THE Show 2019, Part 1

It was difficult to convince members of the San Diego Music and Audio Guild to attend the THE Show this year. [THE Show is a sorta-acronym, for “The Home Entertainment Show”. The name was devised before SEO was a priority; obviously, it’s a nightmare to Google—Ed.] That’s because the 2018 show was so small, it took only 1/2 day to see it all. Also, the drive through the SoCal morass to Long Beach is much further than Anaheim, site of last year’s show. But a few of us went anyway because Kyle Robertson, the Operations Manager, promised it would be much better than last year. I was still ambivalent, so I booked a cheap hotel room rather than one at THE Show hotel in case I decided to bail after day one.

I needn’t have worried. THE Show was great. I’m told there were over 60 demo rooms. Even after two full days, we didn’t have time to do them all justice.

Our first surprise on arrival was the easy freeway access off the 710. The very first right turn from the Ocean Blvd. exit is into the parking lot of the Long Beach Hilton — no endless drive through stop-and-go city traffic (that can seem longer than the freeway ride itself). THE Show organizers had arranged for an attendee parking discount. It was $18, but that’s better than the regular rate of $32.

The people at THE Show’s registration desk were friendly, accommodating, and sufficient in number to avoid the traditional long line-ups.

The hotel (bottom left in the header image) was clean and attractive, as one would expect at a Hilton, and the staff were pleasant and polite — not always the case in large hotels. The restaurants and bars of the waterfront area are within staggering distance, and the Queen Mary is not much further. Nice location.

Detailed coverage of every demo room might be in the interests of the exhibitors, but it soon gets tiring for readers — so I’ll restrict my coverage to the demos I found most interesting.

Back to the future. These speakers look a lot like the Altec Lansing A7 “Voice of the Theater” models produced over half a century ago. That’s because they are. The drivers were refurbished, the cabinet volume was enlarged to 9 cu. ft., the ports were mirror-imaged, and the cross-overs were re-engineered with modern components and testing procedures. The result: the best of what these vintage speakers have to offer with few of the traditional flaws. The transient response of the horns remains excitingly dynamic, but they no longer tear your ears off above Muzak levels. The bass units offer superior resolution, but without the irritating room modes excited by subwoofer frequencies. Their manufacturer provided no business name, but he’s located in Carlsbad, CA and can be reached at [email protected] ($10,000/pr.)

These Tune Audio speakers ($58,000/pr.) were built in Greece and are distributed by Turks. That in itself impressed me. If these two groups can get along, maybe there’s hope for America. The larger horns are machined from many layers of wood and make a striking visual statement. Their dynamics were stunning and I didn’t hear the traditional honk on the music played with Wavac electronics. The gorgeous cabinets also serve as horns for the down-facing woofers, which are located at the top.

While we’re on the subject of horns, here’s a pair from Peter Noerbaek (shown) from PBN Audio in San Diego. The M!2 (how do you say that?) features twin 15″ JBL pro drivers and JBL’s latest studio waveguide system. It offered a surprisingly smooth top end and midrange with startling dynamics. As dynamics is one of the primary distinctions between live and reproduced sound — evident even in the next room or down the street — it’s great to hear a sound system do it so well. The electronics are all PBN also. I’ve been to the PBN factory and the quality of construction of everything made there is impressive.

In my opinion, directional speakers like horns tend to sound better in small hotel rooms because they don’t splash high and mid frequencies around like a fragment grenade — which results in a shower of (out-of-phase) reflected sound. ($30,000/pr.)

This 3-way Monterey horn system from Ocean Way Sound was designed by Alan Sides, a 5 time Grammy award winning music producer who owns 5 recording studios across the country. His California-based company is the hardware offshoot of Ocean Way Studios. For $22,000/pr, the sound was impeccable.

The powered, stand-mount Pro2A monitors impressed me with their dynamics, neutral tonal balance, and unbelievable bass. They were so dramatic, I wasn’t sure which system was playing when I walked in the room. Neither were many of the other attendees. These speakers are readily available from places like the Guitar Center for under $4000/pr. Seems like a great way to get audiophile sound for those under the constraints of room size and budget.

Although the ‘AGD Productions’ amps in this system look like SETs, they are actually MOSFET power amps producing 200 watts (into 4 ohms). Here’s a good look at one of their illuminated Gallium Nitride tubes, which don’t feature a vacuum.

The Sanders Model 10E speakers are the most highly resolving speakers I’ve ever heard. But only in the prime listening position because they are also the most directional. This is a blessing for those whose sound room doubles as a living room because the sound attenuates quickly off axis. This feature makes them less than ideal for multi-seat home theaters as they are not intended to be room fillers.

Uncharacteristically for panels, they produce sparkling dynamics, even at high volumes. The tonal balance is so neutral, they’d make great studio monitors. As a result, they sound wonderful on almost every type of music. Despite their size, they have minimal visual impact due to the see-through nature of the panels. They retail for $17,000 including a Magtech Amplifier and an LMS loudspeaker management system. That includes a digital crossover, room correction, digital signal processor, and real time analyzer. This is a system for uncompromising perfectionists.

Although I haven’t heard the numbers, it seemed to me that THE Show was well attended as the displays were frequently packed.

It was nice to see more young people than I usually notice at audio events.

[Part 2 of Jan Montana’s report will appear in Copper #88—Ed.]