As a closer to my California Audio Show coverage, I’m going to tell you a little story about how I broke my own rule.
CAS was really meant to be the cherry on top of a longish vacation. We’d celebrate our anniversary, then take the better part of a week driving down the coast from Oregon to San Francisco. Ocean vistas, redwoods, wine tasting, and twisty coast roads. Some of my favorite things. Topped off, of course, with some high-end stereos at the end of the week. Mal asked if I was ok with combining work and pleasure. I said sure; after all, I wouldn’t be covering the show if I didn’t think it was fun, and anyway, it wasn’t until the end of the week. I made a rule, though: no work until we arrived at the show on Thursday. We weren’t going to spend the whole drive talking about how we were going to divide up the show, or evenings in the hotel studying the exhibitor list. We were going to have a vacation, dammit, and we were going to sing along with the car stereo and call it good enough.
We did pretty well, all things told. Oh, I’m sure there was a certain amount of discussion of the merits of the rental car’s sound system, as well as some debate over what we should look for in our next DAC purchase. That kind of thing. But we both pretty much stuck to our mutual agreement. It all went pear-shaped, however, when we hit Mendocino.
It was all my fault. We had just had a lovely lunch, and decided to take a walk around Mendocino, maybe hit the bookstore and the yarn store. Mendocino is packed to the gills with quaint, just oozing with it, and it’s basically required that one stroll around and get a full dose of whimsy before going off to find a nap or some other vacation-y thing. All was going well until I noticed a sign tacked outside one of the shops. “World’s Best Looking Speakers,” it said. I stopped. I looked at Mal. “Should we?” I asked, and then continued: “I wonder what they’re like? We could take some photos for the website.” He raised his eyebrows at me, and I sheepishly realized that if we were going to break my own rule, he was not going to be the first person to say anything.
We went in, of course; I was just too curious. Walked through a perfume shop, up the stairs, and into the listening room of Art Noveau Speakers, presided over by Keith Brandman. The sound was quite lovely: the drivers are by Seas, and the speakers are 89db sensitive with an advertised 36hz-27khz frequency response. Hooked up to rather indifferent home theater amplification, I found them to have a pleasantly solid mid-range and smooth treble. The real showstopper, though, was the look and construction. Brandman is clearly a talented cabinetmaker, and the Arts & Crafts style of the speaker cabinets was absolutely gorgeous. These are speakers that can either blend seamlessly into the room, or become its focal point. This particular style started at $9,000/pair, but Brandman makes a number of different styles, and does custom work as well.
I wanted to share this story in part because I just love being surprised by something really cool, and Art Noveau Speakers fits that bill. I also share it as an illustration. We go to these shows to see and hear great hi-fi, things we haven’t seen or heard before. It’s true, too, that not even the finest, biggest stereo store is going to hold the sheer variety and quantity that you can hear in one day at even a small show like California Audio Show. But the thing is, just as music’s everywhere, so is this hobby; once you start paying attention, it’ll jump out at you wherever you end up. Sometimes that just means discovering a hole-in-the-wall record store you weren’t expecting; sometimes you find out your neighbor’s been building amp kits in the garage; sometimes you’re on vacation and find gorgeous speakers in the back of a perfume store. So if you can’t make it to CAS, or to T.H.E. Show, or to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, take heart and keep your eyes and ears open: you never know what you’ll find.