Too many exhibitors saw too little of us. Worse yet, we heard too little of them to write anything fair. We could say they were lovely. We could complain that they sounded terrible. The exhibitors, though, would know that we barely ducked our heads in the door.
Worse yet were the poor folks lining the hallways of the first floor to display their wares. Between headphone amps, rare vinyl, vinyl I fervently wished was more rare, cable vendors, headphones, and the ever-gnawing temptation of more coffee, my show-induced apathy kept me from paying any attention to them.
First Impression Music
First Impression Music squeezed about half their catalog worth of expert masterings into their room. Then they shoehorned in a stereo to play it. Plinius, Exemplar, and Schiit were lying on the floor between a pair of Eficion F200. This was providing low volume background music all weekend in the most gratuitous display of overkill imaginable.
We spent too little time here because the tables were absolutely covered with temptation. The FIM discs sound surprisingly excellent, and we were in very real danger of loading up a sack.
Blue Moon Audio
Pacifica dealer, Blue Moon Audio decided against lugging their Tannoy Westminsters to the show this year. It’s hard to blame someone for being sane in that way. Instead they brought some manageable SP1/2R² from Spendor, and a rack full of tiny Bel Canto gear.
They also seem to have brought a crowd of adoring fans. What little we heard through the press was promising, but the room never emptied out enough to fit both of us into it. We finally managed to get into the room to get pictures late on Sunday. By that point, I was so show-stupid that I couldn’t swear to you that music was playing at all.
New-to-me Piraeus Audio was on hand with their fully active Athena speaker system. With a 96/24 dsp engine handling the crossover duties, and a Class D amp on every driver, the sound was immediate, clean and dynamic. We didn’t get the chance to listen to anything familiar here, so I’ll skip any detailed comments on the sound quality.
Von Gaylord was one of two third floor rooms stuck off on their own in separate hallways. This led to our forgetting to revisit the room. In our first visit, their $3500 VG-8 speakers and $3500 Starlet 4 amplifier were playing. The sound was easy, woody, and relaxing during our forty second visit. Also: their amplifier was blue. Does that help?
Ah, the table by the registration desk. The Sonos products hardly need an introduction. We stopped by mostly out of a sense of guilt. It turned out that the big news from Sonos was that the Android version of their software had recently been updated to feature parity with the iOS version of their software.
If my house were larger, or if I were more reasonable, I’d be fairly addicted to Sonos products. Their interface is great, their sound is excellent for the price point, and they’re dead easy to use. In my case, though, I simply turn up the volume on the big stereo until I can hear it in whatever room I happen to occupy. I’m not the target market.
I snuck in here early on Friday to snap some pictures, but, sadly, I blew off the live recording demos in favor of getting more room coverage. I also blew them off based on the schedule shifts inherent live performances. Besides, I really wanted to see the string trio perform later in the weekend. There was just too much fun to have. I had to skip something.
Cookie Marenco brought a functioning studio in, including Meitner converters and a Sonoma digital workstation. Playback was offered through Pass amplification and Sony’s SS-AR1. The piano was the source of campfire horror stories. It turns out that it’s hard to get pianos through doors.
Music Lovers Audio, Sony, ARC
This system was set up in a space that was acoustically adjacent to the Blue Coast recording demos. Sony’s SS-NA2ES speakers ($10k per par) held the floor, driven by ARC’s Reference 250 amplifiers ($26k). The front end during my visits was a dCS Debussy dac ($11,500) played through an ARC Ref 5 SE preamp ($13k).
Audiophile fare was on tap, with Harry Connick Jr. in rotation on each of my visits. Now don’t get me wrong here. I have nothing against Harry Connick Jr. My mother was moderately addicted to his music for a while, so I’ve listened to it. I’ve even seen him live. It’s just that… well.. there’s only so much you can take.
This is Chris Klein. Chris is the man who drove a whole truck full of room treatments down from Eugene and handed them out to exhibitors as though they were Alice Toklas brownies at Dead show. Chris’s band also plays fairly regularly in one of the few bars within stumbling distance of my house.
Chris represents ASC, and the Acoustic Sciences Corporation are the folks behind Tube Traps. They’re also behind just about any other room treatment you need.
Chris, the poor SOB, spent eight hours a day standing in the hallway trying to smile at people. I think he also reassured people that, yes, that tweed-covered tube up in that room did even out the bass. I don’t think he needed to work so hard. The results in this hotel were fairly obvious.
Chris, we need you to keep driving that truck to shows.
“So, Kirsten, what do you want to do for our anniversary?”
“I don’t know. Maybe take a road trip?”
“How does covering an audio show for Scot sound?”
“I… I have mixed feelings about that. Do you have to come with me?”
And that’s how we wound up spending our wedding anniversary wandering around the Westin, Millbrae hotel. I keep telling people that “WAF” means something entirely different in my house, but they never quite get the extent to which I’m deadly serious about that.
If it seemed like a wacky idea at first, though, it turned out to be a fantastic experience. Constantine Soo put together an absolutely first rate regional show, distinguished by an excellent baseline of sound and filled with real music. Between the afternoon concerts, Cookie Marenco’s recording sessions, or just the chance to wander by the lobby to hear Emily Palen and Gregory James playing in the corner, CAS made sure that nobody had to listen to a stereo if they didn’t want to.
That people did want to listen to stereos was almost surprising. They did, though, and everyone I talked to was incredibly enthusiastic about it. Most forums — and most of the larger shows, honestly — have a certain critical mass of grumpy guys that seem pretty eager to complain about pretty much anything. Compared to most shows, this show’s attendees seemed to skew a little younger and a lot happier. Thirty-somethings and forty-somethings seemed normal instead of surprisingly young, and they mostly seemed too jazzed to be grumpy. There was optimism. People were actually excited and smiling. It was almost off-putting. The only thing that everyone could agree was terrible was the lack of signage in the parking lot.
In other words, Constantine Soo pulled off a small miracle. I can’t wait to see where he takes this next year.
As an aside: there were even younger attendees at this, which honestly made me worry. Young audiophiles can only be a sign of the coming apocalypse. At least one of them claimed to read this site! If you’re reading this, it’s not too late to save yourself. You can still have a normal life.
[I’m sorry — if you’re reading this, it really is too late. Welcome to The End. — ed.]