T.H.E. Show Newport 2011 Main Course

Personal Audio Meat and Potatoes

Me, yabbering about headphone graphs.

Michael Lavorgna pulled the big oar over on the Stereophile mothership in his T.H.E Show Newport report, lots of the big rigs there.

I knew going in that there wasn't going to be a whole lot of personal audio gear at the show. That's fine, I was there to do a little headphone evangelizing at the headphone seminar and to soak in the vibe. However, there were a few things to report on officially for InnerFidelity readers.

The Headphone Seminar

Jorge and I were first up in the seminar rotation at 11AM Saturday morning --- prime time for attendees to be elsewhere and get to the exhibits early before it got too crowded. I really wasn't expecting much more than a handful of folks ... boy was I wrong. The room started half full, and by the time Jorge and I had worked our way through introductions and recommendations, the seats in the room were fully occupied. By the time I regaled the audience with graphs and charts of headphone greats and massive failures, it was standing room only.

Over breakfast Sunday morning, Bob commented he could hardly get in the room. Yes, he thought, headphones and personal audio are of great interest to the main-stream audiophile crowd. Next year, he promised, the headphone seminar would be in the rotation twice. See ... the guy is already roping me into this again.

And, heck yeah, I'll come back and do it again next year.


I had gotten my grubby mitts on some HiFiMAN HE-500 and Beyerdynamic DT1350 headphones before my buddies at HeadRoom did, so I stopped by to add them to the dazzling array of cans in their display. I'm quite familiar with their gear obviously, so I didn't spend much time at the booth ... but plenty of others did.

HeadRoom was the sole participant from Headphonedom, and they were swamped every time I passed the booth. We spent some time over brews Saturday evening talking about the show, and the HeadRoom J-crew (Jorge, Josh, and Jeremy) agree it was yet another case of traditional audiophiles being surprised at how terrific headphones can sound. I just loved watching Jorge pantomime Positive Feedback's Dave Robinson giggly gape of wonderment facial expression on first listen of Sennheiser's HD 800 --- in balanced mode. I said it during the seminars: The very best in audio imaging and visceral impact is on speakers; but the very best in audio resolution is on headphones.

Audioengine Computer Speakers ($199-$449)

I like the affordable and full featured solutions from Audioengine. I think it's important to give the consuming public alternatives to the wretched plastic honk-boxes that are the computer speaker norm. When, for about two to four times the price of the Staple's fare, you can get a sound that truly hints at the high-end, I can't see any sane listener not preferring Audioengine's computer speakers.

Though they seemed a bit fast on quick listen to my dark-side ears, I think most audiofolk would find Audioengine's A5 ($349) a perfectly companionable computer, kitchen, or den speaker system. The sound is good, but the feature-set is stunning for iPeople. Outlets and inlets for various analog and power needs and feeds bristle on the back panel of these self-powered speakers. The Apple-primed student or hipster would flip for an Audioengine.

I'd love to see one with USB and iDevice digital inputs in future.

I spent a 45 minutes with Michael Goodman stranded on the back loading dock at last year's RMAF during a power outage. Fortunately, he knows a boatload about adaptive isochronous mode USB transfer of audio data, and I needed some learning. Our dialog was riveting.

Anyway, he's got a cool plug-n-play USB headphone amp that will play up to 24-bit/96 kHz files called the DACPort ($399) , and a new computer workstation integrated amp, the DACmini PX, with a sweet DAC, analog section, and class-D 25 Watt power amp in a case that'll neatly stack with a MacMini. Also displayed was the companion MasterClass passive two-way, coaxial speaker. I can't wait for the review sample.

Napa Acoustic

Ooooo ... the old school audiophile bargain hunter in me was tickled pink to hear the NA-208A hybrid integrated amp ($399) and NA-208S matching speaker ($199/pr) from Napa Acoustic. Joseph Kwong gave me the rundown on the 25W/ch hybrid sporting twin 6N1 valves at the front end and an A/B solid state output, and the matching 2-way, 6 Ohm speaker with 4" woofer and 3/4" tweet.

Man, I tell ya, I liked the sound of this system. Sure it doesn't have all the convenient digital bells and whistles of the previously mentioned computer systems, but it did have some juicy audiophile goodness. Again, review gear requested, and I'm salivating.

Spinning Discs
No show is complete without rooting through the records. Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds (pictured at right) was there with his hearty offering of delicious vinyl and CD titles, as was Janice Mancuso from Reference Recordings, Julia Akhrass from May Audio, and Hajime Sato of Eastwind Imports. The selection was, as always, tempting beyond resistance.

That's it for the main course. How about a little chutney?

Olivia84's picture

I'm glad that the show will be annual now! I love it and I'm glad to have an opportunity to wait for the show every year.