It’s that time of year!
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
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
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.