While this may have been the inaugural Los Angeles Audio Show, it had an air of familiarity about it that made for an easygoing experience. Everything seemed to run like a well-oiled machine, and the venue – the Sheraton Gateway Hotel – had plenty of space, and it’s forked-path hallway set-up (lamented by many, but not me) made it easy to take in a large number of rooms per floor without feeling like you were being squeezed out a tube of toothpaste like some long-hallway shows can. LAAS director Marine Presson always returned emails promptly, was charming, and professional all at once, and hotel staff were incredibly accommodating, shuffling rooms twice for me without batting an eyelid, and comping drinks for delays in the hotel bar/restaurant.
There was a lot to take in at the LAAS, with 116 active-exhibit rooms, more than 350 manufacturers, and brands, and almost 60 dealers, and distributors taking up five floors of the Sheraton according to numbers released to the media. Add in a large headphone area, with tons of vinyl resellers and you had a heady mix of high fidelity to choose from. There seemed to be a healthy mix of the ultra high-end, the high-end, the attainable, and the entry-level for show goers to choose from. Turnout seemed healthy too, with many rooms packed to capacity every time I went back to try, and get a listen. Sometimes you’d get lucky, and snag the sweet-spot seat, usually I’d be crawling around people as I photographed equipment, and tried to take to take in the sound from various points around the room as space permitted – I can say I continue to appreciate speaker designs that perform well off-axis.
There were some surprising standouts for me at this show, with new gear I’d not had a chance to hear or audition previously proving to be sonically captivating in some instances, and putting my hair straight back in others. I’m going to start with the Best Sound which goes to a new combination of manufacturers for me (Perfect8 Technologies, Ypsilon Electronics, Aurender, which were curated by bricks-and-mortar shop owner Stefan Fuegi of The High End Zone out of Gila, New Mexico. My initial show report on this room is HERE, and as I wrote, this combination had soulful musicality, an ability to handle huge dynamic swings with ease, and aurally convinced with its impression of limitless headroom to the scale, depth, and impact of the sound.
Best Room kudos go to Mobile Fidelity Distribution for their usual outstanding set-up, not just for sound (which was smooth, powerful, and incredibly tactile on both the analog, and digital rigs), but the warm, fuzzy feeling you get walking into one of the rooms that Jonathan Derda, and Norbert Schmied (to name but two) curate for visitors. Consisting of a mix of TAD transducers, and electronics, a Balanced Audio Technology phono stage, Spiral Groove, and Dr. Feickert turntables, Koetsu, and Mofi cartridges, and killer playlists of Mofi vinyl, and digital tracks (via an Aurender server), all I wanted to do in this room was sip Japanese whiskey, and kick back.
Best New Product (to me) for LAAS goes to the Aurender W20, and N10 Music Servers, and Players. Now, I’ve been exposed to these units in passing previously – they’ve been around a couple years – but Los Angeles seemed like a coming-out party for these two models as they were almost as ubiquitous in demo rooms as Diana Krall being played. The fact that both have been out for awhile without changes to their design or architecture also tells me that Aurender worked hard to create products with future-proof built in, and don’t feel the need to fuss with something which already works flawlessly. Everyone I spoke to at the show about the Aurender gear said it was a must-have for anyone serious about computer-based digital audio. I’m hoping to secure a model for review in early 2018.
This was a busy show for me coming right on the heels of High End at Munich, but it definitely managed to make a positive impression, and during LAAS I shared my thoughts on the importance of all the manufacturers, distributers, and store owners who work tirelessly to bring high fidelity to the masses. These events are important on many levels, but the most important one for me is the ability to connect with real human beings who have taken it upon themselves to build a bridge between the music, and the people who want to listen to it in their homes, their cars or on the run. Despite the ability to go online, and order pretty much any hifi, audiophile product available – at all price points – who would want to drop their hard-earned cash without being able to actually listen to what is they want to buy? And with the demise of so many bricks-and-mortar shops that’s the critical component these trade shows provide, and that’s the bridge I’m talking about: physical access to the gear.
Without that, we would all just be guessing at what everything sounds like.