Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CCI at the Newport Beach T.H.E. Show 2013

"I bet you thought you were coming to Newport Beach."

That was sort of the running joke at this year's T.H.E. Show, which has been dubbed "the Newport Beach show" for some time--despite the fact that it's not actually held in Newport Beach. It's actually held at the Hilton and Atrium hotels near John Wayne Airport, whioh means they're actually in Costa Mesa...or Santa Ana, or Irvine. You know, the place where all those cities congeal. I was born and raised in Orange County, so I know the Newport Beach show isn't actually in Newport Beach, but nevertheless many show attendees and exhibitors seemed a bit distressed when they looked out the windows of their show rooms and saw no ocean, no port and no beach.

This was the third annual T.H.E. Show in Newport. Colleen and I missed the first two--we just couldn't fit the show into our schedules in 2011 and 2012. We were told repeatedly that we had made a horrible mistake because the first two shows were reportedly well-attended and lots of fun. Maybe the bloom has come off the rose this year, but the show was merely good--no different than any other show we've attended this year (and we've done five in the first five months of 2013).

The pros of the show were great weather, of course, and well-mannered and well-informed attendees. (On that note, I don't think I've seen so many German cars or Reyn Spooner shirts in one place in all my life.) I also enjoyed the cigar booth in the lobby, and the fact that I could enjoy one of those cigars out by the swimming pool.

The cons, however, centered around the exhibit rooms at the Hilton, where CCI was located. There were no power outlets near the front of the room, where the system needed to be set-up--hence the strange equipment rack configuration you see in these photos. In addition, the floors of the room tended to be either concave or convex, which meant that even when my bird's-eye level said my speakers were sitting flat, my eye-crometer told me that they were actually tilting toward each other. Finally, the rooms were NOISY. The halls were NOISY. The AC unit in the room was NOISY. The walls between the rooms were obviously thin, which meant it was very difficult to audition our equipment in a reasonably quiet environment. We spent most of the show competing with the PBN room across the hall, and those speakers were almost seven feet tall. In other words, we lost that battle.

In the Atrium, where our partner Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio Gallery and our friend Bob Clarke of Profundo were exhibiting new products from Heed, Trenner & Friedl, Viva, Transfiguration, Basis and Cardas Audio, they fared a bit better. The power outlets were located all over the room, the proportions of the room were more complementary to a sound system--despite floors that were far more lumpy and uneven. If we come back next year, I want to be at the Atrium.

Here's a shot of our basic system. We used the Unison Research Giro turntable with arm and UN1 cartridge ($3995 complete), PureAudio Vinyl phono preamplifier ($4500), Unison Research Unico CDE CD player ($4120), Unison Research Sinfonia integrated amplifier ($6495) and the Opera Seconda loudspeakers ($3995/pair). All cabling and power management was from Furutech of Japan. Those of you who read this blog regularly or know me from Facebook have probably already recognized this system as my own. Yup, that's right--that's pretty much what I've had in my listening room over the last year. I do rotate the Trenner & Friedl ART monitors and the My Audio Design Grand MS speakers whenever I can, and the PureAudio Vinyl preamplifiers tend to get sold as soon as they arrive which means I have to use my back-up Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE more than I'd like (it's a wonderful $1000 phono pre but it's NOT the PureAudio). But when it comes to the turntable, arm, cartridge, CD player and amp, those are my daily drivers. And they sounded very nice at the show.

Here's a shot of the Secondas. People at the show dug them in white. Of the four finishes Opera provides (black, white, cherry and mahogany), white used to be ranked choice #4. In the last couple of years, it's now #2. White audio components are HUGE in Europe right now, and getting bigger in Asia. It's getting more and more popular in the USA lately as well.

Here's a pic of the system I stole from Dan Muzquiz. Here you can see the strange set-up, which did prompt some queries from the attendies. We tried to put everything along the side wall, where the power outlets were located, but it sounded terrible. So what you're seeing is the result of power cords being stretched out as far as they would reach so the speakers could fire out from the front wall. I was typically unhappy with the sound on set-up day, but by the time the first attendee walked through our door, the sound was much closer to what I experience every day in my listening room.

Here's a close-up of the Furutech power filter and the power cords. Man, this is gorgeous stuff--beautifully constructed, classy looks and great sound. Most of it was hidden behind the rack in the corner, which was a shame--these cables deserve to be front and center. When Peter Breuninger of A/V Showrooms came into our room to shoot a video, I almost forgot to mention Furutech. When the video is posted, you can hear me scrambling to mention Furutech before he leaves the room.

Colleen and I were trapped in the room for almost all three days. Dan Muzquiz did relieve us for an hour or two, but for the most part I saw very little in other rooms. Fortunately, everyone seemed to come and visit us--including Mat Weisfield of VPI. He was carrying around the revolutionary new VPI 3D tonearm which has been created out of epoxy by a 3D printer. The photo above is of Colleen and Mat, sharing the 3D love. I talked to Mat briefly about a future interview for my Vinyl Anachronist column in Perfect Sound Forever, and he's up for it!

At every trade show, John Atkinson from Stereophile always stops by on the last day about 15 minutes before the show ends. This year he came about three hours early, catching us off-guard. On the first day of the show Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds dropped off some test pressings of new releases, and I spent a big chunk of the show playing Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tin Pan Alley." That's what we played for JA, and I'm pretty sure he dug it--his head and body were swaying from side to side. JA currently has the PureAudio Control preamp and Reference monoblock power amps for review, so he enjoyed a chance to listen to the matching Vinyl phono preamp.

By the way, that's Dave Neilson to JA's left. Dave was one of the two guys who started Splintr Designs, makers of the wonderful Trellis equipment racks we've used at the last few shows. Dave has started a new audio furniture company, Audio Strata, and we hope to use his beautiful new products at the upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Show and at CES 2014. The new racks are quite a bit more advanced than the Trellis racks, using new composite materials.

Finally, I'll wrap it all up with a photo of the PBN Groovemaster turntable from across the hall. These guys offered amazing sound all during the show--even from across the hall. We kidded them a lot about their volume levels, but they had a huge system and they needed to show it off. I spoke with PBN's founder and designer, Peter B. Noerbaek, and he's designed one hell of a beautiful turntable--which sounds great as well.

I'll have a part two to this report in a day or two, where I'll cover the happenings at the Blackbird Audio/Profundo rooms. Lots of good stuff over there, including an amazing new speaker from Trenner & Friedl!

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