Joseph Audio showed with Manley Laboratories, Spotheim La Luce, Orpheus Labs and Grand Prix Audio in -- like VTL/Wilson and Avantgarde/BAT -- a controlled, closed-door demo to packed crowds. This was my first Joseph-style M&M event. My old salesman's verdict? Jeff was the consummate feel-good master of ceremonies at HE2003. BAT's Geoff Poor and Wilson's Peter McGrath likewise focused their verbal presentations on "music, not technology is the message". But only Jeff actually made you feel it in his words and demeanor. Of any of the controlled demos, he also played the emotionally most moving sequence of music eschewing slam-bam-thank-you-mam tracks and going for the heartstrings exclusively. The M&M angle? During a Blues cut, he personally walked the aisles and dispensed 'em, injecting some irrational chocolate into the analytic demo bloodstream that concluded with Satchmo's famous "Infirmary" cut. Talk about crowd-pleasing. 'twas an absolutely brilliant, impeccable performance.

The mighty La Luce turntable atop GPA's Monaco
Jeff and one his Pearls As a shtick-skinned German though, I deliberately remained in observer mode - just as you would during a special-effects extravaganza the second time 'round, attemptig to see how it was done. And on the analytical side of the fence, I detected a slight disparity between the masterful psych setup and actual delivery. While very good indeed, on an actual level, it didn't seem as involving as some other stand-out demos. Think ravishingly styled restaurant. While a less decorated one might have slightly
Pearl up-close
The Manley NeoClassic monos

better food, the complete environmental milieu package of the former could tip the scales when it came time to vote. And that's a bit what I suspect happened here. But there's another side to this. In many demos and on the hotel hallways, I was struck by the seriousness of the participants' demeanor. Compared to the motorcycle, boat and car enthusiast's shows I've attended, this consumer event was plagued by a pervasive fragrance of heaviness. Overall, the "Mamas & papas, get yo funky ass down" vibe was MIA. Perhaps the attendees' median age of late 40s/early 50s had something to do with it?

As an industry besieged by the allure of competing forms of entertainment, I couldn't help but wonder. Is it this very seriousness -- about the enjoyment of music for Chrissakes -- that's draining away the very lifeblood like an evil succubus of yore? In the face of that, Jeff Joseph's approach was a breath of highly oxygenated fresh air. That's what we need more of, folks! An award is in order then, for getting back to the very spirit of the thing, to what it's all about - or bloody well better should be. Incidentally, Jeff shares our silver ribbon trophy with EveAnna Manley, his co-conspirator. During my waiting in line to get in, she worked the hallway with "Tubes Rule" bumper stickers, sporting a spright woolen cap, motorcycle leather pants and heavy boots. She exuded energy, elan and vivaciousness, kidded around, jumpstarted the "old farts' sluggishness" by glowing example.

Frankly, I don't give a damn (gracias, Rhett Butler) if her biker chick persona isn't perhaps also a bit of a carefully culivated image. After all, even the Hell's Angles are incorporated by now. The important part? The rebellious, free-spirited mystique of the Harley Davidson empire is something ordinary people relate to. It's the wild child inside we'd all love to let loose. Linking that to audio builds a bridge. Suddenly folks can relate. Audio is a life-style thing - like wine, cars, bikes, paintings, bouldering or cigars.

See what I mean? Rather than taking out cross-disciplinary ads in GQ or Rolling Stones, this kind of elemental message sows the seeds we need planted in the younger, upcoming audiophile generation. And EveAnna set a beautiful example: You can be successful in audio and enjoy other, "normal" beer-drinking things in life - like driving to SF on her own bike. [See right.]

That makes audio normal by inclusion. And EveAnna did it without cheap cleavage and miniskirt like the hired "traffic cops" elsewhere who distracted Steve Rochlin. Way to go, babe! This reminds me of Corey Greenberg's old-goat diatribe of yore. Someone told me he'd just seen the Coreymeister review lawn mowers. Not sure whether I was being put on, I shot back "At least the man's got a lawn to mow". You see, living in Taos, that's not a given at all. And being single? Aw shucks.

BlueHeron2 & Zeus Meadowlark and Rogue showed again as in Montreal and Las Vegas, for strikingly good reason. The combo of Blue Heron2 and Mark O'Brien's mighty 225-watt Zeus amplifier is the kind of rig that does refined and club, joining the Taittinger and Coors camps at the hip. On Thursday, this system was still a bit skittish and unsettled. By Saturday, all bets were off for a big garden-party-style cook-out. One of the hosting dealer's Zeus amps had early on fallen prey to a falling sign taking out tubes and shorting a connection. It took four guys, coffin-style, to shlepp that 225-pound $6,000 behemoth out of the room. All that was missing? An American flag draped across its broad chest and a munition's army salute. I swear. The Rogue Zeus must be one of the best values in mega-power tube amplification today.

Musical Fidelity showed with Dynaudio to premiere its TriVista KiloWatt monos ($24,000/pr) and matching Laboratory Reference preamp ($12,000), each with outboard power supplies shown in the stack below the preamp's control center. The stats for the monos with their Class A driver circuits are staggering: 1000/1800/3000 watts into 8/4/2 ohms, claimed to be unconditionally stable into any load and supplied with their own ultra-low resistance loudspeaker cable. Quoted current capabilty? An arc-welding 200 amps peak.

MF KiloWatt mono The dual-mono KiloWatt Pre includes an MM/ MC phonostage and will be limited to 75 units world-wide. With a max output voltage of 55 volts RMS from 20Hz - 40kHz, 40dB overload margin on all inputs and an ultra-low output impedance of 0.1 ohms, this beast is claimed to drive 10 watts into 8 ohms for about one minute. Ridiculous overkill like buying a Ferrari for the street you never get out of 3rd gear? Aren't we stacked?
Dynaudio evidence
You be the judge. Prospective buyers for the KiloWatt combo already owning the TriVista SACD player are eligible for a free face-plate upgrade on the latter to match the appearance of the limited KiloWatt series.

Music Hall bowed its new $1,500 Maverick SACD player that continues the esthetics of the MMF-CD25. The room was positively packed and between active demos when I entered. Folks milled about, Roy Hall answered questions and the windows were opened for a brief respite from locker-room atmosphere that got pervasive in certain rooms using toasty tube amplifiers. Fellow moonie and Stereophile contributor Chip Stern heard the room in full active glory and proclaimed it a poor man's oasis in the high-dollar desert that was many of the sky's-the-limit presentations.

Running into the Underworld Prince Wally Liederman of Underwood HiFi, I learned that he and Chris Johnson of the Parts ConneXion were already at work on a sub $2,000 mod package to follow up their very successful work on the MMF-CD25, the Shanling and Jolida products. Having reviewed some of those (and owning the modded JD-100 tubed CDP in my headphone rig), I predict that whatever the tweakoholics in Canada come up with for this player will once again be an attractive performance hotrod.

Shows like HE2003 often separate into 3 camps. There are the push-the envelope systems which most of us never get to hear. They become demonstrators for the edge of the art to alert us about wet-dream possibilities.
Music Hall Maverick

To pull off successfully, this approach mandates equivalently sized environs. With a posh hotel like the Westin, in one of the most expensive cities in the US and helmed by media giant Primedia, this is an expensive proposition. The second camp constitutes the old veterans like Roy Hall and Klaus Bunge. They use small systems in small rooms to demonstrate real-world HiFi at real-world prices. While less glamorous, it arguably is the more important aspect for the survival of audio as an active lifestyle. The third category is made up of manufacturers who don't have -- or want to spend -- the money on the large suites and ball rooms but still desire to demonstrate their top products. Vandersteen's new Model 5A and TAD's go-for-broke Reference speakers fell into this class. It somewhat compromised the ultimate performance potential of their full-range speakers, mandating closer-than-ideal listener distances or causing, for the available space, higher than realistic playback levels to open the curtains. This by way of hinting at the tough choices that face each exhibitor.