Listening #2 Page 3
In other words, whereas the selection at some audio salons puts you to sleep the minute you walk in their doors (careful—that's how they get your wallet out of your pants), there's enough totally cool stuff at AM&C that I could've spent a whole day just talking with the folks there about hi-fi, and I still wouldn't have been bored. And that's without listening to music—which was difficult to do with a grand-opening party going on, anyway. So I didn't try that hard.
Music and horns
"Speakers that need 40 or 50W to get 'em going just can't communicate all the subtleties that convey the emotion in music."
Jim Smith, president of Avantgarde USA, is telling me why he thinks Avantgarde hornspeakers are destined for even greater success in America. I had asked whether he thought it was ironic—you know, the whole idea of building an audio shop in New York City around a type of loudspeaker that, until recently, most audio mavens had written off, and that a great many reviewers still refuse to take seriously. "We're on a mission to change your lives," Smith says, and even as he deflates his own observation with a good-natured laugh, it's plain to see he isn't just joking.
"Everyone complains that hi-fi is dying," he continues. "But the way I look at it, people still like music. They didn't change: The dealers and the manufacturers are the ones who changed. That's why hi-fi is dying: We killed it. The customers never left us, we left them."
How does Smith plan to reach those people? "First of all, I will never, and I mean never, demonstrate hi-fi with an audiophile disc. It has to be on the shelf at Borders or I won't play it. I want to reach people who love music, the way they loved it before hi-fi. I don't want to just impress you with sound.
"Go to any hotel: It doesn't matter where, or what kind of place it is. When you walk past the lounge, if there's live music there, you know it's live. And 'liveness' has nothing to do with soundstaging or slam or whatever."
Smith says the key to believable music reproduction has more to do with dynamics than anything else—"dynamics and a little timbre, maybe"—and he believes that horns in general, and Avantgarde hornspeakers in particular, are uniquely suited to give music-lovers the realistic thrills they've been missing.
"But I know in my heart, this isn't for everybody," he says, observing that a great many audiophiles are too used to focusing on, say, soundstage depth in a hi-fi demonstration, and that most non-audiophiles are in no position to pay the comparatively high prices his speakers command. "You need a large market for something like this, and there are only three or four places in the US where Avantgarde could do it: New York, Los Angeles, maybe Chicago...and after that, it's anyone's guess.
"I don't know how this experiment will turn out, but we're having a good time. You've heard people say, 'If you want to end up with a small fortune in high-end audio, you have to begin with a large fortune.' That's true, and I wouldn't be doing this if I wanted to make a killing. But I think it's possible to do it right—do it this way—and make a living. And the biggest reward comes every time we connect with someone who responds to the music emotionally, the way we all used to. That's what it comes down to: If you leave my system without laughing or crying, I haven't done my job."
I'm already a believer: Jim Smith and Bob Visintainer have their act together and they're taking it on the road, and if you're anywhere near New York City you ought to bring a few CDs over to 27 West 24th Street and try an approach to music-making that's both newer than new and as old as sound itself. You can make a listening appointment by calling (212) 229-1842, or by sending an e-mail. People in the rest of the country can call Avantgarde USA at (800) 944-9537, or visit their website.