The inaugural Los Angeles Audio Show opened Friday with the wall-rattling whoosh of a troubled spaceship, a bus rocking with the latest mobile audio and a turntable levitating an inch or two off its base.
Indeed, I had to pause several times during the day to say to myself, “Now there’s something you don’t see at your average high-end event.”
With three audiophile shows scheduled for California in the next four months, organizers of the LA exhibit wisely went beyond the usual room-by-room stereo demo format to offer extensive home theater displays, car audio and more.
Don’t get me wrong. The core of the gathering still was high-end rigs, but even here show-runners added nice touches such as asking exhibitors to encourage visitors to audition components with their own music and offering an “audio for the rest of us” room that rotated systems costing between $350 and $5,000.
The line for tickets inside the Sheraton Gateway Hotel was already lengthy 30 minutes before the 10 a.m. official opening time. Attendance throughout the day seemed steady, although estimating overall traffic was difficult because the hotel is huge.
Whereas at some other shows, you get off an elevator and turn left or right to go down a fairly short, straight hall to visit rooms, the Sheraton offered multiple hallways that seemed to circle and go on forever.
I often walked for some distance, only to find myself back where I started. This caused me to remember an episode of “Batman” where the caped crusader was trapped in an maze-like evil hideout.
Batman finally stuck a bat-sticker on a wall so he could tell when he had been down the hallway before. Unfortunately, I left my utility belt at home.
But I will say this: LA Audio Show director Marine Presson knows how to run an event. There were numerous helpful volunteers, seminars that ran on schedule and live music for those seeking a dose of the real thing.
OK, enough about the logistics. What about the sound?
Although upstairs rooms were rather small, I still heard good-performing rigs on a number of floors.
In the lobby, McIntosh didn’t waste much time after opening to cue up the new Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remaster on one of its own turntables.
With glowing blue dials illuminating the room, the all-McIntosh rig made it easy to hear how Giles Martin has expertly made a stereo mix that harks back to the mono master his father created with the performers themselves.
Down the hall, Natural Sound US was playing a tweaked version of its Model 1 loudspeakers, an Altec Valencia-channeling large woofer-horn tweeter design ($45,000 a pair).
The tweeter now is nestled into the top of the large cabinet, with about half of it protruding from the beautiful woodwork. This, according to Natural Sound US leader Steve Ozelton, opened up the sound. I found that to be true on several vinyl cuts played by an attendee, including a lively rendering of “Too Much Information” by the Police.
Upstairs, I discovered a brand-new company that appeared promising. And when I say “new,” I mean Friday was the brand’s public Day 1. Kentucky-based Vehement Audio, started by two former high school friends who have been experimenting with various speaker designs for 15 years, introduced their Brezza Forte floor-stander.
The tall, sleek transducers feature a Corian solid-surface front baffle and dual woofers in a transmission-line design. Price is $15,995 a pair.
Established companies also were making excellent sound.
Volti Audio showed its new “compact” Rival speakers, another horn design. These speakers are small only relative to Volti’s flagship behemoths. The Rivals still measure 41.5x19x16 inches, and weigh 125 pounds each.
The company points out in its materials that the speakers are “stoutly built,” and I, for one, wouldn’t argue. That construction ethic and the high-quality drivers produced a sound that had great solidity. Their presentation of Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” was enjoyable, with good frequency balance (going as low as 32Hz) and remarkable clarity on Zimmy’s voice.
Of course, whether it’s really wise for anyone to seek such resolution on Dylan’s vocals, circa 1983, is another matter. But the Rivals ($7,900 to $11,900 a pair) did a nice job delivering what was on the record.
Perhaps the best sound I heard all day came from Merrill Audio Advanced Technology Labs and German Physiks.
The combination of Merrill’s smooth, yet detailed electronics (Veritas monoblocks, $12,000 a pair, and Christine preamp, $12,400) and the innovative omnipole Borderland Mk. IV speakers ($36,500 a pair) made music that was polished and refined.
Elsewhere, I just had fun putting the notebook away and enjoying exhibits such as Sony’s home theater demo of the recent Chris Pratt sci-fi flick “Passengers.” The climactic final scenes, where Jennifer Lawrence’s character attempts to save Pratt, who’s drifting in space after a heroic effort to save the starship, were heart-pounding.
I also was plenty entertained by the coolest new component I saw, the Mag-Lev Audio turntable. The unit looks like a traditional vinyl-spinner, except that the platter turns while it floats more than an inch above the base.
The gravity-defying turntables should start shipping early next year, with the first production run going to Kickstarter funders. After than, other audiophiles can amaze their friends with the $1,500 component. This turntable cries out for a dim room, a lava lamp and a clean copy of Dark Side of the Moon.
I also had a celebrity run-in, as jazz singer Lyn Stanley spotted me and generously offered a signed copy of her new album, “The Moonlight Sessions, Vol.1.” The just-released audiophile recording is generating buzz not only for Stanley’s performances, but also for its use of the rare one-step process in stamping the vinyl.
After a terrific first day, I can’t wait to see what I discover Saturday and Sunday. Check back to Part-Time Audiophile for more scoop.
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