Friday’s Highlights | T.H.E. Show 2019

Long Beach will never be mistaken for Munich, but I do have reasons for wanting to come out to T.H.E. Show 2019 in Southern California. I was born and raised in very nearby Orange County, and I still have emotional attachments here–especially when it comes to hamburgers. Dude, I’ve telling everyone for decades that LA is the center of the universe when it comes to the cheeseburger. LA didn’t invent the burger, but it turned it into an icon. My favorites of all time were the classic joints near the Hollywood studios, although some of those are now gone. I still maintain that The Apple Pan makes the best burger in the world, and I’m going to make Eric Franklin Shook eat one before he goes back home.

Anyways, where were we? Oh, Long Beach. My mom was born here, her mother had a house on Loma and 15th and lived there for decades. On Facebook I said she lived in that house, which is no longer there either, for 63 years because that’s what I heard as a little kid and the number stuck in my mind. Then my 86-year-old mother had to jump on Facebook to correct me–it was only 46 years. Story destroyed. We were talking about T.H.E. Show 2019, however. It’s in Long Beach, at the Hilton. It’s early Saturday morning and yesterday, the first day of the show, was incredibly interesting.

No, not something bad, but something good. I started off covering ten rooms plus a couple of booths, and then a text came in to Eric Franklin Shook asking if I was okay, because I was posting on Facebook and evidently loving everything I heard. Seriously, I went ten for ten on hearing great sound here, which might be attributed to, uh, maybe the Hilton? I did stack the deck a bit by visiting rooms I really wanted to hear. But every single room produced at least very good sound, and in a couple of cases close to great. This is only Friday–everything will sound even better on Sunday.

Yesterday was also unusual for me because I visited three separate rooms with three separate models of Wilson Audio speakers and I really, really thought all three rooms sounded fantastic. I’m not going to be one of those boring audiophiles who has to tell everyone that he doesn’t like Wilson. But I will say this, I’ve always really liked the smaller Wilson Audio speakers over the bigger ones–and a couple of audio bigshots at the hotel bar last night agree with me, albeit a little too politely. I heard the Tune Tots ($10,000/pair), which are by far the smallest Wilsons I’ve heard, matched to an exquisite Luxman amplifier in one of the three Alma Audio rooms I heard at the show.

You already know what I’m going to say–the Wilson Tiny Tots sounded huge. They defied physics. They hit the lowest frequencies with ease. But no, I’m going to tell you that I was really with how balanced the system sounded, so laid-back. In the past I’ve encountered Wilson speakers that were a little too forward for my tastes, but no. Something is amiss at Wilson under the new leadership. There might be a new Wilson on the horizon, one that appeals to a guy like me who started out with BBC monitors and not the big Infinity speakers everyone else had.

But it gets better–I really loved the Wilson Sabrinas in the Rutherford Audio room where Touraj Moghaddam of Vertere brought much of the same gear as he brought to The Voice That Is! event last week in Philadelphia. But instead of big Tidal Audio Contrivas, which retail for $65,000/pair. The Sabrinas costs only $15,900 per pair, although they can go up to $17K with finish options. The Sabrinas are still very small, the smallest of the floorstanders in the line, and I just heard this warm yet clear sound that I really enjoyed. Then I went to two more Alma Audio rooms, and one of those rooms featured Dan D’Agostino and YG Acoustics, very similar to the awesome sound I heard at their event last year in San Diego. The other room had the new Wilson Audio Sasha DAW, which we’ve already discussed at Part-Time Audiophile. Still, I dug the room and stayed for a while.


I visited Von Schweikert Audio, and of course they knocked it out of the park. But here’s what I noticed: the last couple of hi-fi shows, Von Schweikert and VAC had been quietly downscaling their systems to play in smaller rooms. At T.H.E. Show 2019, I was surprised that VSA were in just a “regular” sized room, with VAC has a room of their own. Esoteric electronics (yes, amps and preamps) and digital sources and the Endeavor Audio E-5 Mk. II loudspeakers and that’s pretty much it, and that’s when I realized that Leif Swanson and Damon Von Schweikert can match almost any pair of their loudspeakers to a certain room and still achieve that same level of performance. That’s what I figured out this time with these guys.

Lots of other goodies seen on Friday, all sounding great: Harbeth HL-5 Supers paired with Nagra in the Common Wave Hi-Fi room, and I was introduced to the sound of Pranafidelity amps and speakers–including the sensational Vayu loudspeakers that retailed for a mere $8950/pair. I thought that was crazy low for this level of performance.

So what if everything sounded great on Friday at T.H.E. Show 2019? It’s a gift. Let’s see what Saturday, the busy day, brings.