German amplifier specialists AVM have been in business since 1986, but until now have served only the European market. The company's new owner, Udo Besser, who was with Burmester for many years, has decided to broaden their target and is now exporting their high-end electronics line to the US. Of the products on display at the New York Audio and AV show, I was especially intrigued by the AVM C8: an all-in one package that combines a 150Wpc stereo integrated amp with a phono stage, FM tuner, USB and SPDIF D/A converter, and a (hermetically sealed!) CD drive. The styling is elegant and spare, and the projected price is $4200.
At the Audio Doctor in Jersey City, NJ, you’ll find stereo systems set up along just about every wall of the beautiful, old Victorian house. Apparently, the Audio Doctor’s Dave Lalin decided to bring a bit of home to the Waldorf=Astoria, setting up not one, not two, but three fine systems in one of his two large demo suites. Here we see one of those three systemsmy favorite, comprising KEF R900 loudspeakers ($5000/pair), and a trio of Abbingdon Music Research products: the DP-777 D/A processor, used as a preamp/DAC ($5000); AM-777 integrated amplifier, used as a power amp ($5000); and the CD-777 disc player, used as a transport. Contributing to the fine sound were Acoustic System International cables, footers, and resonators. Even standing off to the side of the room, the music was engaging and easy to enjoy. Sitting down in the sweet spot was a greater treat: Ella and Louis sounded divine, their voices rich in texture, tone, and feeling.
There were no new Abbingdon Music Research products at this show, but distributor Darren Censullo was in attendance at the Audio Doctor suite, where he spoke with excitement about a forthcoming AMR product called the iDac: a USB-friendly converter scheduled to sell for just $350.
Driving the distinctive Scaena "iso-linear array" loudspeakers in the Audio Doctor suite was a pair of Conrad-Johnson's limited-edition ART amplifiers ($37,000/pair): one of 125 pairs in existence. These ARTs used KT-120 output tubes (the amps are rated at 275Wpc when run with 6550 pentodes) and were operated without their strikingly pretty tube cages.
The Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000), which uses separate tubular subwoofer modules to reinforce its line-source arrays of midrange units and Raven ribbon tweeters, sounded better than I had heard them at previous shows. As well as the C-J ART amplifiers mentioned by Art Dudley above, the system comprised a Kronos turntable with its contra-rotating platters, fitted with an SME V-12 tonearm and a Dynavector XV1S cartridge, an AMR tube phono preamp, and a fully loaded dCS Scarlatti digital front-end.
Some of the nicest analog playback I heard at the show came courtesy of GTT Audio, in whose suite the reliably well-dressed Philip O'Hanlon spun vinyl on a Brinkmann Balance turntable ($24,000, closest to camera) with Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm ($7500) and an Air Tight PC1 Supreme cartridge ($15,000). Of special delight were selections from Ray LaMontagne's God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise and advance pressings from the forthcoming LP reissue series, by Analogue Productions, of the Doors catalog. The rest of the system featured YG's Anat III Professional Signature speakers ($119,000/pair) driven by Soulution 501 monoblocks ($55,000/pair), a Soulution 750 phono stage ($25,000), Soulution 720 preamp ($45,000), all wired with Kubala-Sosna Elation cables.
The YG Anat III Professional Signature speakers ($119,000/pair) in the GTT room had an attractive titanium finish. I thought a 45rpm test pressing of the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" sounding astonishing, especially John Densmore's drums, which, although recorded in mono in the right channel, had a combination of weight, realistic highs, and authority that I hadn't heard before from this over-familiar track.
I got to know Steve, head of VAS Audio over in New Jersey, after he picked up the Cayin SP-10a that Bob Reina reviewed in our April 2012 issue from the Stereophile Manhattan office. Steve invited me to the back of the VPI/VAS Audio Room to share a cocktail and a cookie where we discussed the hi-fi show business and our audiophile neighbors in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Steve's original home, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, places him in close proximity to some Stereophile staff, past and present, and his co-exhibitor VPI, led by the Weisfeld family, lives next door to him in Jersey. Hi-fi, like cookies, is more fun when shared with neighbors.
For me, the biggest, most exciting, and most inspiring news of the show came in the form of VPI's latest and least expensive turntable, the Traveler ($1299). The turntable is a tribute to Sheila Weisfeld, who passed away in December of last year.
After too long an absence, Harry Weisfeld brought VPI turntables and tonearms to a show in New York, alongside his son and business-partner-to-be Matthew Weisfeld. Here we see Harry with the stunning VPI Classic 4, sized for outsized or even multiple tonearms ($10,000).
While Art Dudley was photographing the new VPI Classic 4 turntable, Stereophile illustrator Jeff Wong (right) cornered Michael Fremer and asked him to autograph Michael's mid-1970s stand-up comedy album, I Can Take a Joke.
The combination of Wilson Audio loudspeakers, VTL amplifiers, and Peter McGrath's digital recordingsand setup skillshas provided some of the finest music I've heard at literally every show I've attended in the past several years, and this show was no exception. The Wilson Sasha W/Ps ($27,900/pair) were installed along the long wall of one of Innovative's two rooms at the Waldorf=Astoria, and were driven by the VTL MB450 Series III amplifiers ($18,000/pair) and VTL 7.5 Series III preamp ($20,000), all hooked up with Transparent cables. The sound was colorful, dynamic, and tactilestring bounce was especially fineon all selections played, especially a high-resolution excerpt from Carmen that McGrath recorded in Miami not long ago, converted to analog with a dCS Puccini DAC ($18,000).
Renowned journalist (and owner of originally Wilson speakers and now Audio Note speakers) Carl Bernstein (left) and reviewer/set-up specialist Michael Trei, seen browsing the 18th floor during the show's first evening.