There are many methods of putting together an audio system that transports you to listening bliss every time you turn it on. That’s part of the fun of being a music fan. It’s what makes us invest in our audio systems, and that’s part of the fun of being a manufacturer or an audio dealer who gets to configure and tinker (and sell) such systems on a daily basis.
All of those audiophile branches converged in Irvine, Calif., last weekend for the third annual T.H.E. (The Home Entertainment) Show Newport 2013, bringing music to many sets of ears in many different ways.
For me, it was exciting to see the range of systems represented in the many rooms, which comprised several floors of two hotels, the Hilton and the Atrium. There were itty-bitty speakers like the ClairAudient 1+1 from Audience and the Vanatoo Transparent One all the way up to massive monoliths like the Magico Q7 and Induction Dynamics ID1, and each managed to deliver beautiful sound in its unique way.
The same goes for the exotic turntables, the stacks of electronics—local dealer Audio Element had side-by-side racks featuring the former with a Grand Prix Audio Monaco Turntable and the latter with the stunning four-component dCS Vivaldi SACD Playback System, both powered by impressive VTL tube amplification—and the range of accessories (from cables to racks to vibration isolators to record cleaners to acoustical panels) that were equally important to achieving gorgeous results.
And perhaps overlooked in all of it, the source material, because what’s the point of listening to an audio system without bringing music that will make the experience an emotionally evocative one. For the two-channel focused T.H.E. Show, that meant a MacBook and a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) in most rooms or a turntable. It wasn’t always my cup of tea, but the demo songs ranged from female vocalists to jazz to classical to esoteric to blues to rock (when I got to pop in my high-resolution Rolling Stones tracks from the thumb drive I brought), and included lots of pristine “audiophile” (often in high-resolution 24-bit digital file format, though sometimes from CD and SACD) recordings. Quality source material can raise a good system to even loftier heights ... and attendees not only had lots of opportunities to hear great recordings in the audio rooms but also could peruse bins of vinyl and CDs in both hotels.
Whatever the method of producing ear-pleasing results, the main point of T.H.E. Show seemed to be simply getting music fans truly engaged—how often do we really get to sit and appreciate our home audio systems, but rather are relegated to listening to tunes in the car—and seeing the wealth of possibilities out there. There’s a connotation that audiophile equals expensive, and there was some of that too, no doubt, because not all systems are made equal and not all are affordable to everyone. But each was inspirational.
“We wanted to show people that you don’t have to spend $500,000 to get great sound,” says Jerry Axelrod of Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Fine Home Entertainment, whose room sang with GoldenEar Aon 3 $1,000/pair loudspeakers. “We just want to get people involved in this stuff, and eventually, if they have the money they might buy the $500,000 stuff. The key is to buy a balanced system where you don’t have a weak link, you don’t overspend in one area and have a weak link in another. ... Ultimately, it’s your ears and what you are hearing that will recreate the emotion.”
Here are 18 Amazing Audio Rooms from T.H.E. Show. They’re not every room I visited, but a very big dose of what I saw and heard.
Stay updated on audio trends and products every day on Electronic House. You might also like:
5 Reasons Why Vinyl Playback Still Resonates
The Best Systems and Solutions from the New York Audio Show
3 Audiophile Systems for 3 Budgets
Follow Electronic House
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.