An Antipodean Insider’s View Of T.H.E Newport Show 2016

Okay, so it happened way back in May, but we’re always rooting for our fellow Kiwis when they take their wares overseas and proceed to wow the punters. Simon Brown from Design Build Listen reports.

 

AS AN EXHIBITOR at this year’s T.H.E Newport Show in California, I can’t write a show report as such, not so much because of my obvious bias but because my activities were centred on the ‘Downunder Audio’ (Colleen Cardas Imports) Room. However, what I will try to do is give you a feel of what it was like, as it’s some years since we had such a show in NZ.

Newport is about an hour south of LA and the T.H.E (The Home Entertainment) Show was held at the Hotel Irvine fairly near Disneyland. It’s interesting in that it is run by a local company in conjunction with the local LA & Orange County Audio Society rather than a commercial show company. Thus the organisers were good to deal with as they frequently showed that they had the audio enthusiasts’ (both visitors and exhibitors) interest at heart.

In general terms, the ground floor was occupied with ticketing (US $15 for entry) and large ‘reception’ rooms which housed either the biggest companies with suitably big gear. Lots of wonderful, cool and often reasonably priced gear was jammed into a couple of big rooms. Sadly, I didn’t have time for browsing, so I didn’t dare start on the equally large and jammed room housing more tables of LPs both old and new: I knew I could have spent a lot of money there alone!

The main part of the Show comprised of eight of the upper floors of the hotel that had been ‘converted’ from regular hotel rooms to exhibitors rooms. To do this all the furniture was removed apart from dining chairs. One downside of this was that often the only lighting in rooms was near their vestibules. Given that many exhibitors (ourselves included) had closed their curtains to improve the acoustics, most rooms were ‘atmospheric’ (dark) which made photography difficult.

The Show organisers had done a good job of spreading the rooms around so generally there wasn’t too much noise pollution between rooms, although the people across the hall from us were keen to show the impressive volume you could get from their compact speakers with 3kW of on-board amps. So there was the vexed problem of whether to have our door open or shut. You want to be welcoming to the show goers but you want them to be able to hear too.

The Aussie/NZ contingent's room, which won a 'Best In Show' award
The Aussie/NZ contingent’s room, which won a ‘Best In Show’ award

Our room was proudly flying the Down-under Audio banner, being a mix of Australian companies, Brigadier Audio BA2 speakers, Les Davis Audio equipment feet/isolators, Audio Union Helix 1 turntable and New Zealand companies. Pure Audio amps (Phono, Pre and Duo Power) and The Wand Tonearm (9.5in Plus and new 10.3in Master series models mounted on the Helix 1 turntable). Next door we had Aussie electronics Redgum and Axis Voicebox speakers. Unconnected apart from sharing a couple of good US craft beers with us, were Aussie speaker makers Kyron who were drawing in the punters with their active, open baffle Kronos speakers (again with a Helix 1 turntable). Australians DEQX were also exhibiting and doing trick things with space/time continuum (room equalisation).

In addition to the exhibitors’ rooms the organisers had done a great job on organising talks by audio luminaries and live music. Attendees could enter themselves into a draw for products by posting forms in boxes in exhibitors’ rooms. These were drawn on the last day to the delight of all concerned.

While the coffee tended to be watered down with sprinkles, caramel sauce and other unmentionables, the food was pretty cool, as in addition to the hotel catering there were local food trucks parked outside with a range of Tex-Mex and Hispanic stuff that was unusual for Kiwis.

Simon Brown with his Wand.
Simon Brown with his Wand.

So to finish, a one paragraph SHOW REPORT: Southern California is on the leading edge of many trends. We witnessed this in the number of electric and hybrid cars, the good craft beer and even food that would be recognisably good in NZ. So audio trendspotting: While tube amplifiers* rubbed shoulders (if not sharing rooms) with Class D amps, many of which had disappeared inside speakers, there was a good showing of amps and speakers of the size that that would make your average metal band roadie feel inadequate. Meanwhile CDs were almost a rarity as sources were either laptops/streamers or analogue. And by analogue I don’t just mean turntables! There were a good number of reel-to-reels at the show, both as hardware but also available as software.

The day after the show, the reel-to-reel theme continued and we got to hear one in a very serious system. With a nod to the ghost of Guy Clarke, the Downunder Audio crew headed out on the LA Freeway (wished I’d taken my Heartworn Highways LP to play at the show) and inland to Riverside and the modern industrial unit housing Von Schweikert Audio. While there was a need to drop off some gear, it ended up being a great wind-down day for both us and the Von Schweikert guys who had also been exhibiting some of their ultra high-end speakers at the show. As Marc from Colleen Cardas Importers had been brought up in LA and was driving, the rest of us were able to relax back in the mini-van and look at the already desert-like countryside as he provided a commentary on the Inland Empire.

Von Schweikert set-up with reel-to-reel and Constellation amps.
Von Schweikert set-up with reel-to-reel and Constellation amps.

Damon Von Schweikert and designer Leif Swanson gave us a warm welcome, plying us with coffee and donuts. The latter were on a different level for sophistication (and sugar content) to NZ ones. The donuts were handy in filling the gap formed from my jaw having sagged open seeing their ‘medium spec’ Endeavour 7 speakers plumbed with the thickest cable I’ve ever seen to a Constellation Audio amp combo and a rebuilt Technics reel-to-reel.

In hindsight, not sure where the day went but there must have been a lot of music listened to as well as a lot of audio discussion (and a Mongolian BBQ lunch). One of the interesting things was that Gary Morrison had brought a modified multimeter which he plugged into the Endeavour 7’s when they were playing at almost painful levels. The power recorded? 25W. This was relevant as Pure Audio amps have been used at shows with Von Schweikert speakers and thus have perfectly adequate power for the job despite being rated at ‘only’ 100W. We suddenly realised that we had been listening too long and I had a plane to catch from LAX. On the way to the airport I reflected again how well our room stood up in comparison with a great sounding system that was significantly more expensive.

*This is LA, they have Tube Amplifiers. Valves are what you use to control the flow from the oil well in your front yard.

 

 

 

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