The men were tearing up the street
My friend Jason Victor Serinus asked, reasonably, how I and other Stereophile reporters might rank this most recent outing by the Chester Group against other shows. I said I thought that NYAS 2013 was very well organized and, when all was said and done, gratifyingly well attended. People did their jobs and luck mostly held: Con Ed workers created noise and logistical mayhem as they peeled away the pavement, yet hundreds of audiophiles flocked to the show nonetheless. The men were tearing up the street.
There are more and more shows each year, it is true. Happily, this abundance provides opportunities for lots of folks to audition perfectionist-quality equipment they might not otherwise hear. Unhappily, these surplus shows provide opportunities for wanna-be dealers who, at this stage of the game, don't have much left to do but to snap-up brands that aren't already taken, many of which are obscure lines made in the PRC that you and I know in our hearts have neither a real reason to exist nor a snowball's chance in hell of being around five or even two years from now. As fond as I am of going to shows and seeing good, original gear, I am un-fond of going to shows and seeing more and more of these shiny, me-too products that no one has ever heard of and that no one has any burning reason to want to hear: It exists already, having been produced for years by the companies that got there first.
I seldom anticipate great sound at any show; NYAS 2013 did not confound that expectation. I don't know if it was the quality of the electricity, the dimensions (or construction) of the rooms, or the positions of the planets, but most of the systems I heard sounded rather unexceptionaland I know that at least some of these products, and the talents of some of the setup people involved, often produce better results. That said, I should stress that I did not hear everythinggiven the need to work a certain set portion of the show, it was simply impossible for me to visit every roomand I may well have missed something wonderful.
Trends heard and seen: DSD appears to be making at least a mini comeback. There's an uptick in companies that copy or at least invoke the classic LS3/5a loudspeaker, which may surprise us by proving, ultimately, to be even more influential than the Quad ESL (and far more than anything from AR). Some folks demonstrated with vinyl, but they were fewer in number than I expectedand while some excellent LPs were offered for sale on the 4th floor, selections seemed limited to the sure-fire titles, while more obscure fare was left behind.
Music trends? A few exhibitors stood out for bringing adventurous, fun, and downright good music, none more so than Robert Lighton of Robert Lighton Audio, who turned me on to more good music in 20 minutes than I usually hear in 20 weeks. He was closely followed in that regard by Audio Note UK themselves (for which Lighton is a dealer), loudspeaker specialists Sjofn Hi Fi, and Innovative Audio's Wilson/D'Agostino/MSB/Transparent exhibit, the latter featuring selections from master recordist Peter McGrath's sublime collection. Not to be outdone, Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio (working with Rob Robinson of Channel D Software) and Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note simply brought tons of very good music and, rather than bowing to attendees' expectations for sonic spectacles, played whatever they felt like playing from one moment to the next. Perhaps I'm missing something here, but it has always been my understanding that that is the whole point.
That said: At an event that surely must, pending fresh recruits, cater largely to the Holt-hated baby-boomer generation, isn't it odd not to hear one single note of music by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, or Aretha Franklin? As for musical fare on which we've dined overmuch, I do think it's time to retire Louis Armstrong's "St. James Infirmary" and Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tin Pan Alley": brilliant performances whose continued use as sales tools can only diminish our enthusiasm. Or so it seems to me.
Anyway, I had a lovely time, and I'm grateful to the people of the Chester Group, the tireless exhibitors, and the many kind readers (and their kids!) with whom I spoke during those three very pleasant days.