T.H.E. Show 2019 report by Ron Resnick


INTRODUCTION

After the fiasco last year between the Los Angeles Orange County Audiophile Society and the organizers of T.H.E. Show Newport, which resulted in a small and sad audio show last year, T.H.E. Show 2019 definitely was an improvement. This year both the number of exhibitors and the number of attendees increased compared to last year’s show.

The Hilton Long Beach was a nice, visitor-friendly venue for attendees. The exhibition rooms which are conference rooms were large and luxurious for the systems. But most exhibitors had very small rooms which did not do any of their systems any good.

Alma Music and Audio/YG/Innuous/MSB


Alex Siufy of Alma Music and Audio in San Diego, California, put together for the show the same system he often demos in the lavishly large and well-treated main listening room at his audio salon.

 

The streamer was the new and top-of-the-line Innuous Statement which was feeding an MSB Select DAC. The sound was transparent and detailed, but natural, as I find YG speakers in general to be. But I think the room was a little too big for the Haileys to command authoritatively.


AudioKinesis/Duke LeJeune/James Romeyn 


Duke LeJeune and James Romeyn of AudioKinesis were exhibiting their innovative two-way horn driver/cone woofer  speaker combined with Duke’s “swarm” subwoofer concept.  The “swarm” uses four or more subwoofers located throughout the listening room to distribute more evenly low frequencies and to avoid bass nodes.  


The system sounded natural and dynamic and engaging, and gave the impression of a much larger loudspeaker system than the two speakers and four woofer modules comprising the system.  


Audio Limits/Thrax


Darrin O’Neill of Audio Limits presented an almost all-Thrax system, including the Thrax Lyra/Basus loudspeaker system ($59,356).  This looks like a two part speaker, consisting of a midrange - tweeter - midrange module on top of very large solid metal enclosure containing a 15 inch sealed woofer and a built-in 1,000 watt power amplifier.


I was most intrigued by the Thrax Spartacus 300B amplifier ($75,864) which uses six 300B tubes in two stages to produce 50 watts of Class A Directly Heated Triode power.


While the system was aided by one of the largest rooms in the venue which allowed the speakers to be pulled far into the room and away from the front wall, I found the sound to be very transparent and very dynamic. I certainly was fascinated by the very unusual design of the large monoblock Spartacus amplifiers.


This was one of my favorite systems of the show.

Audiogen High End/Tune Audio/Wavac


We in Los Angeles are very happy that Ibrahim Genis and Emre Korkmaz have opened AUDIOGEN HIGH END in Downtown Los Angeles, and are displaying Tune Audio loudspeakers and Wavac electronics, brands which are very rare in the United States. I like very much Wavac amplifiers, and the  833 single-box mono amplifiers were on static display. 




I totally fell in love with the Tune Audio Avatons I heard at Munich High-End 2018. But, puzzlingly, having now heard them twice, I just cannot seem to cotton to the Animas.


In this exhibition I felt that the speakers were positioned too wide apart, and I felt that they were bass-shy. Of course I appreciate that it was dimensionally a difficult room situation where one tries to maximize the seating capacity of the room while at the same time maximizing the sound quality of the system.


If I listened primarily to jazz music the Animas would be high up on my list of speakers to audition. I always use transparency and in-the-room realism of vocals to judge horn loudspeakers, and here I found the Animas to be a little bit muddy-sounding on vocals.


I am confident that once the Animas are sorted out in the AUDIOGEN HIGH END show room, they will aquit themselves beautifully.

Branko Sound


At every show I attend I hope to be delighted by some wonderful sonic surprise.  At this show I was happy to have discovered Branko Atanackovic, proprietor of Branko Sound, of Carlsbad, California.  


Branko reconditions the horn and paper cone drivers of the Altec 19, a vintage, two-way horn speaker available for between $4,000 and $6,000 per pair on eBay.  Branko repaints the horn driver, builds a new huge and solid birch plywood box for the woofer, and screws the horn driver onto the top of the box.  He seems to use the original high frequency and midrange attenuators of the Altec 19.

The Altec 19 is not considered among vintage horn aficionados to be a particularly high-end vintage horn.  The fact that I and so many others were so intrigued by Branko’s speakers says a lot about just how much sound quality is available from vintage horn speakers for not all that much money compared to contemporary horn-based loudspeaker offerings.

The unfinished wood boxes look a little on the made-in-my-garage side, but I am sure Branko can finish the wood boxes according to customer request.

Like all horns, the speakers were incredibly dynamic with wonderful “jump factor.”  Vintage paper cone woofers seem to offer a speed which eludes some modern woofer designs.

A friend of mine who is much more sensitive to driver discontinuity than I am commented that he could hear the woofer separate from the horn driver. I tend to be uniquely insensitive to driver discontinuity, and I did not hear this.

I am particularly sensitive to whether vocals are reproduced in a very transparent and present-in-the-room sounding way. I have found across the genre of horn speakers that there is always at least some slight diminution in transparency and in-the-room presence when I listen to vocals on horn speakers.    At $9,999 per pair this Branko almost equaled the vastly more expensive Cessaro Zeta and the more expensive PBN M2!5 in its ability to reproduce vocals without a significant diminution in transparency and in-the-room presence.  


These speakers are just plain fun!  Like all horn speakers they are amazing at reproducing the sounds of brass instruments.  

If my primary musical interest were jazz, or jazz and classical, I seriously would consider these speakers over other horn speakers costing multiples of the price of the Brankos.

Evolution Acoustics/darTZeel/Wave Kinetics/Durand


Jonathan Tinn, Kevin Malmgren and Joël Durand hosted Blue Light Audio’s and The Audio Association’s room, which was fronted by the Evolution Acoustics EXACT Series - Maestoso loudspeakers ($18,900). The darTZeel NHB-108 Model Two stereo amplifier ($44,000) and an NHB-18NS MK. II preamplifier with built-in phono stage ($44,000) powered the signal from a Wave Kinetics NVS turntable ($45,000).


Kevin's outboard cross-over was on full display, and an audiophile never grows tired of looking at that piece of electronic artwork.

Joël showcased the production version of his incredible-looking and sounding gimbal-bearing Tosca tonearm ($15,000). The tonearm was extremely polished-looking, more so than the prototype I remember from last year.


The system’s sound was very good, with greater dynamics and weight than one would expect from merely looking at the slim loudspeaker towers, but I think this year the room was not doing the system justice compared to the debut of the Maestoso I heard a couple of years ago.


Early reports from audiophiles who have purchased the Tosca are very positive. I am seriously interested in the Tosca for my personal stereo system.

Joseph Cali Systems/ Gryphon Audio Designs


Joe Cali, always the consummate Master of Ceremonies who puts on a precise and enjoyable demonstration, worked sonic magic in a very cramped room.  Exhibiting Gryphon Audio Designs’ stand-mounted Mojo speakers driven by Gryphon electronics Joe demonstrated why the Mojos are the exception to my rule that I do not care for small speakers or stand-mounted speakers.  


Sounding larger and weightier and more impressive than the Mojos’ diminutive size Joe wrung genuine musical pleasure from this system.  

MBL


Not blessed this year with a large room, Jeremy Bryan, CEO of MBL North America, took the opportunity to showcase MBL’s second smallest speaker, the MBL 120.  


While not matching the thunderous dynamics of the 101E Mk. II I really enjoyed this small speaker because it had, to my ears, a smoother presentation than the speakers utilizing the large Radialstrahler melons for which the X-Treme and the 101E Mk. II are famous.  


On a Higher Note/Gryphon Audio Designs/Magico


Philip O’Hanlon, the beloved impresario of On a Higher Note, and the North American distributor of Gryphon Audio Designs, hosted a room festooned with sleek black Gryphon components.  Fortunate to have a large room, Philip positioned the speakers far away from the front wall, which allowed the system to develop the best sound-staging I heard at the show.


With a Gryphon Antileon EVO stereo amplifier powering Magico S5 Mk. II speakers the sound was very dynamic and transparent.  

Philip played a lot of tape, which always is a delight!

Overall this was one of my favorite rooms at the show.  

PBN Audio


I have enjoyed several times my friend’s PBN (Peter Bichel Noerbaek) M2!5 loudspeakers, so I was curious to meet the man himself!


Peter was showcasing his PBN-DN308 Groovemaster Vintage Direct Professional turntable, which is made by completely reconditioning the rare Denon and Nippon DN308 turntable. 


Peter was delightful in person and my Bill Henderson “Send in the Clowns” sounded wonderful on his all-PBN Audio system.


Rutherford Audio/Vertere


It was great to meet Robb Niemann of Rutherford Audio for the first time, and it was wonderful to see Touraj Moghaddam, Founder of Vertere Acoustics, in Los Angeles!


Touraj was displaying his line of turntables and tonearms.  The top-of-the-line RG-1 Reference Groove turntable was gleaming in acrylic and metal, and the top-of-the-line Reference tonearm was mounted on it.


The affordable DG-1 Dynamic Groove also was being displayed, as was the mid-level MG-1 Magic Groove record player.   

Scott Walker Audio/Magico/Sonorus/Acoustic Signature/MSB/VAC



Scott Walker Audio hosted a very elaborate and great-sounding system demonstrating vinyl, tape and digital playback.


The system included Magico M2 loudspeakers, a Sonorus ATR-10 tube preamp tape machine, an Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk. III, an MSB Premier DAC and VAC electronics. 


Von Schweikert Audio/Esoteric


A surprising partnership of Esoteric and Von Schweikert Audio resulted in very detailed, natural and dynamic sound. Esoteric apparently is serious about trying to break into the high-end, and its representatives displayed five boxes of components which surely look the part!

The demo employed Von Schweikert Audio's Endeavor E-5 Mk. II loudspeaker ($40,000 per pair), which I had never seen or heard before. But it turns out that Endeavor E-5 Mk. IIs are owned personally by Leif Swanson, VSA's Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Leif also is deeply engaged in the design of VSA loudspeakers.


It is official: I am done with small speakers, stand-mounted speakers and short and even medium-tall floor-standing speakers; done; over them; no interest; no bid.

I like 1) midrange - tweeter - midrange designs, and 2) tall loudspeakers which present height and scale more authentically than medium-sized floor standers which are trying to push a ton of musical information and amplitude out of a tiny dome tweeter and a single small midrange cone.

When the volume goes up most tweeter/midrange modules get congested and the suspension of disbelief falls apart. A tall M-T-M design doubles the driver surface area for midrange frequencies, and the design solves completely the sensation of the low frequencies emanating from the bottom of the cabinet

Leif told me that this speaker’s beryllium tweeter is the same exact drive unit used in their Ultra line of speakers.  For people who are wary of ceramic drivers, this speaker uses Kevlar and aluminum drivers.


Provided they are driven with high quality and high power tube electronics the Endeavor E-5 Mk. II is my new standard recommendation for box speakers in this price range. Great work Albert, Damon and Leif!

United Home Audio/Audio Solutions/Vitus


Usually collaborating with Jeremy and Tara of MBL North America this year Greg Beron, owner of United Home Audio, partnered with Oz, of High End By Oz, a well-respected Los Angeles dealer. UHA transforms Tascam reel-to-reel tape decks into state-of-the-art reproducers and recorders.

Oz recently was appointed the North American distributor of Vitus Audio electronics and of Audio Solutions, a Lithuanian manufacturer of loudspeakers.

Oz was demonstrating the Audio Solutions Figaro L model, a $11,500, 172 pound speaker with 92dB sensitivity at 4 ohms.


Audio Solutions also makes a Figaro XL model for $15,000 which weighs 324 pounds and is 92dB sensitive at 8 ohms. The Figaro XL is a midrange - tweeter - midrange design and looks quite impressive for its relatively modest price.

The drivers of the Audio Solutions speakers are paper cones and the tweeters are soft domes.

The cabinets are made of MDF but the corners of the cabinets use self-locking hardware instead of glue.


Greg displayed his top-of-the-line Ultima 4 OPS-DC machine with Outboard Power Supply, all DC operation and mu metal headblock cover ($40,000). The Ultima 4 replaces the left and right fixed tape guides with precision rollers with red ruby bearings and wide polished flanges to make threading the tape very easy.

Greg was using his UHA-designed take up reel, available in red black and silver.

Oz drove the system with a Vitus Audio RI 101 Integrated Amplifier ($15,600).


The sound was easy on the ears with nothing at all bright or fatiguing from the soft dome tweeter of the Figaro Ls. If the M-T-M design of the Figaro XL sounds the same as the L then the XL could be a lot of speaker and great sound for a very reasonable price. Among solid-state amplification Vitus Audio makes products I definitely could live with.


Greg’s tape machine performed flawlessly, as always. In several years of enjoying tremendously Greg’s after hours rock-out tape sessions I have never once witnessed (or heard of) a malfunction of any kind on any of his machines.

Thanks very much to Greg for another year of fantastic after-hours music sessions!

Wilson Audio/Luxman/Innuous/MSB


Alex and Fabio of Alma Music & Audio hosted three rooms.  Wilson Audio TuneTots fronted the smallest of Alma’s systems on display.

The TuneTots were driven by the Luxman 509 Integrated amplifier.  An Innuous ZEN Mk3 streamed music to an MSB Discrete DAC with full power supply.


I personally have very little interest in computer speakers or stand-mounted speakers or satellite speakers.  But I do want to give Wilson Audio credit for creating tiny speakers which perform and sound like at the very least much larger stand-mounted speakers.

If you want ultra high sound quality speakers for your computer or maybe even for a small bedroom system Wilson Audio TuneTots are the speakers you want to buy. 

CONCLUSION


Overall the show represented positive progress from last year. I feel that many exhibitors, not knowing how successful or how well-attended this show would be used this show as an opportunity to showcase their smaller, less ambitious systems, and by so doing saved a lot of money and effort in the logistics of moving around their large and heavy top-of-the-line reference components.

I was happy to have discovered Branko Sound, which revamped vintage Altec 19 speakers into a relatively inexpensive speaker which delivered very impressive big speaker sonics. 

My favorite systems (in alphabetical order) were:
  • Audio Limits/Thrax
  • Joseph Cali Systems/Gryphon Mojos
  • On a HigherNote/Gryphon/Magico. 
Ron Resnick - Senior contributing writer