I first met Sunil Merchant at T.H.E. Show in 2021, an audio show that took place in Long Beach, California (as it did in June 2022, and I’ll be reporting in an upcoming issue). I was covering the show for Copper and Mac Edition Radio, and Sunil’s rooms were always crowded, with a positive vibe. Without even knowing me, Sunil Merchant, owner of audio retailer Sunny Components in West Covina, CA, welcomed me like a long-lost friend, even though I looked like Jerry Garcia’s younger, shorter, Jewish brother.
I mention this because the same welcoming energy was extended to members of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society (LAOCAS) in a recent event. I live outside Philadelphia, but have been in Southern California helping my mom with some repairs to her home, due to a slab leak, as well as overseeing a massive redo, the result of subcontractors missing a few vital aspects of their job. It was a quick 45-minute drive to West Covina from Anaheim. I missed out on the recent LAOCAS visit to Audeze, a visit that has now taken on legendary status, so I didn’t want to miss this one.
I’ve been sitting in on the lively Zoom sessions that the LAOCAS has been sponsoring during the pandemic, so I was familiar with some of the members, and their meetings with various luminaries in the audiophile community, so when they extended an invitation to their monthly meeting at to take place at Sunil’s shop, I couldn’t say no.
As I entered West Covina, I kept looking for stray dancers from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but alas, they must have been on hiatus. After hitting traffic in Diamond Bar, I found his shop and was greeted by some wonderful Mexican food, provided by Jose “Gordo” Luna, of Gordo’s, http://gordocaters.com/ who was cheerfully ready with a choice of al pastor, carne asada, and marinated pollo tacos, to be washed down by some ice-cold beer. The food was so good that a few of us discussed the pros and cons of staying outside and enjoying the great food, or going inside with no food but listening to great audio. A few of us made the hard decision to enjoy a few more tacos and another cold beer before heading inside.
Inside, we found Lenny Mayeux from Mobile Fidelity playing some tunes, while Sunil introduced himself, his wife Theresa, and his staff, and thanked everyone for coming. I for one think it’s amazingly generous when he, along with other manufacturers, extend their company’s resources to folks like audio clubs. There isn’t a guaranteed return on the investment, but they do it for the goodwill and positive energy it produces. I really appreciated the time, effort, energy and expense they put into making events like this happen. Dan Meinwald, importer of EAR-USA electronics, Townshend Audio turntables, and Helius Designs electronics, was also there to welcome the visitors and give an informative talk about these high-end components.
Sunny Components has two showrooms. There’s a main room stocked with price-is-no-object audio products from all over the planet (from companies like CH Precision, Stenheim, Vivid Audio, Wadax, Brinkmann Audio, and a variety of turntables paired with Bowers & Wilkins speakers), where Lenny and Sunil demonstrated a variety of gear ranging from streaming to analog. The room isn’t fancy, and the intent isn’t a glamorous presentation, but rather a nice comfortable environment for listening. There were four complete systems in the room, a treat to encounter.
The primary system being demonstrated featured Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 loudspeakers in piano black. The other components alternated between CH Precision I1, Hegel 590 and Vinnie Rossi Brama integrated amplifiers, with a Technics SU-R1000 turntable as the front end.
Other components on display in the main room (but not auditioned) included Vivid Audio Giya 1 Series 2 and Kaya loudspeakers, Bowers and Wilkins 802D4 speakers, Vinnie Rossi Brama electronics, an EMM Labs MA3 integrated D/A converter, and Audioquest Thunderbird cables.
Another system in the main room consisted of CH Precision 1 Series electronics including the P1 phono stage, L1 pre-amplifier, C1 DAC, D 1.5 SACD/CD player, T1 10 MHz clock, X1 power supplies, and M 1.1 amplifiers. The latter allows users to adjust individual global feedback on both the mid/treble and bass for the Stenheim Alumine 5 SE speakers they were driving. The analog front end was a Brinkmann Balance turntable with a My Sonic Lab cartridge. This system was cabled with Audioquest MC Firebird, and HRS SXR stands were used throughout.
The fourth system featured a CH Precision 10 Series L10 preamp and M10 stereo power amplifier, with a Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC and music server. The Stenheim Reference Ultime 2 loudspeakers were bi-amped and featured the ability to adjust the bass, treble, and midrange by 1/2-dB increments. Audioquest Dragon cables connected everything together.
Everyone I talked to was knocked out by the sound of the system we auditioned in the main room, which was open and airy, yet had a serious punch. This isn’t a trivial point, especially when one considers how large a space the showroom was. While I didn’t have any dedicated quiet time to listen, I can say definitively that the systems on display sounded considerably more detailed than the author’s Crosley turntable system, which is all he can afford on his Copper magazine earnings.
The second and smaller showroom was designed to welcome rather than intimidate customers who are just starting out on the journey of high-performance audio. This room showcased products from Bowers and Wilkins, Aerial Acoustics, EgglestonWorks, Bryston, Technics, Hegel, Marantz, AVM Audio, NAD, Innuos, Audience, Audioquest and others, along with pre-owned products. According to Sunil, you could easily put together systems starting at $5,000, including analog options, with the components in this room.
The group then moved to the smaller room, to audition some tiny, but wonderful Audience 1+1 speakers. The system we listened to consisted of the Audience 1+1s, HiFi Rose Model 150 streamer/DAC, Hegel H590 integrated amp, and REL T/9i subwoofers. [Disclaimer: the editor does PR for Audience.] It didn’t hurt that John McDonald, Audience’s chief wire winder and insulation tweaker, was there to demonstrate the speakers, and after a raffle which was held later on, he answered questions about cable technology.
He dispelled the cynics with his demonstrations that showed the presence of magnetic eddy currents in supposedly non-magnetic metal. He did this by dropping a magnetized ball into different tubes of copper of the same inner diameters, with the thinner-wall tube letting the ball fall through unimpeded, while the same ball dropped into a thicker-wall tube was slowed down, taking it’s own sweet time. This opened up the discussion for the cable and anti-cable folks to have even more to argue about in whether cables make a sonic difference or not. Of course, for McDonald, the demonstration illustrated his beliefs that cables do make a difference, and that this is backed by science.
John also helped host a raffle conducted by the LAOCAS. And what a raffle it was. Sunil and Theresa paid out of their own pockets for a pair of wonderful B&W 600 Series speakers to be given to a lucky winner, as well as a pair of MartinLogan Motion 4i compact speakers. John McDonald provided a number of Audience cables, and there were lots of other prizes as well. I even ended up with some raffle items, courtesy of a friendly LAOCAS member, who, in an incredibly lovely gesture, upon realizing that I’d not won anything to that point, gave me one of his winning raffle tickets, so that I “won" a wonderful spool of Kirmuss Audio speaker cable and a Smithsonian CD of Tuvan throat singing! How cool was that? One LAOCAS member offered me a munificent $40 for the spool within minutes of winning it, which I politely declined, especially considering it was worth around $700, but more so because horse trading just after a raffle seemed in bad taste. I was totally jazzed by winning the cable, and look forward to trying it out. Folks seemed genuinely thrilled at the prizes they won, all of which were top-flight, and if Santa Claus was an audiophile, he’d have had some of these goodies in his bag.
This does bring up another important point that I would be remiss not to mention. Over the years, in different cities, I’ve heard a small number of unappreciative comments from members of the audio community. This almost makes one want to ask Miss Manners to write a handbook on good manners for people who are invited to events like this. The vendors are driving or flying in to appear, and the people running the societies and the owners of the stores and other locations where the events are held are putting forth time, money, and effort to make the events happen. Many dealers donate products. However, judging from some behaviors I’ve witnessed, I think that some attendees just don’t appreciate the efforts put forth on their behalf. This became an issue during T.H.E. Show last June, when an audio society member was publicly very rude to the show organizer, claiming their lifetime membership in the society as an excuse for their behavior. Inexcusable was more like it.
On the other hand, everyone I spoke to at the meeting at Sunil’s place had a great time, Sunil and Theresa were perfect hosts, and Lenny brought his seemingly endless passion for music to his presentations. You could tell he really loved the musical selections he cued up, which was a nice change from the all-too-prevalent demos that trot out the same old audiophile warhorses. One track that I’d never heard before and which really stood out for me was played on the Audience speaker system via the Hi-Fi Rose RS150 network streamer.
It was “St. James Infirmary,” the great Louis Armstrong tune, from the album VooDoo Swing by Peter Schneider and the Stimulators. (http://www.stimulators.de) I urge you to check it out! A glass of bourbon with ice might be the perfect accompaniment. I was thinking cheap bourbon to go with the blues (rotgut with one cube of ice); however, my editor, the jetsetting Frank Doris, wouldn’t have any of that, so I’ll suggest some Pappy’s. Oh, to live the life that editors do.
Audio society meetings like this allow audiophiles to listen to some great gear, spend time with friends, meet other audiophiles, and directly connect with manufacturers. Without the willingness of people like them and facilities like Sunny Components, events like this wouldn’t be possible. I had a great time, and was grateful for the event.
I’m looking forward to breaking out some Tuvan throat singing recordings at our next dance party. My hero Richard Feynman gave me my introduction to this unique style of singing, so a really cool Big Bang Theory listening party lies ahead.
Header image: Lenny Mayeux of Mobile Fidelity demonstrating the Hi-Fi Rose RS150 streamer/DAC.