A visit to the 2015 California Audio Show
The California Audio Show was held last weekend at the San Francisco Airport Westin Hotel in Millbrae. I only attended one day of the three-day event but it was enough for me to form opinions and impressions of what I saw and heard. The main conclusion one would draw after visiting all the exhibits is that the CD is more or less a thing of the past. Only one of the exhibitors I saw was actually playing a CD, the rest were either LPs played through some quite expensive tube gear, or some form of digital streaming, mostly via Mac computers. PONO, the digital streaming service Neil Young as been touting for the last couple of years had a table there. It must be said that at 192 Khz, through a pair of Audeze headphones, PONO's files sounded very good indeed.
While we're on the subject of headphones, Oppo's highly regarded PM2s didn't impress me much. I tried a number of different musical genres through these (driven by Oppo's HA-1 headphone amp) but none sounded especially attractive.
The exhibition had a large contingent of extremely expensive and exotic systems which I was eager to experience, but I think there were some drawbacks to the way these were demoed that prevented them from living up to expectations. Partly, I suspect, it was the fault of the rooms in which the systems were located, a problem even Lyngdorf's room correction technology didn't help much. Mostly though, it was the exhibitors' choice of music that got in the way. Highly processed pop music seemed to be the prevalent choice but this doesn't really tell me much about a system. My touchstone for sound quality is how natural it sounds, that is, having the musicians in the room with me, or at least giving me the illusion of being in the hall where the recording was made. And it isn't necessary to blow out my eardrums for me to appreciate the sound. This was an all-too-common mistake.
It was kind of a thrill, though, to hear some of the highest of the high-end. There were a few speakers about the size of a Volkswagen Bug which were a wonder to behold but whose sound didn't really measure up the what I imagine their price is (I didn't ask).
One of the most interesting exhibitors was High Fidelity Cables, a company attempting to mount a revolution in wiring. They've come up with a product that uses pure magnetic conduction instead of the standard copper or silver (or....?) wire we're all used to. Along with the speaker cables, they had also rewired the internal components of the speakers this way. The demo sounded very good (choice of music notwithstanding), but without an A/B test it's impossible to tell what sort of improvement these wires make. This they were not able/willing to do.
The one system I heard that really impressed me was Linn's Akurate Akudorik active speakers and streaming player. This was demoed in a small room (they're small speakers after all) but they truly filled the room with music and especially impressive was how well they handled vocals. I believe this is only available as a complete system--active speakers and streaming player--but if I were in the market, I'd be very interested indeed.
This was the first audio show I've ever been to, so it was an experience well worth having. On balance I expected to be far more impressed than I actually was but it sure was an entertaining day.
Oh, one more thing: this is obviously GUY stuff. We outnumbered the women by a factor of about 50 to 1, which is kind of a shame, but that's how the world works I guess.