T.H.E Show 2021 Exhibition Room Report
I kept making myself a promise to get to Alex Yoon's room early this year but alas, (or maybe serendipitously) I wasn't able to get a seat until Sunday afternoon. The visually modest setup was anything but. The Audio Antero speakers gave spectacular reproduction of acoustic piano (I should know, seeing as I am one - a pianist, not a piano, obviously) and the room had one of the most relaxed vibes I have ever experienced at an audio show. The soundstage his speakers presented (in my humble opinion) was more upfront and personal - like you were in a dress rehearsal or a mid-sized listening room rather than a huge concert hall. That's not to say it wasn't a big sound. It's to say they had a very personal vibe, which I know some people really dig! Wavetouch Audio was definitely a welcome addition to T.H.E. Show 2021.
Okay, can we talk about Spatial Audio for a minute please? I couldn't get time in their room until Sunday afternoon because every time I walked by, the room was heaving with people (again socially distanced and masked but appropriately maxed out). I finally managed to get a sliver of space, standing off to the side, definitely not anywhere near a sweet spot, but what I heard from the weird angle I was relegated to was pretty darn sweet. These speakers are meant to make the listener feel as if a full sound stage is coming out of nowhere. The realistic reproduction played such havoc on my ears (and eyes) that I honestly thought my eyes were going to start watering. It's clear why people love the M3 loudspeakers for the same reason I do. The imaging was just everything. And folks raved about it.
Voss Audio was a welcome addition to T.H.E. Show 2021, debuting with a large-scale exhibit featuring reel to reel through Graham LS5/8 loudspeakers with Townshend super tweeters. Powering this was the Voss Steve Keiser Design Magnum Opus stereo power amplifier and Vitra preamplifier. In addition to catching a glimpse of an Audience power condition behind the setup (I'm beginning to sense a trend that Audience is literally everywhere!) I caught a peek of Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note as part of the setup team on Wednesday evening which immediately told me I had to be ready emotionally to listen. John Voss was welcoming and set the room up in a way where people could relax and "chill" to use his words. He wanted everyone to enjoy the music in a way they would at home - not just at a show. He and his team did a bang-up job of making that happen.
This year's story of Ken Boyce's Cake Audio was one of pandemic teamwork. Alysvox Botticelli loudspeakers powered by Vitus amplifiers, preamps, phono preamps, CD player, with a Kuzma turntable brought power, dignity, and emotion to music that only certain pairings can. The room was always well attended with people milling about outside the doors waiting eagerly for their turn to enter.
This was another room to which I was finally granted passage on Sunday afternoon, once the crowds started to disperse. Considering that the 48 hours leading up to my time there was spent being bombarded with Cake Audio posts courtesy of distributor High End by Oz all over social media, my curiosity was certainly more than peaked. Oz and Ken were in full beast mode with audio and Oz being equally a beast with social media promotion knew exactly how to tease this room out. Let me say for the record it was definitely worth the wait.
One might say that the aesthetic presentation of this room was minimalist. I'd say it was clean and the focus was absolutely meant to spotlight the music. While some may say that granite is cold and unfeeling, the granite enclosure to the loudspeakers presented was just the opposite. They gave off something that was warm, passionate, and very inviting. I was lucky enough to have caught up with the gents from Pietra and Benchmark during set up day so I had some time to myself in their room. What a treat! It was nearly impossible to get back into their room once T.H.E. Show started so I count my lucky stars I had the time I did pre-show.
I had the great pleasure of visiting Audio Limits in their showroom in Nevada a couple of months ago so admittedly, I got the chance to dive deep into music on their systems. That being said, we all know systems travel around the world and every room in which they are set up conjures some unexpected surprises, sometimes good, sometimes, well.... Audio Limits impresses EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Literally. That room had a "pre-pandemic" energy to it (though people did wear masks and socially distance) which was so lovely to experience. Darrin O'Neill debuted the Audiovector R8 Arretes with the Thrax Libra 300 tube preamplifier and believe me when I say I swear I saw some jaws drop inside of masks. Audio Limits brought happiness to listeners in a way that only they can.
Behold the MR!777 loudspeakers and goodness knows we did. T.H.E. Team had prepared countless times for what to do if someone was refusing to adhere to health and safety guidelines, but in doing so, we had our sound police badges in our back pockets. Peter Norbaek's room was rockin' to say the least. A constant stream of people who weren't there just to listen - but to actually internalize the music and have a holistic experience. And Peter delivered repeatedly, with demo after demo. I will say this for Peter. He made no apologies for having an absolutely rockin' room, and while the Director of Marketing in me still has a bit of ringing in my ears (figuratively speaking), the bandleader in me is throwing horns and glad he brought that energy. :)
High Fidelity Cables landed in Gallerie 1 this year, which is where we used to have our seminars. This is, by all accounts, a super large room but they made great use of every bit of real estate. With multiple exhibits in this room, High Fidelity Cables was able to offer visitors a unique chance to go on a journey, not just by listening, but by actually walking around the room from station to station, lending an additional tactile experience. The room was buzzing with excited attendees and something truly delightful to me was how many people were asking questions of Rick's team, learning something new and connecting with their peers. The audio demos were nothing short of impressive!
Aaudio Imports occupied the first large-scale room on the Mezzanine with good reason. Wilson Benesch, Ypsilon, Aurender, and Stage III brought a one-of-a-kind harmony to the room. I did hear remarks from members of the press on how unusual and unique this was. Those two terms can conjure uncertainty normally, but Aaudio Imports did a stellar job giving space and credit to each component that made up their tremendous system. This was yet another room in which I was relegated to SRO (that's standing room only for you non-theater folks) but accepted this quite happily as a multitude of excited listeners filed in and out of the room, most returning for repeat listening opportunities.
As I walked the floors with my team, it truly warmed my heart to see so many people with us once again. It's no secret that T.H.E. Show, like any audio show, has had its ups and downs, and the pandemic definitely sowed seeds of uncertainty into fertile ground. But, with so many people coming together for the music, for the community, for each other, and choosing T.H.E. Show 2021 to be the first place in over 15 months to do so, we chose to close this year with equal parts celebration, resolution, and re-commitment to always be a champion for those on their audiophile and music enthusiast journeys.
Please stay tuned for Part Two in which I'll be covering T.H.E. Show 2021's Marketplace.