan wasn't in attendance this year, his
reputation for excellence was, as carried on by his dedicated staff and
loving son, with their two rooms possessing some of the sweetest sound
of the show. Like Legacy Audio's demo on the main floor, Brooks Berdan
LTD's rooms were also standing room only. Brooks would be proud and
Wilson fans were drooling at the excellent sound that was being made.
broke out the big guns, bringing along a pair of Stella Utopia EMs
being driven by a pair of Devialet integrated amps, configured in mono,
with the source duties falling to an iPad and AirPlay. The combo sounded
wonderful and made a really strong case for a speaker-first approach to
system building, provided you have enough money to put a pair of Stella
Utopia EMs on the shopping list. Regardless, the system sounded good
and those with the best seats weren't giving them up readily.
Vinyl, Vinyl, Vinyl ...
you like LPs, T.H.E. Show is the place for you. There was many a room
loaded with $50 new pressings of 180-gram records, as well as SACDs,
DVD-Audio discs and more. Used vinyl was on sale from all sorts of
companies, including Amoeba Music, which was bringing new batches every
day. Some people were selling 45 RPM records. If you collect vinyl, this
was a good place to hunt for goodies.
• Read more original commentary in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more industry trade news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Check out our CES 2012 Show Coverage.
• Explore our show coverage of CEDIA 2011.