SHOW REPORT: T.H.E. Newport Beach 2013
This show report comes to us from B. Jan Montana. Montana is a leading member of the San Diego Music and Audio Guild (the group also happened to have a hospitality suite at this years event). We asked for his impressions of the show and here ya go…
The architecture on the Las Vegas Strip is spectacular, on par with any other world class tourist attraction. Likewise the entertainment, it’s well worth a trip. If you haven’t been there, put it on your bucket list. But it’s not an ideal place for a high end audio show. The traffic is horrible, the strip is overcrowded, and the incessant hawkers can be downright offensive. All this makes getting from building to building challenging and unpleasant.
I’ve attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for 10 years, about as long as I’ve been president of the San Diego Music and Audio Guild (SDMAG.org). I’ve often chauffeured a carload of SDMAG members to the CES. But few wanted to go in 2013. Why not? Because the Newport Beach Audio Show was less than six months away. Moreover it was closer, cheaper, more spacious and a hell of a lot more fun. Why? Because it was initiated by that boisterous rascal, Bob Levi – head of the LA and Orange County Audio Society (LAOCAS) – who no longer does anything unless it brings delight to himself and/or those around him.
The word had gotten ’round before the last CES that the Newport event is a consumer exposition rather than a trade show, and therefore a lot more enjoyable for audiophiles. It feels more like a family re-union than a trip to the mall. You won’t get the bum’s rush when exhibitors discover you are merely a trifling hobbyist. Moreover, there’s more space so you don’t need to elbow other attendees just to get through the hallways. Many exhibitor suites are located several rooms and/or floors apart minimizing noise pollution from room to room. The two participating hotels are adjacent to one another with no roadway in between, so there’s no chance of getting hit by a city bus or a delivery truck, and, thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe, there are no hawkers.
But wait, there’s more! The Newport Beach show also features fine cigars, wines, live entertainment and some of the world’s most unobtainable cars, all the stuff that Mr. Levi loves. No wonder our members wanted to wait till the end of May to attend their next audio show!
I’ve attended all three Newport Beach Audio shows. Last year, SDMAG was honored to be asked to host the Hospitality Room at the Atrium, which we did again this year. LAOCAS hosts the Hospitality Room at the Hilton. What they have in quality, we compensate for in quantity. The show officially closes at 6 PM each of the 3 days, but the Barley Therapy continued in the SDMAG room till 1 AM on Sunday morning.
So is there anything new you can tell us about Montana? Sure is! If I saw a trend, it’s is the fact that it is becoming possible to get really good sound for less than Ferrari pricing. For example, a company I’ve never heard of, VaporSound.com demonstrated their new Nimbus model, a 4 foot tall, 250 pound floorstander housing dual midranges in an MTM configuration, what looked to be an AE 15″ woofer and a RAAL tweeter. These are very high end components indeed and they sounded like it. At 92db effeciency, not a whole lot of power is needed. They were using 40 watt, single ended tube amps.
If you attend live symphony performances as often as I do, you’ll love the sound of the Vapors. Strings, choirs and operatic female vocals were sweet and unstrained. The midrange was clean and open. I’d have preferred a single midrange driver to the Vapor’s MTM arrangement as no two drivers can ever be manufactured to respond exactly alike, never-the-less, piano sounded very natural. The bass was was tight, effortless and seemingly unlimited. This is a big issue for me. In live performances, amplified or not, the audience is always enveloped in full, rich bass. That’s one of the hallmarks of live sound! I’ve never heard anyone walk away from a live performance complaining, “Lovely music, but the bass was a little thin.” Yet so many systems, even expensive, high end ones, sound languid in the bass. That kills the illusion of live sound for me and is comparable to putting cheap tires on a Ferrari.
As the above photo shows, the cabinetry of the Vapors was stunning, both in finish and complexity. Few manufacturers build curved cabinets at any price, but the Vapors were priced at $7800/pr. You can bet they’ll be double that price within a year and they sounded like they should cost over $40,000.
The next speaker to impress me (and I’m only writing about those systems that impressed me) were the new floorstanding Sonys located in their ballroom. They featured 3 tweeters in a vertical row which created an amazingly broad and expansive soundstage, better than their $27,000 AR series which impressed me so much last year. Their tonality was much like the the ARs and they too were highly resolving without being fatiguing. Bass was fully adequate for orchestral music and it occurred to me that these speakers were a perfect alternative to the Vapors if your wife says “No Way!” to large cabinets. Price, $10,000/pr. Give them a listen before you spend $20K on something else. You’ll get a lot more pleasure from spending the money saved on another pair for a deserving friend or relative.
The last time my good buddy, Amnon, and I walked out of a very expensive speaker demo at the CES (speakers like the Magicos and YGs,) he commented, “They don’t do anything wrong (a huge compliment) but they are totally uninvolving.” Amnon has some of the most critical listening faculties I’ve encountered, here he proved he also has the skill to articulate his impressions. I had a hell of time trying to decide what was wrong in left brain terms, but his comments came straight from the heart. Pretty amazing considering that he’s an engineer!
Up till now, I’ve never really been a fan of super-tweeters. Perhaps that’s because I prefer ribbon tweeters which – having a diaphragm thinner than a human hair – act as their own supertweeters. Dome tweeters are much heavier and therefore predisposed to improvement from a super-tweeter. If you love your high end system, but feel it’s not as involving as you’d like, you might want to try the $3700 Sopranino electrostatic super-tweeter from EnigmAcoustics.com. With variable crossover points, it integrated completely with the high end system on which it was placed. I’ve become a believer.
Some of you may wonder why I’m not referencing the accompanying electronics in most of these systems. It’s because I simply don’t have the hearing acuity to distinguish the electronics from the sound of the speakers, and I’m astonished by those who claim they do. It’s one thing to comment on an amplifier or DAC inserted in your home system – one with which you’re thoroughly familiar – but to be able to distinguish electronics in both a foreign acoustic and electro-acoustic environment strains the bounds of credibility. The best I can do at audio shows is to comment on the speaker/room interface as that is what dominates the sound.
~ Dr. B. Jan Montana
More to come…