Newport 2016: A New Hope for High Fidelity

The Döhmann Helix 1 turntable paired with Kyron Audio at T.H.E. Show

The young, Rockabilly-esque couple sat down about 20 feet away from Brian Hunter and I as we both sat together writing in the bar seating area of the Hotel Irvine’s lobby Friday morning. She looked like the cutest Rosie the Riveter ever, and he was all-pompadour ’50s James Dean-y. This lovely duo proceeded to pour over T.H.E. Show brochure in their hands, pointing out specifics, and smiling, and laughing. Hunter was craving water, and I was draining my coffee in an attempt to resuscitate brain function after an evening of amazing company, conversation, dinner, and many drinks in the cool California air outside the hotel.

Keeping it real.

I took this couple as a sign that my previous evenings concern about a declining audiophile population perhaps was overblown. Maybe there was hope that a younger generation was coming up, and discovering how fantastic, social, enjoyable, and emotionally engaging great music playback is. Maybe…

But back to T.H.E. Show.

Meridian Ultra DAC premiers at Newport

The previous day had seen a lot of the hi-fi press corps roaming the halls of the Irvine. Unfortunately (which is usual on media day) many of the rooms were in a state of disarray, and construction still, so pickings were slim, but it did afford an opportunity to connect with design engineers, and distributors before the deafening roar of thousands of audiophiles descended en masse to jam elevators to capacity, and cheerfully sweat in the glorious heat of glowing valves in $100,000 systems.

Kyron Audio Kronos loudspeaker.

Luckily I had been able to check out a few systems, but since my flight didn’t get into John Wayne International until mid-afternoon Thursday, I connected with some of my favorite people, and proceeded to drink, and eat my way through the evening. Along the way Rob Darling of Roon Labs joined us, as did Bill Leebens of PS Audio, and David Cope of Audio Note UK who is leaving the audiophile world after Newport Beach to pursue more musical interests.

Beautiful babies at T.H.E. Show. This one can drum. I’m not sure if she’s Roon ready though.

Much discussion about the state of high-resolution digital audio, digital-audio streaming, high-end software, hardware, analog vs. digital, and the future of a rapidly-changing industry ensued. Which brings me back to the Rockabilly couple, because during all this I couldn’t help but wonder who was going to be using, and enjoying all this new, and intoxicating technology moving forward 20 years. I know my own children seem to be poised for a love of great sound, but when you go to many of these large industry confabs it’s hard not to notice young people, because, well, there’s just not that many of them at North American hi-fi shows in my experience, so when you do see them, they tend to stand out like unicorns.

I hope the Rockabilly couple have a great time, because they gave me some hope this morning. And that’s a wonderful thing.

–Rafe Arnott