I was at the Newport Audio Show (T.H.E. Show Newport) near Newport Beach, California last weekend and, even besides being great fun and giving me the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones, it was an extremely rewarding ...and hopeful experience.
Hopeful in two ways: The first was simply the statistics. More than 450 manufacturers had new and exciting products on display and, if appearances are any indicator, the prediction of Bob Levi (President of The Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society, the Show's co-sponsor,) that the Show's attendance would top 10,000 might even have been low! As proof, consider this: The Show was held in two adjoining good-sized hotels, each of which had its own proportionately large parking facilities. Even so, when I arrived for my second day of ogling the goodies at about 11:00 AM on Saturday, I had to park in a parking structure that the Show had arranged more than (by my estimation) half a mile away. Everything any closer than that was full-up with the vehicles of other happy showgoers who ranged from grizzled old veterans like me all the way to the newest of newbies!
Those good numbers went a long way toward encouraging my hope that there might be people out there who not only could be, but actually were being lured into replenishing or (Could it be?) even expanding the ranks of our hobby.
My second hope was complementary to that; was just as strong; and was perhaps even more important: It had to do with affordability. Even if people WANT to be lured into becoming audiophiles, they're never going to actually make it unless they can afford the price of admission. For example, I would LOVE to join the Bugatti Veyron Owners' Club, but unless the price drops by better than 95% or I'm suddenly struck rich, that's never going to happen.
That's why when ― after seeing and hearing any number of products that seemed, whether or not they were worth it, to have been priced at their weight in money ― I came across others that seemed downright UNDERPRICED, I found myself absolutely blown-away and grinning from ear-to-ear with sheer delight.
A satisfying number of products at the Show fell into that "gratifyingly-fairly-priced-to-even-distinctly-underpriced" range, but the one that I found most appealing and most outright amazing was a speaker system.
On the tenth floor of the Hilton, designer Andrew Jones was showing his magnificent (but at $80,000 a pair, not unexpectedly so) top-of-the-line T.A.D. speakers. At the conclusion of his demonstration "set" he commented that, if we had enjoyed what we heard from the speakers in that room we should also stop by next door and take a peek at what was possible at the other end of the scale.
Taking his cue, I and a reviewer from another publication specializing in luxury lifestyle products went to the next room, where the people from Pioneer (Jones' sponsor and the parent company for the T.A.D speakers) had set up a complete playback system priced - even in its most deluxe form - at less than $1,200, and featuring a pair of bookshelf two-way speakers with a listed price of just $139 (ED Note: most sites list $129 list, but Pioneer's presentation used $139).
Those speakers (Pioneer SP-BS22 LR) were wonderful. They imaged; they presented a convincing soundstage; they delivered instrumental sounds and both male and female vocals clearly and believably; they had good dynamics and ''edges"; they even played surprisingly loud and made surprisingly tight, surprisingly powerful, and surprisingly deep bass.
For just $139 a pair, they produced sound at least as good as (and often better than) other speakers I've heard priced in multiple thousands of dollars. To make it even more amazing, they're now being sold at national "big box" retailers for just $99 and on the internet for as little as $88.
Forget the discounted price, though. Even at the full MSRP of $139, they're still less than $70 apiece. Forget, too, the "normal" manufacturer's pricing formula of five-times-cost and assume that Pioneer was generous with its materials budget and opted for a skinny margin to price the speakers at just FOUR times cost: What that would mean would be that Andrew Jones had been able to design and Pioneer had been able to produce a good-looking enclosure, a proprietary long-throw 4 inch woofer, an also proprietary and equally excellent 1 inch tweeter, and a six element full two-way crossover system (not even mentioning the internal wiring, the terminals, and the labor to put it all together) for just $17 and change per speaker.
I wrote in my last article about how a guy like Bob Levi or maybe a whole slew of guys like him might be able to bring about the rebirth of our hobby. Now that I've been to the Show, seen it; seen the hordes of people it attracted; and seen those amazing little speakers; I know that miracles are possible and that guys like Bob, Richard Beers (President of T.H.E Show Newport and Las Vegas) and Andrew Jones, designer extraordinaire, are just the guys we need to make them happen.