Most self-effacing comment at the show? "Yeah, we made some nice noise". [Brit fella from Living Voice speakers, a great exhibit which Paul Candy will cover.]

Most obnoxious retort? "Shows like this have an open-door policy. We need to get people into the room so we play loud and leave the door open." [Another Brit fella from Naim Audio upon asking whether he planned on closing the door on his room which was playing music loud enough to be heard in the Reimyo exhibit across the hallway whose doors remained closed to minimize sound leakage for other exhibitors.]

Most X-rated sex quotient in hardware? The new Chord transport [upper right].

Most courageous team-up of components? High-power solid-state amplifier with Second Rethm. [Daniel Marz of Red Planet Labs/San Diego, lower right].

Best drink at the show? The fresh-squeezed mango/strawberry/guava juice on the 6th Avenue street market in front of the Hilton.

Highest tan'n'shades coolness factor? Joe Fratus of Art Audio, just returned from South America where he conducts a sales tour each year. Asked about his tan, he grinned: "I do my best work after dark so I get to relax during the day." [He was with VBT and Bösendorfer on a 3-day notice/request for a pair of his Adagio monoblocks which, needless to say, weren't fully broken in - below.]

Biggest LF vibes of the show? Coming from the VBT 815 aka Big Bugga, an 8 x 15" subwoofer with an MSRP of $20,000 that enjoys particular popularity with HipHop artists. Quipped the designer: "This is great for aging men with prostrate problems." His next comment about the opposite gender shall go unmentioned. Suffice to say that sitting on this monster which, surprisingly, integrated exceptionally well despite its brute arsenal of internal hardware, was an experience the details of which are none of your business. But then, this was VBT - perhaps I shouldn't have been that surprised about the bass integration.

Best showmanship of the show? Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio with his demo of the new sub-Pearl model which began with stealthily hidden inwalls called The Insider that the audience was set up to mistake for the free-standing 3-way floorstanders.

Most eclectic audio link? The home site of a voracious Japanese collector, compliments of Jonathan Halpern of Shindo-USA. Click on the 'Audio' link to view the Neumann lathe converted for LP playback.

Best new faceplate? The one gracing the new Innersound amp and preamp. Gary Leeds invited me to a factory tour of Innersound in Boulder which will offer opportunities to report on the new developments at this exciting firm.

Most unexpected name change? Alon by Acarian Systems becomes Nola by Accent Loudspeakers Ltd. to signify the departure of a former partner, leaving designer Carl Marchisotto to assume sole ownership of this loudspeaker design house.

Most pathetic excuse for not visiting the Thiel exhibit? Following a closed-door policy in keeping with the above post, I walked past rooms with scheduled demos-in-progress. Being more in vacation than business mode, I decided that waiting in front of closed doors wasn't my idea of fun though I fully appreciate the logistical advantages of running controlled demos.

Most pathetic excuse for not visiting the Sony and Monster exhibits? I figured I catch 'em on Wes Phillips' real-time coverage for Stereophile. Was I wrong? I'm just not a press conference kinda guy.

Birdland Audio showed with Tetra Speakers to premier its 18wpc Pleyel Ag amplifier (bridgeable to 35 watts) which matches the firm's famous Odeon Ag DAC/preamp and sports a new microprocessor-controlled digital bias circuit. If this amp is as good as the Odeon-Ag, music lovers on a budget should watch out - this could be a troll slayer...

Entering the my-amp-is-bigger-than-yours sweepstakes, Gilbert Yeung of Blue Circle Audio weighed in on the subject in manly man's fashion and with the $9,995 BC206 180wpc hybrid amplifier.

EchoBusters figures that taking up considerable wall space would make for the perfect stealth application of Bill Stierhout's technology that's also inside my Walker Audio Velocitor to spread its benign field effect on the hustling electrons and instill law & order in their travails. Don't ask, I don't grok the science but my ears grok the effects and that's all that matters. Ready for active wall panels? EchoBusters got you covered.

EquaRack, Thor Audio and WHT Speakers collaborated for a massively circular/tubular show of force augmented by fully decoupled shelf-less adjustable supports to insure that the signal exiting the unique Australian two-ways with Jarrah wood scoop (a form of rear hornloading the company refers to as "Bass Reflex Done Right") and B&G ribbon tweeter didn't suffer fuzzy edges and overlaid smearing from resonance pollution. Our own Les Turoczi, Jim Bosha and Paul Candy spent some time here as well while our man Down Under has been hired to give us the scoop about the scoop speakers. With essentially no crossover, 94dB sensitivity and 10-ohm load, the WHT Signature has tube lover written all over it. Meanwhile, EquaRack's ball bearings are now in production and sport the industry's first ultra-hard Tungsten Carbide precision races.

Being more intent on shmoozing with the lovely Ofra Gershman than taking notes about on-wall speaker novelties like the new Gershman Acoustics X1-R, Chip Stern passed the buck to his editor who dutifully immortalized the musical pair on the camera while forgetting to take notes himself. So much for relying on your elders. Chip, next time I'll do the flirting and you get to squint through the view finder. Can't get no satisfaction.

Herbert Wong of Gutwire Audio showed his new Soundpad which is the gel-filled frisbee of audio, not to be handed to your dog but placed atop components to absorb self-generated vibrations from ringy chassis which even very expensive components tend to suffer from.

As one of our ad sponsors, I had made it a point to visit with Herbert and thank him in person for making our continued existence possible. I now inquired how his firm, as one of the smaller players, could afford to attend an expensive show like HE2004 which, though regional, is more costly and arguably far less effective with regards to a manufacturer's bottom line than CES.

"Being a Canadian company, we want to break into the US market and need consumer awareness to do so. While the show is terribly expensive, we felt we couldn't afford not to be here." Fair enough. That's called investing into your own long-term growth. Entrepreneurs understand it, employees usually conveniently overlook it, arguing instead over due raises whilst forgetting that a lack of orders equates to no job.

On the subject of expense and manufacturer attendance, Audio Research, BAT, Bryston, Cary, Classe, Conrad-Johnson, Krell, Meadowlark Audio, McCormack and many others chose to stay home. Bel Canto Design, JMlab and Thiel were sponsored by Sound by Singer which explains why Primedia continues to host the show in NYC and San Francisco - there are enough local/regional dealers in these cities to roll up the slack and share exhibit costs with vendors who'd otherwise refuse to participate while bleeding their wallets dry. Established firms run as profitable companies insist on justifying their expenses against concrete gains. The message encoded in their absence is clear: Not needing the exposure, attendance doesn't make them any money, now or later. Hence their accounting departments can't allow them to go. Hey, this is a business after all, not a free ride. Showgoers missing their favorite companies might think about it in those terms. Make peace with the fact that reality bites, sometimes. That's why I recently filed down my teeth to a gnarly edge. Can't be prepared enough. Gotta bite back when necessary, right?.Just kiddin'!