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This year’s show was phenomenal, with thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors! The Home Entertainment Show, or "T.H.E. Show" for short, held at the Hilton and the Atrium hotels (www.theshownewport.com), was a wild success, thanks to the monumental efforts of Richard Beers, President of T.H.E. Show. Thanks to Richard’s invitation and warm hospitality to T.H.E. Show’s exhibitors, the Magic Bus’ phenomenal exhibit behind the Hilton Hotel was a music- and car-lover’s utopia. It was thrilling to be among Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, and other exotic automobiles, all made possible by Rick Reus and the team of Reus Audio Systems (www.reusaudio.com). Mr. Reus so loved the Magic Bus, he graciously guided numerous attendees to our exhibit, and for that I’m most grateful.


Figure 1. Magic Bus exhibit in the courtyard of the Hilton Hotel.

For every show, my goal is to make the Magic Bus experience original and unforgettable. In previous shows, the sound of uncompressed, unequalized, live instruments, played by Grammy and Emmy award-winning musicians, was “piped” into the Magic Bus’ audio system. At this year’s show, I decided to do something a little more technical. Listeners were treated to comparative listening tests between songs rendered in standard CD quality (44.1 kHz – 16 bit) and their hi-res (192 kHz – 24 bit or 176 kHz – 24 bit) downloaded counterparts. For these tests, listeners enjoyed Spanish Harlem by Rebecca Pidgeon and Smash by Patricia Barber.

I also played a number of exceptional demo songs designed to showcase certain sonic performance characteristics of the Magic Bus’ audio system, such as imaging, dynamics, tonality, low bass extension and power, and realism. And, as always, listeners were invited to play their own favorite demo tracks, too.

I was especially honored to share the Magic Bus with some of home audio’s greatest writers and reviewers. Foremost among these were Jim Hannon (Vice President/Group Publisher, the abso!ute sound®), Robert Harley (Editor-in-Chief, the abso!ute sound®), Jeff Dorgay (Publisher, TONEAudio magazine), and Chris Connaker (Founder, Computer Audiophile).

Prominent industry experts also experienced the Magic Bus. Among these included acoustics guru, Anthony Grimani (President, Performance Media Industries, Ltd.), cable gurus Joe and Gregg Kubala (Kubala-Sosna) and Nathan Vander Stoep (Owner/Designer, NVS Sound LLC), Joe Cohen (President, The Lotus Group), renowned audio component designer Steve McCormack (Owner, SMc Audio), Michael Manousselis (Director, Sales and Marketing, Dynaudio North America) and Emilios Mandalios (Sales Executive, 12 Volt Manager, Dynaudio North America), and Maier Shadi (President, The Audio Salon).


Figure 2. Anthony Grimani gives the Magic Bus a “thumbs up”!


Figure 3. Anthony Grimani in front of the massive subwoofer and acoustical treatments in the Magic Bus.


Figure 4. Industry experts at the Magic Bus. From left to right: Nathan Vander Stoep, Maier Shadi, Chris Connaker, Michael Manousselis, and Jon Whitledge.

Merryl Jaye (Painter, Merryl Jaye Studio) was also exhibiting at the show with her fabulous paintings of musical greats. I’d always wanted one of her gorgeous paintings so this year I acquired her expressive and vivid masterpiece of Neil Young.


Figure 5. Merryl Jaye with her recent paintings of musical greats that also function as acoustical treatments.

A number of distinguished mobile audio enthusiasts also visited the Magic Bus. Among them were Eric Chan (Quality Assurance Engineer Associate, Alpine Electronics of America, Inc.), golden-eared music aficionado Marc Sorbe, who introduced us to a superb recording entitled, Trudno Kochac (Hard To Love) (E Cosi Difficile Amare) from Kayah and Bregovic, Justin Zazzi (Mobile Electronics Competition Association judge), and Bob Smith, respected forum member of DIYMA.com, who wrote this review after listening to the Magic Bus:


Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Jon, and listening to his bus for a minimum of least 2 hours. I am extremely impressed with what he has accomplished. The first thing it does better than any vehicle I have ever listened to, is that it so easily shows you the differences that exist between various recordings, whether subtle or readily apparent. Jon played a disc that had two songs on it (Rebecca Pidgeon's 'Spanish Harlem' & Patricia Barber's 'Smash', each back to back...each recorded in standard 16/44.1 resolution, and 24/176.4 resolution. The higher rez versions displayed an openness and transparency that the redbook offerings simply couldn't match, and Jon's Sprinter easily showed the differences.

The listening environment treatments that Jon was able to incorporate into the bus, really shows up in the lower regions, where there is simply no masking whatsoever of the fundamentals of various instruments, allowing you to hear the notes in their entirety, all the way up through the harmonics, with not a hint of blurring.

Also very notable was how delicate cymbals were reproduced, with the detail and proper decaying that I would expect from a carefully assembled home rig, but so rarely have heard from a car. This bus can do delicacy and thunder in the blink of an eye....and do so without a hint of effort.

The stage was rear-view mirror height, width was pillar to pillar when the recording called for it, front to back imaging cues were easily discernible. Even though the left A-pillar pod was fairly close to the listening position, it never once gave away its location....in fact, none of the drivers gave away their physical locations.

The lower bass was superlative. It was as deep and tight as one could hope for, never calling attention to itself, simply blending in with the rest of the spectrum. The imaging of the mid-bass drivers never once pulled down the height of the stage, yet all the while adding just the right touch of body to the fundamentals of the notes being played or sung.

I really could go on and on here, and probably have ...but you get the idea. He's really got something special here.

Lastly and most importantly, I was very thankful to Jon for allowing me such a lengthy listening session in the midst of a show like that. He was very gracious, informative, and surprisingly very humble when it came to discussing his creation...probably more so than I'd be if the situations were reversed. lol

I climbed in with some pretty high expectations, and all of them were met...and then some.


Another of the many highlights of the show included meeting and acquiring the autographs of the musicians at T.H.E. Show Newport (on the interior walls of the Magic Bus). Among them were Nina Storey (vocalist), Nick Bearden (bassist and multi-instrumentalist), Brad Lindsay (guitarist), Paul Gormley (bassist, Owner, Talking Dog Music), and Ken Wild (bassist).


Figure 6. The sensational Nina Storey bestows her autograph on the Magic Bus’ window valance.


Figure 7. Nick Bearden points to his autograph on the window valance.


Figure 8. Brad Lindsay’s autograph adorns the window valance.


Figure 9. Paul Gormley’s autograph on one of the thirty-four Helmholtz absorbers inside the Magic Bus.


Figure 10. Ken Wild points to his autograph on the rear door Helmholtz absorber.

These extraordinary experiences would not have been possible without the visionary ideals and gracious support of Richard Beers, Dynaudio, Kimber Kable, (and all my other sponsors), Steve McCormack, Jim Merod (BluePort Jazz | Hosted by Jim Merod), and all of you who visited and supported the Magic Bus, true aficionados of music and high-end audio. Together, let’s keep forging frontiers in audio. I hope to see you at the next show!

Warmest regards,
Jon Whitledge
July 20, 2013
 

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Discussion Starter #3
hi joey!

i'd love to share it with you and bing someday soon. i've always wanted to see your fabulous shop. maybe for your next get together i'll drive up the coast.

best,
jon
 

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That would be great Jon! I think it sounds like we are shooting for around September for our next get together. I will keep you informed.
 

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hi joey!

i'd love to share it with you and bing someday soon. i've always wanted to see your fabulous shop. maybe for your next get together i'll drive up the coast.

best,
jon
honestly jon, that sounds like a really cool thing for you to do for this community - even though people (including myself in the past) have had differences of opinion toward the magazines and such things. i have to admit however, the fabrication and thought out room treatments are extremly well done.

what were the opinions of the MECA judge that got a listen to the bus?

thanks jon.
 

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Cool beans dude, I'd love to hear it some day. :)
 

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Wave Shepherd
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what were the opinions of the MECA judge that got a listen to the bus?
I am extremely hesitant to answer this question out in the open because I fear my words will be quoted out of context in some debate, which is absolutely not my intent. This is partially why I have not typed anything since the event, but some part of it is also trying to digest what I learned. Here are some observations and things I most enjoyed thinking about:

From a technical and installation point of view, I was very impressed. As a radio broadcast engineer, I've helped build some and I've seen many really trick installations at transmitter sites, server rooms, and recording studios. Jon's attention to detail is on par with the best I've seen, and I enjoyed his unrelenting no-compromise approach in the materials used. I saw countless opportunities where some installers (and I'm totally guilty of this) could cut corners to save some time or money, but the quality of the build was consistent throughout.

Many recording and broadcasting studios have a ton of fiberglass covering the walls and everyone loves to walk in, clap their hands, and marvel in the lack of echos. The trap is believing that just because a clap (treble and midrange) has no echos, that the room does not need any more acoustic treatments. In rooms like this, the decay time of the untreated bass frequencies becomes very long relative to the heavily treated midrange and treble frequencies. The room will tend to sound both "dry" and "boomy" and need a little more treble and a little less bass to compensate for the former and latter.

So coming back to the Bus, the binary amplitude diffusor panels and other acoustic treatments were effective in balancing the decay times of the listening space. I don't think many people would immediately notice this because the treatments simply do their job, and it is difficult to notice the absence of problem. Simply talking to eachother while sitting in the front seats is plenty to notice this.

The noise floor was undetectable even during quiet passages at high volumes and there was not a hint of distortion or strain. The words effortless and transparent come to mind, as the system did not seem to contribute anything onto the material being played.

--

And this is where it becomes hard to articulate I'm not sure how else to illustrate this. Absolute transparency is often lauded as the be-all, end-all goal that every system should ever be. If, as a thought experiment, we take transparency to the extreme ... how much is too much? Here is an example:

When your audio system evolves to the point where it can reveal the difference between a heavily compressed MP3 and a CD version of a song, you realize you want higher quality copies of some of your music, and thus your pool of enjoyable music shrinks. As your system continues to evolve towards a perfect surgical instrument capable of revealing every last nuance of a recording, the enjoyable pool of music also continues to shrink (which is what I believe is driving the demand for lossless and hi-res audio formats).

As transparency increases to the extreme, I imagine there is some point where the increased articulation of the flaws of a recording (and thus the decrease in available enjoyable music) starts to overwhelm the increased detail of the recording.

So with audio, how much transparency is desired?
This is the question I have been wrestling with since listening to the Bus. It has a level of transparency that is uniquely high, and I was able to hear new details (and new artifacts) on tracks I am very familiar with. I'm not sure if I could enjoy listening to such a system for all of my music and all the time, because sometimes ignorance is bliss and (for example) having my bookshelf system in the garage mask some of the faults of an FM broadcast, my MP3 collection, or Pandora is a good thing.

So in a round-about way, that is supposed to be a big compliment. As a reference audio system, the Bus is brilliant. It does many things very well.
Two thumbs up
 

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I am extremely hesitant to answer this question out in the open because I fear my words will be quoted out of context in some debate, which is absolutely not my intent. This is partially why I have not typed anything since the event, but some part of it is also trying to digest what I learned. Here are some observations and things I most enjoyed thinking about:

From a technical and installation point of view, I was very impressed. As a radio broadcast engineer, I've helped build some and I've seen many really trick installations at transmitter sites, server rooms, and recording studios. Jon's attention to detail is on par with the best I've seen, and I enjoyed his unrelenting no-compromise approach in the materials used. I saw countless opportunities where some installers (and I'm totally guilty of this) could cut corners to save some time or money, but the quality of the build was consistent throughout.

Many recording and broadcasting studios have a ton of fiberglass covering the walls and everyone loves to walk in, clap their hands, and marvel in the lack of echos. The trap is believing that just because a clap (treble and midrange) has no echos, that the room does not need any more acoustic treatments. In rooms like this, the decay time of the untreated bass frequencies becomes very long relative to the heavily treated midrange and treble frequencies. The room will tend to sound both "dry" and "boomy" and need a little more treble and a little less bass to compensate for the former and latter.

So coming back to the Bus, the binary amplitude diffusor panels and other acoustic treatments were effective in balancing the decay times of the listening space. I don't think many people would immediately notice this because the treatments simply do their job, and it is difficult to notice the absence of problem. Simply talking to eachother while sitting in the front seats is plenty to notice this.

The noise floor was undetectable even during quiet passages at high volumes and there was not a hint of distortion or strain. The words effortless and transparent come to mind, as the system did not seem to contribute anything onto the material being played.

--

And this is where it becomes hard to articulate I'm not sure how else to illustrate this. Absolute transparency is often lauded as the be-all, end-all goal that every system should ever be. If, as a thought experiment, we take transparency to the extreme ... how much is too much? Here is an example:

When your audio system evolves to the point where it can reveal the difference between a heavily compressed MP3 and a CD version of a song, you realize you want higher quality copies of some of your music, and thus your pool of enjoyable music shrinks. As your system continues to evolve towards a perfect surgical instrument capable of revealing every last nuance of a recording, the enjoyable pool of music also continues to shrink (which is what I believe is driving the demand for lossless and hi-res audio formats).

As transparency increases to the extreme, I imagine there is some point where the increased articulation of the flaws of a recording (and thus the decrease in available enjoyable music) starts to overwhelm the increased detail of the recording.

So with audio, how much transparency is desired?
This is the question I have been wrestling with since listening to the Bus. It has a level of transparency that is uniquely high, and I was able to hear new details (and new artifacts) on tracks I am very familiar with. I'm not sure if I could enjoy listening to such a system for all of my music and all the time, because sometimes ignorance is bliss and (for example) having my bookshelf system in the garage mask some of the faults of an FM broadcast, my MP3 collection, or Pandora is a good thing.

So in a round-about way, that is supposed to be a big compliment. As a reference audio system, the Bus is brilliant. It does many things very well.
Two thumbs up
Very interesting review. Are you the judge people are talking about?
 

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Wave Shepherd
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I am the one Jon W. And req are both referring to above, but please keep in mind this is just the opinion of one person. I do not mean to speak as an ambassador, nor do I ever want to use my judge "title" as an influence or a claim of expertise :)

Thanks again Jon for all your hospitality at T.H.E. Show!
 

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Would love to hear this one day.. but me getting to the West Coast isn't going to happen any time soon. :(
 

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Discussion Starter #11
thanks for the insightful and accurate review, jazzi! it was delightful to finally meet you in person, talk about audio, and listen to music together.

i hope to get up to the bay area later this summer to attend a get together at bing's and joey's shop.

i'm also making plans for 2014 CES. just yesterday, Grammy award-winning producer and guitar virtuoso, Larry Mitchell, confirmed his intention to play at my exhibit.
 
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