by Rafe Arnott
My stomach lurched a bit as the jetliner I was riding in lowered its bouncy wheels and they drunkenly (and somewhat sideways) smacked the greasy tarmac at John Wayne International in Orange County Thursday afternoon.
I was here to cover T.H.E Show at Newport Beach with fellow Part-Time Audiophile contributor Malachi Kenney and couldn’t wait to ditch my bags, grab my camera and hit the show floors to take in what many call “the best audio and hi-fi show in North America.”
I had a lot of expectations that the gear, vibe and people would be outstanding. I haven’t been let down on any of those fronts, and the people I’ve met so far have completely surpassed anything I had in mind. And in my mind, despite the mind-bogglingly good gear here in Irvine, it’s going to be the people that will stand out the most at this show for me.
Thursday was being billed as “media preview day”, which was great, but many of the rooms were still being tweaked and fine-tuned or still had shipping crates and boxes strewn in the corners, so it wasn’t ideal for listening. It was good for talking with people and getting an idea of who was behind many of the components I had come to hear.
Malachi has a penchant for chatting at the bar, so we thrashed out a working plan to cover off each other for the many reviews we both will produce here at the Hotel Irvine, home of this year’s show.
A lovely dinner then followed where Mal and I were joined by another pair of Part-Timers, Brian Hunter (AudioHead) and Marc Phillips. Tony Chipelo of Electra Fidelity, Colleen Cardas of Colleen Cardas Imports, Warren Jarrett of Audio Note UK, filled out the docket.
Later included a trip to the psychedelically-lit NFS (Not For Sale) room on the 13th Floor, which introduced me to hosts extraordinaire Anton and Mike, a pair of characters who run an amazing room every year with a plethora of gorgeous vintage gear — this time featuring a pair of beautifully restored Magnepan 3.6 speakers being driven by a classic, late ’50s Citation amp and preamp and fronted with a re-chipped ’80s Sony linear-tracking turntable.
As I left Mike and Anton and made my way back to my hotel I couldn’t help but feel that this was the start of an amazing weekend of truly high-end gear and some truly high-end people.