T.H.E. Show Newport 2016 report NEW

T.H.E. Show Newport 2016 was a great show again this year. This was my second year attending the Newport show, and my first year as a member of the press. It definitely was fun to listen to systems on Press Day when the rooms were nearly empty and with no public commotion.
T.H.E. Show Newport actually is held in Irvine, California at the Hotel Irvine, and not in Newport. All exhibits are in the same hotel, and it is very convenient to be able to stay at the same hotel where all of the exhibits are located. 
Both exhibitors and attendees seemed to be in good spirits again this year, although the attendance appeared to me to be down a little bit from last year. I am not sure if there were slightly more or slightly fewer turntables being used this year than last year, but I am pretty sure that more reel-to-reel tape decks were in use this year than were in use last year. Reel-to-reel tape definitely is enjoying a resurgence!
I want to preface my comments on exhibits and demonstrations by noting that I feel it is very difficult to tell anything definitive at a show. The rooms are highly suboptimal for excellent room acoustics, and dealers and distributors have a day or less to set everything up. And, unless you are going to go to the trouble of asking each exhibit’s host to play music with which you are extremely familiar (as I did) you cannot tell anything about anything: an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar components playing unfamiliar music tells you almost nothing.
This is why I carried with me to every exhibit three of my standard audition LPs:
  • – “Send in the Clowns” by Bill Henderson, Live at the Times (Jazz Planet Records/Classic Records)
  • – ”I’ve Got the Music in Me” by Thelma Houston, I’ve Got the Music in Me (Sheffield Lab 2)
  • – “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley, Grace
As you will see I asked exhibit hosts to play these tracks as I went from room to room.
Aries Cerat
In the Aries Cerat room I saw the physically large and visually impressive Diana Series – Forte 60 watt SET stereo amplifier with DHT 813/814 tubes — a beautiful monster which was driving Vandersteen 5a Carbon speakers.   The Aries Cerat full-function preamplifier and Kassandra Mk II DAC comprised the rest of the system.  Tubes on Vandersteen speakers is always a nice combination, and the system was making beautiful music!

I listened to the Voxativ 9.87 System with AC-4X full-range driver and Bass Extension ($34,900).  The speaker utilizes an interesting wide frequency range driver which is made in-house and, in the system on display, the Pi speaker is supplemented by a dual dynamic driver subwoofer.

The full range driver has no cross-over to the dynamic drivers; the full-range driver simply rolls off naturally at the low-frequency end. The preamp was the Voxativ Ampeggio with MC phono ($11,900).  The power amps were Voxativ 845 mono blocks ($17,500).
This is an interesting concept and was one of several wide-range drivers at the show.
I discovered a very interesting and extremely well-made open baffle dynamic driver called the Stellar 12 by PureAudioProject.  The speaker comes in kit form with directions for assembly.
The Stellar 12 consists of two 12 inch woofers over a soft dome tweeter over a midrange driver over another pair 12 inch woofers.  All of the drivers are made by Morel.  Each driver is solidly mounted to a heavy (around 225 pounds) aluminum frame.  The frame into which the drivers are inserted was extremely rigid and very well-made and machined. 
The drivers were completely open at the back.  This dipole design for dynamic drivers has always interested me.  The speaker sounded very good!

Burwell & Sons

Burwell and Sons is sourcing old horn compression drivers and constructing new wood horns and wood cabinets into which they fit these vintage drivers to custom specification.  According to their website Burwell & Sons “was conceived from the vision of taking the best vintage speaker components ever built, and combining them into the most sophisticated and beautifully crafted cabinets imaginable.”

Unfortunately the system was not yet making music when I arrived on Thursday, and I never circled back to hear the speakers.  I can report that the construction quality and the finish of the horns and cabinets is beautiful.

The Homage speaker on display is priced at about $80,000.  The company’s website promises less expensive models in the future.  This is an interesting company for horn aficionados to watch.


The EAR USA room featured the Marten Mingus Quintet speakers $50,000.  My “Send in the Clowns” and “I’ve Got the Music in Me” were played on a Helias Viridia turntable ($6,500) with Helius Omega Silver R10″ tonearm ($5,225), and Kiseki Purpleheart cartridge ($3,300).  This was one of several rooms using Kiseki cartridges.

The Martens were driven by EAR 509 monoblock balanced amplifiers ($15,700) with the EAR 912 preamplifier ($13,000).   I think driving speakers with very fast-sounding dynamic drivers softens them slightly and makes them a bit more natural.   I don’t know why Magico and Tidal and Zellaton don’t demo their speakers with tube amplifiers.

The EAR USA system sounded transparent, very detailed and quite dynamic with terrific low frequency response, considering the woofers are just three 7 inch drivers per side.


On Thursday I enjoyed a brief visit in Jeremy Bryan’s MBL room (Jeremy is CEO of MBL North America) in which Greg Beron, of United Home Audio, plays tapes on the UHA Phase 12 with OPS (outboard power supply).

Just moments after I sat down I could tell that the sound was a bit warmer and a bit softer than was the sound last year.  I asked Jeremy what changed.   Jeremy was using the very same pair of MBL 101E Mk. II speakers as last year, but this year, instead of about $160,000 worth of MBL Reference amps, he was demoing the middle-of-the-line Noble line of electronics.  Jeremy said that the Class D Noble amps literally measure like tube amps and sound more like tube amps.

While conceptually I am not fond of Class D amplification except, possibly, for subwoofers, all I know is that I preferred the sound of the Noble amps — they sounded a more natural to me than the top-of-the-line Reference amplifiers, which I, personally, found to be a bit overly-detailed and a little bit bright.  Greg Beron told me that he has the Reference line and that, in his heavily tweaked-out and Shun Mooked listening room, the Reference amps do not sound at all overly-detailed or bright. I believe Greg.  I just have not heard them myself yet in Greg’s personal listening room. It is great that MBL makes different amplifiers to satisfy different personal sonic preferences.

I returned to the MBL room on Thursday night to listen to music on reel-to-reel tape for three hours. I had an absolutely amazing time as Greg Beron played a wide variety of rock and pop music.  We were treated, among other things, to a fascinating set of different takes of a Dave Mason/Jimi Hendrix recording, and we listened to the re-creation of a live Loggins and Messina concert.

The sound was holographic and incredibly dynamic and driving and “live”-sounding, as MBL systems always are, but this year I found the sound to be more natural and not fatiguing. Also the 101E Mk. II sounds much more powerful in the bass than a single 12″ woofer has any right to sound.  One of the providers of the tapes exclaimed it was the best-sounding system on which he has ever heard his tapes played. That surely is very high praise!

I have seen Greg demonstrate his UHA tape decks many times now, and I have never seen a single hiccup or glitch of any kind with any of his decks.  The UHA machines not only sound amazing, they are solid workhorses!

Thanks to Jeremy and Greg for filling the evenings of many attendees with many hours of musical pleasure!

Sunny Components / MQA

Sunil Merchant, owner of Sunny Components, sponsored several rooms, and in one of those rooms he was demonstrating the MQA digital playback system with Wilson Audio Sasha speakers and Audio Research electronics.  A friend of mine in the room asked Sunil to compare MQA with Redbook CD.  To my surprise Sunil said he was barred from performing an A/B comparison of MQA versus Redbook CD or any other digital format.

Sunil reported that MQA is forbidding dealers from conducting A/B comparisons.  I thought he was kidding, but he is not.  I would like to understand the business rationale for that consumer-unfriendly position.

The recording Sunil played of Adele’s “Hello” sounded good, but without any direct comparison to Redbook CD I really could not tell what was what.

Evolution Acoustics / DarTZeel / Wave Kinetics and Durand
I spent a long time in Jonathan Tinn’s Evolution Acoustics/DarTZeel/Wave Kinetics/Durand room.  Everyone was there:  Jonathan, Kevin Malmgrem, Joel Durand — with Leslie Brooks, of Analog Audio Inc., playing reel-to-reel tapes on a Studer A80.
The system consisted of the Evolution Acoustics MMThree Exact (huge outboard cross-over), Wave Kinetics NVS Reference and the Durand Telos tonearm on which was mounted an Ortofon Anna.  The speakers were driven with DarTZeel NHB-458 mono block amplifiers with the top DarTZeel preamplifier.
Jonathan was a wonderful host, and he graciously played my “Send in the Clowns” as well as my Jeff Buckley “Hallelujah.”  Last year I felt the sound was a little strong in the high frequencies.  This year, I had no such feeling.  I asked a friend of mine who has the four column MMSeven and who was there listening as well and he agreed that this year the system was a little bit softer in the highs.  I thought the system sounded life-size, transparent, open, dynamic — “basically perfect,” as I told Jonathan.
I asked Kevin why the system sounds a little bit softer and more natural this year.  He said that upgrading to the NHB-458s, with their extreme headroom, probably accounts for the (welcome, to me) difference in sound.
Jonathan played on vinyl a fantastic 45 rpm recording of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and a very transparent LP of Ryan Adams Live at Carnegie Hall. But the real treat for me was when Leslie played Dave Brubeck’s Time Out on tape.  I just love tape!
Merrill Audio / German Physiks
I have always been curious to hear German Physiks loudspeakers, with their unique bending wave driver in a conical shape, and in the Merrill Audio room I had my chance. The German Physiks HRS-130 with high-polish polyester/high polish veneer finish ($22,750) was being demonstrated.  The speakers were powered by Merrill Audio Veritas monoblock amplifiers ($12,000 per pair), the preamplifier was the Merrill Audio Christine Reference preamplifier ($12,400) and the phono stage was the Merrill Audio Jens Reference phonostage ($15,449).  Vinyl was spun by a VPI Avenger Signature turntable ($21,000) with a VAS NY Nova signature cartridge ($3,000).  
I thought the German Physiks sounded transparent, natural, open and spacious.  I liked them a lot!
It is interesting to contrast the German Physiks speakers with the flat bending wave driver of the extremely well-made and expensive Goebel High End Epoque Fine, which is not omnidirectional, and the MBL 116F, a completely different driver technology, but which is omni-directional.
I think the German Physiks speakers represent pretty good value for the money.  You could combine them with a pair of REL or JL Audio subwoofers and have a pretty fantastic system at not a crazy price.
Cake Audio / Rockport Technologies / Vitus
Ken Boyce, of Cake Audio, in San Clemente, California, was making great music as usual with the Rockport Atria ($25,500 per pair), and the Vitus SIA-025 balanced integrated amplifier ($25,200), which produces 25 watts per channel class A or 100 watts per channel class AB.
Ken kindly played my “Send in the Clowns” and “Hallelujah” LPs on a Brinkman turntable.  I would have been happy to sit there for a long time, enjoying the natural sound with rich upper bass/ lower midrange response for which Rockport Technologies speakers are justly famous.
Albert Porter, who is the new USA distributor of Allnic electronics, was showing the top Allnic pre-amp with Purist Audio Design speakers. 
Diesis Audio
I saw and heard for the first time the Diesis Audio Aura speaker ($20,000), consisting of an exponential horn, made of ABS and fiberglass, above a dipole loaded woofer section consisting of 10 inch and 12 inch paper dynamic drivers. The speaker sounded promising.
Acapella Audio Arts
The Cellini speaker on display in the Acapella Audio Arts room is the least expensive speaker made by Acapella, of Germany. This unique speaker combines a hyper-spherical midrange horn with a plasma tweeter covering 6 kHz and above.
I played “Send in the Clowns,” and I found the vocal reproduction to be the among the most transparent of any horn I have heard thus far. 
Magnepan sponsored an interesting demonstration with a trio of MMG speakers ($600 each) in a three channel configuration powerd by a three channel Bryston amplifier and utilizing a Bryston processor. Wendell Diller, of Magnepan, said that the purpose of the demonstration is to showcase the kind of sonic holography which is possible with Magnepan speakers.
The system sounded great and it reminded me of the incredible sound quality which Magnepan speakers offer for very little money.
Profundo / Trenner & Friedl
Bob Clark, of Profundo, U.S. Distributor of Trenner & Friedl, Heed Audio, Transfiguration and Viva Audio, was showing the Sun, a ridiculously diminutive Trenner & Friedl stand-mounted speaker with a five inch diameter driver and a one inch soft-dome tweeter ($2,995). It was difficult to believe the sound coming out of this tiny speaker.  
I asked Bob if it wasn’t misleading to power this tiny speaker with expensive Viva Audio monoblock tube amplifiers and a high-quality Genesis Muse streaming unit. Bob said that he has tried the Sun with an inexpensive integrated amp and that the Sun retained its high quality, big sound nature.
Scott Walker Audio / Magico / Soulution / Synergistic Research
Magico teamed up with Synergistic Research and Soulution electronics.  These brands were hosted by Scott Walker of Scott Walker Audio.  Magico this year was again in a room the size of a helicopter hangar, which I think is too big for the speaker system.
The new Magico S7 speaker was on display, driven by Soulution 701 monoblock amplifiers.  The S7’s drivers are derived from the M Pro speaker.
The demonstration consisted mostly of three A/B comparisons of new Synergistic Research acoustic treatment components inserted in the system while playing music and then taken out of the system and playing the same music again, so the attendees could hear the effects of the devices.  In addition to the three Synergistic Research tweaks they also debuted the PowerCell 12 UEF non-current limiting power conditioner. I appreciated that Scott Walker included a reel-to-reel tape deck in the demo.
The Synergistic Research Black Boxes (about $2,000 each) are intended to replace large bass frequency absorbers like Acoustic Sciences Corporation TubeTraps, which typically occupy the corners of a listening room. The Black Boxes are only about 9″ square and are very unobtrusive. 
Out of the three products being demonstrated in this helpful A/B fashion, I heard a significant difference only when the Black Boxes, which function allegedly like tuning forks to absorb excess low-frequency standing waves, were in the system.  Four of these boxes were used in the room:  two in the front wall corners, one in the middle in front of the amplifier situated between the speakers, and one in the back of the room.  Without these boxes in the room the bass information sounded thick and muddied and unclear. When the boxes were reinserted into the system by simply placing them back on the floor low frequencies became clear and detailed and intelligible again.  The difference was not subtle.  I can fully endorse these Black Box low-frequency absorbers. 
Overall the S7 sounded excellent, with a wide and deep soundstage, a detailed sound, great transparency, and no edginess or brightness. 
Genesis Advanced Technologies / Viva Audio
Gary Koh, owner of Genesis Advanced Technologies, was demonstrating the Genesis 7.2f, a new affordable, slim, floor-standing speaker ($15,000).  The 7.2f reproduces bass down to 22 Hz due to a built-in, self-powered, 8″ diameter, solid-aluminum cone, side-firing subwoofer.   The 7.2f ‘s ring-ribbon tweeter is the same driver used in the world-renowned Genesis 1.  Like the big Genesis speakers, the 7.2f has a rear-firing tweeter to enhance dimensionality and ambiance.
Since a review many years ago of an Infinity Reference Standard speaker in which the reviewer wrote that the Infinity speaker required a very high power amplifier Gary has sought to correct the misimpression that Genesis speakers are hard to drive.  The 7.2f has a sensitivity of 89 or 90 dB.  
At the show Gary demonstrated the 7.2fs with a three (3) watt Viva Audio headphone amplifier ($7,500), and the Viva audio phono stage ($12,000). The three watt headphone amplifier had absolutely no trouble driving the 7.2fs to realistic, powerful and thrilling volume!  At this show Gary sought to dispel forever the idea that Genesis speakers require high wattage amplifiers.  By demonstrating his 7.2f speakers with a mere three watt headphone amplifier Gary succeeded!
As with every Genesis speaker I have ever heard the 7.2fs are very transparent, open, detailed, dynamic and natural-sounding.  Gary was spinning vinyl with a Basis Audio turntable and the Basis Audio Superarm 9 tonearm.
Wilson Audio / Vacuum Tube Logic
Luke and Bea Manley of Vacuum Tube Logic teamed up with Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio and demonstrated the new Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeaker powered by VTL Siegfried Reference Monoblock Series II amplifiers ($65,000 per pair).  
The new Alexx sounded fantastic playing some late 1700s organ music with which Peter was trying to impress John Atkinson. Peter certainly impressed me!
Now that the Alexx is available I don’t understand why anybody (unless space is a factor) would buy XLFs rather than, for a little more money, the Alexx with a pair of Thor subwoofers and Wilson controllers. 
Brian Berdan, son of the famous high-end audio store proprietor and turntable set-up guru Brooks Berdan, handles both Wilson Audio and VTL out of Audio Element, Brian’s terrific audio salon in Pasadena, CA.
Tidal Audio
Tidal Audio was demonstrating the Contriva G2 speaker ($59,990 per pair) driven by the Tidal Audio Preos-D preamplifier ($31,990) and Tidal Audio Impulse dual mono amplifiers ($32,290). The source was the LampizatOR Golden Gate DSD/PCM DAC ($14,712).  
As with all Tidal Audio speakers the Contriva is beautifully made. The speakers were open, fast, transparent and very detailed-sounding. Sadly, analog playback was not part of the exhibit.
MSB was showcasing the MSB Select DAC II and Universal Media Transport V. This new ladder DAC (approximately $90,000) features a loudness attenuator with eight modules and employs the purest and simplest digital and analog paths possible.
MSB M204 Mono amplifiers with zero negative feedback were driving YG Acoustics speakers. 
Raidho / AAVIK
The Raidho room featured the Raidho  XT2 in walnut burl with black stands ($28,800). The speakers were driven by an AAVIK U 300 integrated amplifier ($30,000).  
The host kindly played my “Send in the Clowns” track on a Hartvig turntable ($16,750) with an Ikeda IT345CR1 9″ tonearm ($6,900) and an Ikeda 9TT moving coil cartridge ($4,400).
The  XT2 which is a short, narrow speaker, sounded transparent and natural in the midrange and the treble, and did not have that hyper-fast sound of which I, personally, am not a big fan. The speaker seemed to be a little bit boomy in the bass.  But overall the  XT2 was producing a big, natural sound out of a small design.
Sanders Sound Systems
Sanders Sound Systems was demonstrating a turnkey hybrid electrostatic speaker system with matching preamplifier and amplifier and cables. The system on display costs $22,500. Sanders Sound Systems products are sold direct, and the company offers a 30 day in-home, risk-free trial. 
I have to disclose that I have owned MartinLogan hybrid speakers for about 26 years, so I am partial to dipole speakers in general, and to electrostatic speakers in particular. The sound from the Sanders system was very transparent and open and spacious and natural and totally enjoyable.  It was a sound with which I am very familiar and comfortable.
With so many small dynamic driver speakers costing $20,000 to $30,000, and so much complication and stress involved in matching speakers and components and cables from different manufacturers it is very easy to recommend this Sanders system as a simple and relatively inexpensive but extremely high sound quality option. 
Upscale Audio / Kef / PrimaLuna
Kevin Deal, owner of Upscale Audio, was demonstrating the PrimaLuna amplifier on the Kef Reference speakers with the VPI Avenger Reference and tonearm with a Kiseki cartridge.  The Manley Labs Chinook SE handled phono stage duties.  Kevin was getting excellent and natural sound from this set-up.
Kevin had on static display samples of the PrimaLuna integrated amplifier with the cabinet off to enable people to see the very high-quality parts and meticulous construction techniques used in that piece of equipment. Kevin is very proud of the parts quality and construction techniques employed in the PrimaLuna amplifiers compared to the parts quality and construction techniques of much more expensive competing products.
Zu Audio / pass Labs
The Zu Audio room was staffed by the friendly and helpful Sean Casey, owner of Zu Audio, as well as his VP, Gerrit Koer.
Pass Labs electronics drove Druid Mk. V speakers. The full-range driver of the Mk. V covers 35 Hz to 10 kHz, and then crosses over to a tweeter for 10 kHz and up.
Gerrit played for me both “Send in the Clowns” and the Thelma Houston.  The sound was strong, driving, exciting and very coherent.  
The Lotus Group / Axiss Audio / Gauder Akustiks
The Lotus Group and Axiss Audio joined forces to put together a very international system. I listened to Gauder Akustik Berlina RC-7 Mk II speakers ($60,000) of Germany, driven by the Accuphase A-70 stereo amplifier ($27,000) of Japan.  
The vinyl source was the Hanss T-60SE Special Edition turntable ($10,500) of Hong Kong, with a Durand Kairos tonearm ($6,450) of the USA, on which was mounted an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge ($8,500) of Japan.  An Air Tight ATE-2005 phono preamp was used for LP playback.  PranaWire cables connected everything together.
The host focused my attention on the Pranawire Linebacker XE power filter of the USA. It looks very solid and well-made but, of course, I couldn’t isolate any aspect of its sonic performance from the rest of the system.  Overall, the system sounded transparent, detailed and dynamic.
S R C / Concert Fidelity
Concert Fidelity and S R C Inc. teamed up to showcase a full line of Concert Fidelity electronics and the S R C Maxonic horn-based speaker. Both Concert Fidelity and S R C are located in Japan.  Playing vinyl the system sounded good and the attractive sonic attributes of horn speakers were evident.
Alma Audio / Avantgarde Acoustics / Audiopax
Alex Suify, of Alma Audio in La Jolla, California, was dashing among three rooms he sponsored but he graciously spent a lot of time with me listening to Avantgarde Uno XDs ($34,600). Vinyl playback was handled by a sleek-looking Bergmann Magne turntable with linear-tracking tonearm ($16,500), a Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge ($4,950) and a Dan D’Agostino Momentum phonostage ($28,000).  
The speakers were driven by Audiopax M50 Class A1 50 watt monoblocks ($29,800 for the pair).  Everything was connected by Kubala-Sosna cables.  
Alex played my “Send in the Clowns” and the Thelma Houston. The Uno XDs sounded terrific:  open, spacious and more transparent than I had remembered horns sounding in Munich.  Avantgarde makes impressive-sounding speakers at a variety of price levels.
GTT / YG Acoustics / Audionet
Bill Parish, of GTT Audio & Video, was hosting the YG acoustics/Kronos/Audionet room.  
The turntable was the Kronos Pro Black Beauty tonearm ($50,000). The cartridge was the new Airtight Opus 1 ($15,000).  (This is one of the cartridges I’ve been considering for my personal system.)
Audionet MAX monoblock amplifiers ($30,500 per pair) drove YG Acoustics 1.2 speakers ($72,800). The cartridge signal amplification was handled by the Audionet PAM G2 phono stage ($10,100).  Kubala-Sosna provided all cables
Bill kindly played my “Send in the Clowns.”  The sound was great as usual from the YG acoustics speakers:  transparent, open, detailed and natural.
Without knowing what cartridge was on the tonearm, I was on the lookout for any edginess or excess sibilance from the cartridge. The recording sounded so natural that I thought Bill must be using a ZYX cartridge. When I asked Bill what cartridge he was using he told me it was the new Air Tight Opus. I told him that I was grateful to hear no excess sibilance and no edginess of any kind (and with from solid state amplification, no less).
I have been afraid the Opus, with its duralumin cantilever and base, would trade increased transparency and detail for a loss of a bit of naturalness and musicality, but, at least on one very short listen, I did not find that to be the case.
Relatedly, I heard from a YG Acoustics dealer that YG Acoustics is in the process of designing and producing a state-of-the-art, four column speaker system.
Von Schweikert Audio
Albert Von Schweikert, the founder of Von Schweikert Audio; Leif Swanson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing; and Damon Von Schweikert, an industrial engineer for the company, all were in the room to demonstrate a system consisting of VR-55 Aktive speakers and Constellation electronics, and to answer attendees’ questions.
The system sounded powerful, transparent, open, very detailed and very dynamic.  This was another great-sounding room featuring reel-to-reel tape as a source.
Joseph Cali Systems / On a Higher Note / Vivid
Joseph Cali, of Joseph Cali Systems, hosted an elaborate and very carefully structured demonstration of vinyl (Luxman PD-171AL turntable ($6,500), the SME M2-9R tonearm ($1,900), the Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($8,500)); digital (Merging Technology NADAC player ($11,500); quarter-inch reel-to-reel tape (Sonorus) and half inch reel-to-reel tape(Otari); as well as a demonstration of 4K home theater video (Sony VW1100 ES 4K ($29,995)).  Philip O’Hanlon, of On a Higher Note, provided Vivid Giya G2s ($25,000 each), the new Luxman B-1000f monoblocks ($60,000 for the pair), as well as the other Luxman equipment.
The demonstration showed clearly the transparency, naturalness and low-frequency capabilities of the Giya G2s. The Giya speakers never fail to impress.  Joseph and Philip have been putting together top high-end audio systems for many years, and each of them is a very accomplished expert in the field. 
Perfect8 Technologies
Perfect8 Technologies is a Swedish speaker company which makes unique speakers with a dipole ribbon and open dynamic drivers attached to a clear, glass baffle.   Since glass normally rings the company has developed a glass baffle with a non-resonant sheet sandwiched between layers of glass.
The top-of-the-line model, The Force, is a design which hits all of my personal speaker design preferences:  a tall, dipole ribbon or electrostatic driver crossed over to a physically separate, vertical array of dynamic drivers.
A small model, the Point Mk. II was on display at the show.  This speaker consists of a ribbon tweeter crossed over to two midrange drivers with integrated, active subwoofers reproducing the lowest frequencies.
The host kindly played my “Send in the Clowns” and “I’ve Got the Music in Me.” The Point speaker produced a very big sound given its small size.  On “Send in the Clowns” I heard the dipole openness, transparency and presence which I look for.  However, on the louder portions of Thelma Houston I think the speaker became a little bit congested.
I would be fascinated to audition The Force at the Perfect8 factory in Sweden.
Audio Element / Wilson Audio / VTL
Brian Berdan, of Audio Element in Pasadena, California, was demoing the Wilson Audio Sasha speakers driven by VTL MB-450 Signature Series III auto-biasing, 400 watt monoblock tube amplifiers ($20,000 per pair). To play records Brian was using the Grand Prix Monaco 1.5 turntable, and for digital Brian was using a dCS stack.  Brian was making great music with this system, as he does every year! 
Optimal Enchantment / Vandersteen / Audio Research
Randy Cooley, purveyor of a highly customized and personal level of service from his Optimal Enchantment in Santa Monica, California, was the gracious master of ceremonies in this room.  Each year Randy uses Basis Audio turntables and tonearms, Vandersteen speakers and Audio Research electronics, and each year Randy produces fantastic sound.
This year the system was featuring the Basis Audio Work of Art and Superarm 9 tonearm.  I personally was excited to see the Work of Art because I have ordered one (based on several auditions of the Basis Audio Inspiration) but I have never seen one in person before.
Randy was demonstrating the Vandersteen Seven Mk. II driven by Vandersteen liquid-cooled M7-HPA monoblock amplifiers, with matching subwoofers. Randy kindly played “Send in the Clowns” for me, and I thought the system’s sound was very natural and engaging and emotionally-involving.  
Both A.J. Conti, owner of Basis Audio, and Richard Vandersteen were in the exhibit room for much of the show and happy to answer attendees’ questions. 

I heard a lot of great systems at  T.H.E. Show Newport 2016.  My main takeaway from the show is that while there are many expensive products out there, you do not have to spend a lot of money to get great sound.  Of course, what is “a lot of money,” is highly relative, personal and debatable.  But when you can easily spend $20,000 on cables, getting an entire system for $20,000 does not sound crazy or exorbitant.

I love the sound of tape and I am ecstatic that, year by year, more exhibitors are demonstrating with tape decks, and more pre-recorded tapes are available for purchase.

I suppose I should apologize for reporting only tangentially on anything digital.  I, personally, do not do anything with digital discs or streaming or music stored on a hard drive.  I play only vinyl and tape.
Vinyl playback is messy, organic, complicated, charming and not perfectly repeatable — a lot like sex, actually.  I don’t care; please go get a turntable anyway.  Vinyl playback is worth the trouble.

BEST SOUND OF THE SHOW to me (in no particular order):

Evolution Acoustics / DarTZeel *
GTT / YG Acoustics / Audionet
Joseph Cali Systems / On a Higher Note / Vivid / Luman *
Optimal Enchantment / Vandersteen
Von Schweikert Audio / Constellation *
Wilson Audio / VTL

BEST VALUE OF THE SHOW to me (in no particular order):

Audio Element / Wilson Audio / VTL
Cake Audio / Rockport Technologies / Vitus
Merrill Audio / German Physiks
Sanders Sound Systems

* demonstrated with a reel-to-reel tape deck
Text and photos:
Ron Resnick – Mono & Stereo Senior Contributing reviewer/writer