Trying to wrap up coverage of an audio show weeks after you’ve left is always a bittersweet proposition for me, and Newport 2016 was no exception. New friends were made, and old ones warmly greeted. Whiskey was drunk, delicious food consumed, and much laughter was had. This what makes these shows so very special; the people. The technology, hardware, and software is always important, and nominally it’s what brings us all together. But I feel in my bones, even if these shows didn’t exist, many of these wonderful souls would find a way to connect with one another. Newport saw the departure of audio-show bastion David Cope, who’s long-time collaboration with Audio Note UK to bring consistently fantastic sound, and entertainment through the likes of Charles King, and of late Vincent Belangér, will be sorely missed. But with one exit, there is another’s entrance: T.H.E. Show this year saw Coleen Cardas Imports start their Down Under approach to demonstration rooms with Marc Phillips helming a suite bristling with standout Aussie, and New Zealand gear like Brigadiers Audio, Pure Audio, Les Davis, Mark Döhman, and Simon Brown’s Wand tonearm.
And it is in the this room where I’m going to start my wrap shout-outs, by giving it my Best Room Award for Newport 2016. Phillips had obviously spent a lot of time curating this system point-to-point, and the payoff was substantial. Every electro-acoustic link in the high-fidelity chain built on, and magnified the musicality of the previous link, creating an undeniable, palpable, and seamless sequence of sonic texture that left one completely relaxed, and at ease. The fact that Phillips, and the Down Under contingent of men, and women who were fixtures in the room exuded warmth, and friendship throughout my multiple stays in their company added a layer of contentment to the vibe that was infectious, and stayed with me for some time.
And one of my two Best New Products Awards goes to the $12,000/pair Brigadiers Audio BA2 stand mount loudspeaker. This small, hand-built, and beautifully crafted two-way, ribbon-tweeter equipped transducer exudes a level of lower-mid, and bass authority that few speakers of this size can claim. Pinpoint spatial-imaging accuracy of instruments, and voices coupled with an incredibly tactile mid-range, and smooth, organic upper frequencies with an ethereal presentation to voices, and woodwinds, and an absolutely fatigue-free sound make these a compact speaker to reckon with; manufacturers be warned, Brigadiers is coming.
My other Best New Product Award goes to Burwell & Sons for their Mother of Burl prototype three-way with vintage Altec components including the Altec 802D compression driver, Altec 15-inch woofer, and the 16-Ohm JBL Model 075 high frequency ring-radiator tweeter with a pair of Burwell’s Single Jack subwoofers.
From my room review:
This is transducer as art form, transducer as religious experience. These are drivers that have been silent for decades, their electro-acoustic souls brought to life again, and allowed to speak to listeners from a bygone era of golden tone through polished-wooden throats like Gabriel’s horn. The sound in this room, while still an acknowledged work in progress, was incredibly tactile, visceral, organic, and challenged one to not become emotionally engaged.
It’s impossible to not be impressed with what this family-owned company has been able to accomplish with their designs, and I look forward to the opportunity to hear more of this prototype as they tweak it for production.
Runner up for Best Room Award goes to Jeffrey Catalano at Highwater Sound. Catalano just keeps nailing the vibe for me, I come in, I chill out, I hear an absolutely killer system that has been curated to the nines, and always end up hearing an LP that I end up ordering off Discogs the following week.
Moving on to Best Sound:
“Psychically tangible” was written in the mess of my notes from the Tidal Audio/LampizatOr room pictured below.
“What does it mean?” You ask. Good question! I think I’ll go with how strongly the memory of the sound in The Voice That Is room stuck with me. The memory impact. From my room review after the show:
The Contriva G2 loudspeaker paired with their own Preos-D pre-amplifier , Impulse Dual Mono amplifier, and the highly-regarded LampizatOr Golden Gate DAC with DSD Komputer Music Server feeding it was pouring forth surging, untamed midrange, wall-flexing bass mixed with rarefied, butterfly-delicate micro-dynamics. This was absolutely not the type of effortless, non-fatiguing, organic, and raw sound that just a few months ago I would ever have associated with a digital source. Same goes for the nuanced, deeply-hued tonal colors, and emotion-infused timbre I was experiencing from these rigidly-enclosed, pistonic-driver transducers with diamond tweeters.
So how much of the sound was the DAC, the amp, or the pre-amp? I don’t know. But, I’m going to hazard a guess that the Golden Gate DAC probably had the the heaviest hand in smacking those ones and zeroes around. Tidal speakers are so uncolored that they just pass along what’s coming, albeit with absolute control, and authority, and it’s sound like this that sticks with you for a reason: you can’t stop remembering, and referencing it. And for their effort in Newport, I’m giving this room my Best Sound Award from T.H. E. Show 2016. There were other rooms that may have done one or two things better, but they came at a cost elsewhere (the always present trade-off in hi-fi), but no other set-ups that I heard did so much right. Especially for the relatively small number of boxes being used to produce this sound when compared to other rooms.
Runner up for Best Sound Award goes to Zu Audio for pairing their modified Denon 103 with Pass Labs phono, pre, and power amps feeding into their Soul Supreme Druid MK.V loudspeakers. This room was just rocking. And as I said when I reviewed the suite, in the often times complicated world of high fidelity, the simplicity of the choice in components between basically two manufacturers, is noteworthy because they do work so amazingly well together. This is almost plug ‘n play at an upper mid-level price point, and for the sound quality, the value for money is outstanding.
That’s it for me from Newport Beach this year, I’m not sure when I’ll be back on the show circuit, but CES, AXPONA, and/or Munich could be good bets. Until then, look for a backlog of long-term gear reviews that I’ll be rolling out in the weeks ahead.