Part One

Home Entertainment Show

The Stereophile High-end Audio Show
Los Angeles, California

June 1st-4th, 2006

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The hotel in sunny Los Angeles. Didn't get outside much during the show, and when we did it was kind of humid and smoggy so that even when it was sunny it felt like it was overcast. The hotel is modeled after the Triskelian episode of Star Trek, with much of the internal design modeled as a tribute to Escher's drawings.




"No matter where you go, there you are" Starbucks.





The trees were delightfully in full bloom.






We started on level (aka floor) three. Why? I don't know, exactly. And we start trying to figure it out we will spend this whole show report psychoanalyzing 'Show Attendee Traversal Patterns'. Suffice it to say, we had to start somewhere and this floor was where a lot of the rooms were - about half of the whole blamed show.

This floor, this hotel, but particularly this floor, caused a lot of disorientation. Disorientation that resulted in things being said like "I think this is the same hallway we just came from", "There sure are a lot of Audio Aero exhibitors on this floor, and all their rooms look exactly the same" "I've circumnavigated the elevators several times now and I guess I just imagined coming up here on the escalators", "Please, could you tell me, no make that show me, where the restrooms are again?"

Just look at the room numbering, and the odd angles (the map only hints at the Escher-influenced architecture). But after much bumping into walls we did manage to hear each room and photograph most of them.

Attendance was relatively light. Especially on Sunday, the last day, the best sounding day. More so than RMAF 2005, which also had a slow last day.

Music played was in general uncomplicated, often for the obvious reasons (thankfully... even exhibitors have a heart). Strange, though, there didn't seem to be many people bringing their own CDs or LPs to play, though there was relatively brisk business at the on site music vendors. There did seem to be a lot of turntables, and they were being used by many exhibitors who wanted to up their listenability quotient a little.

The exhibitors also seem to take this show less seriously than the other shows we have attended. Many rooms were not completely set up until the last day. Several systems with very expensive gear would have, for example, a cheap DVD player as the source component or equipment racks that, well, let's just say that we bought some of those same racks at Hold Everything and they work very well keeping boxes of junk up off our furnace room floor.

So, yes, there were exhibitors there that were just there to see and be seen, as opposed to hear and be heard. Fine. This is L.A., after all. Business is business. A lot of this business is just about 'loo-king good!' and there were 100s of gorgeous examples of technological opulence, artistic start-of-the-art, the results of the imagination in the pursuit of the elation, all at Home Entertainment 2006.

The external background noise factor, being right across the street, more or less, from LAX, was at Richter 6.0 on the annoyance scale. It is NOT like the Alexis Park in Las Vegas, also near an airport. This is LAX. Instead of a flyover every 15 minutes, we get a takeoff at maximum thrust every 30 seconds. Sitting in the hotel room at night while uploading pictures for our daily reports, it was an awe-inspiring steady pounding as the bass notes vibrated the window panes and wafts of the resulting pollution could be seen, well, wafting in the distance away from the airport towards the lungs of the air-breathers among us. Yes we have a picture but in this picture the airplane looks like it is flying like a flag from a telephone pole because its nose is positioned just so... and besides, there are enough damn pictures in this report.

And speaking of the report...

Each room was visited at least twice, each time to take several pictures with a different lens and to listen somewhat surreptitiously. In terms of our categorization of the sound of things, to wit:


The most commonly desired category. [1] A big soundstage, powerful bass, lots of macrodynamics. [2] Lots of midrange detail.


The most neglected category by the very high-end. [1] Competent sound (dynamics, frequency balance, soundstaging, timbre is not terrible). Nothing offensive.


Enjoyable plus something extra. [1] Timber and note envelopes altered to sound more like music does when the listener has consumed alcohol


Also enjoyable and pleasant [1] Exaggerated subtleties.


Often thought to be at the end of the high-end rainbow, but repeated experiences with blues and melancholy music pushes one to go farther. [1] The music pulls at the heart in the direction of the emotional content of the musician's message. This effect can be of varying strengths. [2] Leads to mood swings and to listening to more ‘fun’, lighthearted music than before.


True timbre and note envelope development. [1] The subtleties of the sound is real. The correctness of the macrodynamics, level of detail, etc. is not necessary for this category


The ‘Absolute Sound’. Comparable to the real thing. The most often mistakenly heard category. [1] Able to suspend the listener’s sense of disbelief. Transparent - ability to ’see’ the stage and the musicians. [2] Sufficiently technically correct reproduction but only to the degree where it satisfies requirement [1].


The voice of God. Contact with the Cosmic Consciousness. [1] Somethings occur inside the listener which are not typically associated with listening to music. The music becomes a pathway to experiencing things and ideas that are beyond the usual daydreams one has had before, and in fact, quite strange, but in a good way. [2] Rampant confusion and respect caused by [1]

More... and an example and another.


Our preference is for the system to address each one of these categories, to max out on all of them in a well-balanced splurge of a musical feast. As each system may fail to do this, to be, or even attempt this kind of a magnificence, it is my preference for it to be enjoyable and Neli's, I think, for it to be sophisticated.

In all categories, in all respects, it is necessary that for the system sound to not be Terrible, that it degrade gracefully when confronted with music too complex for it to handle. That it not chase one out of the room - that it collapses into a wall of murk, fine, but not make lots of screechy, ear piercing, 'weapon of mass ear destruction' kinds of nasty behavior.

The first room was the Reimyo room.






The Harmonix, Reimyo room

This room sounded OK. Uh oh. Not to pick on Reimyo, but some distributors think that reporting that rooms at shows sound just OK will cause discriminating buyers (i.e. those who do not believe all the salesman's lies) to think seriously about the money they are about to throw away. Heads Will Roll! A lot of heads - because a lot of rooms were 'just ok' playing kind of bland, pleasant but simple music. Often called 'audiophile music' because audiophiles play this kind of music a lot on systems that they are educated enough to know will just murder real music.

Nothing very complicated was played and the monitor speakers are, and were, seemingly challenged to keep up with the rest of the componentry.

If the purpose of this room was to display how attractive the Harmonix equipment  racks were, and to remind people that Reimyo exists, then count it a success. 

More Harmonix, Reimyo pictures.





The equipment rack with the silver Reimyo equipment complimenting the maroonish color, was absolutely gorgeous.





Harmonix makes the equipment rack and those similarly styled feet you see here underneath some of the components.

























The speaker does not quite go with the rest of the decor - neither visually or sonically. Although perhaps of the appropriate size for the hotel room, the front end is kickin' and it would have been great to hear it driving, oh, I'll leave it to your imagination and maybe the Mixhibitors to pick another speaker.




The Bard Audio, Sonneteer, Gutwire room

This system, set up by BARD Audio et. al., exhibited the use of wireless technology to transmit music data from a laptop to a Sonneteer receiver. Playing pleasantly simple music at modest volumes it was not offensive. I think wireless can have a place in the modest system, and may someday, soon even, be used in top-end systems. Once in the digital domain, data is data, and getting away from pseudo-digital realm of crazily spinning silver discs in a mechanical nightmare of a non-hermetic environment has some obvious advantages.

More Bard Audio, Sonneteer, Gutwire Pictures.





Playing music from iTunes. My memory has them saying that the music was uncompressed. Not sure about the 'Volume Down' dialog box sitting right there in the middle of the screen like that. What kind of GUI is this, anyway? :-) Anyway, the laptop volume was off, as far as I could tell.

If the purpose of this room was to demonstrate that laptop-driven MP3 over wireless works and can work as background music then they succeeded.





This little doohicky  with the blue LED (blue LEDs are very popular these days. Good, much too tired of the red and green LEDs everywhere :-) is the transmitter sending the music data to the light colored flying saucers sitting on the Sonneteer and the BARD Audio device on the floor. This room was demoing how a multi-room setup would work using their wireless solution.

 (right Neli? She is the one who got talked up by the guy while I was photo'ing the room).

She says: "In the Bard room, yes that thing in the laptop with the BLUE light is a Bluetooth transmitter, and the saucery things are receivers. The files were indeed uncompressed digital, probably Apple Lossless. It was ... not bad, and I agree that this whole approach has promise."

























The second system hooked up wirelessly to the laptop as music server.









The DC Gold, ASR, Bluenote, VPI room

This room had an interesting yet familiar equipment rack system that couldn't have helped the sound any but a nice front end. The sound was not very memorable but didn't suck. This system did not show off the musical capabilities of the speakers in the best light, which would seem to be the primary purpose here.

Neli says: "I got our furnace-room rack at CenTex, our local restaurant supply house, not Hold Everything. They are actually rated to 600 lbs per shelf or something. We might build a closet out of this stuff. But ... they do *ring*. And I would think that the ASR Emitter 1 would have been happier ... on a firmer footing."

More DC Gold, ASR, Bluenote, VPI Pictures.





The ASR system.





The second rack. Not sure what I would use the drawers for. Turntable supplies perhaps? I bet we could get them to rattle something awful if we tried.





Not sure if the statuettes in the speakers come with or are just provided as an example of what you, the consumer, can put inside your pair of speakers at home - though in reality that may be the speaker stand there rather than the speaker proper - to keep the dust bunnies company.





The speaker enclosure looks a lot like the Magico Mini's monitor speaker enclosure, doesn't it?






























All in all, an apparently well-balanced front end. Well, it looks the components would work well together.




The Joseph Audio, Moscode room

Again, nothing very complicated was played here during both visits. At the volumes played, with the musical selection played, the sound was not terrible and one can be, one is, thankful for that.

More Joseph Audio, Moscode pictures.































This piece of gear was apparently the only piece of Placette Audio gear at the show.















Their SACD player for this room?



Joseph speakers are not our favorites - not sure why they win all these awards at shows because they, in our opinion, merely exist and do nothing particularly well, do not often degrade gracefully when faced with challenging music, and are not that attractive. Perhaps it is their very ordinariness that makes them attractive?



The Acoustic Zen, Red Dragon, ModWright, VPI, Acoustic Dreams* room

This room was one of the rooms tweaked to sound its best. It is such a pleasure to listen to a system in a room where the exhibitors try to make things sound as good as possible.

More Acoustic Zen, Red Dragon, ModWright, VPI, Acoustic Dreams pictures.










We played a test CD, forget which one [Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms, track 3], and the Scheherazade LP you see above. This is the kind of system sound that we are looking for. No, it doesn't max out in each category, but it is a well-balanced attempt to address each category of sound and it degrades naturally. This piece of classical music is challenging - and this system had an amount of impressiveness, in fact I was impressed with its impressiveness in the bass slam department - enjoyability, some transparency, a natural balance of sophisticated detail up and down the frequency spectrum.

So, say you, perhaps, if you are reading this, what is the difference then between this system and one with, oh, say $250K speakers?

They differ in the quantity of the special goodness, the amount of subtleties to the subtleties, and in the magic.

This system was missing the subtleties and information of what happens between notes, the delicacies of the notes development and decay that makes one feel that that particular note, each particular note, has enjoyed a full and happy and worthwhile life with all the presence and stark realism as the chair we are sitting on.

One of the best sounds at the show.










The ModWright-modded Sony digital front end with several tweaks on board.





The ModWright SWL 9.0SE preamplifier with prototype phonostage with a new, blue, faceplate color. Nice huh?











A Red Dragon amplifier.





The Acoustic Zen Adagio loudspeaker.





More Acoustic Zen loudspeakers on static display





The Red Dragon logo.




The Lipinski room

This room was doing the surround sound thing, man. I was only here once, and the sound while non-offensive was not as dynamic as other active loudspeakers I am familiar with and did not seem to be special in the ways expected based on hopeful email conversations we had with some of their fans in the EU about these speakers since their appearance in our CES show report. Neli says: "I thought the Lipinski was *all* macrodynamics, no microdynamics, and not much fun."

More Lipinski pictures.










The rear speakers.










A close-up of the amplifier built in to the Lipinski speakers.





Somebody knows how to enjoy the show. :-)





The Von Schweikert, CIAudio, Harmonic Technology room.

This system, did not seem to show off the speakers to best effect - the VR4-style speakers, perhaps all Von Schweikert speakers, have two kinds of sounds - a big open relaxed sound, and a tight, constrained, trying-to-sound-real all-else-be-damned kind of sound. This was sounding more like the second category and yet failed to succeed in that role, in our opinion.

More Von Schweikert, CIAudio, Harmonic Technology pictures.


















































Dare I say it? OK. *Ouch*















The ScreenUsed room

And now for something completely different, yet completely familiar.

It was still early the first day when we stumbled into this room. Say what? Oh, yeah, this is L.A. / Hollywood. Some interesting marketing behavior on the part of ScreenUsed - and it is nice that they are contributing a little to the audiophile cause by showing here - so, yeah, we will photograph this room and see what our readers think of this room.

Some of this stuff I do not recognize, although there is this stab of 'I know I've seen this' giving me a headache.

More ScreenUsed pictures.




















What struck me, being there, was how small the outfits were. Especially this one and the superman outfit below. The actors in their roles as these wonderfully exaggerated characters seem so much larger than life - but their costumes are actually rather diminutive, I thought.










OKAY. I give up. What is this from? I know I've seen it....






Eeewwwh, they actually sell these things?










Again, anybody know what this is from? The hoverboards from Back to the Future II were no this cool, if I remember correctly.










Finally. The governator, I mean Terminator. It had to be here. You just know it had to be.




The Vandersteen, Ayre, SME, Lyra* Room

Another room memorable in its lack of memorability. There were lots of Ayre equipment exhibited at this show.

More Vandersteen, Ayre, SME, Lyra pictures





































































The Lyra Skala cartridge



The WLM, Audio Aero*, Brinkmann*, Breuer, Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS)* Room

Ah, a breath of fresh music. As we walked in the door to this room for the first time, it was immediately apparent that this sound was a step up in sophistication and harmonic content. And that seems to be the goals of this system: Emotionality and Enjoyability. In those things they succeeded quite well in my opinion.

Neli says, who spent way more time here than I: "And ... in the Globe Audio room ... they did a great job of avoiding all audiophile music. Big Fun. And ... the big news in there is that is a newly made Breuer Dynamic tonearm on the Balance. Several people have asked me .... is he still making arms? and the answer is ... yes"

More WLM, Audio Aero*, Brinkmann*, Breuer, Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS) pictures.





The HRS equipment rack loaded for bear. Well, actually, that is just a Brinkmann Balance turntable and its associated components and an Audio Aero Prestige. I guess bear hunting will have to wait for another day. Ain't no bear in L.A. anyway.





A WLM loudspeaker.















An Audio Aero Prestige monoblock amplifier.















The Brinkmann Balance turntable.





The Audio Aero Prestige CD / SACD Player






























The KEF, Bryston room

KEF made an appearance at HE 2006 with these speakers in a 5.1 surround-sound configuration. Looking very much like TAD speakers, they did not have the nasty bite nor in all probability the potential of the TAD speakers - sounding very much closed in and over dampened. Cool looking though.

More KEF and Bryston pictures.
















































































 The EPOS, Creek, Music Hall, Shanling Room

I believe this room, in its many instantiations at various shows in the U.S., is going strictly after Enjoyability. For me, it achieves this. As they try to go beyond this, with the steadily increasing price of the top-of-the-line Shanling gear - I wonder if they will lose enjoyability, cost more, and lose their fans (like me).

More EPOS, Creek, Music Hall, Shanling Room pictures.




































































































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All pictures in this report are freely copyable and distributable.
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