NY Audio Show 2014
Known for its iconic Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island Cyclone, the New York Aquarium the newly established Brooklyn Nets basketball team, more recently Brooklyn was all abuzz once again as it played host to the 3rd annual NY Audio Show last month. I was born and raised there so, as an avid fan of high-end audio, nothing could have been more satisfying than to have a show thrown right in my own backyard. Downtown Brooklyn is hardly recognizable these days with a new hi-rise towers, hotels and office buildings sprouting up so high (and often), it can give its famous next-door neighbor (Manhattan) competition.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the New York Audio Show once again despite the fact this show was considerable smaller than last years (and 2012 as well). The reason is an obvious one too: it was held at the end of September rather than its usual month/time in April. This placed it two weeks before the 11th annual Rocky Mounain Audio Fest which has turned into quite an event. Anticipating a large turnout, I cancelled my trip to the Denver RMAF this year to concentrate my sights on the NY Audio Show. It wasn't as big as I had hoped, but it was still an overall great show with a chock-full of components to hear. Weather-wise, it proved to be a sunny weekend with the temperature hovering at around 75 degrees all three days. This made my reminiscent walks around and through downtown and the surrounding areas that much more meaningful.
Heck, I'm just extremely grateful that I didn't have to pack another bag and jump on another plane to travel to yet another country or far off city agian. In fact, I had a great time getting to this year's show because I did something totally unusual. I drove! I picked up two of my good friends in Dennis Parham and Key Kim, as we excitedly drove through lower Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge, directly to the NY Show located at the Brookly Mariott hotel (which was only a block away from the Brookly Bridge!).
This particular show, marks the third annual NY-based event thrown by the Chester Group. But it proved to be the first held in Brooklyn. Fortunately for me this time, the usual $28.00 cost to park my car proved noticeably less expensive than it would had I parked in a Manhattan garage. Once again, kudos to the ambitious Chester Group, Christina Yuin and all the great NY retailers and vendors who showed up to make this show another festive one....
There's Christina Yuin doing what she does....
Arnold Martinez of Tweak Studio of Chicago, was delighted to be at the NY Show and chatting it up with showgoers like Art Dudley of Stereophile. That Porsche is also property of Martinez and Tweak Studio and may be a wise indication as to why he's always so happy after driving so far...
I found it very interesting to find a Brooklyn cable TV reporter present to 'get the scoop' on high-end audio....
Pro audio gear was on hand at this year's show....
Whenever or wherever you see a successful trade show you'll find Chad Kassam of Acoustic Sounds selling great music...
Speaking of good music, Ann Bisson is an accomplished singer, composer and pianist. It was nice talking with her about music and her future endeavors. Her Tales From The Treetops is also quite nice. Highly Recommended!
Kef put out a nice showing of their wares...
An Audiophile Tree Grows in Brooklyn.....
As expected, MBL - North America, arrived with a staggering display of eye popping components compliments of their 101d MkII Radialstrahler loudspeakers, model 1621/1611 digital combo and their monstrous model 9011 mono amplifiers. The sonic landscape these loudspeakers creates always leaves me speechless. You simply cannot get used to what they do that no other can: focus a musician at literally any position in the room. Not just the sweetspot. This system however is not for the feint of heart as it comes with a $260K asking price.
What I also noticed from the Domain Omni PX1 was it also lacked that annoying sheen/sparkle that can sometimes become obvious on the MBL 101d MkII Radialstrahler when played too loudly or if you sit too close to them. At the same time, based on the music I heard in both rooms, the MBLs appear superior in terms of dynamics and in the bass. Make no doubt about it, the Muraudio Domain Omni PX1 possesses special characteristics that are worth keeping an eye on. Lastly, the asking price of this entire rig is $163k. That's $100k less expensive than than that MBL rig...Not quite the prestige of MBL, however Muraudio has a lot going for it with regard to sheer performance.
It's not very often one gets to hear a loudspeaker that costs $200k and sounds like it's worth it. JM Lab's new Focal Grand Utopia loudspeakers are massive structures. Yet, they're designed in a certain way that makes them inviting and easy to live with if you've got that kind of disposable income. Ditto the Statement series of components from VAC which featured their new $116k iQ Power mono amps and $70k Statement preamplifier. The iQ refers to designer Kevin Hayes' Intelligent Auto Bias System. Vinyl via a Bergmann turntable also kept things musically smooth and interesting. I mostly had to listen at the back of the room due to amount of NY'ers that came into this room for an opportunity to hear these legendary products.
Caught loudspeaker designer Bill Duddleston smiling proudly beside his Legacy loudspeaker...
Mike Oltz of Xtreme Fidelity of Northern NJ was pleased to show off how good VAC's modestly priced Sigma Series 160i integrated ($13k) could sound driving a pair of NOLA Metro Grand Reference loudspeakers ($33k). The open baffle design on the Metro Grands give them a top that always open and very extended with nary a hint of coloration. There's a lot to like here especially when you consider the cost.
These modified Klipsch loudspeakers from Volti Audio ($25k including subwoofer) stole my vote for Best Sound at last year's RMAF. Together again with Triode Wire Labs but opted for the Raven Audio Spirit 300B stereo amplifier ($7300), Silhouette pre ($10k) and Meitner digital gear. The sound was remarkably focused and alive despite the Vittora loudspeakers being spread so far apart. I have always liked these loudspeakers and Triode Wire Labs cables. Now I have to keep a close watch on Raven Audio. FYI, those acoustic treatements located on the wall work great and only cost about $2.89 cents each. Home Depot sells them and they're designed to keep drafts out of your attic. Half my ceiling is decorated with them as well.
Classic sounds came from the VPI suite that featured a pair of Tannoy Guy R. Foundtain Memorial loudspeakers and a soon to be released VPI 50 watt model 299D Integrated amplifier ($4k). Attempting to hear anything worth reporting proved difficult due to the crowd and small space here. I did get a photo however.
Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith audio sure lives up to the name. The sound coming out of this room, supported by a VPI 'table and Soundsmith monitors, was one of the few highlights of the show for me.
It was a great surprise to see Shayne Tenace (above photo inset) back on the high-end audio scene. Tenace was showing off the Peachtree Audio Nova integrated ($1500) driving a pair of Opera Audio Seconda loudspeakers ($4k smaller pair). The overall sound was impressive: open with an earthy feel. I would have easily guessed it to be twice the asking amount.
Naum Dorkhman is wearing lots of hats these days. He's recently took on the responsibility of importing the newly developed series of tube electronics from Russia called G9 Audio (reviewed here). All the while, Dorkhman still maintains his stance as the long-time US and Canadian importer for the affordable, yet excellent sounding series of Audes loudspeakers. Dorkhman has been ecstatic over the news that his line of Audes loudspeaker has finally made it into Park Ave Audio: one of New York City's premier high-end audio retail stores.
Dorkhman took full advantage of the NY Audio Show by bringing along the G9 Nero series I reviewed and his two favorite Audes loudspeakers in the Audes Excellence ($16,500) and Blues ($6500). In addition, Dorkhman took extra precaution by bringing along the Laufer Teknik Memory Player 64 (starting at around $20k), which I have been raving about since 2006. And as expected, it was almost impossible to hear above average due to the traffic, noise and audio discussions going on in this room. And every time I did come back and glance back into the room, it was more crowded than previously. Dorkhman was obviously overjoyed by all the trafffic that came his way because that's what these shows are all about. Oh well, my only wish was that someone would have taken a moment to sit and listen to the sheer magic this system can create. Oh well, maybe next time...
Here's the TW-Acustic Raven GT 'table ($12,500) Jeff Cantalano of High Water Sound always loves to play for showgoers. What I was surprised to see was an Anniversary Edition of the Verity Audio Parsifal loudspeakers being driven by Audia Flight electronics. Cantalano is full of surprises but usually it refers to the sound he gets out of hotel showrooms such as these. Not the components he sells. Once again, the sound was alive and the vinyl playback was superb. I blame it on Cantalano's LP collection. Awesome.
This proved my first chance encounter to actually sit and listen to LampizatOr digital gear and electronics. I only wanted to stay for a moment considering how many people walked in for a listen as well. But it was Dale Pitcher who demanded that I give his newest Mosiac Acoustic Illumination loudspeaker ($18,500) a good listen. I've known of Dale Pitcher for some 15-years and he's most recently started to resurface on the audio front once again after an over-extended sabbatical. Knowing his design goals, you can bet the Illumination is an overbuilt design, weighing in at nearly 300 lbs per side. You can thank the cemented sidewall enclosure for that. The sound was clear, taut and well balanced through each song played. Bass control and dynamics also stood out for the short time I was able to listen. Overall, this suite proved to be among the few that I was glad I was forced to sit and listen to.
Before I forget, the Sistrum platform in gold looked quite impressive in terms of its minimalist approach and design.
Audio Note of England has ruined me. I heard this system in different iterations over the years and always wondered why on earth would anyone buy a system with the speakers loaded into the corners and this bland and uninspiring sounding. And why is it so damn expensive (their top of the line DAC and transport cost around $200k alone). Then one fateful day I walked into their room at the RMAF some two or three years ago, sat and listened again. Only this time, I came away wondering where the hell have I been. Consider a setup that resembles the above photo that would possess a sound quality/purity I have seldom ever experienced. There was a level of authenticity of timbre I had not experienced since my visit to Audio Consulting of Switzerland. What I'm trying to say is: in an instant. I understood the system. I understood the setup. And most importantly, I understood the sound.
Hard to imagine: The Combak/Reimyo Bravo SE mini-monitor - sporting a single proprietary coax driver no less - powered by the Reimyo KAP-777/CAT-777 amp/pre combo and supported by Reimyo's legendary digital front-end produced a sound that at once filled this small listening space with a sense of ease and resolution that went well beyond its assumed limits.
Kazuo Kiuchi, chief designer at Combak/Reimyo of Japan (above left) and US/Canada importer Wynn Wong of Wynn Audio caught smiling for the camera. Kiuchi also has the rare title to serve as the exclusive distributor for XRCD and is heavily involved in their studio recording/mastering techniques.
Speaking of performing way beyond its size: April Music's newly updated Aura Note sports a V2 insignia (version 2) sports more features than ever! This high-end audio equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife serves as an all-in-one device that boasts these attributes in a single chassis:
1) top-loading CD player
2) 125 Watts-per-channel (power output by B&O's ICEpower ASX250 digital amplifier module)
Another room that showed great promise was the Devialet/Totem Acoustic suite sponsored by NYC's Stereo Exchange. Super slim, sophisticated and versatile, this French digital dynamo is really making a name for itself of late. Speaking of Stereo Exchange, I used spend countless hours in this store back in the early '90s and was introduced to Arcam and Meridian, among other foreign brands there. Fond memories indeed.
Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio has set his sights taking the already excellent sounding Sony HAP-Z1 ES hi-rez music server to even greater heights compliments of a dual mono tube output stage and a low-noise, linear power supply. And that's just a 'level one' modification. There's a total of four levels one can have their HAP-Z1 SE upgraded to based on one's budget.
The Vinnie Rossi (yes, the same guy from Red Wine Audio) LIO is so new and radically different from Red Wine Audio products that Vinnie decided to give it a name all its own. If you know Red Wine Audio you should know they make affordable battery-powered and excellent sounding products. Well, the Vinnie Rossi's LIO remains affordable (THANK GOD), but goes in an entirely different direction on a number of fronts. The LIO is a totally slot-loaded modular designed component that will also employ a bank of ultra-capacitors instead of batteries. There's lots of options available and though the LIO was up and running here at the show, Rossi was adamant against my taking photos of its innards (as it wasn't properly dressed). Prices are said to start at around $2,500 and then go up based on ones needs.
Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV of New Hampshire was also sharing the suite with Vinnie Rossi but those wonderful sounding Harbeth HL5 monitors ($6900) served as a dead giveaway as they're among Swanbon's favorite all-time transducer. I've learned quickly that wherever I see Harbeth loudspeakers Walter Swanbon is likely to somewhere in the vacinity.
Walter Swanbon is also a huge fan of Stein Music System products and his latest Stein Harmonizers have been upgraded to Blue Sun status. I have a hunch that Blue Sun is no coincidence either. It just so happens to be the name of one of my favorite CD's my Mark Isham. And I do believe I played this song for designer Holger Stein. Hmm, I'm just saying....
King Sound, makers of electrostatic loudspeakers and headphones were showing New Yorkers their fine-sounding portable headphone amplifier.
Sunny Umrao of Scaena Loudspeakers (photo inset) and Care Audio of Edison NJ, had the audacity to outfit a mid-sized MAD Baron loudspeaker ($13k) with a Scaena Maximizer subwoofer ($9k replete with amp/crossover/pre controller). However, the results were pretty amazing and nothing that I would have otherwise imagined. How much information that low-end driver delivers took this modest-sized speaker into BIG RIG territory. Keep in mind, Umrao has been manufacturing subs for Scaena for years and knows a thing or two about low-end reproduction. I've never seen it demonstrated quite in the same manner before either. But one thing is for certain, the sound became larger and had far greater breadth, not just in the bass but also in the midrange and upper frequencies. Mightily impressive!
I have to admit, for someone like me, $200k is house-shopping money. So, when looking at a loudspeaker that costs the same amount, it better damn well be impressive. The Alta Audio Statement Towers provided a glimpse of rationale behind why someone would spend that amount of cash on a loudspeaker. No, I felt the room was way, way too small on most of the material designer Mike Levy played for me. However, there was one thing, a small jazz ensemble, that created a magic only transducers of this size and ilk can reproduce with such grand opulence. Having never heard this loudspeaker previously, I was slightly surprised by its size and number of drivers: 3 ribbon tweeters, 4 midrange drivers and 4 woofers! The Statement Tower did however - driven by VAC mono amps - sound as close to a single source as one could have imagined. On the right material, I thought this system provided some rather exquisite insights as to what this loudspeaker is capable of.
Until we meet again....