After trade show after trade show were understandably cancelled due to the pandemic, I wondered, which would be the first show to reopen? Signaling the provable reduction in threat, and the mounting of an effective defense against the COVID-19 virus, the return of trade shows seemed to be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Shepherded by the exuberant Emiko, along with her staff, she pounded the virtual pavement and marshaled enough vendors to commit to exhibiting at The Home Entertainment (T.H.E.) Show at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel, a surprisingly convenient venue. As June approached, the reality of the show actually happening transitioned from “we hope so” to “bring it on, come on down,” and on a gorgeous sunny Southern California weekend with perfect weather and a lovely ocean breeze, it happened. [See B. Jan Montana’s show report in Issue 139 – Ed.}
To be honest, when Michael O’Neal, founder of the Beginner Audiophile Podcast, who lives in Long Beach, and I planned to attend, he figured one day, tops, and he’d see it all. I figured a day and a half. But, we were both wrong. It “seemed” like a small show, and the exhibitor listings didn’t look that large, but the reality was that there was plenty to fill up all three days. From Mark Waldrep lecturing on his belief of the false promise of high-resolution audio, to the always popular David Solomon, reminding us why so many folks love their Qobuz subscriptions, it was an educational as well as fun event. Sure, all the usual nutty audiophile crankiness was in abundance, from cable believers to non-believers, to arguments about Class A vs. Class D, and if a solid-state amplifier in a glass tube was, well, a tube. It was a fun time. The bar and lounge were filled from opening to closing, and a friendly spirit abounded with people introducing themselves to each other, so no one felt abandoned. I was able to spend time with two legendary cable guys, Lonny Gould of Kimber Kable, and John McDonald of Audience – what a nice way to get wired up!
The gear on display was mostly of the high-bucks variety, although in the show’s Marketplace there was some lower cost, affordable gear for sale. Young people were in attendance, and hanging out in front of folks like Periodic Audio, who showed their popular and reasonably-priced earphones as well as a stunningly good, new, tiny and low-cost USB DAC/headphone amp, demonstrating that one needn’t be wealthy to enjoy this hobby. At the same time, a few feet away were displays of CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and of course, vinyl, lots of vinyl. A lot of it was from audiophile labels, run by folks with possibly a complete and utter disregard for financial common sense, but loads of passion and expertise. And great sound and music as a result.
I think that for many attendees, the fact that they were even able to attend was akin to a miracle in itself. I found some of the smallest systems in the smallest rooms were among my favorites, but visiting the larger rooms, one could still leave feeling breathless. With the enormous variety of science, electronics, physics, and engineering on display, it wasn’t hard to also remember the genius behind the science of the vaccines that made it possible for us to gather with such a high degree of safety. The show staff were diligent in checking for proof of full vaccinations before allowing attendees to register and enter the show. (We might complain, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!,” but I for one was delighted to know that everyone with a show badge was also letting us know they were fully vaccinated and sensitive to the needs and safety of fellow attendees. I hope that other shows, like Rocky Mountain Audio Fest or AXPONA, follow the same strict protocols, especially with the rise of variants.)
Personally, I felt T.H.E. Show went along swimmingly, as did my colleagues. Although it wouldn’t be practical, I always wish that maybe someday, one day of a show might be set aside with all phones silenced and cameras stashed, and we could enjoy a beverage of our choice and just chill, relax, and listen. You know, have a couple of days for the normal frenetic surge of energy, networking, and seeing new products. And then, reserve a day just for listening, chilling, maybe even a bit of dancing to the music.
I was at T.H.E Show with a friend of mine, Mark Merlino, who I first met when I was a 13 year old kid, attending OCAA (Orange County Amateur Astronomers Association) meetings. Mark would gain fame as the mind behind the well-regarded Qysonic Research line of speakers, and holder of patents on loudspeaker design. Mark turned me onto audio, gave me my first preamp, a Dynaco PAT-4, and taught me about audio reproduction. He wasn’t going to attend at first, but I convinced him to meet up on Friday. He also thought it would be a one-day show for him, and then it became a two day show, and then, well, he ended up buying tickets for all three days. To me, that was evidence of the show’s success. I had a great time, as did Mark and Michael, and everyone I talked to felt the same way. What a great way to welcome back the return to real life. After the pain and struggle of the last year and a half, it was a welcome relief. Job well done. Can’t wait for the next one.
Audio shows always have a lot of camaraderie. (L to R) here’s Bailey Couch, Jonathan Couch, Kevin Couch, and Carin Couch of Heavenly Soundworks; Emiko (director of marketing for T.H.E. Show), and Merryl Jaye and Abigail Shelton of Rose City Media Group.
Jennifer Martin, professor of music at Cuesta College and David Solomon of Qobuz.
Daring to be different: the MC Audiotech Forty-10 speakers, featuring a double-curved spaced array midrange/tweeter section and folded cube bass enclosure.
Do you believe in magnets? The High Fidelity Cables exhibit, featuring their magnetic conduction cable signal transfer technology.
Leonard Dodd at the Erectorbot display, showing parts made by the company’s large-scale 3D printers.
The Reference Components room featured Italy’s Zingali Acoustics Twenty 1.2 EVO loudspeaker.
Sunil Merchant displaying high-end gear from Covina, California dealer Sunny Components.
Our intrepid photographer Harris Fogel and Michael O’Neal from the Beginner Audiophile podcast. Photo by Michael O’Neal.
Alex Yoon gives a thumbs up to the Wavetouch Audio Antera V.2 speakers.
Where there’s an audio show, there’s analog: Steven Norber of loudspeaker company Prana Fidelity cues up a record.
Voss Audio had an impressive room at T.H.E. Show.
Reaching for sonic heights: Heavenly Soundworks’ Bailey, Jonathan and Kevin Couch with their FIVE17 loudspeaker. Bailey is a chef, and made delicious cookies for T.H.E. Show, which were a hit, especially after Emiko posted about it!
Putting things into perspective: Mark Merlino of Tech/Knowledge, who holds the patent on loudspeaker time alignment, titled “Critical Alignment Loudspeaker System.”
Relaxin’ at Camarillo – well, actually, at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel – Michael O’Neal, Tammy Johnson, Lonny Gould (Kimber Kable) and Mark Merlino.
A good time was had by all: Norman Varney (A/V RoomService), Marcus Hartanto (Cable Support Plate, makers of AC wall plates that support heavy power cables), Mark Waldrep, John McDonald, U.S. Army Specialist Mohammed “Moe” Attrah, John Bring (Cable Support Plate), Emiko, Greg Chapman (Cable Support Plate) and unidentified man.
Header image of ATC Loudspeakers courtesy of Harris Fogel.