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T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach 2013: Part 2

Audience AV

The folks at Audience AV brought their small, ClearAudient 1+1 speakers ($1800) and enough confidence to plug their new Wavepower amplifier ($18,000) into them. The Wavepower is built around the Hypex NCore platform, with front end engineering (transformers!), power engineering, and generalized obsessive hacking by Audience's Roger Sheker. The sound was promising. There was a new preamp in their rack as well, with passive magnetic volume control and a serious amount of obsessive compulsion. Audience isn't just a capacitor company anymore.

Red Wine Audio

I hadn’t heard a Red Wine amp since the original Sig 30 hit the market back in the days when cellphones had keypads, so I was looking forward to this room quite a bit. I wasn’t disappointed.

A pair of battery-powered (of course) Lilliana monoblocks (about $6,000 per pair) drove a pair of Harbeth Super HL5 (also about $6,000 for a pair). The well-loved Bricasti M1 handled the number crunching for a computer source and a battery-powered (of course) disc spinner tucked under the table.

The Red Wine amps just din’t call any attention to themselves. The Harbeths sounded like Harbeths, and the Bricasti sounded like a Bricasti. Given my brief visits to this room, I’d be hard pressed to describe any of the amps’ sonics — at all.

If this is the current state of the art over at Red Wine Audio, I’d love to hear what a full Red Wine System can do.

PTE

My only previous input into this website was twisting the proprietor’s arm hard until he agreed to check out the PTE Phoenix powered speakers. At a bit less than six grand a pair, I thought they were an unbeatable combination. Ugly as sin, sure, but unbeatable. Hit with the ugly stick, the ugly brick, and the ugly broken beer bottle, sure, but unbeatable. I loved them.

And now there’s a new one.

The Phoenix SG weighs in at $9500 a pair, sports upgraded cabinet internals, upgraded drivers, and incredibly better looking cabinetwork. The sonic differences from the old model are modest, but they’re also obvious. The bass has tightened up, the treble got a bit less dry, and the vocal range got just a bit more clear. As for the looks, the veneer alone is so good looking that the speakers are almost *not ugly.*

I dig these things. I dig them hard. In fact, I’m starting to think they’re good looking.

Not that ugly matters when you hear them play. The previous model was among the most dynamically convincing speakers that I’d heard, and this new model extends that downward into a greater facility with microdynamics. Of course, you wouldn’t know that unless you asked to play your own music.

The PTE guys are more likely to be blasting the Stones, Janis or AC/DC — bless them! — than playing Norah Jones, but their room was equipped to handle big black discs, little silver discs, thumb drives, and iPod docking. They can play what you bring. If you ask really, really nicely, they may even turn the volume down.

Tweak Studio

Tweak Studio was on its own in a small labyrinth of a room off the Atrium’s main lobby. If you wandered past the cable displays around to the back corner of the room, though, the treat was some surprisingly good analog sound being played through Burmester and Elac. When it comes to Burmester, though, I tend to run — literally run — away before I find out too much about the system. It tends to make me think in terms of how many kidneys I’d have to sell to get it in my house.

The answer, of course, is “more kidneys than I have.”

Dynaudio & T+A

Dynaudio and T+A Elektroakustic partnered up in a large ballroom to demonstrate the Capital “B” Big System — a pair of Dynaudio Evidence Platinum kicked around by a T+A PA 3000 integrated amp and fed by a T+A HV 3000 streamer.

It sounded like T+A and Dynaudio. It had subtlety, dynamics, and a sense of strong, easy power behind the midrange. Most impressive of all was the sense of intimacy it managed to present when driven to room-filling levels in the kind of hideous cavern that’s usually better suited to hosting a soulless sales-lizard hocking an energy drink pyramid scheme.

This was real music. Yes it was flawed, but it wasn’t necessarily a stupid stunt. The big Dynaudios will definitely fill a room, and the T+A gear (gorgeous stuff) will definitely drive it. The biggest problem with this system is that I was forced to listen to it while jockeying around behind the last row of chairs. The place was packed.

JVC

JVC America (That’s “Japan Victor Corporation” to you) was showing off a home theater setup. Yes, it was bigger, badder, and better than the small-town multiplex near my house. It was, in fact, bigger, badder, and better than any large-town multiplex I could get to when I was a kid. Their battleship-class 4k projector was doing fine work splashing that godawful Prometheus flick on the big screen. It was pretty enough that I really wished they decided to demo something with better writing, better acting, and better camerawork. Brain Smasher: A Love Story would have been fine, honestly.

The real takeaway, though, is that home theater is now capable of delivering quite as good an experience as you’re likely to get in most cinemas. If you’re like me and live where commuting to a decent movie is a royal, day long, pain in the… well… this kind of thing starts to have a very utilitarian appeal.

I’ll even say that home theater is most certainly not out of place at an audiophile show. It’s just that Prometheus seems to be the HT geek equivalent of Diana Krall (Wall-E is their Norah Jones).  Come on, people! I want to watch Battleship!

Mal Kenney