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.

You have correctly identified many of the aspects of an audio show: exhilaration, confusion, doubt, awe and disappointment. It's like a first date. The rooms really can be dreadful and sometimes impossible to function in. Some of the simplest systems work the best and vice versa.

Thanks for the report......now go attend another five and see if you still enjoy yourself. I'm not saying you won't. It can be a dark ride.
I might add that the one woman in 50 you saw was actually working. The companies know what men want to see in addition to gear and a Ficus plant in the rooms. They are "reps" of some sort. I have asked them a technical question in the past ... to be met with a worried stare and "Bill will be back in a minute...." kind of responses.
I attended the show on Friday and enjoyed the short time I was there. I was happy to see a large room devoted to headphones, similar to the setup in Newport earlier this year. It's not often that I get to demo so many top-rated phones together. I was also unimpressed by the Oppo phones. They're OK at their price point, but you will not mistake them for state-of-the-art. Also, I was very impressed by the Stax line. The 007s are great, until you put on the 009s. You quickly realize why they sell for twice the price of the 007s. Lastly, I thought the new Hifiman HE1000 phones were awesome. I'm wrestling with the idea of ordering a pair, but then what will I do with my beloved Stax? Sell them, I guess!
Regarding High Fidelity cables: Are these new wires like the Lindsey-Guyer (sic) "mu metal" interconnects of 15-20 years ago? These were all the rage back in the day but seemed to fade away (like most "breakthroughs").
Dweller - I don't think so. The LG wires used mu-metal conductors as you stated, while the High Fidelity cables use actual magnets incorporated in the conductive path of the cables. I'm not an expert on magnetics but I think that there are different engineering principles at work here.
I've been to the last few Audio Shows in Denver and the same can basically been said. It's doubtful that I will go again. My personal reference system comprised of former 'all world' components now highly tweaked and set aesthetically in place is measurably better to listen and look at than virtually anything performing in the environs of a show. I'm really at the point of 'diminishing returns' and have decided to just to relax and enjoy the music.
It certainly made me appreciate my own system all the more. It's modest by high-end standards but it's comprised of components I chose carefully and makes the kind of music I want to hear.
I too was at the audio show in the bayarea. but i could not see paying $134.000 for a amplifier and or 60 grand for some speaker cables, as you get old you lose your hearing anyway!
They're doing the show again this July at the Oakland Hilton, and I'm intending to go again, and I'm sure I'll have fun again, too. If the stars line up right, maybe one day I'll visit AXPONA, but that's far from home and there's a wife-factor to consider.