Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
There are people; then there are these people
Narrow minded, prejudiced, ready to make assumptions about places different from where they grew up. I’m not talking about North Carolina, I’m talking about me, and people like me. People who are way too comfortable thinking of North Carolina as a flyover state, filled with intolerant invariably right-wing white people. Each of them waddling between the fast food outlet and the gun store. That of course is wrong. But then, I’m used to being wrong. North Carolina, Raleigh in particular is a very different place than you’d might imagine from the stereotypes and the soundbites of its national political figures. Immigrants, refugees, and non-white Americans have been in fact transforming this city along with the food, music, and culture for many decades. Welcome to America — and a city counting on it’s changing face to sustain success.
Of those people you can count on, there is Leon Shaw. Once a small town boy, now four decades the proprietor of Audio Advice, and a man you can undeniably depend on (more on that in part two). Describing what Audio Advice is to the uninitiated usually goes like this; it is “The nation’s premier high-end audio and video dealer of North Carolina.” Make sense of that however you will, but it’s true, Audio Advice has been charging forwards since it first opened in 1978. Founder Leon Shaw and Scott Newnam (partner since 2006) are showing no signs of deceleration. It’s obvious what the plan was for this night, “The same thing they do every night, Eric – try to take over the world.
“Four times I’ve been to this event and I still get excited. Usually I’m to be found bouncing from room to room with a glass of wine in one hand, and beautiful woman in the other. Tonight it will be different, my Ricoh GR in hand, and a David Attenborough-like attention focused on the crowd.
ROOM A: PrimaLuna
A new product for Audio Advice, PrimaLuna makes some of the best-sounding value priced tube gear in the world. If you previously thought real tube sound was out of your budget, consider that to be outdated thinking. Anthony Chiarella, representing PrimaLuna, entranced the room as much as with his matter of fact personality as did the PrimaLuna, B&W comb.
ROOM B: AudioQuest
The vibrancy needed to command the attention of a room intentioned on sell power conditioners, may at first seem insurmountable. Jett Logan did it, and probably does it on the often. AudioQuest‘s new Niagara power conditioner demo is not one to be missed. If you’re near a dealer, find the time.
ROOM C: GoldenEar Technology
I’d be full of shit to try and sell you a nine way tie for my favorite room, so I won’t. This is it. I have a special place in my heart for brands that offer so much of the high-end experience without the usually accompanied cost. Here however it seems the bar for sound has been raised, because how often there will be compromises in these efforts, it seems nothing of the sound has been lost to overhead and now hi-end sound must be redefined. I hated writing that last sentence more than you did reading it. Under $2k for the GoldenEar Triton Five speakers, a Dual 8” SuperSub at $1,249 with 1,400 watts of “can do”, 20hz is my favorite frequency but I doubt you’ve ever heard it before. Unless you were at this demo. Mike Lang of GoldenEar Technology has too easy of a job.
ROOM D: Michael Fremer & Analog Planet
If you’re into latter-day-Hipster Peter Pans, then I have a room for you. The hottest thing at the show (both metaphorically and physically) meant getting in line, but it didn’t take long for Michael to prove once again that everything impressive about digital has nothing to do with the music. Any digital stalwarts should be warned to consider the tumescence of their opinions now in repose. I’m sure the VPI turntable also didn’t hurt in making that case.
ROOM E: Martin Logan
Denis Chern in all his charms brings us a stellar pair of the brand new Renaissance ESL15A speakers at $25K, coupled to a stack of new gear from Ayre Acoustics. Anthem Room Correction circuitry being built-in, made this one of two instances where I just loved Martin Logan’s unique room loading capabilities.
ROOM F: Bowers & Wilkins
B&W was not playing any games tonight. They brought with them the first production and prototype pieces from their brand new 800 flagship speaker and Classé Delta series of electronics. It was everything you’d hoped it be. Along with Dave Nauber and Jamie Kraft being the two most willing and engaging presenters of show.
ROOM G: Aerial Acoustics, Audio Research, Transparent
The preseason “big daddy” room of the night. As always Michael Kelly of Aerial leads off with a simple explanation of his design philosophy, leaving it to the demo to cement within the listener the rest of his unspoken philosophy. It does. Dave Gordon of Audio Research, whom I felt should have been considered for replacing Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, gives an ever so insightful and warm description of the genius behind Audio Researches new REF6 preamp and the path forward. Tying it all together both metaphorically and physically, Evan Coffey presents his take on Transparent cables, answers a few questions like a true diplomat, and furthermore seems like someone we’ll be seeing more from as new generations enter the hobby.
ROOM H: Audioengine
Patrick Carr and Daniel Polinski definitely put in the work on this demo. With scale of room and scale of speakers working against them, they pulled off one of the still more impressive demos of the night. Utilizing every asset at their disposal, the new Audioengine HD3s neither seemed out paced by the room size nor the variety of source material presented. All in all, the room rocked consistently. As I might complement a DJ, “nice track selection”.
ROOM I: Peachtree Audio
Helmed by the life of any party, David Solomon’s southern charm and relentless smile had show attendees returning for second and third visits. The capabilities of the new Peachtree Audio Nova series (built in North America) are mind-boggling when you take into consideration what they can do with just an iPhone as a source. These integrateds are an amazing glance at the future, and doing so with value in mind. Generally you see technology trickle down from the higher end, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see in the next few years that pattern reversed. Definitely a crowd favorite.
A long time sonic treat and service to the community both Audio Advice and their “Music Matters” event have become a cornerstone in the ever-changing culture of Raleigh. Inclusive to all comers, despite age or seemingness of class. All who grace the doors are welcomed and share in the idea that overall MUSIC MATTERS, when it sometimes seems little else does.