T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach 2013: Part 11

Onda Ligera

Latvian newcomer Onda Ligera was here to demonstrate what two eight inch woofers can do if you’re mildly crazy. Their WAVE 168D speakers ($35k) run opposing bass-reflex woofers slot loaded for an almost unbelievable punch on the bottom end, while the top end offers up the full audiophile mini-monitor experience. Esoteric digital handled the front end duties while Onda Ligera’s own 600 watt IPA 006 integrated ($15k) manhandled the speakers.

Did I mention the bass? There was something special about it. Two eight inch woofers should not sound like a drum kit. These basically did sound like it. The impact was very nearly live in quality.

Onda Ligera also had their imposing “smaller” speakers, the WAVE 18, on display. These claim a response to 28hz, and, given the basshead nature of the Onda Ligera folks, I have no reason to doubt them. I didn’t get pricing information on these simply because I was too busy trying to convince folks that we all really needed to hear the Imperial March from Star Wars.


Kirsten covered the electrostatic supertweeters in her notes, but let me say that the demonstration was convincing. My only real problem is that the sensitivity is 90db, which might make them a hard match with my 100db speakers.

First Impressions Music

First Impressions Music tried to tempt me, but I was strong and left quickly despite a demo system playing their tracks.

Evolution Acoustics

Another of Kirsten’s favorite rooms. Frankly, I don’t quite understand the love for the little Evolution speakers. They face some fairly stiff competition at their $4k price, and they’re not going to satisfy anyone who thinks that an Altec Duplex is too small (cough).

That said, those speakers are more than capable of telling you what’s upstream in a system, and they suggested that Playback IPS-3 single-box player ($13,000) might just have an amp that matches the quality of Playback’s digital products. As far as I could tell, this sounded more than “promising.”

Music First Audio

How’s that for a room full of stuff? No, there’s no inventory coming! You’re talking about a system assembled the way we do it. Silver-wired Audio Note speakers, Roger Modjeski amp, Music First Audio TVC, LKV phono pre, Music First step-up, AMR digital, and an Otari 5050. Price list? HAH.

Let’s talk about some of the stars, though. The Music First Audio Baby Reference preamp (around $8000), a nicely boxed passive preamp was sitting right in the middle of the room. You probably know that Music First is a subsidiary of transformer manufacturer Stevens & Limited, so it won’t surprise you to know that this passive is a transformer-based volume control. AMR‘s digital was handling source duties while I was in the room, and that proved to be the best tonal match I’ve heard with the AMR gear. The Baby Reference preserved every bit of the incisiveness and speed that the AMR can muster — not a mean trick — while also preserving the AMR’s tonal bloom.

The failure of some transformer volume controls in some systems is that they can make a system sound almost as though the recording engineer was a little too heavy-handed with his compressor. No such weakness was in evidence here.

Another star — although it’s barely peeking out from behind the preamp in my picture — was the old school Music Reference RM-10 (current model priced at $2450) driving the Audio Note speakers. I’ve never heard Audi Note sound so fast. This was a killer combination.

Sanders Sound Systems

Why does everyone talk about Sanders electrostats? There’s really only one good seat in any demo, the electronics are unknowns, and, frankly, I’d need a much more intimate session with them (hint) to see if they really deliver on their promise. There’s a ton of promise there, but I just can’t bring myself to be a fan yet.

I’m really much more taken with the Sanders amps. Take this Magtech stereo amp ($5500). It’s impeccably built, it will dump 900 watts into your 4ohm speakers — notice how careful I am not to say “Magnepan” — and it sounds the business.

Silverline / Reite

Do you know what chutzpah looks like? Chutzpah looks like taking two grand in speakers (Silverline Prelude Plus) and backing them with forty-thousand-or-so bucks worth of gear. Silverline‘s Alan Yun has chutzpah. Not that it’s exactly misplaced, mind you.

The stick-like Prelude Plus speakers did an admirable job in showing off just how dynamic the Reite Audio gear is. Kirsten touched a bit more on the sound earlier, so let me just congratulate the Reite Audio folks for bringing a beautifully plinthed Technics SP-15 to the show.


Did you know that Antelope Audio was supposed to be demoing their new Zodiac Platinum DSD capable DAC? It was there. On a shelf. In the corner. Alone. Unloved. Neglected.

That’s because Marcel James of Antelope brought the functional Antelope Rubicon, all-singing, all-dancing, super-preamp from hell ($40,000) with him, and, like me, he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to listen to it as much as possible. The sound here was delivered through ATC’s fully active, tri-amped, styled for domestic use, $35,000, SCM100-ASLT — and doesn’t that just roll off the tongue? — for a clinical dissection of what the Rubicon can do.

The Rubicon’s ADC functionality was, unfortunately, not working at the show. I’m looking forward to hearing what that can do. This might wind up turning into a primo device for deep-pocketed audiophiles to use to archive their vinyl. The future is starting to look pretty nifty.

Napa Acoustic

Price-performance champs Napa Acoustic were back this year with three different systems. Up front was their, um, let’s call it their megabuck system. Their NA-208C cd player ($400) fed their 35 watt MT-34 integrated amp ($1200) and BOW-A3 speakers ($1700) for a system that weighed in at just under $3300, dug down into the mid-40s in room, and offered up gobs of EL-34 midrange.

In the back of the room, Napa was showing their more realistically priced gear, including their NA-208S speakers ($200), NA-208A 25 watt integrated ($400), and another NA-208C disc player in a ridiculously listenable kilobuck system.

Then came the “you gotta be kidding” award for this show, the $500 NA-S10 “Upcycled Wine Barrel Candleholder Audiophile Sound System.” What you see is what you get: a couple of tiny fullrange speakers, a small sub tucked out of sight, and a laugh a minute. You know… It didn’t sound half bad for an upcycled wine barrel candleholder.

Electra Fidelity / Fritz Frequencies

Some rooms are just fun. Tony, Jack and Fritz made this room awesome. A Resolution Audio Cantata (the least interesting part of the room at around $6500) fed an Atma-Sphere preamp, new Electra Fidelity GM70 monoblocks ($5k-ish), and Fritz‘s $3500 Rev7 Towers for a full-bodied sound you could listen to forever.

Well, you could if you weren’t having a blast talking to folks. The room was wholly without customers, and the easy conversation was a much-needed break for us all. I may have listened to two tracks before this happened.

Okay, Tony, yes. The new casework looks better.

Von Gaylord

An old Marantz CD player fed Von Gaylord‘s Starlet 4 integrated ($3500) and VG-8 bookshelves ($3500 per pair) for a woody, relaxed sound.


Glow Audio was displaying their low-cost-for-audiophile-products product line in this room, but the star of the show was Joel Scilly’s Audiowood gear. From the speaker stands to the insanely gorgeous turntables, the Audiowood products were a treat and a half. Pictured here is the Big Easy turntable sitting on its matching stand.

Audiowood turntables are made from Rega parts, and they can make use of the full Rega ecosystem. Joel even brought along some Groovetracer mods to prove it. The sound was everything you’d expect from a Rega, but the looks were nothing you’d expect. Starting at $1700 ($2700 as shown with rack), Audiowood would be one of my first phone calls if I were putting together a system that I wanted to live with and look at, not just listen to.

Pacific Coast AV / Wilson / Ayre

Wilson and Ayre in this room for a demonstration of Wilson and Ayre. Tight, fast, and hifi.

Pacific Coast AV / Martin Logan / Herron

Kirsten touched on this room in her report, so let me just say that this was about the best I’ve heard Martin Logan sound in a hotel room.

Linn Loudspeakers

We’ve seen the ads, we’ve made the jokes, and we’ve quoted that Mike Meyers motto that starts “if it’s not Scottish.” Well, it’s not Scottish, and Mike Meyers has nothing to do with this.

The Athenaum speakers are as American as the Lansing Iconic, another two-way with a 15″ woofer and a horn loaded compression driver up top. Fed here with a Sony disc spinner and an all Pass amplification chain, the sound was bold and fast.

Mal Kenney

1 Comment

  1. Enjoyable reporting on the show. I rather like this guest reporter concept. Any Best of Show sort of thing?

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