The intriguing sonics and gorgeous décor of Gideon Schwartz’s Audio Arts room were easily noticed by anyone who entered. Just in front of me, a little boy took pictures with his iPhone of the imposing yet luxurious Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair). Schwartz’s room, the Chairman’s Office as indicated by New York Palace signs, used to be the office for hotel inheritor and tyrant manager Leona Helmsley. Dusty multi-colored hard-bound books lined the dark mahogany shelves next to daintily painted ceramic pots centered by the wonderfully symmetrical American-crafted Audio Strata racks.
I got to hear KEF’s X300A powered desktop speaker ($800/pair) when I visited the company late last year. Now the system has found its way to the States. KEF's animated brand ambassador, Johan Coorg, gave a characteristically colorful demo.
The X300A uses KEF's Uni-Q point-source driver array and places twin class-A/B amplifiers and a high-quality toroidal transformer in each cabinet. Further, each speaker has an internal 24-bit/96kHz asynchronous DAC. The signal flows not through standard speaker wire, but via a "digital inter-speaker connection," or USB link. According to Coorg, this is to ensure that high-quality sound is carried through the entire signal chain.
While there were many exciting cost-no-object systems on display, the New York Audio Show was also home to refreshingly small and simple systems that nevertheless offered exceptional performance.
KEF’s beautiful LS50 loudspeakers ($1500/pair) were partnered with Audio Electronics’ Constellation tube preamp ($1495), Hercules power amp ($1895), and Lightning DAC ($1295). Wireworld provided the cabling. The music, which came from a laptop, sounded forceful, dynamic, colorful, and present.
If I could have taken home any system from the New York Audio Show, it would have been this one.
A second, smaller Innovative Audio room held a system made of Wilson Audio’s Sasha W/P loudspeakers ($27,900/pair); Lamm M1.2 Reference hybrid monoblocks ($24, 190/pair); VTL TL-7.5 Series III Reference preamplifier ($20,000) and TP-6.5 Signature phono preamp ($10,500 with moving-coil step-up transformer); Spiral Groove SG2 turntable ($21,000, with Centroid tonearm) and Lyra Kleos MC cartridge ($3000); Transparent cables, power conditioning, and AC cords; and Finite Element Pagode racks and supports.
From left: Dan D’Agostino, Vince Galbo of MSB, and Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio Specialties.
In association with Innovative Audio, these gentleman put together a high-performance system made of Wilson Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair); D’Agostino Momentum monoblocks ($55,000/pair) and Ultra-Analog preamplifier ($32,000 with power base); MSB Diamond DAC IV Plus ($27,995) with FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock ($4995), Diamond Stepped Attenuator ($2995), USB2 Signature 384kHz input option ($1395), Pro IS input option ($995), Diamond ($5995) and Signature ($4995) power bases, and Platinum Data CD IV disc player ($3995); and Transparent Reference XL speaker cables ($13,160/pair), balanced interconnects ($9270/pair), and digital interconnects ($3195 each). Power conditioning was also from Transparent, while the equipment was supported by Finite Element Pagode racks.
As an unabashed fan of amplifiers that use EL34 output tubes in Ultralinear circuitsan output architecture that, to my ears, almost always sounds colorful, well-textured, and believably lushI was delighted that, in the VPI suite, a trio (!) of Joseph Audio Pearl loudspeakers were powered by a trio (!) of Citation 2 monoblock amplifiers from VAS Audio ($3000/pairwhich, I guess, translates into $4500 for three). The Citation 2, which offers 50Wpc in Ultralinear but can also be switched to triode mode for 25Wpc, also uses 12AX7 and 12AU7 small-signal tubes, plus a 5AR4 rectifier, and its specially wound output transformers are said to be vacuum-potted.
Tentatively named the JMW-3D (the suffix refers to the modeling technology used to create its high-tech tooling), VPI's new one-piece tonearm wand/headshell/bearing housing is molded from epoxy resin, which promises to resist sound-coloring resonances while remaining comparatively immune to the problem of energy storage. Although pricing has yet to be determined, VPI's Harry Weisfeld suggests that the arm may be expensive at first, although he hopes that prices may moderate as the production process itself becomes less expensive. The new arm is seen here on a prototype of the VPI Classic Direct, a direct-drive turntable based on the Classic chassis (projected price: ca $20,000).
Here's Channel D's Rob Robinson, who reminded visitors to the room he shared with Joseph Audio that the fine-sounding 24/192 vinyl drops we enjoyed therein (Priscilla Ahn's "A Good Day" comes to mind) were done using his Pure Vinyl software, with RIAA equalization performed in the digital domain.
Let's just come out and say it: loudspeaker designer Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio, always makes a good sound, and his system's performance at this venue was no exception: organic, open, natural, un-spectacular, un-bombastic, and just plain lovely. The speakers in question were the Joseph Audio Pulsars ($7000/pair), driven by a Unison Unico 50 amplifier ($1450), fed by a Lynx Hilo D/A converter (street price: $2500) and a laptop equipped with Channel D's Pure Music software ($129). Cables were by Cardas.
Andy Regan of Cardas Audio saw me near the 10th-floor elevators and asked, "Do you have an iPod or an iPhone?" I said that I did, and Andy handed me a leather pouch upon which the Cardas logo had been printed. Inside was an obviously well-made pair of earbuds. "Give 'em a try."