2015 Newport HE Show



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The fifth anniversary of The Home Entertainment Show (T.H.E. Show) Newport Beach was held at a new venue, The Hotel Irvine. And what a venue it was. The listening rooms were the best I have heard. The sleeping rooms were spacious and attractive. Hotel amenities were excellent. The entire space at the hotel was given over to the show madness and the hotel staff seemed nonplussed. Universally they were the friendliest, most helpful, and most upbeat staff I have ever encountered.


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I did not check out the auto show, wine tasting, and cigars (yuck!) portions of the show but many did. There was live entertainment (ten different performers) both poolside and in the lounge during the late afternoon and evening hours. 

The mood was very upbeat. For me the show attendees seemed to be high energy, as expected, but at the same time calm. I attribute a lot of that to the spaciousness of the facility and the distribution of 165 exhibit rooms (plus T.H.E. Headphonium and T.H.E. Marketplace) over nine floors. I loved the wide hallways that alleviated crowding and made it easy to conduct business outside of the listening rooms. No more black-and-blue spots from trying to navigate the narrow hallways of the Las Vegas Venetian. I do not think I will ever return to CES and I won’t miss it one little bit.

As a one-man-dynamo trying to cover the entire show solo I did not have time to listen to every room nor wait for the sweet spot to become available. But those times I was able to do so my observations were the new listening rooms were refreshingly free of slap echo and the harshness generally associated with hotel rooms. Bass control in the rooms was also much better with few booming systems. On the negative side, I often noted a lack of cohesiveness and poor imaging that I attributed to speakers being too far apart. This was especially true when they were in conference rooms or placed on the long wall in converted sleeping rooms.

I am a fanatic about imaging and cohesiveness (Quad-brained) and often felt I was listening to two speakers making sounds but not making music together. I wanted to get up and slide the speakers closer together. Much of that could have been helped by a little more distance between the speakers and the listeners but that was generally not available. Perhaps exhibitors were trying to create the widest possible good listening area and ended up creating no good spot. The plus side of the rooms is I found fewer than usual offensive or harsh. As I tried to photograph entire systems I was painfully aware that the speakers seemed farther apart than typical home installations. Even though I already felt the room performance was better than I have heard at other shows, I expect improvements in the future as exhibitors become familiar with their new surroundings.

 

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Show stopper:

For $5,000 you can buy a power cord or this great performing system. Clayton Shaw has hit it out of the park with his latest offering that debuted at T.H.E. Show, the Spatial Audio Hologram M3 ($1500 add $150 for white). Paired with the Red Dragon Audio S500 amplifier ($1999) and AntiCables (USB, XLR, speaker cable and power cord $1500) it bested many rooms costing large multiples. For icing you can add the Spiritual Audio VX-6 power conditioner ($1200) that was in use. The source was a MacBook Pro laptop.

Clayton and his room partners are all working hard to keep good performance affordable. Clayton is sensitive to the fact that speaker choice angst and budget-busting pain is just as real, and maybe more so, for someone spending $1500 as it is for someone spending 10 or 100 times as much. IMO the Hologram M3 is a smashing success. I revisited the room three times after my initial visit. I had to convince myself the M3s were as good as my initial impression. They were and that is why I am happy to give them some ink (or is it bits?) here. I wish I could have heard them with my demo disk. That would have convinced me more quickly. In a show filled with excess, it was a pleasure to hear success at such a modest cost.

The Hologram M3s have two 15 inch mid/woofers and one wide bandwidth compression driver. Frequency Response is 32Hz –20KHz +/- 3dB (in room response) with a 94 dB sensitivity and a 4 Ohm nominal (3 Ohm minimum) impedance. With dimensions of 42”H X 20”W X 12”D, the speakers were attractive and did not dominate the room. Made in the U.S.A and sold factory-direct with a 20-year limited warranty.
 

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Great news about a company that is older than I am. Being a proud owner of Quad ESL-2805s it gives me pleasure to report that MoFi Distribution is now responsible forsales and service for Quad in the United States. Quad had been without representation in North America for several years. MoFi Distribution will provide parts and service for current and some legacy Quad products.Warranty repairs will be handled at their Chicago facility. MoFi Distribution is currently establishing two or three facilities for out-of-warranty service. Any Quad owner needing assistance is encouraged to contact MoFi directly for referral to an appropriate service facility. The International Audio Group (IAG) which purchased Quad and Wharfedale in 1997 is currently working to establish distribution and service In Canada as well.

Call me jaded, call me spoiled, call me deaf but my personal Quad set up beats most systems I heard at the show. It’s that damn imaging/cohesiveness thing again. The list of competition gets very small when total system affordability is considered. The Quad ESL-2812 model exhibited at the show is $11,999 a pair. A brand does not survive decades without having something special to offer. Long live Quad!
 

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Very few rooms stood out for me at the show. Admittedly I deliberately ignored the uber-expensive rooms. In the past I was rarely impressed by their performance even when I ignored placing any judgement on value for the money. I have always been impressed more by manufacturers who can make me smile and do it at an affordable price. Steven Norber of PranaFidelity has consistently made me smile. I can’t say this was the best sound at the show because I missed so much. I can say this was my favorite room. The PranaFidelity Vayu/fs 2-way quasi-line array speakers ($6,950), shown here in mahogany, can be tuned to the room or music via an adjustable port and rear switches. I was able to listen to many of my test tracks and was always impressed. In a show filled with speakers that were boxes with music trapped inside, the Vayu/fs speakers set themselves apart by disappearing.

The Vayu f/s has a frequency response of 29 Hz - 22 kHz with a sensitivity of 89.5 dB and a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms. They are 47.5”H X 10”W and 19”D with a weight of 94 pounds. The preamplifier used was the PranaFidelityPurna ($4500 - $9950 depending on options) with the companion Purna amplifier ($8950). Analog was supplied by a Basis Audio 2200 Signature turntable and an Ampex ATR-102 tape deck. The digital source was a Luxman D-06u. Cabling was from KubalaSosna.
 

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Another speaker that did a good job of getting out of its way was the Rockport Avior ($37,500/pair) coupled with Balanced Audio Technology electronics.  I visited the room several times and was able to play many of my test tracks on Thursday, the industry-only preview day. Bass performance was solid and tight. High frequency performance was airy and transparent lending to a spacious soundstage. The Aviors employ carbon fiber sandwich composite drivers for the midrange (1x6”) and woofers (2x9”). The tweeter is a 1” beryllium dome. Their frequency rating is 20Hz-30 kHz. 46.5”H X 15”W X 24.5”D they weigh 220 pounds each.

I also have to give kudos to the MBL room. This show was the only time I was able to enjoy an MBL setup because the volume was not ear-destroying loud. Obviously not a box speaker, it has a well-deserved reputation for a fantastic spacious sound stage. I apologize for no picture. I found the room after hours while my camera was in its room taking a nap. But it sounded too good to not deserve a mention.



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Talk about speakers that disappear - try camouflage. The wireless planter speakers by Madison Fielding are a unique offering for outdoor entertainment. They are available in several styles and sizes. The Piermont ($6000/pair), a new model, caught attention inside while the Flagstone ($3495/pair) entertained guests on the patio during T.H.E. Show. Amplification was by Questyle.

I am obviously not the only one who eschews boxes. I do not remember ever seeing so many open baffle speakers in residence. Yes, yes, yes!  Please sir, may I have some more.



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Did I say long live Quad or long-lived Quads? The Robyatt Audio room featured a pair of ESL-57s beautifully restored by Kent McCollum of Electrostatic Solutions in Kansas City, Missouri. Showing that Quads are timeless, they were paired with a very recent design, ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino self-biased electrostatic super tweeters on the even more-recently designed, ENIGMAcoustics stands. Being a man ahead of his time, I reviewed the Sopraninos on homemade stands. (reviewed here) I was one of the first, if not the first, to hear how well the Sopraninos mated with Quads. The Sopraninos are still adding presence and a more spacious top end to my personal system. Robyatt Audio was presenting the world premiere of the Miyajima Labs Madake stereo phono cartridge featuring a patented bamboo cantilever.

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Of the many rooms I happened to see (but not hear), I did happen to take take photos of. I hope you enjoy these as I found them most fascinating (even if just to look at).  

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Don Shaulis 

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