I went to THE show and didn't make any friends ...

Hi Everyone!

I know absolutely noone is waiting on my show report, but to help others hear where I am coming from, I thought I would post my notes and drama anyway. I was only able to spend half a day and here are my thoughts:

The last show I went to was in Oakland and it was sponsored by Pass and ASC. For my ears, a bad combination. I’m just not a Pass fan, and the ASC traps made every room sound like they played exactly the same bass note and one treble note all the time. This show was much smaller, and no such sponsorhip, so the sound in each room had a lot more variety.

Best value of the show goes to Fritz and Wyred4Sound. They also took the most care with the room acoustics. For the total system cost, around $15k, I thought it was really good, but the treble balance was hot for me, as were most of the displays I heard.

Best sound: Audio Concepts room playing Vandersteen Quattro’s’ with Vandersteen amps and a tube pre I forgot the name of. Of course, this was a $45k system. $15k speakers, $15k amps and goodness only knows the turntable and amp.

Unlike previous shows, the ESL’s acquitted themselves well. The Martin Logan and Sander’s ESL’s had some of the best balanced responses to my ears, with the Sander’s having among the best imaging (in exactly 1 chair). I like Roger and his speakers, but man, his taste in electronics is basically the same as Julian Hersch’s. Technically OK without being emotionally involving, or relaxing. The opposite, it put my ears on edge. Perhaps the digital crossover and room EQ they were using?

Other rooms with great imaging included the Brooks Berdan room with the Magicos, the large Legacy conference room, and the Thrax Spartacus demo room. The later had really good mid to treble balance, but was a bit chesty on vocals.

The award for most pretentious goes to the room demoing monitors and the short bald guy who tried to aggressively stare me down for politely asking if he could step six inches to the side so he wasn’t blocking his own demo. Hilarious.

Curious side note: The Legacy speakers on the stage seemed to be using 18 gauge or thinner solid core speaker cables.

I like your review. By any chance do you remember which model of Martin Logan you've been auditioning?
Hi @greencup

I believe it was the member of the Renaissance family, the ESL 15 A.
Looking back, I also have to say that it was perhaps one of the best integrated hybrid speakers I've heard. I have argued for years that integrating a 15" sub with an ESL is very tricky, but can be enormously satisfying, and these speakers seem to have done just that.

Looking at the ML page it seems they are using a 600 W class D sub with Anthem room correction. AHA! That explains it. Highly recommended.


Interesting how ears are different - I found the Vandy room sleepy (as usual) and the M2s on Burmester borderline dead. I guess I prefer more dynamic sound (and tbh don't value imaging as much). I, too, am sensitive to hot tweeters from all the way back in my Dynaudio days vs the popular JM Lab at the time.

We agree on the Thrax room- my favorite big rig (from the front row). It was resolute, dynamic, with good tone despite the cavernous room. The looks on the other hand were...meanwhile, the TuneTots were unexpectedly good in "value" land.

I tried yet again on Saturday to get past the usual ML incoherency in the bass, despite liking panels a lot- but still bothers me.

I found the Vandy room sleepy (as usual)

Based on the majority of the rooms, it does seem my own tastes are in the minority here. I don't find them sleepy at all. The other systems were bright and/or hard to me but I also didn't hear the Vandersteens playing large scale.

As for the ML, no, I did not hear any sort of woofer integration issues at least where I sat, same at the Sanders room.

Yeah, the speakers in the Thrax room were best suited for a dark home theater.



Good thing there are lots of Vandy fans on this forum Erik :)

I've heard them sound really good - at the LAX show a few years ago the 7s and 9s were absolutely amazing. A truly special show experience. But commonly they are just too laid back for my tastes. Horses for courses!

Since you two seem SoCal based, stop by sometime to hear the Treo CT alarm clock with a lowly 40 wpc streamer integrated.... wine and cheese on me !
vandersteen fanboy since 1977

thanks for show report Erik
i missed it this year
Btw I serve Davis Family Vineyards Pinot and cheese from Tip Top meets, both local California products.... just like the alarm clock....
@erik_squires   Funny how, like Keith R stated, ears are different! IMO, the Vandy room was a total loser. No definition in the highs, wooly and out of control bass that sounded like nothing that I recognize as accurate bass reproduction- and imaging that was somewhat diffuse. 
Unfortunately, I probably made few friends at this show also, as I thought almost all of the rooms had very marginal sound at best! The possible exceptions were the room with the Magico M2's and the VAC gear ( the tube gear and the MSB front end) did sound quite nice...very smooth and non-fatiguing highs and no sign of the dreaded 'digititis'. 
I also felt that Philip O'Hanlon's room, also using Magico's, was a highlight. Philip always seems to get a good sound at these events, and this time was no exception. The Wilson Tune Tot room...sure--if you like NO reproduction or accuracy below about 75Hz, LOL. 
Otherwise, a fairly miserable show...IMHO.

Thanks for the Show report. Sounds a bit like you may have enjoyed a
day at Brooks Berdan just as well.
At Axpona I too found the Sanders and the ML Rennys  provided the best sound. By a long way!!
Roger was not at the LA Show to fine tune the sound, right?

ML Renny at $26k vs Sanders at $17k. Sanders includes room correction and a 1,000 watt a/b amp as I recall. 

If I may take a moment to shamelessly promote an event
on Saturday June 29th, "SpeakerFest" in Scottsdale, AZ
10-4pm. Venue8600.com
It will feature 9 brands not available to listen to in Arizona,
New Mexico, Utah or Nevada. Are we Chopped liver?

Sanders Model 10         $17,000 ESL + Transmission Bass !

Joseph Audio Pulsars     $8,500 Best Bookshelf out there?

Salk Sound beAt3's        $5,000  Hard to find. Well Reviewed.

Spatial Labs  M3's          $4,000  -New Protos not yet heard anywhere!

Tekton Double Impacts   $2,500 Hot Commodity. 

MarkAudio-SOTA  Cesti  $1,600   TAS Spring 2019 Recommended List

LSA Signature 10's         $1.500  Sonus Faberesque  Bookshelf 

ATC 40's Passive            $8,000  Need that British sound too

ZU Audio                         TBD     Anxious to see what they provide      

For Power the local Family of Dan D"Agostino is generously provided
his new Progression Integrated Amp at 300 wpc.              


I may disagree with others about what rooms were better, but the god’s honest truth is that for the entire show I was picking among bad sounding rooms.

I heard more or less bright systems. More or less bass, pain inducing or not. I didn’t really hear sublime, natural, transparent, believable. I also heard very loud or not very loud. I also never heard magical, liquid midrange.

It was like going from a room to room of hell, where you could choose to be burned, or punched, or lightly tapped on the head with a hammer.

I’m going to go to Can Jam and that may very well be the last time I go to one of these shows.

I enjoyed your show report erik.

Did you hear the small 120 MBL speakers?

If so, what did you think, and do you have an opinion on MBL speakers generally speaking?
I thought the room with the Harbeth HL5 speakers sounded really good. Great bass, alive and quite smooth.  For $7,500 I believe.  They were paired with Nagra and Pear Audio TT, so nice stuff all around.
Thanks for your kind words, Prof.

I'm very much afraid I've never heard MBLs! :(

I didn't have a lot of time at the show, and given what Stereophile and PT Audiophile noticed, it's clear I missed at least half of it, and certainly some interesting rooms.

Nice post. You realize that "show sound" is not real, right?

I’ve always known rooms could be bad, but for whatever reason, this was the first show where I noticed just how far the rooms were from ideal. Even the best rooms didn’t give me spaciousness, imaging or even color. It was all awash. Like looking for a photograph but finding impressionist paintings.

Based on the show, I'd have to conclude I've assembled a system that sounds significantly better than $300k demos I heard.  Maybe I should just stop and be smug about it?  :D


For a long time I’ve advocated static displays at audio shows. It appears it hasn’t caught on yet. I mean geez, guys, if you can’t get it together and demonstrate what your products can do, even though shows have a lot of constraints, I realize, don’t you realize it’s a turn off? 😛 $200K systems with $2K sound. Much better to be seen and not heard. Perchance to dream how good they would sound back home. Exhibitors must have scads of money 💰 💰 lying around to be able to squander it on bog standard sound. Besides, after two hours of being blasted by crap sound most of the reviewers and everyone else are practically tone deaf, anyway, so what’s the point?

I disagree with what seems to be the idea that one can't get a decent idea of a speaker's sound at a show.  At various shows over the years I have encountered a speaker's sound that got my attention for one quality or another, and when I sought those speakers out I heard exactly what impressed me at the shows.  That was the case with Thiel CS6 speakers (first time I heard Thiels on tubes was with VAC amps at CES.  I was able to reproduce the essentials of what I loved about the sound at the show in my home with the CS6 and my CJ tube amps).   Same for MBL (I own MBL omni monitors).  Same for Hales speakers.  Same for Audio Physic.  Same for Kudos speakers.  Same for Joseph Audio speakers.  Etc.  In every case exactly the special thing that appealed to me about the sound at the show was there when I later auditioned the speakers or owned them.

Sound in Capital Audiofest rooms last year was pretty good overall, as it was in prior year in same venue. Can’t all be winners but various good sounds to choose from at various prices, some top notch. Many overpriced for the sound delivered, more so than not, IMHO.

Where else can on hear so many things at one time? There are always a few jewels. Fritz speakers room was one for me at CAF as well.

Nothings perfect. Just gotta make the best of whatever opportunities are at one's disposal.

Audio shows remind me of large cycling tours like Ragbrai, a huge rolling circus of cyclists riding across Iowa. It is a chance to be around kindred spirits and see lots of gear but you have to deal with crowds, porta potties, insular groups attending insular parties, fat people who can barely pedal a bike, and boring flat scenery. 
I went to Axpona this year-it was my first audio show after 40 years in this hobby. It was much the same but with audio gear to gawk at rather than bicycles. And hotel bathrooms rather than porta-potties (advantage Axpona). Other than a few hip looking people of all ages, mostly European (because gawd knows we Americans tend to dress like slobs unlike our European counterparts who have style), I saw a ton of fat old white guys with money who possessed little in the way of couth. The sound mostly sucked with a few exceptions. The entire experience left me feeling empty with the exception of a single visit with a dutch cartridge manufacturer and a Garrard 301 specialist. And a French cello player. 
You would have had more fun at RAGBRAI
A small group of us ride to RAGBRAI so by the time we get there we are ready for the drinking and stupidity.  I will admit at the end of the week of riding out I could go longer but at the end of a week at RAGBRAI I am ready to go home.
"It was like going from a room to room of hell, where you could choose to be burned, or punched, or lightly tapped on the head with a hammer."

Now, this is the way Geoff would start a thread.

Very nice work.  Please consider me your friend.

Shows are more about fun than sound. As a side note, I've noticed that often when people criticize systems or components as being "dark" their frame of reference is what others would call "bright" or even "brittle". Who's right? Everyone, or no one, as you like.
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Hi @bigkidz

For making such a long, personal statement about me, I'm ignoring you from now on.

Erik, good post here and interesting topic. Please keep them coming. @bigkidz usually posts interesting and informative stuff and this last one seems out of character based on his history here. 
Post removed 

I appreciate the reviews and comments.  As usual, I take them with a large grain of salt.

My eyes, ears and budget are my ultimate judge.

Responding to an earlier comment, unless I was in the audio equipment business trying to make deals or connections, I would probably not attend any shows that only had static displays. 

I go to hear equipment and associated music.  of the many shows I've attended, there were always  some rooms and equipment that had questionable sound. But, I've found most were good to outstanding.

I know what overblown bass like.  Same for musical instruments.

I've found that sometimes, small business owners just don't have the budget for extravagant room correction devices, and show me any hotel room that is good for audio.

Audio shows are fun or can be.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose on sound quality.

Listening in a store (with my music) or best, at my home using my equipment is my ultimate judge.  However, I would try hard to condemning equipment I've heard at shows because of so many other factors that impact the sound.


I agree that we can have some sort of idea about speaker capabilities from these shows and also that rooms should not be treated as best possible demos.

That is, go see what you like, what is the right size, and not too ugly, and when you are ready to buy, go find a dealer to give you a proper sounding demo.

But I also seriously question anyone who thinks they went to this show and had a spiritually transcendent experience.


Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I really like Butcher Block Acoustics' racks.

Pretty, very sturdy and functional. For those of you obsessed with vibration damping they won't be the last word, but for those of us who want gear that can handle a 65 lb receiver, and a TV and look reasonably pretty for under $2k, I really really like them.


Thanks for the post, Erik. Having never been to a show since getting involved in this hobby in 1975 I appreciate and enjoy reading the opinions of others. To all the nay-sayers, we all hear differently. Unfortunately, too many think their opinion is the only correct one. 
Hey, it's a hobby. It's only a hobby.

You know, oddly, one brand I saw underrepresented at THE show was Pass. I don't recall seeing a single piece of their gear, while at the last Oakland show, they were literally in every room.

I went to THE Show and some rooms dissapointed. Mainly any room with Magico speakers. Now I have been doing this for a while, but they may be the moat over rated speakers I have ever heard. My brother who has a very serious audiophile ear, 100% concurred. Rooms that sounded good? AST, Odyssey and MBL. There were a couple of extreme budget rooms that sounded better to me than the $65K Magico system. $65k? Either the folks setting up the room have no clue or the speakers are over rated. Me thinks its a combination of both.
@prof:  As the cliche goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

As a long term dealer who went to so many shows I got showitus (kidding!), I found that some manufacturers finally figured it out and skipped the shows altogether or did not have a live "demo" room, but did showcase their newer gear, talk to attendees, serve soda and cookies, and schmooze customers (especially the high-end companies).

As everyone on here knows, your room is the most important component of your system, so why would you go to a show and THEN go to a small hotel or conference room and expect nirvana (the experience, not the band, I hope!)?  Of course you did not, but many did hear new things that their dealer may not carry, etc.

OK, go on that for a while, but for goodness sakes, you already KNOW that your room determines your happiness level, so prospecting at a show is fun; making a decision there about a purchase (unless you have done your due diligence and maybe there is a "show special" in effect where you can save some coin) is probably not a good idea.  What do you do if you get it home and do not like it?

Where can I find a list of shows that are local to my area (Southern California)?

To me, the best sound at THE Show was by far, the MBL room. I only wish I could afford the complete system that they were demoing. 
You mentioned the Monitor demo room.  Were these Monitor Audio?  If so, what model?
Step over six inches , The short bald guy might have been checking you out . It happen to me too.

I did not hear Monitor Audio speakers at the show, but I generally like them. I have a pair of their slim piano black speakers in my bedroom. They're the only speakers in the home I didn't build myself. :)

I'm afraid the Magico demo I heard at THE show was also not very good. To be fair, I've heard them demo'd at BB and they weren't very good their either! <hah!> They were chesty (as all Magico speakers I've heard) but also showed stress at moderate listening levels. Diana Krall literally made me wince.  I once reviewed the S1 Mk II as being a weird little speaker, but having heard other demos, it may be the most neutral and least colored of the family.


If you’re referring to the Martin Logan room on the 6th floor, they were Expression ESL 13A. I helped to setup that room and it was a pleasure since I’ve been a fan of Martin Logan for over 20 yrs.

I’m glad you liked the sound and it was a very affordable system, driven by a very nice Hegel integrated, streaming digital from first Aurender and then a Wolf server. Folks seemed to really like the latter.

I've supported several show venues over the recent years and the Hilton had pretty decent basic rooms.  The ballrooms, on the other hand, were very difficult.  They were square with sliding partitions and a lot of slap echo.  The 3rd floor featured some intermediate sized rooms which seemed very workable.
sfischer1 :

Possibly. We were going fast and I didn’t take many notes, but I only recall one pair of ML’s.

I heard the top end ML’s in Oakland and man, the room was terrible. The ASC room treatments sucked the midrange out of any room that was over treated.
Thx for the thread Erik. 100% agree with overall impression (and candor). Search felt like hearing best of the worst. Worst show I've attended for overall SQ (but never made the trek to Munich). Went from room to room to room looking n hoping for just one sublime experience. Never found it. Mostly boomy, overloaded rooms (and why always the high dbl's dealers?! more is better seems flawed logic in crazy small rooms. ever heard the word 'finesse' vs brute force). Like wandering in the desert for 40 yrs. n not even coming out with a stone tablet, just more thirst. Yes, room acoustics pretty much condemned most demos, but at other shows at least a few found a way to demo at least 75% of their gears' potential along w a few magic moments. Not the Vandy's, Magicos etc imo. And those Tune Tots sounded crazy hot to my ears.  Never thought I heard that this show, but perhaps I just missed THAT room (or my ears?). Maybe Legacy room came close to a balanced, well integrated, articulate sound w their room correction. Btw, did notice a lot of Innuos players/streamers FWIW. Very thin crowd when I visited Sunday too. Huge disappointment. While I own a lot of high end gear, also miss seeing/hearing a few rooms who put together a great budget system. Some CAN astonish and embarrass when done right and lord knows we need fresher blood in our hobby.  Just dont get this race to the top, that I suspect becomes a race to the bottom re. the HE gear sector's viability. Sigh. On a positive note, didnt hear D. Krall once!
You make a good point, @bradleygordon

I haven't seen any of the budget rooms covered. Stereophile in particular seems to have kept the entry point to being mentioned high.

Most shockingly amazing demo of the show for me was in a room full of restored Altec horn systems.  They were playing ELP's "From the Beginning" from some visitor's CD, and it was a transformative experience!!  Truly mind-blowing....  There was simply nothing more lifelike than those 15" two-way horns.  Of course, they were nowhere near flat response, and had nothing below 40Hz..... but who cared?

MOST rooms sounded REALLY bad, with a boxy predominance in the 100-200Hz area.....  Ocean Way had the best sounding small room for me......  Allen Sides really had it dialed in, and his gorgeous 2-way studio monitors had the deepest lows and highest highs all covered.  He gets great sound consistently at Audiophile shows, and Pro Audio shows! (maybe because he's a real sound engineer??)   His large speakers are amazing too, but were simply too big for the small room.  
Another great sounding room was Muraudio's spherically curved electrostatics.  Seems impossible to do, but they did it, and I think they sounded amazing.  At $30k though.... too much for me.
I returned home from THE Show, turned on my 1-week old ZU Dirty Weekends... and geeze, for $1000, and heard better sound than 75% of what I heard in those hotel rooms!!   Zu did not attend THE Show this year.