Marc’s Wrap Up | T.H.E. Show 2019

After T.H.E. Show 2019, I did something that I should have done at High-End 2019 in Munich–I stayed a couple of extra days after the show ended. A good friend of mine called me just the other day and asked me how Munich was, mentioning how exciting it was that I finally made it to Europe after all these years. The truth is, I should have lingered for a few more days, maybe a week. Six weeks later, Munich was a blur in my mind like I never really went. I’m ready to go back. I’m even thinking about learning some German. Maybe then it will all stick.

I didn’t catch a flight out of Long Beach until late Tuesday–T.H.E. Show 2019 ended on Sunday afternoon. I spent Monday on a lake, at the edge of the desert, where I rode in a power boat going 65 miles an hour. (That’s a personal record I didn’t know I’d set.) On Tuesday, I spent most of the day with jazz singer Lyn Stanley–I’ll write about that shortly as sort of a coda to my coverage. There will also be some reviews of Lyn’s music in the near future since I went home with an armful of her LPs.

My wrap-up of T.H.E. Show 2019 can be summed up in one sentence: “This was one of the best sounding shows I’ve attended.” There’s something about the rooms at the Long Beach Hilton, something acoustically correct, that prevented me from hearing sub-par sound. Every room wasn’t great, but it was at least very good in some way. The difficult part of this is picking the so-called winners of best sound, since there were so many. Narrowing down to a Top Five was almost impossible, but I’ll try my best.

5. mbl North America

As I wrote in my coverage of the mbl North America room, I was suddenly reminded that I’ve always like mbl systems–both the look and the sound. “Instead of a big, propulsive and seemingly unlimited sound,” I wrote, “I was treated to a warmth that drew me in and mesmerized me after just a few minutes.” This makes two speaker manufacturers at T.H.E. Show 2019 that have aimed at additional warmth and musicality in newer products, winning my heart. (The other one will get mentioned at least a couple of times here, so don’t you worry.) mbl has always offered a level of mystique to their systems that is intoxicating and calming.

4. Alma Music and Audio, Luxman and Wilson

This was the first room I covered at the show, and it provided a little foreshadowing to the biggest surprise at T.H.E. Show 2019: I was going to hear some Wilson Audio speakers, and I was going to like them. A lot. Alex Siufy of Alma Music and Audio in San Diego practically yanked me in the room–he knew I would appreciate the synergy between the Wilson Audio Tune Tots and the Luxman L-590X integrated amp. You know how we’re always talking about little monitors that sound huge? The Tune Tots might redefine that idea–they sounded very, very balanced in a rather large room, impressively so.

3. PranaFidelity

This room was such a pleasant surprise at T.H.E. Show 2019. I’ve heard of PranaFidelity from others over the years–the buzz is high–but this is the first time I’ve sat down and listened to Steven Norber’s gear. His system was simply fantastic sounding, not just fantastic at its relatively modest price. The PranaFidelity Vayu/fs loudspeakers, at just $8950/pair, are such a great value. After listening to this system for about twenty minutes, I was convinced I was listening to speakers that cost much more than that. I hope to hear more from PranaFidelity at the next show.

2. Rutherford Audio

This is the other Wilson Audio story I promised. Norm Steinke from Rutherford and Farouj Moghaddam from Vertere Acoustic had just shown me their equipment a few weeks before in Philadelphia, so I thought I was familiar with the system. But instead of Doug White’s $65,000/pair Tidal Audio Contrivas, we had the $17,000/pair Wilson Audio Sabrinas. I’m not going to say that the Sabrinas and the Contrivas are in the same ballpark. But I am willing to say that if I bought a pair of Wilson Audio speakers, it would definitely be these. They just sounded so happy to be there, in that room, making beautiful music.

1 Von Schweikert Audio/Esoteric

Yeah yeah yeah, these guys won again. No surprise, right? It’s like when Stereophile created an A+ class for single components that were so groundbreaking that they were in a special class of their own. VSA is in class A+ for exhibiting at high-end audio shows. But there was an impressive undercurrent to T.H.E. Show 2019 exhibit–in a much smaller room, Leif Swanson and Damon Von Schweikert used a smaller system with the Endeavor Audio line and still came close to the kind of sound they get in those huge rooms downstairs. I think this is an important achievement because it means that VSA can create an incredible system in just about any room–and get close to the same signature sound each time. I’m still rolling that around in my mind almost a month later.

Another reason why T.H.E. Show 2019 was such a pleasure is that I pretty much gathered much of the gear that we’re going to cover in the Fall Issue of The Occasional. Just yesterday I received the Aurender A30 music server/streamer/headphone amplifier/CD ripper/DAC with MQA encoding/HDD storage device. That was a result of a long chat with Aurender’s John-Paul Lizars, where we both admitted to life-long obsessions with burgers from The Apple Pan. Norm Steinke lent me new $695 Arche headshell to use with the Technics SL-1200G turntable and my brand new ZYX Bloom 3 cartridge, which arrived when I returned from Long Beach. Finally, I’m working on getting one or more of the new Vertere Acoustics turntables and arms in for review–both Richard H. Mak and I are impressed with this analog gear from Touraj Moghaddam.

Thanks again, Long Beach, and yes, it’s absolutely true that The Apple Pan makes the finest cheeseburger in then universe. Still.