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T.H.E. Headphonium at

T.H.E. Show in Newport 2014
an Audio360.org Show Report

 
audio360.org> > events > > T.H.E. Headphonium at T.H.E. Show in Newport 2014, an Audio360.org Show Report

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

by Kevin Venable and Frank Iacone


Crunch!

That was the most prominent sound in my mind on my trip to The Home Entertainment Show in Newport Beach, California. The reverberating crunch of being solidly rear-ended at a stop light, late Thursday night, echoes throughout my sore muscles. The accident also punctuated what was to be a much-needed change of pace: less stress, more relaxation.

Though my opening words above drip with negativity, the following verses speak volumes about what kind of world we in the personal audio community are forging: the community itself being the molten metal pouring through our industry's collective forge.

Post accident: finally arriving mid-afternoon on Friday, I grabbed my show badge and wandered over to the Atrium Hotel in search of T.H.E. Headphonium, hoping to find Warren Chi and Michael Mercer. As I approached the pool area the Audio360 logo beckoned, welcoming me home.

You see, for Audio360, The Home Entertainment Show is quite a bit like homecoming. The relationships that spawned the site were formed over a year ago in Newport. Warren and I often talk about how that trip changed everything for some of us, and how the whirlwind of a year following it is unbelievable. After hearing my name called out by fellow Audio360 writer Frank Iacone as I entered the pool area, I headed into T.H.E Headphonium at the Atrium.

I found out I was just in time to attend the first seminar devoted to personal audio: Personal Audio: How the Power of Community is Rekindling Passion for Hi-Fi. The seminar's panel included Warren Chi and Michael Mercer (both from Audio360), Jason Stoddard from Schiit Audio, Alex Rosson, from Audeze, Mike Dias from Ultimate Ears, and Owen Kwon from Astell & Kern. Frank Iacone was the moderator.

The discussion centered around the community-driven design and production of personal audio gear, and the importance of Head-Fi.org and its world wide community of members from all over the industry. The thankfulness of the manufacturers, and their respect for the customer and personal audio community at large set the tone for a weekend; full of new products and interaction between companies, retailers, press and end users that could be used as a model for a boutique industry everywhere.

What follows is a scattering of impressions that left a mark on my somewhat car wreck addled mind. I didn't just listen to headphone related gear either. I wandered the hallways opening doors. And if the sound or music grabbed me, I went in and took a listen. Probably not the best way to cover a show, but that's what I did.

I also had a limited list of gear I wanted to make sure I heard on a personal level. I tried to listen to as much as I could but I obviously missed stuff and I apologize to those I missed. One glaring omission is the VPI Nomad (their 995$ turntable with built-in headphone amplifier and phonostage), which I saw in the Brooks Berdan room but was unable to listen. We hope to get one in for comprehensive review here soon.

Audio360 Headquarters

My first stop on Saturday was the room of Warren Chi and Michael Mercer which became the ad hoc headquarters for Audio360, and Mercer's nimble social media gymnastics. This room provided some of the highlights of the show for me. Both Warren and Mercer are kings of the portable rig, a side of personal audio that I have neglected to date.

Mercer's iPod Classic and Centrance HiFi-M8 rig was amazing. Driving both the Audeze LCD-2 with new Fazor technology and the Reference Sounds Enigma flawlessly. I spent a good fifteen minutes, eyes closed, just grooving out. Mercer's iPod being chock full of amazing music didn't hurt either.

Warren's Astell and Kern AK120 amplified by ADL's new A1 Android DAC/amp - driving the Beyerdynamic t51p - was exquisite as well. I really need to just buy that Beyer. Actually, this room convinced me that I need to spend some time and money on my portable rig!

AIX Recordings

This table in T.H.E Headphomium too was chock full of BluRay and DVD concert videos with superb sound. Playback was on a full Oppo Rig; Oppo BD-105 and the new headphone amp and planar magnetic headphones. I will definitely be purchasing some concert videos. They are stellar!

 
Astell & Kern

The gents from Astell & Kern had two set-ups: one in T.H.E Headphonium, and another in the Sunset Lounge above the Atrium Hotel's lobby.

Astell&Kern's Vice-President of Business Development, Owen Kwon, puts it all together for a terrific company.

I forgot to go up to the Sunset lounge so I missed the in-room A&K 500N-driven system: a digital front end including a touch-screened slick UI, a disc ripper drive, and up to nine terabytes of music storage! This fed a 300B tube stereo amp that I told myself before-hand I needed to hear.

James Lee (left) and Jimmy Moon (right) of Astell&Kern setting up the Sunset Lounge for Astell&Kern, featuring their new 3-piece Music Server and 300B amp. That's right, Astell&Kern goes desktop!

I spent some time with the new AK120II and AK100II. I enjoyed both, listening to the newly remastered 24/96 Led Zeppelin album.

Always jovial and helpful, Jimmy Moon mans the Astell&Kern booth. Their AK240 audiophile DAP is a huge success, and their newly released AK100II and AK120II follow closely behind as some of the very best portable digital audio players in the high end.

Mercer and Warren dug in deep following T.H.E. Show, tackling impressions comparing all the players in the Astell & Kern line-up in a thread for Head-Fi! A&K users were eager to hear some first impressions of the new players. Yeah, they're nutjobs. Their initial findings about all the Astell and Kern players can be found here.

I plan on getting the AK120II in for a full fledged review as I have yet to join the party on one of those yet!

 
Audeze

I don't own any Audeze headphones.

But if this trip showed me anything, this needs to change yesterday. Quickly becoming an industry standard for showcasing everything from headphone amps to tonearms, the various Audeze models were absolutely everywhere at T.H.E Show. They also top my favorite listening experiences while in attendance.

Audeze had their entire line of headphones: LCD-2 w/Fazor, LCD-3 w/Fazor, LCD-X and LCD-XC. All were being shown and their booth was busy with avid music lovers all weekend long. Priced from $999-$1999, all of the Audeze headphones are reference quality headphones, and one of my (Frank's) very favorite planar headphones. The Audeze team has been really getting better and better since 2009, and their products have revolutionized the headphone industry for both pro and consumer use.

Mercer's portable rig with the LCD-2 (w/ Fazor), The LCD-3 with the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold, and the LCD-3 with the new Viva 845 tube headphone amp from Blackbird Audio's own Dan Muzquiz comes to mind everytime I think of that weekend. But hands down, the most musically-revealing and most-needed truly personal audio recharge of the whole show was a Phunk Investigation track played through the Violectric V800 DAC and SPL Phonitor 2 rig at the Audeze table! The LCD-X handled transducer duties, and it was a soul-shaking experience.

Audeze gets the star of the show award from me and I will be in contact to figure out which of their headphones will work best with my rigs for both pleasure listening and music creation.

Syncopation and Blackbird Audio Gallery Rooms

This pair of rooms was enjoyable in so many ways. The Viva and Heed electronics are exceptional. We are in the process of reviewing the Heed headphone amp here at Audio360 and we'll also be reviewing the rather large and beautiful Viva headphone amp, which was one of the best headphone experiences I had at the show. Simon and Garfunkel sounded amazing through the Viva gear, both through the Audeze LCD-3 and the Trenner & Friedl speakers.

 
Cavalli

Cavalli Audio

I didn't spend too much time listening at the Cavalli table, but both the Liquid Glass (LG) and the Liquid Gold (LAu) were in attendance. I had the Liquid Glass in my home for a forthcoming Audio360 review and I discussed some of my favorite tubes in it with Dr. Cavalli. That was an informative and fun conversation.

A listener enjoying the Cavalli Liquid Glass amplifier. The Liquid Glass is a 4W tube hybrid headphone amplifier that can interchange both 6.3V and 12.6V tubes, offering hundreds of tube rolling options with this hybrid solid state design. The amp is especially synergistic with the Sennheiser's HD800, LFF's Enigma, Audezes, and MrSpeakers's Alpha Dog (shown).

The Liquid Gold is hands down one of the best headphone amps ever made, and provided a stellar listening experience at the Audeze table with the newly Fazored LCD-3. Both amps are highly, highly recommended.

Reference Sounds's Luis Flores (LFF) stops by the Cavalli Audio booth to take a listen to a few of his favorite reference headphone amps.

CEntrance

CEntrance showcased their new Glove Audio (new line under the CEntrance name) A1 DAC/amp for original Astell-n-Kern AK100 and 120 high res DAPs (digital audio players) and their Mini-M8: a smaller version of their popular HiFi-M8. Both of which will get some much-deserved attention here at Audio360.

CEntrance was showing their high value Mini-M8, a portable DAC and headphone amplifier priced at $699.00. CEntrance's Michael Goodman was able to engineer both great sound and terrific value into this portable DAC/amp.

But what really captured me at the CEntrance table was their Audiophile Desktop System bundle. It just completely blew me away. The MasterClass 2504 Desktop monitors are a steal at the $250 price point. Impeccable timing, tone and timbre. Highly recommended for near field monitoring and pure enjoyment.

 
EAR Yoshino by Tim de Paravicini

The wonderful EAR HP4 headphone amp was not in attendance, but North American E.A.R importer Dan Meinwald's personal EAR and Marten system was. The sound was remarkable from the all E.A.R system played through the Marten Coltrane Tenors. I believe this is the first time the Tenors have been seen at a show in the States and they are definitely impressive. They went down to the mid 20 Hz range in the hotel room! The music in the room was awesome too, and I've come to expect nothing less from Dan Meinwald. We got to hear some wonderful new music, from artists like Four Tet, Amon Tobin, Nosaj Thing, and Eskmo! Dan's a true music addict, with hundreds of LPs and something like ten terabytes of music.

HiFiMAN

I stopped by T.H.E Headphonium Too at the Hilton especially keen to hear the new HiFiMAN HE-560 planar magnetic headphones. Exceptionally lightweight for the type of headphone they are, these new planar magnetic headphones offered a pleasing tone and were highly resolving, reminding me slightly of a Beyerdynamic T1 at times. I will be trying to get a pair of these in for a follow-up review as well.

JH Audio

The people at JH Audio are awesome! They also have awesome products. I checked out a few of them on the first day of the show and was wonderfully impressed by both the JH13 Pro w/Freqphase and the Siren Series Roxanne. I prefered the JH13 over the Roxanne, and once I can financially swing it, I will be buying it. That is pretty much the best review I can give anything. Mercer doesn't enjoy in-ear-monitors for the most part, but he takes his JH-13 Frephase everywhere!

LKV Research

LKV Research was on my audition short-list. They build some exceedingly well-regarded phono stages, and their room did not let me down in any way. The VPI Classic 2 with a Lyra Delos cart sounded awesome through the new Veros One phono preamp and Line One line stage. The speakers were Joseph Audio Pulsars driven by a Conrad Johnson power amp. The Doors's LA Woman LP sounded absolutely marvelous through this system!

Magnepan

I stepped into the Magnepan room for a review of the as-of-yet-unreleased .7 speakers. These speakers along with dual bass panels filled the room with great, highly detailed sound. I thoroughly enjoyed the demo and realized how much I miss my MMGs that are tucked away in storage at the moment.

Mursound

My fellow Audio360er, Ethan Opolion, told me I had to check out the Mursound speakers, so we wandered down to the large room they were in.

The speakers, which are omni-directional electrostatic speakers, left not a single dead spot in the room. That's right, they completely filled the room from back-to-front, side-to-side. with exceptionally dynamic power. The sweet spot was everywhere.

Ethan remarked that it was like walking around the room wearing a pair of properly amped Sennheiser HD800s! I had to agree. It was amazing! The $60,000 price tag will probably deter most, but if you can afford it, check them out!

Noble Audio

Getting a hot tip from Warren, I stopped by Noble Audio's exhibit in T.H.E Headphonium Too to check out the new FR IEMs. The name comes from their ability to switch between two sound signatures - Fun and Reference - via a mini toggle switch on each casing.

I really enjoyed my time with these IEMs, largely in part to the excellent music selection on the Astell&Kern AK120, including one of my favorite artists: Fink! Being intimately familiar with music allowed me to make a quick judgement that the reference setting on these are just that! I look forward to getting these in for a full fledged review alongside Warren Chi.

 
Pendulumic

Pendulumic's Lead Designer Chunbeng "Quentin" Quek had a fantastic weekend showing their fine line of wireless headphones, including the increasingly popular Stance S1 that debuted at the Official 2014 SoCal Head-Fi Meet.

The guys at the Pedulumic table were a blast to speak with. I had to apologize that our full review of the Stance 1 Bluetooth Headphone was taking much longer than expected due to life intruding upon audio. They more than understood and showed me the ergonomic and comfort changes they made to the headphone, that included loosening the clamping force a bit, and increasing the ear cup size. These changes fix some of the little qualms I've had with previous production runs and show a commitment to the product and its users!

Schiit Audio

Schitt Audio never seems to rest! New or redesigned gear was scattered all around their multi-table setup in T.H.E. Headphonium. The Lyr 2 and Valhalla 2 both sounded great, and warrant further investigation, even for satisfied Lyr and Valhalla owners.

Schiit is happening! Jason Stoddard had their newest product available for demos: the Ragnarok. Priced at $1,699.00, this statement headphone amp will also drive speakers with 60W at 4/8/10 Ohms and will drive any headphone with 15W. Mike Moffatt is working very hard to release their companion statement DAC, the Yggdrasil, in the second half of the year.

However, it was their two newer (and smaller) products that really caught my eye, and ears. The Wyrd (pronounced weird, not wired) USB descrewifier and their Mani phono stage really beg to be listened too.

Unfortunately, I didn't listen to the Wyrd yet, but I will be getting one for my set up and report back soon. I spent some time listening to the Mani through their amazing Ragnarok headphone amp. Leo Kottke sounded sublime. For the price I can't think of a better or more versatile phono pre. I will get one and put it through its paces!

 
Woo Audio

Woo Audio brought a full room full of gear and nestled themselves away up on the 9th floor of the Hilton. Getting a chance to hear the WA-234 mono-blocks was a treat, they truly are amazing end-game amps for sure! Even more fun was Warren and I telling show attendees about our experiences with the WA7 and WA7tp. Warren should go into sales... seriously.

 
WyWires

Alex and Nina Sventitsky of WyWires had a well-deserved and excellent showing. Besides their exhibit at T.H.E. Headphonium, showcasing their Red Series headphone cables, his other lines of cables were present in 9 different rooms!

WyWires showed their new Red Series Litz headphone cables for Audeze, Sennheiser and Alpha Dog Headphones. Alex Sventitsky and his lovely wife Nina manned (and womanned) their booth, and their cables were a huge hit with music lovers. Outstanding improvements over the stock cables.

It is wonderful to see such great people getting the recognition they deserve. It was also a pleasure to talk to Alex and Nina about cooking and food on Friday evening!

Zu Audio

My absolute favorite room of the show! Free and for-purchase tees, vinyl played from a Luxman K&K front end in the New Zu console (used only as an equipment rack), into a Rupert Neve Summing mixer and out through mono block tube amps to the Soul Supreme Speakers. I was introduced to a Laurel Canyon band called Dawes in that room, and the rest of the music was amazing as well.

I am something of a Neve freak, so it was great to see that summing mixer in use, getting some of that wonderful Neve transformer sound into the mix. The sonics were superb, but what made the room was the vibe… Amazing! Now I understand why some of my friends swear by their Zu: our own Michael Mercer for one, who won't give up his Omen Defs for anything - especially since their latest cross-over upgrade, courtesy of our friend and fellow Hobbyist Russ Stratton (a.k.a Russtarian on Head-Fi). I am a convert for sure!

The People

In conclusion, while The Home Entertainment Show in Newport is set up for showcasing gear, for me it has become more about people and sharing musical experiences. From hanging out with fellow audio writers like Steven Rochlin, Scot Hull and Tyll Hertsens, to seeing a large portion of the Audio360 crew, to meeting and talking music with people like Andy Regan from JH Audio and legends like Tim De Paravicini of E.A.R. It's about people and the music we love.

 

The Mercer, a.k.a. Michael Mercer Senior Vice-President of Personal Listening for the Los Angeles & Orange County Audiophile Society (LAOCAS), letting his hair (now that he has some) down after set-up day. Warren Chi (Vice-President of Personal Listening for LAOCAS and warrenpchi on Head-Fi.org), Alan Kafton, and Russ Stratton (Vice-President of Audio/Video Systems for LAOCAS, russtafarian on Head-Fi.org).

 

John Williams and Tyll Herstens, Editor-in-Chief of InnerFidelity and grandfather of the hobby, cap off set-up day with some Thai brew at our first mega dinner with T.H.E. Headphonium's crew and vendors. We're all one big family here.

 

MrSpeakers's booth was busy all weekend with the Alpha Dog 3D-printed headphone stunning listeners - especially with its $599.00 price point. Dan has tuned these babies to really sing and they are barking awfully loud with high detail resolution and value. Check them out. Magnificent review to come with Frank Iacone and Michael Mercer.

 

Foreground: a listener (left) checks out Brilliant Zen's Bravissimo headphone amplifier with Brillian Zen's Michael Mossey ready to answer any and all questions; Background: HeadAmp had professional photographer and music lover Peter James (Iron_Dreamer on Head-Fi) working the booth and showing Justin Wilson's GSX MK11 headphone amp with the Blue Hawaii and Stax SR-009 making music.

 

Jonathan Scull from Scull Communications, bravely preaching the virtues of an Audeze LCD-3 driven by a Cavalli Liquid Gold amplifier. Jonathan GETS IT and is a headphone convert, supporting personal audio advancements and helping to promote expansion of our hobby.

 

Sony was showing their music server and DSD player. The Sony products were making some cool tunes.

 

Bob Levi (left), President of the Los Angeles & Orange County Audiophile Society, and retired president of Turner Broadcasting, sorts out the member badges for the society's board members with the help of Dr. Mark Katz (right), President Emeritus & Executive Producer of T.H.E. Show Seminars.

 

Gary Rotter, Vice President of the Los Angeles & Orange County Audiophile Society (LAOCAS) and Executive Producer of T.H.E. Show Seminars, produced a fine series of seminars yet again.

 

John Williams, Senior Vice President of Hospitality and jw111 on Head-Fi.org, enjoying the Newport Show with some dear friends.

 

Dr. Alex Cavalli (Cavalli Audio), Bob Levi (President, LAOCAS) and John Williams (VP of Hospitality, LAOCAS) take a break from their conversation on the final day of T.H.E. Headphonium.

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