September 6, 2017

LAAS Chance for HiFi


By David Thomson

Great music and, admittedly, sometimes not so great music transforms my mood, balances my bias, and engages my spirit.

Add an accurate home audio system and it floats my soul.

When I say, ‘accurate,’ I mean a system of components that portrays the music as the composer/producer meant it to be heard.

Where else to indulge this hedonistic, idiosyncratic, therapeutic habit than the first ever Los Angeles Audio Show (LAAS) held June 2-4 at the Sheraton Gateway near LAX.

Endorsed by the LA&OC Audio Society, LAAS was a true feast for the ears: 5 floors of opinions each proposing that their system accurately depicts the artist’s vision. 

Here we could meet and greet the creators of these exemplary components and/or their informed representatives. Unfortunately, time dictated that we couldn’t indulge in all of it, tho,’ we did our best — with the emphasis, of course, on vinyl and its periphery.

Budgets were vast and varied. In today’s market, MILLION dollar systems are not uncommon. With our ears, and wallets, firmly docked in this hemisphere–rather than the stratosphere–here we present a bundle so sonically pleasing that its contents demanded that we bring it to your attention:

There was an abundance of exceptional values and a few newly anointed accolades. Captain Payne (yes, that’s his given name, not his rank) of Audio Envy achieved coveted success when his laudable audio cables garnered the freshly introduced LAAS ‘Alfie’ Award.

Captain, ecstatic with the award cradled in his arms, commented on the ever-expanding audio cable phenomenon. “With so many companies realizing the need to improve on the cables that the component manufacturers supply, this is indeed an honor to be considered among the best.“

During a casual conversation about cables over coffee, Captain had created enough interest that Josh, at The Natural Sound coil speaker salon, decided to audition the Audio Envy sensibly priced power cord. The sound was so much improved that the salon’s audience jaws dropped. 

Payne then suggested that his $250 speaker cables be compared to the ones they had installed costing almost 20 times more. The very affordable Audio Envy 10 footers are currently coupled to a pair of Natural Sound coil speakers … costing $45,000! Audio Envy, aptly named, indeed! Kudos to The Natural Sound coil speaker crew for giving the inventive audio invader his opportunity. (Look for an in-depth interview with Captain in our next issue).

The Headphone Room is always entertaining as the components in our pockets demand respectable ear gear to deliver the sonics the music deserves. The Grado Labs’ mission is still to deliver a better product for comparable cash of their competitors. Auditioning the phone mic’d iGe or, for a true audiophile experience, the GR8e’s removed no doubt that their price point should scare competitors. Another plus: these earbuds are so comfortable I forgot that I was wearing them.

We’ve always known that Grado has been looking out for the audiophile. To celebrate that, the LA&OC Audio Society will honor John Grado with the society’s Highest Honor, the Founder’s Award, for his ground-breaking contributions to audio at their well-attended annual gala, December 3 at the Holiday Inn in Buena Park, CA.

The ELAC/Audio Alchemy room: Remember when Andrew Jones, by incorporating acoustic principles in speakers he created costing tens of thousands, blew us all away with his introductory 200 buck, Elac bookshelf model? Well, as we knew he eventually would, he has, again, raised the bar to the Debut 5 floor standing rig at $5000 a pair. Don’t
be alarmed, these bad boys compare with speakers at thrice the price.

Also, in the mid-price range, Denver’s Steven Norber, of Prana Fidelity, designs both his electronics and speakers which deliver, as SoCal local Elliot Midwood of Acoustic Image was overheard to state, “… a sound that’s easy to live with.” High praise from the creator of the uber-respected Messenger Pre-Amp. The good news is that Elliot is near completion on his Messenger Mono Blocks which will maximize the compatibility with his pre-amp.

MBL North America Inc. is another company that designs complete systems from speakers to DAC. They got this party started with some Stones, and the like, hi-res outtakes that only they can access. MBL manufactures magnificent audio with an expansive soundstage.

Speaking of soundstage, the Vinnie Rossi, Spacial Speakers, AntiCables room was impressive. Rossi makes simple, small footprint electronic components with an emphasis on warm, delicate detail. Combine that with a pair of Spacial’s X1 “Uniwave” loudspeakers and you’ve invested about $25k. For my ears, this was most seamless, spacious soundstage, for the money, that I heard. And, interestingly enough, it was all linked together with another economical cable value, AntiCables. Designer Paul Speltz has another no-nonsense approach to audio cables that will bear further investigation in RCN’s next issue. 

Interestingly, I wasn’t the only one who was impressed by the overall sonics of this system. An anonymous buyer bought the whole package and had it installed by the designers in his home at the conclusion of the show.

Brian Berdan of Audio Element in Pasadena, had the counterculture sucked into his salon by blasting Zeppelin, Tool, and the like thru the Wilson Yvettes. This also demonstrated that VTL Electronics are easily up to the task of hard core rock.

Bea Manley, the “ears “ of VTL, was spared the onslaught as she was safely sequestered in their salon while entertaining the convention’s more conservative audiophile demographic with a more sedate playlist.

In both the Brooks Berdan and The Audiophile Zone’s rooms, Jadis tube power amplifiers made an impression. Seems like a lot of amp for the buck. Gary Katayama, in the Audiophile Zone — formerly Affordable Audio — was also pleased to demo the new Spendor 3/1 speakers, so new in fact, the price hadn’t been determined. The 3/1s are jam packed with innovative Spendor proprietary technology. The well-respected Wywires cables completed the connection.

The Transrotor Turntable was spinning Dean Martin crooning with a quartet featuring Barney Kessel on guitar. Dream with Dean, a 45-rpm reissue from Chad at Acoustic Sounds had me doing just that. Sitting center stage, seduced by the sultry sound of the Spendors, I was transported back to my childhood. The soothing crooning transformed my original experience when I poo-pooed my “parent’s music.” Today, I was transcended. (Matured? Hopefully, not too much). Who knew that the dreamy music was also recorded soooo well? Acoustic Sounds did. Where is Chad? I need this record.

At the very hi-end, Randy, of Optimal Enchantment in Santa Monica, was representing the updated Vandersteen’s Model 7 MK II with the System 9 subs with built in amps. Audio Research REF 10 electronics powered the Basis Audio Transcendence turntable with the super arm. 

As I passed in the hallway I was lassoed into the room by the sound of a live orchestra or, so I thought; It was another 45: Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition. Silently, sneaking into the only empty chair in one of the rows, the sonic spread was like being present in Disney Hall; Complete immersion. Guess who had released the vinyl? Acoustic Sounds! I heading back downstairs to the vinyl vendor room. Chad was away either receiving or delivering an award somewhere. His amiable assistant Amos is getting to know me now.

Dan Meinwald, in the always entertaining EAR USA room, introduced us to the new Helius Phaedra tone arm, and me, to the spellbinding, original Riverside pressing of Stratusphunk by the George Russell Quintet. I couldn’t find that platter, or the OJC reissue, anywhere. Are you listening Chad?

It would also be remiss not to address the improvement on DSD music file reproduction. is offering a $20 discount. Use coupon code LAAS1720 to receive yours. Acoustic Sounds has superb DSD files available, too.

It was mentioned earlier that there were other awards distributed; The Yarra 3DX sound bar was also received an “Alfie” for its immersive 3D audio without headphones component. It connects via Bluetooth to your computer, phone, TV, etc., and truly enhances the aural experience at a very low price point.

Another accolade is in order: Marine Presson, the LAAS producer, and her ever-smiling team. Managing an inaugural hi-end extravaganza of this magnitude is not for the timid or faint of heart. Catering to the predetermined audio idiosyncrasies of self-confessed perfectionists deserves an Alfie Award framed in gold!

Lastly, being Record Collector News, our primary purpose is to support the vinyl revolution — pun intended — yet, let’s not lose sight of the essence of it all; the musicians and their music.

See you at LAAS next year.


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