Three Audiophilia writers based in New York City attend the New York Audio & AV Show 2012.
The New York City Metropolitan Area, probably the largest hi-end audio market in the US and maybe the world, had its first hi-end audio show in about 15 years. The show took place in the iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan, and I must say it’s about time. For a first time effort it was a good start. There were two floors for exhibits and it seemed fairly representative of what the Industry could offer. There were many names missing from the event but I saw many very hopeful signs. I daresay that next year it will be even larger and better attended. Look at what happened to the Rocky Mountain Audiofest. After a very humble start in 2004, the Rocky Mountain Audiofest (RMA ) exploded into a ‘must see’ for anyone dedicated to two channel audio. The New York show has enormous potential to grow into an event rivaling and perhaps eclipsing RMA. The show ran for three days and these are my impressions.
One thing was very obvious and that was vinyl being used more and as the source material for demonstrating systems. Another, was the prevalence of music servers as the source. It appears that the CD is being relegated to third place. Luckily, I was able to bring my CDs to most rooms and play them.
Mike Levy and Henry Wilkenson also were at the show and from time to time we visited rooms together and then split off on our own. We also ran into Roy Harris, who made an appearance. Audiophilia was well represented.
After registering, we found ourselves at the GTT Audio room with the highly touted YG Acoustics Anat III Signature speakers and Brinkmann turntables. The room seemed a little small for such large speakers and may have resulted in a cool, flat sound. I’ve heard the YG’s sound better.
Next, we visited the Legacy Audio room where we heard the Focus SE model. it performed reasonably well, with some discontinuity, between the various drivers. I‘ve also heard these sound better.
MBL North America had a gorgeous display of their amazing system with their awesome omni-directional speakers. They are always a fun room and one had to wait patiently on line to get in.
Visiting Wes Bender Studio/NYC is always a pleasure. He had the same system as at the CES with the addition of a new tubed phonostage from Zesto Audio, the Andros PS1. Wes’s room was definitely one of the show highlights for us. His Hansen Prince II’s w/Viola electronics, Jorma cables, Redpoint turntable and Lindemann Audio CD player were making some serious music.
The Verity Audio speakers and VAC electronics provided another quite good bend of musicality and precision. Kevin Hayes of VAC was always the affable host.
We spent a lot of time at MA Recordings and May Audio Marketing, spending money buying records and CDs. There were too many goodies and not enough money. C’est la vie. We followed this up by visiting Dan D’Agostino’s new Momentum amplifiers, which were absolutely gorgeous. It was a static display, but the mouth continued to water at the sight of this equipment. Definitely worth checking out.
Jumping over to the Scaena speakers, powered by Manley tubes were making some powerful, lifelike music. No problem with dynamics here. The subs and towers seemed to blend quite well. Then, on to the Sony room where there SS-AR2 speakers were on display along with their bigger brother the SS-AR1, which garnered some excellent reviews from the audiophile press. The SS-AR2s were cut from the same cloth. They were sweet, musical and lush, but a bit on the polite side for my taste.
Continuing on, we made it to the TAD (Technical Audio Devices) room where the featured, well touted, two way, stand mounted speaker was on display with Viola electronics. After listening to several selections, Mike and I looked at each other in disbelief. The sound was awful, muddy lacking focus, depth and any three- dimensional quality at all. We called over to discreetly talk to the proprietor and informed him something was terribly wrong and after some careful investigation, it was discovered that a re-wiring had been done several hours prior to our arrival and somehow one channel was using a digital interconnect and the other an analogue interconnect. When the problem was corrected, the room came to life and it went from one of great disappointment to one of true musical excitement. They were extremely thankful for our pointing out that a problem existed and that the solution ended up being so simple and the result so dramatic. Just your Audiophilia staff helping out.
Unfortunately, my time was up and I had to move on. It was great having a show in my home town and I look forward to its return in 2013. Naturally, I didn’t see or hear everything but just reported on what I observed and what caught my attention as I wandered about. See you next year.
The audio show has returned to New York and the Waldorf Astoria. It has been years since the last show, and this one was much smaller than those of the past, but I expect it to grow with time. New York and audio are synonymous as it was here that many of the early companies, such as Marantz, began.
The shows here in the past were spectacular and innovations, such as high definition audio, frequently made their debut here. Like the Rocky Mountain Show, this show was exclusively audio, as audio tries to define itself and move out of the shadow of home theater. It was quality sound that predominated the New York Audio show up until a little over 20 years ago. When high quality home theater became available, the theater aspects of sound, which are distinctly different from home audio, drove much of the business. Surround sound became important. We watched as it went from 5.1 to 7.1, and 9.1 and 11.1. We two channel lovers were relegated to the nutty hobbyist category.
But all industries mature, and so has home theater. The sound of home theater was taken directly from the movie theater. In time it became obvious that it not only needed to be modified to work in the home, but that it lacked the ability to reproduce the sound of natural instruments, an ability that two channel systems possess when properly constructed and tuned. The “nutty hobbyists” had proved their point, and many people went back to them in search of real music. So, along with two channel, analog and vinyl silently became resurgent.
It is no longer silently resurgent. There is an industry story, or myth, for I do not know if it is true, that a young worker at a Best Buy was given the task of filling out the order form for store CDs and mistakenly ordered vinyl instead. Before he could be fired all of the vinyl had been sold, so he was given a raise instead.
Although small by comparison, this show did not disappoint. New products, such as the KEF Blade and the new VPI turntable were shown, and many fine products from the world of high end audio were shown. Each room was a statement of what sound should be. I found myself frequently agreeing.
While I clearly had a favorite, the Wes Bender Studios room with the Hansen Prince II loudspeakers w/Viola electronics, Jorma cables, Redpoint turntable and Lindemann Audio CD player, there was fine sound at quite few other locations, including the new Sony SS-AR2 speakers, as driven by the Pass Labs mono blocks.
The Wes Bender Studios room passed all of the hurdles. Imaging was wide and open. The system created a three dimensional space where the instruments had body and shape and were standing inside that space. Bass and treble extension were excellent, sounding dynamic, detailed, and smooth. The body of each instrument and voice came through as clearly as the fine detail, which was clearly evident, but, as it would be in performance, not pronounced.
The new smaller Sony speakers were very similar in sound to the larger Sony speakers they demonstrated at CES. They had that same sweet seductive high end that made strings lush, but with not quite the immediacy and intimacy of the larger version. Still, I would consider them highly.
The GTT Audio room with the YG Anat III Professional Signature speakers had excellent imaging, but the sound was cold, at least at the beginning of the show when I heard them.
I should again point out that I am reviewing the sound at the New York Audio Show. While I can make some conclusions about product from listening in this venue, please remember how much rooms vary in sound, and that there is very limited time for setup. What happened in the TAD room is proof that you cannot use one listening to make an absolute judgment about a product. On the other hand, it is rare that a poor product can be made to sound excellent, so, I can make positive conclusions when I hear great sound.
Pleasant is the word for the sound in the Audio Arts room, where the Podszus Zellaton Concert Speakers from Germany were powered by David Berning mono blocks driven by a David Berning preamplifier playing vinyl from a Holborne Analog turntable and arm with a Holborne Analog moving coil cartridge. The speakers were sporting drivers made from a silver material that claimed not to have resonances in audible frequencies. The sound was good, but not exceptional or exciting. Imaging width was limited, and so was the infrasonic spectrum.
I must agree with Martin about the sound of the Legacy speakers, while they were full range, the sound from the drivers just did not seem to meld.
Toward the end of the show the waiting line at MBL Quart shortened enough to have a listen. MBL Quart provided proof of the legitimacy of omni-directional design, as they were able to create superb imaging and clarity in a hotel room that I would not expect could sound so good. I would love to say more about this exceptionally designed product, but the listening was limited in time and they were playing “there’s a hole in the bucket” ecckk! Still, it did image well and sound clear and open.
We also made a short visit to another crowded room presented by Innovative Audio and Video. They featured the Wilson Audio Sasha level of their world famous Watt/Puppy speakers. I could not get a good listening seat, but I have heard these speakers before and they should be on anyone’s list to audition if they can work it into their budget.
Also, HD Tracks/Chesky Records had a table at the show. Your listening has not reached its ultimate level if you do not have their incredibly well recorded material in your repertoire.
Even with the reduced size of the show there was not enough time to give everyone a good listening. Still, I am enthusiastic about the future for high end audio. It looks like we have reconnected with our core of true music lovers. Great Sound Prevails!
As my colleagues have said, this was a show that was long overdue for New York City. While vinyl sales are nowhere near what they were in its hay day, vinyl sales continue to be healthy and growing. VPI’s Harry and Matt Wiesfeld introduced two new turntables at the show. The “Traveler” is their new entry level table that is dedicated to the memory of Sheila Wiesfeld. It comes with a 10” Gimballed tonearm and aluminum Platter. At $1,300 this looks to be a real winner. They also introduced the Classic 4 turntable ($10K). This is a much larger, heavier version of the Classic 3. It’s much larger plinth will accommodate two tone arms including a 12 incher.
Also seen in the VPI room were Citation electronics. The Citation Sound-1, full function preamplifier ($5K), the VAS Citation Sound -2 mono amplifiers ($3K per pair). This combination made for some very good sound in this room.
Once again, Wes Bender and his Wes Bender Studio N.Y.C. once again hit it out of the park sonically. This was the New York introduction of the Hanson Prince E loudspeakers. At $39K per pair they are in no way “Cheap” but, they definitely deliver the sonic goods. The rest of the lineup consisted of The terrific Redpoint Audio Designs Model MG-Special Facet Finish Edition ($65K)- Tri-Planer Ultimate MkVII-Ull ($5K), Graham Phantom ll Supreme B-44/12, ($5,999) Dynavector DRT CV-1s ($5,454), Transfiguration Phoenix ($4,250). Rounding out the analog section was the great sounding Zesto Audio Andros PS 1 ($3,900). You may not know the name now but I’m sure that you will be hearing a great deal about this fantastic phono stage in the near future. It will in all likelihood become known as anaudio bargain. The power amps were the Viola Audio laboratories Forte Mono blocks ($19K a pair) making their NYC debut. These were paired with the Crescendo Preamplifier with integrated DAC ($19K). Digital sources were the Lindemann Audio 825 CD player ($12, 500 w/XMOS USB DAC) and the Ae Macbook Pro running Channel D/ pure Music High Resolution Music Server Software ($129). Cabling was provided by Jorma Design Prime Origo Unity speaker cables and interconnects, Kaplan Cable Power Cords. GS Mk2 SRC for sources ($1,695 ea.)and the FS Mk2 HC for the amplifiers ($1,695 ea.). Audioquest Diamond USB, ($695 1.5 meter).
The exquisite Audio Note gear was making some very lovely sounds in their room. The 19K per pair Audio Note Lexus speakers were supported by the M3 phono preamp ($11,200). TT Two DluxeTurntable ($3,650) with the Tonearm Three ($2K) and the 101 Cartridge ($4,250), the S4L stepup Transformer ($6,400). On the digital end there was the Dac 3.1x Balanced ($10,200) the CDT One Transport ($4,200).
The Walker Audio room featured the fantastic Walker Proscenium Black Diamond lll turntable ($89,900) along with the Walker Reference Phono Amplifier ($19,995).This turntable is an all out successful attempt to push the boundaries of analog playback. Granted it will demand a great deal of space to place the table and the air pumps that it is attached to as well as a demand on your wallet. Given the build quality and the superior sound that it produces, the argument could be made that it’s cost is justified.
At the other end of the price spectrum, GT Audio works had a very interesting speaker. The GTA2 is a tall slim Planar Dynamic Hybrid speaker. It has a ribbon tweeter, a planar magnetic full range driver, two 8” bass drivers and an 8” powered subwoofer. All of this for a grand total of $2,750! These speakers are sold factory direct, hence the low overhead. Greg Takesh can be contacted at www. gtaudioworks.com.
An increasing number of rooms are showing with computer audio sources. Andy Singer of Sound By Singer. LTD was demoing in two rooms, both with computer sources . In room number one, the lineup was, MAC Computer driving a Playback Designs MPS-3 DAC ($5,500) , Sartzeel CTH-8550 integrated amp. ($22,000), Kudos Cardea C-30 Speakers ($11to 12K), HRS Audio Stand and Nordost Cables. The system in room number two was topped by a PC laptop driving a Playback Designs MPS DAC ($15,000), The terrific VAC Signature MK llA Tube Preamp ($19K), the CAC Statement 450S Stereo Power Amp ($39,000), Verity Audio Madis Speakers ($30,000), Nordost Cables and HRS and. While both of these rooms were excellent sounding, I have to give the nod to Room number two with the tubes holding court. That room’s somewhat richer and fuller sound grabbed my ears in a most positive way.
Peter Ledermann’s Soundsmith room was showing as interesting array of cartridges and phono stages. The top of the line miving iron Hyoerion cartridge ($7,500) features a cactus needle cantilever. This low mass design is said to provide much faster transients and superior sound overall. Peter was also showing his Strain Gauge Phono Cartridge along with his Full Function Preamplifier System SG-810 ($16K including cartridge). Rounding out the lineup were two Bookshelf Speakers, The Dragonfly ($2K per pair) and the Monarch (3K per pair). These were small stand mounts that were very good sounding and reasonably priced.
So, these were the highlights of the show. As with other shows, this one was much too large for one person to fully cover. Overall, the show was quite good and I look forward to the next one.