As a "Vice President at Large" of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society, which is not only the world's largest hi-fi club (2100 members!), but the Show's co-sponsor, and as Chairman of the committee that awarded the event's first annual Richard Beers Memorial Award for Innovation in Audio, I spent, as you might imagine, all four days (including the invitation-only "Press and Trade" day), of the recent Newport audio show wandering around, talking to people (old friends and new) and listening to a broad range of music and a most extraordinary collection of stuff!
With more than 10,000 attendees and 412 exhibitors, Newport has become the biggest show of its kind in the United States and, in the course of checking it out, I was reminded once again of the silliness of that (apparently false) quote attributed to Charles H. Duell (in 1889, Commissioner of US patent office under President McKinley) who is said to have urged that the patent office be shut down because "everything that can be invented has been invented."
Unlike "the same old thing" that one would expect if that alleged "quote" had been true, T.H.E. Show Newport 2016 event was alive with all kinds of new toys and goodies, done in all kinds of new and different ways, and my committee had no difficulty at all in finding more than a dozen new products that showed sufficient inventiveness and real innovation to genuinely deserve an award.
Even so, IMHO that wasn't the most important thing about either T.H.E. Show Newport, the companies that were exhibiting there, or the products they had on display. So what was? Actually there were two things that caught my attention and renewed my faith in us as audiophiles and in the industry that supports and empowers our hobby.
The first, surprisingly, was a negative: There was no single piece of music that I noticed as being the "theme music" for the Show. In days past; at other shows and at CES, one could usually walk through the halls of the High-End exhibits and ― like that story of whatever news reporter walking through the streets of New York in the 1930s and hearing the same radio program coming from every open window ― hear the same piece of music used in almost every room, to demonstrate almost every piece of gear. One year it was Jazz at the Pawnshop; another it was Cantate Domino; and still another, it was Bela Fleck's Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, with, usually, a different piece or recording, being the sound of the Show every year. At Newport, though, there seemed to be nothing like that at all, and every exhibitor, and every reviewer or showgoer who had brought his own music and asked to hear it, seemed to have something different.
There were limited exceptions, of course, based on either great music, great sound, or both. One of those that almost everybody had and was able to play for me at my request was the Eagles' Hotel California. And, perhaps because she was also performing live at the show, two three of the exhibitors were playing one of Lyn Stanley's albums. Another recording that was played in several rooms, possibly because chanteuse Anne Bisson was there to personally promote it, was a test pressing of the forthcoming and exquisite Belanger and Bisson Conversations album that was released by XLO to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and that the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society had given its world premiere just weeks before.
All in all, though, other than its uniformly good sound (usually a rarity at shows), the most consistent feature of the music played at the Show was its diversity, with no particular type or style of music being predominant, and certainly no single recording heard everywhere. GOOD! It means that we really ARE (or are at least becoming) the musical sophisticates that people take us to be.
The other thing is that – think about it – my committee, just at one "local" show, and even after more than the nearly three quarters of a century that our hobby has been around, was still able to give more than a dozen awards for real innovation and, although the innovation award was just for doing different things or for doing ordinary things differently, many of those things represented real improvements in the sound; the convenience, breadth of application, and ease of use; or the affordability of the products that we will all eventually be buying.
Just on the issue of sound, please remember my comments of a paragraph or two ago about most of the music at the Newport Show sounding good and that, in the past, good sound at a Show has usually been a rarity. The fact of it was that virtually all of the sound at the Show was far better than I (and possibly you, too) have become accustomed to after decades of going to audio shows, either (for myself) as an audiophile, a reviewer, or a manufacturer. Show sound has long been something to be complained about, but it wasn't, at Newport this year.
In fact, there were quite a bit of really great-sounding exhibits and, wonder-of-all-wonders, some of them were even – contrary to what has seemed to be a never-ending trend of price escalation -- in the actually-quite-low to modestly-priced range. One product that impressed me enough that I bought it on the spot was the "1 More" three-driver earbuds that, for just $100 were good enough for me to compare to my Stax Lambda Pro "earspeakers" (Stax's term, not mine; to me, headphones are headphones, regardless of what you call them), and are incomparably more suitable for use with a portable device or on an airplane.
Also wonderfully affordable wonderful sound came from – to name just two more of the many great products exhibiting at the Show – Andrew Jones' new "Debut" speakers for ELAC and Kevin Voecks' marvelous F36 speakers for Revel that, for only $2000, to my ears and on the music I listened to, clearly outperformed the $55,000 JBL horns playing just one room over. ($55,000? Do you remember not all that long ago, when speakers for $2000 were expensive?) Could it be that some of that fabulous innovation and the spirit inspiring it are "trickling down" or spreading out through the industry, and that everything, including things that practically anybody can afford, are benefiting from it? Could this open the way for a rebirth (or at least a new strengthening) of the American hi-fi industry?
Whatever it is, it's one more reason, for a growing number of our friends and neighbors – Hi-Fi Crazies and the general public, alike – to pick a recording, put it on the System, sit back, relax, and...
Enjoy the Music!