July 3, 2014

T.H.E. Show Newport 2014



By Zach Galarza ~

Four years ago, a gentlemen by the name of Richard Beers started The Home Entertainment show in sunny Southern California. It has evolved into the best-attended high-end audio show in North America (6,700 attendees est. & 400 exhibitors). In addition to the audio exhibits, T.H.E. Show offers seminars hosted by iconic industry leaders on various audio related topics. Simultaneously, there is a car, cigar and wine show, providing residents of Southern California with the opportunity to experience a wide range of products. T.H.E. Show has risen to be a must attend event for many audiophiles and music lovers alike. Its success can be attributed to bringing the experience of a private industry show such as the Consumer Electronic Show (Las Vegas) to the public. The atmosphere that has now become synonymous with T.H.E Show is one of relaxation, music enjoyment, community, wonderful weather, and manufacturers meeting directly with the end consumer.

T.H.E. Show uses two venues, the Hilton and Atrium Hotels, located across from John Wayne Airport in Irvine California. Exhibiting manufacturers dealers and distributers often choose to debut key products for attendees to experience firsthand. T.H.E. Show is primarily a high-end audio event, although some manufacturers also showcase home theater setups. This year, MBL showcased a full surround sound system complete with a theater sized projector. T.H.E. Show is run by a fantastic crew of enthusiastic people, lead by CEO and Founder, Richard Beers.

Each year since its inauguration, T.H.E. Show has seen improvement in all areas of attendance including local dealers. This year, impressive dealer rooms were plentiful. A notable mention was Audio Element from Pasadena, CA, headed by Brian Berdan (who has a fantastic store in Old Town Pasadena). Other dealer rooms worth noting were Sunny’s Components, Inc. (Covina, CA), Brooks Berdan Ltd. (Monrovia), Scott Walker audio (Anaheim), and Audio Summa (San Pedro). Record companies and music distributers also attend the show. The Hilton ballroom is home to booths from various manufacturers of physical media. Examples include Reference Recordings, AIX Records, MA Recordings and Elusive Disc. At the Atrium hotel, the Hibiscus Poolside room is home to Record Collector booths. Another great characteristic of T.H.E. Show, records and CDs (including many hi-res recordings) are available for purchase.

This year’s show saw new companies showcasing their products. For example, Polymer Audio Research showed their new MKS loudspeaker ($60k), featuring a pure diamond tweeter and midrange drivers, along with aluminum cabinet construction. The rest of the system was comprised of FM Acoustics 115 mono-block amplifiers, 245 Pre-amplifier, a Thrax Maximinus DAC, Jason Audio transport and a Krolo Design rack. This room, had one of the more severe acoustical challenges in that two of the four walls that made up their space were false. Through careful integration of absorbers, diffusers, curtains and carpets they were able to pull-off a presentation that well exceeded expectations given the room’s limitations. The MKS loudspeakers had a fantastic rendering of instruments on the soundstage, as well as great transient attack. This was impressive, considering the acoustic hurdle Daniel Khesin (Polymer Audio Designer) had overcome.

Every year at T.H.E. Show, many prominent manufacturers display their most iconic, esoteric products. This year’s examples include, MBL (Germany), Perfect8 (Sweden), Magico (USA), Raidho (Denmark), and Focal (France). I will go into detail on some of them later. Some of these pieces of art, are absolutely astounding to see and hear in person. That’s not to say that affordable products aren’t showcased from various manufacturers as well. That’s a key component of this show — that a whole range of products shown. Not just the esoteric, but the modest, yet compelling as well.

Rooms that stood out to me in terms of sonic presentation and aesthetic appeal, were somewhat short in number, compared to last year’s show. Nevertheless, some rooms did standout. Focal, showcasing their flagship loudspeaker, the Grande Utopia EM ($195k) along with a whole slew of Boulder components (Inc. 2050 mono-amplifiers $59k, 2010 Pre-amp $36k, and 1021 CD-Player $24k) really did have the “wow” factor that this system demands and expects. During my visit, Rich Maez (Director of Sales & Marketing for Boulder Amplifiers, Inc.) was playing musical passages at concert volume levels. The system had a great sense of scale and dynamic swing, rendered with delicacy and poise. If I was to point out what the system lacked, I would say that soundstage depth was a bit compressed. This however would be leaning towards acoustical issues of the room, rather than a system flaw.

Another room that stood-out was the Raidho and Hegel room in the Hilton. Hegel (Norway) and Raidho acoustics (Denmark) partnered up for the show to exhibit an excellent system for the public to experience. The system comprised of Raidho X1 loudspeakers ($6400) and Hegel H300 integrated amp ($5500). The source was a MacBook Air streaming music to the system via a software (only available in Europe to date) called WIMP. The system had a fantastic sense of space and scale. High-frequencies were silky smooth with great detail, due to Raidho’s fantastic ribbon tweeter. The soundstage was also well represented with strong three dimensional presentation. The downside was, due to room acoustics (& the natural frequency limitations of the woofer), low frequency reproduction was less than satisfactory, exhibiting some uncontrolled booming.

An absolute statement system was presented by Perfect8, a bespoke loudspeaker manufacturer from Sweden. They were showcasing “The Force” loudspeaker, comprised of two glass towers with a custom ribbon tweeter and eight midrange drivers in each, along with four separate glass woofer cabinets ($350k). In addition to Perfect8’s flagship design, the rest of the system was comprised of Bridge Audio Laboratories (or “BAlabo”) BP-1 MK-II power amplifier ($77,500), BC-1 MK-II Pre-amplifier ($59,500) and a Bergmann (Denmark) Sleipner turntable ($59,592). While expensive, the system was able to portray what is possible, when cost (and space) are no object. The first signature of greatness was the absolute effortlessness of the sound. Seamless coherency between drive units housed in a 3-layer thick glass cabinet that’s bonded with a proprietary laminate to achieve zero resonance. The Force, and associated components were able to reproduce extreme sound-staging and tremendous low frequency reproduction thanks to two separate subwoofer cabinets, housing two custom 12” woofers. In control of the system was beaming CEO of Perfect8, Jons Rantila.

Last, but not least, the EgglestonWorks (USA) room. This loudspeaker manufacturer, from Memphis Tennessee, was showcasing their Emma loudspeaker ($4k). The Emma which is a small tower with a 1” dome tweeter along with two 6” carbon mid/bass cones. A Rogue integrated amplifier, along with a Hegel HD11 DAC, drove the Emma’s to a standout performance. Despite the confines of the room, the system was able to portray music with ease and refinement. Low-frequencies were reproduced with good articulation. The speakers also cast a wide and well defined soundstage placing vocals with good precision & focus on the soundstage.
T.H.E. Show proved to be another success this year. Yes, there were fewer great rooms than in previous years, but in the end, the entire experience is what matters. We are all music lovers, the system is merely the vessel to get us closer to the music we love. After three days of walking the halls, sitting in sweet spots, sifting through records, chatting with fellow music lovers, audiophiles, and industry affiliates. I have to conclude that, this year’s show was worth every moment and I am looking forward to T.H.E Show 2015!


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