Newport 2015

Newport 2015: That’s a wrap


THEShow_LOGO2015The Car of Life can go awfully fast, and I often find myself blinking and missing another precious turnoff, and subsequently, another moment to spend time with those who matter to me. Those turnoffs on the road I travel – with a group of select others that I can call my family and friends – are where most of the truly memorable events occur in my little corner of the world, but thanks to Part-Time Audiophile and my fellow Audio Travelers, my little corner is getting bigger, and much better.

Looking back in the rear view at my time spent covering T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach this year, I can’t help but echo some of my initial impressions in my show opener; that the experience was going to be more about the people involved with hi-fi than the gear itself.

In the end it turned out to be almost equal parts.

Some of the most memorable moments involved the most memorable people, albeit memorable people who have incredible taste in music and the ability to build incredibly holistic and synergistic sound systems that just sing.

A couple of examples include Danny Kaey of Sonic Flare, who basically brought his living room to share with listeners at the Show. The combination of Wilson Audio speakers, Einstein amps and preamps, Brinkmann turntable and Transfiguration cartridge was close to unbeatable for its sound. But it was Kaey himself, his casual demeanor, his easy smile and quick laugh that made you feel welcome immediately, and his experience at presenting music in an effortless and completely natural-sounding system was apparent to anyone who heard his kit.

Likewise for David Cope and Warren Jarrett of SM Audio in the Audio Note UK room. These two gentlemen went out of their way to make their space not only sound incredible (without acoustic treatments or excuses for it being a hotel room), but stripped away any and all pretension that some may associate with hi fi and high-end audio in particular with their good-natured joking and incredible selection of vinyl.

Jon Derda from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and his hospitality will not soon be forgotten, and chilling out with him and John Darko while we sipped 12-year-old Taketsuru single-malt whiskey from Japan, distilled the essence of what got me into hi-fi to begin with: sharing time and music with others. It started with my father, and continues now with my children, and listening to Koetsu cartridges and Avid turntables with Derda and Darko, while we all smirked at the beauty of our situation, carries on that tradition of sharing.

Other Show standouts for me were Covenant Audio‘s rooms, particularly the Technical Brain and Silverline room featuring a modified Stellavox 5i-KC tape deck. Richard Brown of Open Reel Hardware & Software and Kenny Gunlock of Covenant audio made me absolutely squirm I was so uncomfortable with their setup; because I knew was completely screwed as soon as I heard the Stellavox and would now need to buy one (one thing at a time, turntable upgrade first Rafe).

The sound of great tape was the single-biggest impact for me out of Newport, so I’m giving Covenant the nod for Best Sound I heard at T.H.E. Show.

Listening to the Stellavox silently spin the hotel room back into time as an Impulse session from 1963 of Count Basie and the Kansas City 7 played was other worldly – spooky – and then hearing a 1/4″ tape from what I believe Brown said was a dupe of a remaster of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” flicked a switch deep inside my mind and soul. Those sounds changed me, a subtle change no doubt, but not one that can be unchanged.

High Water Sound‘s room featuring the Miyajima Labs cartridges was another revelatory moment for me. The power of a true mono cartridge is something that must be experienced firsthand to truly understand and comprehend the amazing insight one can provide into mono recordings – particularly early jazz mono recordings – and I can’t recommend tracking down a Miyajima mono cart strongly enough if early jazz is your jam.

Other standouts for me included Tom Vu’s incredible, cathedral-like, altar-to-vinyl Triangle Art Ultimate LE turntable room, featuring the awe-inspiring NAT Magnetic Status pre-amp and mono blocks with the thermos-sized M100 tubes lighting up the entire room, and the incredibly tactile-sounding and musical Audio Federation room with its Audio Note UK digital front end and Acapella Atlas speakers.
Anton and Mike in the NFS (Not For Sale) room were another perfect example of how great people make audio. These gentlemen didn’t have a interconnect cable between the two of them to flog, but they did have one of the most inviting, friendly and groovy rooms at Newport Beach where the tired masses in the know (wink, wink), would come to wash away the day’s audio grit with cold beers, rum and Coke and delicious vinyl spinning on a retro system that sounded like Anton and Mike: non-fatiguing, unforced and coherent.

A look back has to include my partner in audio-writing crime – Malachi Kenney – a man whose ears are so finely tuned that he can literally hear VTA issues on a cart in five seconds. I learned a tremendous amount from Mal on the trip, and the bond we forged over cigarettes, beer and the relentless drumbeat of hitting room after room will always be a fond memory for me and one I hope to repeat with him again soon.

A shout out to Colleen Cardas for her friendship and grace and of course her soul mate and Vinyl Anachronist Marc Phillips, two highly recommended people to spend time with if you see them at the next big trade show.

And I can’t emphasize enough the sheer size of a show like Newport. There is so much to see and do, the main floor salons at the Irvine Hotel could take up two days alone if you were hunting for rare vinyl, wanted to listen to some of Bob Sattin’s step-up transformers, or take in the car audio demonstrations, and don’t even get me started on the headphone area, which swallowed Malachi whole for almost an entire day.

So, now that I’m back on the road, I’ve got my eyes once again firmly planted on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to my next chance to write from the show floor, and to all the turnoffs I can pull into for a spell, to sit down and hear what’s spinning on the turntable next. That’s where the memories happen. Until then ….

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Zu Audio


THEShow_LOGO2015Zu Audio is a serious tribe of ‘philes out of Ogden, Utah led by founder Sean Casey on a sustained campaign to keep hi-fi firmly in the hands of those passionate about the pursuit of engaging, lifelike and musical sound.

To quote Sean:

“When an innovation and tangible products-based company loses its “hands-on” connection with the thing it makes – choosing to maximize margin instead of product performance – originality is lost and the product debased.”

An ethos I wholeheartedly ascribe to.

Zu make lovely, highly-regarded, hand-built speakers, cables and modified phono cartridges (Zu Denon DL-103 anyone?).

Their high-efficiency speaker designs like the Zu Omen MK II have always made me picture myself kicking back in a chair, relaxing and hearing them paired with a flea-powered SET amp being fed some delicious, acoustic instrument-based vinyl.

That didn’t happen on Saturday night of T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach this year.

There was no sitting down, relaxing or acoustic music happening when I showed up, instead I had the smokey rasp of Malachi Kenney’s voice yelling in one ear, and the roar of the crowd of about 25 people jammed into the Zu Audio room at the Irvine Hotel in the other.

Michael Mercer had what sounded like Skrillex pumping the room and the wall of sound of percussion, vocals and synth seemed to alter reality in the small space.

The kit consisted of the Zu Omen MK II loudspeaker ($1,800 US pair), loomed up with Zu Event MK II cables, Pass Labs 60.8 amplifiers, K&K Maxed Out phono stages, RND 5060 mixer, a Groovetracer tricked-out Rega RP6, Luxman PD-444 fitted with a Rega RB-700 arm and Zu/DL-103 MK II cartridges for pickup duty.

It’s truly something to see anybody mix with a Luxman and RP6, but when the scratching started, shit got real in a hurry. Security made their presence known pretty much immediately, and none of the offers of free beer seemed to dissuade them from shutting down the party tout suite.

Luckily, I had been given a rather large bottle of high-test, homemade limoncello earlier in the evening courtesy of Anton and Mike in the NFS (Not For Sale) room, so several of us took the party down to the lounge and continued to imbibe.

Zu Audio make outstanding gear, what I heard that night was proof that the Omen MK II can definitely rock, and maintain composure at rave-level SPLs, but the Zu Audio crew can also party, and are hands-down some of the loveliest people I had a chance to connect with in Newport Beach.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!






Newport 2015

Newport 2015: SoTM and ESS Laboratories


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015SoTM (Soul of The Music) and ESS Laboratories paired up to show off some of their latest goodies at T.H.E. Show and it was a pleasing combo, that for an all-digital front end sounded surprisingly organic.

It could have something to do with the match-up between ESS’ peculiar Air Motion Transformer (AMT 12″) loudspeaker ($4,450 US) SoTM’s sDP-1000 D/A converter and battery-powered preamplifier (featuring constant power-cycling and automated charging) with DSD playback and USB input (Approx. $2,900 US), the SoTM sMS-1000 music server ($3,000 US), and the sPS-1000 DC Linear Power Supply (Approx. $1,200 US).

SoTM are doing some very groovy things with their clean DC power, and the sPS-1000 has the ability to run three separate SoTM components via umbilicals, which eliminates a lot of power cords (if you’re into that sort of thing).

A fat Plinius stereo integrated 8150 with 150 watts/8Ohm (Approx. $3,000 US) was supplying ample get-up-and-go to the kit.

From SoTM:

“sPS-1000 is a high performance DC linear power supply to connect with audio devices using DC power to maximize the sonic performance.It is designed to operate by linear circuits only it means it doesn’t use any digital circuit at all, so doesn’t generate any digital high frequency noise. Also it uses Ultra Low Noise Regulator circuit to minimize the faint noise occurred even from the linear circuit and it has the built-in Noise filter to block the noise coming from AC power.”

Are you into low noise and no garbage scrambling your DC power waves? SoTM has got you covered. Very cool indeed.

I’d love to see a similar, dedicated unit for hooking turntable power supplies to from some of my favorite manufactures.

The ESS sound was deep and bouncy, and in some ways reminded me of an older JBL 4430 Bi-Radial Studio Monitor set-up I heard at a dealer’s several years ago. The 4430s were 93 dB efficient compared to the AMT 12″ at 98 dB, so these things will pump out big sound with not a lot of juice, which is a big plus for the SET heads like me out there.

Both these companies are onto something good, and I look forward to spending more time hearing more at the next opportunity.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Sunny Components presents Wilson Audio and Audio Research


by Rafe Arnott

darth-vader-faceWilson Audio makes speakers that remind me of Darth Vader.

Since I’m a huge Star Wars fan, this is a very good thing, and every time I see a pair of Wilson’s Sofia or Sasha, or in this particular room’s case, the big Alexia, I smile secretly to myself and with my throaty inside voice say “the Force is strong with this one…”

I’ve written previously about my little crush-like feelings towards the Wilson Audio Sasha 2 speakers, (which fronted Danny Keay’s Einstein-powered set up at T.H.E. Show) and that little crush carries over to Sasha’s big sister Alexia ($52,000 US).

Mind you, I did not get to hear the Alexia being fed vinyl, (the gorgeous Spiral Groove SG-2 with Orotofon Cadenza Red – $22,000 for TT, arm and cart – was not spinning while I was in the room.

THEShow_LOGO2015I had to settle for zeroes and ones, but what I heard was deeply satisfying.

Sunny Components out of Covina, California was driving the big Wilsons with a breathtaking rack of Audio Research hardware.

The power plants were a pair of floor mounted 250 watt (KT 150 tubes!) Reference 250 SE monoblocks ($34,000 US pair), over on the HSR MSX and RSX racks was the AR Reference 10 preamplifier ($30,000 US), the AR Reference 10 Phono ($30,000 US), the AR CD-9 ($13,000) and the beguiling MSB Diamond DAC ($43,000 US).

Cabling and power supply duties fell to Transparent.

The sound was just effortless, and while it might of lacked that last bit of organic texture I thrive on from great vinyl rigs or reel-to-reels, it was punchy, jammy and the bass and midrange were lush and gorgeous.

The Wilson are another one of those great speakers that IMHO just play what their being fed, and the AR gear was spoon-feeding those big Alexias a lot of tasty tubed goodness.

I know some people just don’t go in for Wilson. Whatever. I find them incredibly transparent and they can really juice with the right compliment of equipment and source.

So, if you’re not a Wilson fan perhaps you just haven’t had a chance to hear them properly fronted with a synergistic, analog-source system.

If you have and you’re still not convinced, I’m going to have to quote Vader and say “I find your lack of faith … disturbing.”

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Cary Audio with Tannoy


By Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Cary Audio‘s Daryl Berk had a nice, simple kit put together to showcase the company’s latest tubed preamplifier at Newport Beach, the TL-300d ($6,000 US ~ $8,000 US TBA, six to eight weeks wait time).

Running a laptop, Berk was playing a nice mix of 16/44 files upsampled to DSD through the 300d and pumping those out to the beautiful Cary CAD-120S MK II stereo power amplifier ($5,995 US) which was feeding a healthy 60 watts (in Class-A triode mode, or 120 watts in Class-A/B ultralinear mode) to the beefy Dual-Concentric driver Tannoy Revolution XT 8F loudspeakers ($2,600 US).

The new pre-amp is interesting for Cary (and is a digital junkie’s delight) as it includes four DAC chips with eight independent channels for true balanced XLR and RCA single-ended outputs.

The 300d also uses a 128-bit DSP engine prior to the DSD 64/128/256 capable DACs and has five digital inputs (asynchronous USB, coaxial S/PDIF, Toslink, AES/EBU and wireless aptX Bluetooth) along with four analog RCA inputs.

So, no lack of options anywhere for this beast, and with four 12AX7 and two 12AU7 tubes running the show, you can be assured that the sound was very smooth indeed.

Cary doesn’t have a legacy of killer tubed gear for nothing, and this setup didn’t disappoint, delivering a big, room-filling sound through the Tannoy’s with a sweet midrange and no missteps anywhere in the highs or bottom end.

I could see this being an easy (and affordable) end game for many on the two-channel upgrade path, the digital options alone on the 300d will keep even the most purist bits-n-bytes diehards satisfied for years to come.

The fact that it offers balanced XLR and RCA outputs keeps the 300d pre-amp in the mix with pretty much any amplifier you want to pair it with.

Also, I’d love to hear this system paired up with Blu-Ray and a 70″ LED TV for some absolutely killer man-cave movie nights.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: United Home Audio and MBL


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Let me be the first to say that my “value system”, when it comes to hi-fi, is already considered one that is seriously flawed to many of my friends and family.

I have a sickness and I freely admit it, fortunately for me, my sickness is tempered by the restraints of what I consider an average income, and an average lifestyle. So when I tell people I’m writing about a sound system that is pushing the $300,000 envelope (without a turntable), they usually stare at me blankly for a second and then laugh, shaking their heads (same look I get when discussing the nuances of difference in sound between AC/mains cables with my son). I’d imagine this type of reaction is standard too for rare, or antique car and motorcycle enthusiasts, art collectors … and that buddy with 42 pairs of perfect Air Jordans.

My point is that when it comes to true appreciation of the finer things in life; the state of the art, old-world craftsmanship, fanatical attention to detail, all in the pursuit of beauty in any way, shape or form, money doesn’t really come into it.

It’s passionAnd passion, like love, doesn’t really obey day-to-day laws of life. Thank God.

The United Home Audio/MBL room at Newport Beach had that passionate sound to my ears, and it was immensely impressive. This was a system, that in my opinion, was put together by people who love music.

The setup consisted of a United Home Audio modified Tascam UHA-HQ Phase 12 OPS two-track 1/4″ 15 IPS reel-to-reel ($20,000+ US, depending on options), MBL 6010D Vorverstarker preamplifiers with four of the absolutely massive MBL 9011 monoblock amps powering the crazy Doctor Who-looking Radialstrahler MBL101E MKII loudspeakers ($260,000+ US, all-in). Cabling was handled by Wireworld Eclipse Series 7.

They were playing all sorts of crazy-rare and I’m sure, priceless, 1/4″ tapes of a bunch of jazz that I didn’t recognize off the top of my head, but man did it sound sweet, authoritative and ridiculously huge.

People in the small audience who were there for the Saturday night listening session I was invited to, all looked like someone had just smacked them in the face when they least expected it, like if the elevator door opened and all of a sudden “THWACK!”

The sound just kept startling you with its scale and impact.

This is not a system for a condo or small home in my opinion, it needs some serious space to breathe and truly be appreciated.

If you have the means, a big enough room to house the kit (and no close neighbors) and an itch to put your hair straight back, then pick up your phone and call UHA.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Your Final System and Channel Island Audio


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Things that annoy me:

  1. People who stand on the left side of escalators (this is the passing lane people).
  2. Mouth breathers.
  3. Class-D amplifiers.
  4. People who add an apostrophe to everything that ends with “s” – speaker’s, dog’s, asshole’s.
  5. People who say “punches above its weight” when referring to audio gear that is more affordable than anything else in the same class.

So, I’m going to annoy the hell out of myself, and perhaps you, and say that the Your Final System/Channel Island Audio room was producing a sound at T.H.E. Show that punched way above its weight.

This is doubly annoying to me because Channel Island was using the E 200S dual mono (200 watts/8 ohms, 400 watts/4 ohms) Class-D amplifier ($2,500 US) to supply the juice through their PLC-1 MKII Passive Line Controller ($899 US) and Transient MKII USB DAC ($699 US) into a pair of prototype speakers that Channel Island’s Dustin Vawter kept telling me “were not for sale.”

The tunes were flowing from the YFS modified Mac Mini (with16 GB of RAM and a 120GB SSD drive stuffed into it) that also sported a YFS ($375 US, owner-installed) internal power filter and PS-12m Linear Power Supply ($1,895 US, external).

The sound being produced from this kit was fun, punchy and colored in a way that I usually associate with Class-A (which means it sounded like real instruments being played and real voices singing, not a digital approximation).

Vawter described the prototype speakers as “…almost like a Transmission Line in a really small box.” You’ve been warned.

I hope these come out soon for sale, so I can breathe through my mouth before I ask for a review pair.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: VKMusic


THEShow_LOGO2015It’s time to check in with VKMusic and Victor Kung, who I am convinced is actually on a mission from God. Victor and his wife once again ran the kind of simple marketplace table that would be ignored by most audio snobs. Point and laugh at those poor snobs, people. They have no idea what they’re missing.

VKMusic’s line of kits covers just about all the bases. Whether you’re looking for a cheap, Class D amp that will snap together like a Lego set or a 300b SET for under a grand, they’ll have something for you. Cheap desktop speakers? No problem. NOS DACs and CD transports? No problem. It’s all there, and it all costs less than a pair of audiophile-approved interconnects.

My favorite category killer remains the single-ended Elekit TU-8200DX integrated amplifier ($725). It’s a straightforward kit with huge upgrade possibilities. Even stock, it offers one of the most fun headphone outputs that I’ve heard at a show. Want to tame that LCD-3 without breaking the bank? This is your huckleberry. Want to make things better? There’s room on the board to upgrade the volume pot, and there’s plenty more space to add in some boutique capacitors. Want more power? Switch the amp over to pentode or ultralinear operation. Want a single box solution? Toss another fifty bucks at it for a built-in DAC. I want one for my office. If the speaker performance turns out to be half as good as the headphone performance, I want another one for my living room.

Now there’s a matching preamp for folks with more traditional needs. The Elekit TU-8500 will run you $495. It offers a three input 12au7 line stage and op-amp phono stage that can even handle low output MC cartridges. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

If you’re even slightly comfortable with slinging solder, you owe it to yourself to get some of these kits before you drop any more money on power cables.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!






Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Rethm and Core Audio Designs


THEShow_LOGO2015I’ll admit that I’m partial to the speakers from Rethm. If nothing else, Jacob George’s magnificent aesthetic sense has made them — to my taste — among the most attractive speakers available at any price. Fortunately, I don’t have to be shallow. They also tend to deliver the high efficiency I crave and the kind of well-balanced audio performance that I don’t usually associated with whizzer cones. The Rethm room is always a high point.

This time, though, the Rethm room was also a surprise. After years of showing with some of the best tube amplification that money can scrounge (including his own), Mr. George chose an unorthodox partner for the bright white pair of his Maarga speakers ($9,000). Enter Core Audio Designs who brought a matching prototype of their new Harmony Integrated System ($18,000) to bear on the room.

I finally managed to get my ears on it late on Sunday afternoon, and quickly forget to write down which familiar audiophile tracks were playing while I was in the room. My notes tell me that I was surprised by how tolerable it was.

For your information, that is not “damning it with faint praise”. The Rethm Maargas may be easy to drive, but they are unforgivingly revealing of the flaws in their partnering amplification. Along with the speed, articulation, and clarity that are the expected hallmarks of digital amplification, the Core Audio system demonstrated a microdynamic facility that was surprising and a natural tone out that was honestly shocking. I didn’t spend enough time in the room to decide that, yes, I could live with this monolith, but I did actually spend time in the room. I’m not always — or usually, for that matter — willing to do that when it comes to digital amps. I’m more of a “vomit in my mouth and run away” guy. “Tolerable” isn’t a word I’m willing to use lightly.

This wasn’t just a system that lived up to its price tag, but a system that gave me real hope for the future.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Kubotek/Haniwa


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015I’m still not 100 per cent sure what was happening exactly in the Kubotek/Haniwa Real 3D Audio room at Newport Beach, but whatever it was, I’m 100 per cent sure they’re on to something.

Kubotek president and CEO Naotake Kakishita was very enthusiastic about the room’s sound, but because my Japanese is not the best (at the best of times), I had to rely on the handout material to fully grasp the concept.

It seems Dr. Kubo (of Kubotek) really dug Harry Pearson, the late founder of The Absolute Sound, and Pearson’s love for vinyl and classic recordings from the ’50s and ’60s, and in particular Pearson’s love for two-channel audio playback systems.

So he set about designing and implementing a recording-source-to-playback system that, Dr. Kubo feels, truly captures the essence of real, live music performances.

Everything being played in the room was ripped from Pearson’s personal 3,000+ vinyl record collection that Kubo acquired, and it seems the room was an homage to Mr. Pearson’s friendship with Dr. Kubo.

The system involves recording musicians with “two omnidirectional microphones because those two microphones configure the simplest audio sensing tool about the 3D space… the use of multiple close-up microphones only distorts the spatial relationships of players and instruments.

“Once the performance is recorded right, only necessary work is to deliver the recorded information transparently including two speakers, to the listeners.

“Anything that alters the original information, such as mixing, electronic, and acoustic filtering, etc. should be avoided.”

OK, I’m down with the less-screwing-with-the-original-recording-is-best concept, so Haniwa is getting buy-in from me off the top. I’m not a big fan of digital playback though, regardless if they’re pulling 24/192 files off LPs, or recording in real-time to high-resolution digital media, — BUT — the sound in the room was incredibly lifelike, nuanced, detailed and completely engaging.

The setup consisted of the Haniwa HSP1C04 Full Range Cube Speakers (30Hz ~ 30KHz) and the HDCA01 Digital Amplifier ($12,000 US for speakers and amp) and the HAMP05 Full Range Tube Stereo Power Amplifier ($4,000 US).

It was a small, easy to hide system and I honestly was truly impressed at the depth and breadth of the system’s sound. I would imagine Harry Pearson would be pleased with your efforts Dr. Kubo.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Herron Audio, Audience & Audio Physic


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Another room at T.H.E. Show and another mix of solid state amplification and tubed pre-amplification to please my ears and make me wonder if valves are making inroads with the transistor set when it comes to getting the most out of fat, mega-watt, solid-state monoblocks.

Not that I’d say Herron Audio is part of the transistor set, but many in the listening public (from what I saw and heard in Newport) seem to be digging the grunt that solid state amps like Herron’s 150 watt into 8 Ohms (275 watts into 4 Ohms) M1A Monoaural Power Ampllifiers ($6,850 US pair) are adding to the sweet smoothness and harmonic goodness of valved pre-amps and phono stages like Herron’s VTSP-3A pre ($6,550 US) utilizing six E88CC (6922) triodes and the VTPH-2 phono ($3,650 US) with a mix of 12AX7 and 12AT7 tubes.

The Herron gear in this room was loomed up with some major yardage of Audience cabling and power conditioning that added up to about $13,500 US.

Speakers were the venerable German, multi-woofer/driver Audio Physic Avanti IIIs ($11,000 US) pair. A Rega RP6 with an Ortofon Cadenza Red MC cart and a Meridan G08 24-bit CD player rounded out the source duties.

Nothing stood out in this room, and to me that’s a good thing.

It smacked of synergy and everything seemed to vibe with each other – always a good sign in a multi-manufacturer system – and had a rich, engaging and non-fatiguing sound.

If you’ve got speakers that provide a challenging load to an amp, or are less than 90 dB efficient, and are running all solid state amps and pres, I think you owe it to yourself to try some tubes up front and see what you get.

You might be pleasantly surprised at what the valve/transistor mix is capable of producing.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: MrSpeakers


THEShow_LOGO2015It’s not news that MrSpeakers is waving a goodbye to the hacked Fostex models that made them famous. THE Show was the final bow for the Dog Kennel, with Mad Dogs making their last appearance on the show circuit. The new hotness from Dan Clark is the ETHER ($1499) that Josh Emmons gushed about in his AXPONA writeup. Back to back listening here made one thing clear: the Dogs are obsolete.

I won’t say much about the sound of the ETHER here. I haven’t, after all, auditioned them in any kind of controlled environment. That said, you probably shouldn’t expect me to review a pair. My plan, at this point, is simply to save my pennies until I can afford to buy them for myself.

Even limited to show listening, the ETHER so quickly established itself as necessary that I felt the need to borrow a pair from Dan whenever I visited a table that wasn’t already kitted out. It’s the very definition of reference hardware. I’m not sure that there’s another set of commercially available cans that offers this level of accessible transparency short of a spendy electrostat rig. Even ‘stats can’t offer this kind of wide amplifier compatibility and versatility.

ETHER is a game changer. It’s love at first sight.

And it should be shipping by the time you read this.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!



Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Dynaudio


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Digital amps and active speakers. Now combine the two.

I’m neither a big fan of digital amps (other than the difficult to classify Devialet amps which are slaved to one watt of pure Class-A power) or active speakers, so these Dynaudio’s aren’t my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but they bring an awful lot to the table for me, or anyone else to summarily dismiss them with any SET/two-way speaker illness. So forgive me my sins and please read on.

Dynaudio‘s Focus 600 XD loudspeakers ($13,500 US) are capable of directly streaming 24/192 files (very cool) – or whatever else you want via wireless and they sport a plethora of digital and analog inputs to boot. The amps are all seamlessly integrated not only with the multiple drivers but in-room as well through the black magic of digital DSP. With four on board 150-watt digital amps (one per driver; two bass units, one midrange unit and a soft-domed tweeter) the sound has scale and slam.

The big 600’s were being fed via an Airport Express and a 2TB Aurender N100H ($2,700 US) high-resolution server and player which supports both USB and NAS.

Like TIDAL? It’s built in.

I’m a less-is-more kind of guy, so the uber-clean look of this set up gets a high-five from me big time and from, I’m sure, those designer types who prefer white walls, concrete floors and lots and lots of glass. For someone looking for a rig that can produce a clean, clear and bouncy sound that will deliver audiophile-grade files via wireless with built-in amps and enough inputs to please the most diehard digital purist, Dynaudio has you covered. Simple, straightforward and very well thought out, this setup will please a lot of people. For those looking to spend less, or with smaller real-world spaces, check out the 200 XD.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: VPI


THEShow_LOGO2015There’s something unique about T.H.E. Show. It’s a real party.

It’s not just that it seems to be packed with the most out there exhibits on the US audio show circuit. It’s the fact that it’s just so much of a good time that everyone wants to get in on the party — even when they’re not officially attending.

Take VPI Industries as your example. Mat Weisfeld and Jane Cai made a last minute decision to hop a plane to California just to hang out and enjoy the fun. They also brought enough cameras with them to pass for members of The Part-Time Audiophile crew. Between wandering around gawking and taking pictures, they also loitered in the lobby with the newly-reborn VPI Nomad ($995) all-in-one turntable.

The new Nomad is the product of a new supply chain and completely overhauled quality control procedures. The original may have been a hell of a deal, but it still showed signs of being an artisinal product. The new edition has more of an industrial feel to it, with more consistency and reliability as the main features.

Even with lobby power and a tilted table, the Nomad’s speed stability let The Stones punch right through a pair of KEF M500 headphones. I liked it. In fact, there probably wasn’t more elemental fun to be had in any exhibit room. VPI seems to have found its focus again.

But if Mat and Jane want to keep carrying stupidly large cameras around audio shows, we’re going to have to have words. Stay on your side of the industry, folks. You don’t see us making turntables, do you?

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!



Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Precision Transducer Engineering


THEShow_LOGO2015I’ve been doing the arm-twisting song and dance about PTE’s speakers since before I even started the show-report gig. After getting hooked on their Statement speaker back in 2012, I changed my show addiction to their smaller, stand-mounted speakers. 2013’s Phoenix SG ($9500) remains unchanged this year, and the show performance was as consistently ear-popping as ever. The problem for show-reporting is that “consistent” usually translates to “boring.”

Fortunately for us, Mark Thoke, PTE’s front man, just plain sucks at “boring.”

Anyone who’s been to a PTE room knows that Mark is going to drop a cinderblock on the gas pedal if things get boring, such as when he pulls out an unmastered, mini-disc bootleg of one of his favorite bar bands (“We just hung the recorder behind the drummer,” explains Mark) and cranks the volume to 115db at the listening chair. For some folks, this is the equivalent of chasing them out of the room with an air horn. Other folks stand up and cheer.

This room didn’t need too much in the way of Mark’s fetish for the volume knob to be exciting, though. Look at that perfectly maintained Studer R2R in the pictures. The sound of Tom Waits’ “Singapore” coming off that deck was nothing short of a religious visitation. It spoiled my vinyl for me — possibly forever.

If it’s possible to be even more exciting, though, the turntable managed it. It only looks like a Micro Seiki. In reality, it’s the creation of Classic Turntables‘ Mirko Djordjevic, another crazy man from the LA Basin. He took the basic Micro aesthetic, built a better bearing, milled out the massive plinth and forty-pound platter, and then developed his own, geared, drive system for the belt. This being a PTE room, a Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($7,500) got to be an old-school rocker for the weekend. Nothing Mark played could phase this table’s timing accuracy. It was solid. It rocked.

The expected price is $10,000. As for a name, Mirko’s leaning toward using “Mirko Seiki” until someone sues him into the stone age. This is one of the most lust-worthy decks I’ve seen in years. If it’s in your budget, you contact PTE for the details immediately.

Other electronics were PTE’s usual show-collection. An Antelope Gold crunched the bits, an old Philips player spun the silver discs, PTE’s own phono preamp managed the RIAA correction, and a T+A preamp was wasted as a volume control. This is the kind of room where they twist the knob to the right until it breaks off. Room treatments were provided by a bunch of empty boxes and throw pillows that finally found a practical use besides smothering an unwlecome houseguest.

You gotta love it.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Prana Fidelity


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015This was a cool rig.

Steven Norber from Prana Fidelity in Denver had organized some very esoteric gear (Ampex! My Sonic Lab!) that put out a very enjoyable and fatigue-free sound.

A nice heft to the sound to my ears. ‘Weighty’ was a word I wrote down and underlined. Imaging was pretty decent IMO considering the number of drivers as well. It was a real straight-ahead sound, no-nonsense; great bass, smooth highs and a refined midrange that stood out for me.

People seemed to really be knitting their brows while I was hanging out in the room, but whatever, the stuff is musical as all hell and, to me, is reasonably affordable considering what it was capable of.

The speakers were the Prana Fidelity (from now on referred to as PF), Vayu/fs, listed as a two-way quasi-line array with four woofers and a 30 mm tweeter ($6,950 US) which were getting their juice from a PF Purna 400 watt/8 ohms 700 watt/4 ohms 1200 watts/ 2 ohms power amp ($8,950 US) and the PF Purna preamplifier MM/MC ($4,500 ~ $9,950 depending on options) that were being fed a healthy diet of premium Groove Note and ORG vinyl from a Basis Audio 2200 signature turntable ($ not available) with a My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent Ex MC cartridge (more than $6,500 US, hard to find a price on this Japanese cart).

Norber had a Bernie Grundman Mastering-modified Ampex ATR-102 spinning the brown tapes that I thankfully didn’t hear because I’ve come down with a sick perversion for reel-to-reels that will have to be addressed at some point.

Digital was spitting out code from a Luxman D-08 SACD/CD player which I didn’t get a chance to hear.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!







Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Perla Audio


THEShow_LOGO2015There aren’t many manufacturers that offer a soup-to-nuts system approach. McIntosh and Linn come to mind. Naim is up there. GamuT has been edging in on it for a while.

Little Perla Audio hasn’t been around long, but their line is almost as complete — and more weirdly esoteric. I enthused about their analog system last year, so I was delighted to see another analog system this year. The speakers were their familiar, aluminum-ingot, PRS-2 ($5,850 per pair). The Maestro handled line preamp duties for the Motiff phono-pre ($3,500 each), and the poweramps were the spanking-new, Righello monoblocks ($9,000 each). The sound was, if anything, better than last year’s — quicker, quieter, clearer, and meatier.

But excellence in sound is only a small part of why I love insane audio. Fortunately, the Perla guys cover the rest of the bases, too.

Just look at that front end! That’s a double-platter Lenco with a custom chassis milled to match the Perla gear. That’s a rewired oddity of an Abis tonearm. That cartridge? Perla knows metal, so that’s a Perla-modified Denon 103 with a machined body and new damping (you can get one for dirt cheap). It’s probably the first time I’ve heard a 103 that didn’t have any obvious trace of Denon grain. This kind of thing is supposed to be the bailiwick of anachro-fetish tube-o-philes and steampunk sympathizers. Seeing it paired with ultra-sleek, ultra-modern solid state? It’s mindboggling.

The whole system sounded so perfectly balanced at 6pm on Saturday that I didn’t even ask for specs on the gear. Instead, I gawked and gawped at those cartridge bodies while nerding out over the distressingly encyclopedic analog lore locked up inside of this brain trust.

These guys really are on to something. Check them out.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!






Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Vandersteen, Basis Audio, Audio Research, Lyra


by Rafe Arnott


The Vandersteen Model 7 MK II speakers ($62,000 US) are Stereophile ‘Class-A’ recommended, but at only 83.5 dB efficiency, they never really held much interest for me because I’m one of those people who loves SET tube amps and high-efficiency speakers and less crossover just means more music to me. 

I hear many of you out there already: “I mean c’mon Rafe. You’re practically a dinosaur or some kind of yeti. Who really likes that stuff?”

So despite my obviously lacking credibility (I did own 85 dB rated Harbeth M30.1s, so there’s that), I ventured into the Vandersteen/Audio Research room at Newport and plunked myself down for a listen.

I was surprised.

The speakers were very dynamic and seemed to have limitless headroom to my ears, helped no doubt by the unique pairing of the MK IIs with the new Vandersteen 600 watt (into 4 ohms) M7-HPA liquid-cooled mono blocks ($TBA).

From Vandersteen’s website:

The M7-HPA (High-Pass Amplifier) is designed and built from the ground up to maximize the performance potential of Vandersteen’s powered-bass speakers, and represents a radical, ground-up rethinking of what a power amplifier and speaker system can be. (And should be!) Vandersteen has pioneered the use of subwoofer amplifiers custom-tailored to each speaker design in its powered-bass loudspeakers in conjunction with passive 100Hz high-pass filters for the ultimate performance. When paired with a Vandersteen powered-bass speaker like the flagship Model Seven Mk II, the M7-HPA monoblock forms a complete powered-bass speaker system in which the entire frequency range is driven by perfectly-tailored amplification. 

Vinyl was being sped to 33/3 rpm on a beautiful Basis Audio Inspiration turntable with a Basis Super Arm 9 mounted ($74,000 US for both) and Lyra Atlas ($9,500 US) handling playback.

Audio Research was doing their groovy tubed best thanks to the stunning REF10 Pre-amplifier ($30,000 US) and REF 10 Phono ($30,000 US) – each with separate power chassis – passing along everything the Basis/Lyra combo was sending them.

Perhaps not as tonally rich as I prefer, with the timbral textures I seem to relish slightly lacking in the upper mids, but highs were very extended and non-fatiguing and the bass made me go “Mmmmm.”

For me, the jury is still out on speaker designs that put emphasis on uber-stiff enclosures, or chassis-within-chassis designs meant to to hold drivers in a vise-like grip. I really vibe on natural wood enclosures where the approach is holistic in the sense of tuning along the lines of an instrument’s body, like a violin or guitar. Resonance is not the enemy in my books.

Your mileage may vary.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!







Newport 2015

Newport 2015: LampizatOr, Salk Sound, Wells Audio, DanaCable, Gingko Audio


THEShow_LOGO2015Some folks just get used to winning. The 1996 Yankees come to mind. Sure, ’97 was an off-year, but you just knew what was coming. Walking into this room felt a whole lot like that moment when we all figured out what kind winners the Yanks were.

First you had a new LampizatOr Lite 7 ($5950) with volume control, big DHTs, and solid-state rectification. It may have given up some of the rich harmonics of its hollow-state elder sibling, but it more than made up for that loss with the best defined transients and quickest bass I’ve heard from any system fronted by a Lampi. This may well be the Lampi that most appeals to my tastes.

Jeff Wells‘ Innamorata Signature ($15,0000) is a buttoned-down tank of an amplifier. The Lampi front end woke it up like an amphetamine enema with a double-espresso chaser. As in Chicago, everything was tied together with about twelve grand worth of DanaCable‘s finest. As is tradition, everything sat on Gingko‘s rack.

The new member of the team was Jim Salk, who provided a Salk Streamer ($1495) source and pair of his Exotica 3 ($12,000/pair) speakers — and I’ve never heard them sound better. The Alnico magnets on the mids and tops gave a better-than-technicolor idea of just what kind of tonal wizardry the electronics bring to the table, while the dual, servo-controlled subs take any questions about bass right off the table.

This was nothing less than the best show performance I’ve heard from any of the players in the room. I have a feeling that it’s only going to get better from here.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Austin HiFi presents Tocaro, Crimson, Linn and Resolution Audio


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Austin HiFi‘s room at Newport was an interesting one for me.

First off, it was packed the whole time I was there and I had to play musical chairs for about 15 minutes to get a seat in the sweet spot, as the Tocaro Model 42E loudspeakers ($14,000 US pair) and Crimson CS 710 pre-amplifier with MC and MM phono stages ($7,000 US) and CS 640E-III mono blocks ($6,000 for two pair) were impressing the hell out of everyone and no one gave a shit what my Show badge said. Reviewer or not, I could sit when they were damn well ready to move their asses on up and out.

Records were spinning on a gorgeous and competent Linn Sondek LP12/Ittok LV II tonearm (vintage) with a Reson Lexe MC cart ($2,600 US) and digital files were pumping through the beautiful Resolution Audio Cantata Music Centre ($6,495 US). Cables were all Crimson.

These speakers don’t produce a sound that I can easily classify, as they don’t sound like anything else really… if I had to describe them I’d say the sound was very coherent, in-the-room, smooth and deep, with very sweet and natural highs. String instruments in particular sounded incredibly convincing. And the thing is these Tocaros use laser-cut wood for the tweeter membrane.

Yes, laser-cut wood. Not a typo.

They’re also 99 dB efficient, have no crossover and can be bi-amped if you wish (they were here). If you search around, it seems Crimson are a natural  pairing with the Tocaros, and since this was my first exposure to the two, I just went with it.

It might serve you well to just go with it too. If you’re near Austin, look up Creston Funk at Austin HiFi. He’ll hook you up.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!