New York City, NY, April 12 — 14, 2013 — I love New York. I never did need the brilliant 1970s ad campaign to remind me. Every time I visit, which is several times a year, I’m enervated, rejuvenated. Whether it is to see the best in plays, search for the very best vinyl, have dinner at our favourite restaurants, or hang out with the most passionate audiophiles and wonderful friends, I can never wait to get back.
So, it came as a surprise that I have never visited in April during the New York Audio Show. Sometimes, I think there is audio show overload. But, like visiting New York, as soon as I leave a show and finish the report, I can’t wait until the next one. My last show was Rocky Mountain in October. You know how I feel about that audiophile love in. The whole of the Denver show is so much more than a sum of its parts. I was hoping that the New York Show would give me the same feelings and excitement.
Another great reason for visiting New York is the Audiophilia contingent here. Writers Marty Appel, Michael Levy, Henry Wilkenson and Karl Sigman all live in the centre of the universe. I was just as excited to hang with them as I was visiting the show for the first time.
After my love letter to Denver 2012 and our 2013 CES show report (along with nearly a million page views just for the Denver Show report!), I received a few critical emails and comments re our coverage. No problem, love me some criticism. We certainly give it out. Gotta take it. These weren’t ‘trolls’, they were thoughtful emails regarding subjects of coverage. You can’t please all the people all the time, for sure in this business, but I recalled their comments when planning New York City.
That said, I will be focusing on gear new to me and new technologies. I’m sure your favourites will be covered, but once again, apologies if something is missed, especially to the manufacturers and distributors who spend so much money to attend these shows.
Organized by The Chester Group, this year’s show used New York’s venerable Palace Hotel. Once again, we emphasize we were listening under show conditions and to take all our opinions as just that. Even a well damped room can have problems — heat, too many people, funky ConEd, etc. So, if we are less than enthusiastic about your favourite preamp, it does not mean you have cloth ears, especially if it sings like an angel in your home listening room. Have faith in your ears. These reports are by way of a guide, not guidance. If something piques your interest, get to the most important person in your audio relationship, your local dealer.
It was nice that trade and press had the show to ourselves for four hours on the Friday morning/early afternoon. This gave me time to get all the photos I needed unencumbered and leave me 1.5 days of pure listening.
The show was well organized, and by Saturday morning was humming with enthusiastic audiophiles. Their wives, too. Which was very nice to see.
The beginning of the show on Friday morning did not portend good things. I’ll place the blame on my very stressful Thursday, a 4:00 a.m. start, two hour deice in yet another ice storm, a short flight into long turbulence, and some seriously snippy New Yorkers. I love the city, its people and their attitude, but some of the audiophiles in the business end were pretty rude.
My inner wrath was assuaged somewhat by the smiling face of Greg Roberts from Volti Audio. He was here with a static display (he’ll be playing his wonderful horns at the upcoming Capital Audiofest in Washington DC). Roberts is passionate but realistic about the business. His passionate and caring nature is exemplified in his outstanding speakers.
The stress returned shortly after, when, thirty minutes after the scheduled start of the show, a fellow yelled at me ‘no photographs!’ as my pathetic little iPhone 5 camera was clicking on what looked like a beautifully designed Swiss speaker. I returned a day later, and there was the speaker in exactly the same place, looking forlorn. Interestingly, the sound of the speakers did not warrant his ridiculous, prima donna attitude. And, I thought the Swiss were punctual.
A few comments about the show in general. The show is small, about 45 rooms. That said, the equipment you’ll hear is the newest, benchmark gear in our avocation. Small does not mean you’ll be missing out on anything. I was surprised that some of New York’s dealers did not support the show. They should have attended. Maybe it was the cost of New York rooms (the hotel just went through a 120 million dollar renovation), union handlers for equipment, etc. Most folks know that’s the cost of doing business in New York. And, not forgetting my $40 breakfast in the hotel’s coffee shop (2 eggs, sausage, toast).
My show attendance template begins at the top show floor and walk down the emergency stairs until done. Floors 11, 10, 9, 5 and 4 were in use.
As I wrote earlier, quality show sound can be elusive. Friday, many rooms were having difficulties. In fact, sounds varied from good to execrable. I have heard much of the gear on show at stores, homes, distributors, etc, and the sound I was hearing in New York had no resemblance to those sounds. A couple of guys were slappy happy with their sounds — I was not hearing the same. Many, however, were troubled and worked well into the night on Friday to solve the problems. Saturday, the sound was considerably better and the exhibitors seemed to be a much happier lot.
I very much enjoyed the sounds coming from the two Wilson Audio rooms, especially with the new Aleksia speakers we gave Best of Show to in Denver last year. Once again, they were capable of almost unlimited power, but remained musical. A Peter McGrath recording of Miami’s New World Symphony playing a rough and ready Mahler 5 sounded incredibly accurate. I was able to pinpoint conductor Michael Tilson Thomas’ odd placing of the trombones to the left of the stage. Some of the ’super’ speakers at the show had the Count Basie band in the room with you. Big, big! But, for some odd reason, it did not sound like music. More like super large, accurate sound. The emotion was not there. You can fill in your own analogies. Mr. Wilson has eschewed this sound scape recently and music and audiophiles are the better for it. The Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems’ kit drove the speakers effortlessly and very musically. Dan’s design acumen is as good as his engineering. In fact, the large, aircraft grade volume control on his new Momentum preamp ($25K) is one of the coolest I’ve seen.
Much like recent audio shows, CD players were fewer and fewer. The computer file rules with vinyl a happy camper in second. However, a few CD players shone. E.A.R.’s CD player was chief among them. Wes Bender from Wes Bender Studio had this player in concert with the Redpoint Model D turntable, Kaplan Cables and Marten FormFloor loudspeakers. After some late room rejigging, Bender was happy with the sound. Real music from real world kit. Lots of natural sounds in this room. And a wonderful group of people, too.
The music was at more listenable volumes by Friday night. In their zeal to get ‘impressive’ sound, many exhibitors played music far too loudly during the day. It wasn’t to compete with a loud crowd. It was just loud. Combined with frequency imbalance and sonic ‘hash’, it made for some tough going.
The sounds on Saturday were much more to my liking. The English contingent sounded wonderful. Various topologies and designs, but a sound philosophy was at play. The Spendor SP100R², Audio Space LS3/5A with GINI B+ Bass Stand for LS3/5A and Harbeth 30.1s all sounded detailed, musical, and with power. Choosing the best would be a difficult choice, but I did like the focused, pinpoint sound of the LS3/5A. And at $3K, a steal.
I would be hard pressed to choose best sound of show, but best finish is easy. The MAD Duke Royal with the 18K ‘Union Jack’ option was spectacular. I heard the MAD Baron for a while and loved its rich sound and the power coming from such a small footprint.
Turntables were everywhere, in just about every room. No complaints from me. Many were static, and others were not sounding at their best. But nothing gets this audiophile’s heart beating faster than seeing a vinyl rig at play. VPI’s new Direct Drive turntable with 3D printer arm looked and sounded superb. No final name and price yet. The Redpoint in Wes Bender’s room was massive and magnificent. And the Vertere arm playing through the huge Genesis 2.2s sounded intriguing.
There were several headphone hot spots, with long lines at listening stations. No room problems, here. ‘Headzones’ was the New York Show’s hip name for its headphone zone. More headphones were found in the Woo Audio room. Lots of stations. Its WA7 Fireflies ($1K), a pure Class-A tube headphone amplifier with 32-Bit, 192K USB Digital-to-Analog Converter sounded very refined through a number of headphones. One of the most enjoyable sounds — dynamic, smooth and very spacious were Chris Sommovigo’s (Black Cat Cables) vinyl rips. And, pretty spectacular for a headphone amplifier was Woo’s WA-234 Mono, the world’s first Monoblock headphone and speaker amplifier, single-ended, Class-A, output transformer coupled.
One brand new DAC/streamer caught my attention, the Chord DSX1000. It is a high-performance digital network streamer that utilizes proprietary DAC technology.The latest-generation Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) architecture found inside the DSX1000 is the same advanced technology used in the BD76 HDSD DAC and the Red Reference MkIII CD player. This was playing in a large room with the giant Chord SPM 14000MkII Ultimate Mono power amplifiers. Once again, all this expensive kit provided massive, detailed sound. I would like to hear the Chord DSX1000 in a real world setup. The technology is impressive as is the fit and finish.
So, a small show, but enjoyable. As I mentioned earlier, I’d be hard pressed to nominate a ‘Best Of’ as I really feel that no one achieved their very best. I’m reviewing the superb Raidho D1 loudspeakers right now. And while they sounded excellent at the show, I’m hearing a lot more here in Toronto. Also, as mentioned, show conditions are not the best place to gauge the end game. That said, it can be done. As this is only the second show from these promoters in New York, I’m sure they’ll learn and improve. I thought the old Palace’s rooms would have been more conducive for excellent sound, but apparently something odd was in the works. The elevators, too were a disastrous maze. No lines, nice people directing you, but still very confusing. All of this is not the fault of the promoters, but maybe a little fine tuning will make some of the grumpy New Yorkers a little bit happier.
We will be posting photo/info updates to this report on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
Tuesday photo update.
Wednesday photo update.